Saturday, 29 December 2018

St John, Smithfield, London restaurant review

St John is one of the UK’s most iconic restaurants and Fergus Henderson’s temple of nose to tail eating has inspired an entire cooking philosophy.

His Smithfield mothership is a beautiful space. A former smokehouse, it’s bright, clean and simple.

We popped in for an impromptu Sunday lunch in the bar. It’s walk-ins only and fortunately there were plenty of spots available when we arrived around 1pm.

Whilst the restaurant menu features more involved hot plates, the bar menu is lighter and ideal for lunching. 

There’s an interesting range of wines, aperitifs and craft beers by the glass available from the monolithic bar. Burning Sky Arise IPA (£3.25) was hoppy and easy drinking whilst St John Blanc (£6.75) was very neckable. 

Welsh rarebit (£6.50) was a golden tablet of deliciousness; in fact it’s the best rarebit I’ve ever had. The thick white toast was topped with an oozing mix of cheesy, mustardy, beery, savoury Worcestershire sauce twanged goodness. 

Slices of crimson centred cured beef (£12.80) were made with top drawer cow and were lovely paired with a creamy celeriac remoulade. 

A green leaf salad (£5.50) was bounteous and coated in a dressing with a lovely whallop of mustard. 

St John’s roast bone marrow and parsley salad (£10.80) is a dish which needs no introduction. Three generous bones were filled with buttery and meaty marrow. 

It was delightful slathered on lightly charred toasted sourdough and topped with the herbal and piquant salad of parsley, red onion and caper. 

The eccles cake (£9) is another classic for good reason. Flakey, buttery pastry filled with sweet sticky currants was balanced by salty, creamy and delicately funky Lancashire cheese. 

A quince and apple crumble (£8.60) was a proper winter warmer. Tender, sweet and slightly tart fruit was topped with a buttery crumble which was nicely caramelised at the edges. A generous jug of single cream was poured over with abandon. 

Understated. Flavour-packed. Seasonal. St John is celebrated for good reason.

The Details:

Address - St John, 26 St John St, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 4AY
Web -
Telephone - 020 7251 0848

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Ten of the best things I've eaten in Wales in 2018

It’s that time of year again where I round up my eating highlights of the last 12 months.

I’ve had another fun year of punishing my waistline as I rapidly approach my 500th blog post and 8th anniversary of blogging.

Here’s ten of the best things I’ve eaten in Wales in 2018 (with a Cardiff focus). They're in no particular order:

1. Rabbit pappardelle - The Heathcock, Cardiff

The arrival in Cardiff of this sister pub to the awesome Hare and Hounds in Aberthin was my favourite bit of food news this year. Dave Killick’s menu of understated seasonal cooking is exactly my bag and this rabbit pappardelle is a fine