Saturday, 28 July 2018

Stanley's Bistro, Canton, Cardiff French restaurant review

The last time we visited Chez Francis on Cowbridge Road East it was the night of Wales’s ridiculous overtime defeat to France in 2017’s six nations.

This time, we visited the restaurant's new incarnation in the week of France’s World Cup triumph.

Perhaps there’s something about a Les Bleus victory that puts me in the mood for a hearty plate of beef bourguignon?

In May, Chez Francis was taken over by Francis Dupuy’s protégé Stanislas Becherie and renamed Stanley’s Bistro.

The restaurant’s charming decor remains the same and the menu has a similar focus on French comfort food classics. Plus ça change.

Pre-dinner fizz was served in glamorous champagne coupes which made us feel like extras from The Great Gatsby. 

Beefy buttery bone marrow (£6.95) was delicious smothered over lightly charred toast whilst accompaniments of sticky caramelised onions and well-dressed leaves were bob-on. A bit more marrow wouldn’t have gone amiss as I ran out pretty quickly. 

French onion soup (£5.95) was full to the brim with soft and sweet golden onions bathed in a light well-seasoned onion broth and topped with a melted cheese crouton. This was a nice alternative to the intensely meaty versions of the dish. 

Cassoulet (£16.95) was a proper rib-sticker. A melange of soft beans, shreds of confit duck, yielding lardons and garlicky toulouse sausage were topped with crisp breadcrumbs. But, the portion was significantly smaller than the version we had at Chez Francis

Boullabaisse (£19.95) delivered on the big hit of fish and shellfish it promised. The deep-flavoured broth contained a petite fillet of red mullet, plump mussels, a sweet langoustine, and heaps of squid (which was unfortunately a bit rubbery). A pair of croutons had a fried bread vibe going on but I’m not complaining - they were lovely mops for all that soup. This was a tasty plate but it felt a touch pricey. 

A cheese selection (£7.95) was a fine mix of French classics - creamy brie, funky camembert, socky comte and punchy bleu d’auvergne. Oat crackers and grapes were tasty accompaniments but some extra lubrication in the form of chutney would have been nice. 

An individual tarte tatin (£5.95) saw soft and sweet apple coated in buttery caramel sat on a layer of puff pastry, which was nice and crisp around the edges but a little soft in the middle. A big dollop of vanilla ice cream was a nice foil. 

We had a tasty meal at Stanley’s with their friendly service and proper French ambience. Whilst there were a few minor issues with the food, if you’re looking for an evening of classic French grub then it's worth checking out.

The Details:

We visited Stanley's on a Travelzoo Deal - available here 

Address - Stanley's Bistro, 185 Cowbridge Road East, Canton, Cardiff, CF11 9AJ 
Telephone - 02920224959

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The Little Chartroom, Edinburgh restaurant review

Semolina, corned beef, sardines, oxtail, tongue, smoked eel, turnip, black pudding and blancmange.

I have a soft spot for many of the old fashioned, unfashionable dishes that turn the stomachs of many people. I take after my dad in this respect; I’m an indiscriminate glutton.

This brings me to the Little Chartroom on Edinburgh’s Leith Walk which opened last month. Owned by a wife and husband team who are the former head chef and restaurant manager at Dominic Jack and Tom Kitchin’s Castle Terrace, this cosy and stylish neighbourhood bistro serves a lunchtime menu of interesting small and larger modern Scottish dishes. In the evening there’s a more traditional starter, main and dessert format. 

Complimentary sourdough from Twelve Triangles bakery, located around the corner from the restaurant, was first rate. Crisp, chewy and tangy it was delicious with a good smear of salted butter. 

A haggis sausage roll (£4) looked and tasted the part - the well-spiced delicately offaly mince was enrobed in golden pastry. An accompanying blob of turnip ketchup was more of a smooth mash but it had an acidic note which nicely balanced the richness of the plate. 

Ox tongue (£8) is one of my favourite things and I wish it was on the menu in more places. A generous thinly sliced plate of the buttery meat was served atop a creamy yet richness balancing celeriac Waldorf salad punctuated by cleansing grape and the crunch of walnut. A slab of toasted sourdough provided heft to the dish. 

Onto dessert and a silky smooth dark chocolate ganache in a thin chocolate pastry case (£7.50) was adorned with pretty raspberries. Raspberry sorbet was pleasingly slightly tart and super smooth. 

Lunch at the Little Chartroom was delicious and served by a super-friendly team. With new restaurant openings of this calibre, the Edinburgh dining scene must be in rude health.

The Details: 

Address - The Little Chartroom, 30-31 Albert Place, Edinburgh, United Kingdom EH7 5HN
Telephone - 0131 556 6600

Friday, 20 July 2018

Heaneys Pop Up, Pontcanna, Cardiff restaurant review

The arrival of Tommy Heaney’s cooking in Cardiff is epic news.

I’m already a big fan of his eponymous restaurant in Bridgend. And he was a standout contestant on last year’s Great British Menu on the BBC.

Tommy has now taken over Pontcanna’s Arbenning and Arbennig Emporium and is running a six week pop-up in the latter whilst he refurbishes the former. He’s also in the final stages of Crowdfunding to help with the overhaul. 

We visited the pop-up in week two and managed to bag one of the last two tables available (it’s walk-ins only).

The compact menu reads exceptionally well with interesting sounding flavour combinations across the board. We ordered three plates and a side to share and it was the right amount for us.

A bottle of Tommy Heaney House Beer (£4) from Bang On Brewery was very drinkable if unremarkable with a fairly old-skool ale flavour profile. 

Toast and marmite, it’s a staple in our household. So, toasted sourdough with marmite butter (£3.50) was an essential order. The charred-crusted tangy bread and whipped savoury butter took it to the next level. 

Barbecued lamb (£11) was an absolute belter - gorgeously pink with a beguiling lick of smoke, I’d have been happy with just a plate of the meat. But, silky umami-rich anchovy puree, a glossy meat sauce and briny samphire and sea purslane all added something to the dish. 

Iberico pork tenderloin (£10) was super tender and served enjoyably rare. It was enhanced by the crunch of pistachios, sweet butteriness of burnt onion puree, freshness of cherry and crunch of kale. 

Flaky crisp-skinned cod (£10) was joined by the creamy tang of buttermilk and verdant fragrance of dill oil. Charred courgettes and buttered spinach provided a bit of heft to this pretty plate. 

I fell in love with Old Bay seasoning when we visited Boston and it’s great to see it on the menu at Heaney’s. Golden triple cooked chips (£4) with a textbook rustle were coated in a liberal amount of the compellingly savoury and slightly spicy seasoning. 

Onto dessert and an indulgently rich log of salted caramel parfait (£7) and crunchy caramel popcorn were balanced beautifully by a light and delicately tangy yoghurt ice cream. 

Strawberries, cream and basil (£7) are a killer combination and here they were cleverly brought together. Beneath a mountain of thin meringue shards was hidden rich sweetened mascarpone and fresh strawberries that were complemented by the herbal hit of basil granita and basil oil. 

Dinner at Heaney’s Pop Up was brilliant. Tommy Heaney’s cooking combines huge technique and clever yet comforting flavour and texture combinations. But, it’s also well-priced for the quality - our food bill came to £52. Tommy Heaney’s arrival in Cardiff is one of the most exciting new openings in the city of 2018.

The Details:

Address - Heaneys Pop Up, 6-10 Romilly Crescent, Cardiff CF11 9NR

Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Red Lion at Pendoylan, Vale of Glamorgan pub review

You can tell a lot about the ambition of a pub from the ingredients on its menu.

Hafod cheese, salsa verde, peas a la français, Alex Gooch sourdough; all are signs that a pub is aiming to knock out more than lowest common denominator grub.

Coupled with the above ingredients and the recommendations I’d received, we decided to book into The Red Lion at Pendoylan for Friday night dinner.

Despite the ambition of The Red Lion’s cooking, the menu is keenly priced. Starters average £6, mains £13 and desserts £6. Furthermore, they run a £20 3-course set dinner and drink on Wednesday and Thursday evenings and Friday from 6-7pm. 

A nibble of Alex Gooch sourdough and Hay Charcuterie selection (£6) was the only genuine disappointment of the meal. One slice of bread, four slices of well-spiced dry-cured ham and a dollop of pokey chilli jam doesn’t really constitute value for money or a selection in my book. 

Things picked up a lot with starters.

Pea, broad bean and runner bean risotto (£6) was super creamy and packed with verdant vegetables. But, it could have taken a bigger savoury hit of the billed Hafod cheese. 

A golden-skinned fillet of sea bream (£6) served with a peas a la français was the biggest winner of the night. The al dente peas, lettuce and bacon pieces were enrobed in a luxurious level of cream. 

A salad (£6) of enjoyably rare steak, tangy blue cheese, sweet heritage tomatoes and well dressed-leaves completed a clean sweep of starters. 

Onto mains, and big hunks of medium-cooked tender lamb rump (£16) were served with golden balls of tempura cauliflower, raisin and apple flecked couscous, nutty hummus and richness balancing cucumber raita. This was a very tasty summer dish which would have been elevated further by a wallop of Moroccan spicing. 

My beer battered hake (£12) was a handsome devil. The batter was gorgeously crisp and grease-free but the fish itself was a little overcooked. Brilliantly brittle and fluffy triple cooked chips were as good as it gets and chunky tartare sauce and smooth pea puree hit the mark. 

Desserts were both delicious.

A vanilla pannacotta (£6) was perfectly jiggly and served with dainty pieces of sweet honeycomb and soft baked figs. 

Sweet apricots (£6) were delicately poached in boozy amaretto and served with a dollop of ridiculously creamy clotted cream ice cream. This was an understated yet delicious pud. 

We had a lovely dinner at The Red Lion. The food wasn’t without its faults but the ambitious yet good value cooking and excellent service meant we had a really enjoyable evening.

The Details:

Address -
The Red Lion at Pendoylan, Pendoylan, Cowbridge CF71 7UJ
Telephone - 01446 760690

Sunday, 8 July 2018

A weekend break in Bordeaux

How can I sum up Bordeaux?

Well, we didn’t have a bad glass of wine during our weekend break in this beautiful city on the banks of the Garonne river. From red to white and rose, nothing disappointed. 

Other than the booze, the architecture is stunning.

The giant gothic cathedral, the iconic Place de la Bourse, and the hulking gatehouses of the Porte Cailhau and Grosse Cloche are all absolute beauts.

We also moseyed around the Cité du Vin, a museum of wine which resembles a giant decanter. We didn’t bother with the €20 exhibition as we’d heard mixed reports. 

The Marché des Capucins was buzzing on the Saturday we visited with the biggest crowds reserved for the groaning platters of oysters and fruit de mer served by Chez Jean-Mi. 

Anyway, you're probably here for the nosh so here’s where we ate and stayed during our trip: 

Belle Campagne
15 Rue des Bahutiers, 33000 Bordeaux, France

I love the locavore ethos at Belle Campagne. 

All of their seasonal produce is sourced from within 250km of the city and the vast majority from within 100km. Their eclectic decor, interesting wines by the glass, friendly serving team and tasty small plates are all great. 

An enjoyably rare piece of rump steak (€11) was served with a textbook bearnaise. 

A lovely bit of hake (€9) was perched in a huge pool of intense crab bisque alongside tender lentils which cleverly added bulk to the dish. 

Golden duck fat chips (€4,50) were served with a seriously rich aioli packed with garlic. 

Seasonal vegetables (€6) included sweet baby onions, carrots, spinach and caramelised new potatoes coated in a generous drench of butter. I’d happily eat vegetables this good on their own as a meal. 

Dessert saw sweet and fragrant strawberries (€7) covered with cubes of cleansing cucumber and a good dollop of thyme flecked whipped cream. The combination of sweet and savoury was lovely.

Le Flacon Saint Michel
9 Place du Maucaillou, 33800 Bordeaux, France

Le Flacon is an uber-cool wine bar that wouldn’t look out of place in Hackney. We had a bunch of lush wines by the glass and a selection of small plates to share. 

Bitesize bits of croque monsieur (€7) were fragranced with the indulgent funk of truffle. Tuna rillettes (€6,50) was brightened up by the freshness of lime and ponzu. It was lush slathered over crisp baguette.

Soft and creamy butter beans (€6) were lifted by the zest of preserved lemon and drizzled with top notch olive oil. 

Chicken terrine en croute (€6) saw tender flesh seasoned with warming mustard. The pastry case lacked a little crispness but it was still a highly effective booze sponge. 

Finally, a killer tonka bean panna cotta (€5,50) was ridiculously creamy and fragrant with an epic wobble. 

Bouchon Bordelais
2 Rue Courbin, 33000 Bordeaux, France

Our meal at Bouchon Bordelais (€39 for 3 courses) was a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst most dishes were lovely, a couple really disappointed.

A deep flavoured snail and bacon ragout was loaded onto mushrooms and wrapped in more bacon for good measure. 

However, a chilled green soup (made I think with pea and asparagus) lacked any oomph or seasoning. 

Mains were both a success. A crisp crusted fillet of beef was brilliantly rare and marinated in a seriously savoury soy-based sauce. Garden peas, green tomatoes and buttery caramelised new potatoes were lovely accompaniments. 

Across the table, a veal chop was joined by a flavour-packed artichoke and sage croquette, grilled asparagus and a light aubergine and tomato ragout. 

My dessert was a showcase of Valrhona chocolate - a super smooth and not too sweet cremeux, light mousse and thin tuille sat atop a short biscuit base. The pud’s richness was balanced by a slightly sharp berry coulis. 

But, a “famous” cheesecake was woeful. Far too set and devoid of flavour, it remained uneaten. 

62 Rue Abbé de l'Épée, 33000 Bordeaux, France

I’ve already wittered on about Garopapilles but our €35 Michelin-starred lunch at this wine shop and restaurant was the standout meal of our trip to Bordeaux. 

I would seriously recommend booking a table. 

La Maison des Vignes
27 Rue des Vignes, 33800 Bordeaux, France

We stayed in a gorgeous little bed and breakfast (£91 a night) called Maison des Vignes, located just a few minutes’ walk from the Marché des Capucins. 

An architectural curiosity, the building is made from two separate houses which were previously separated by a narrow alley. 

Stylishly decorated and owned by a really friendly couple, we loved our breakfasts of fresh fruit salad and bread served with homemade fruit compotes, yoghurts and granola. 

Bordeaux is a cracker of a city. If you're looking for a weekend away featuring great wine, food and architecture then I highly recommend it.

The Details:

We flew direct from Bristol to Bordeaux via easyjet.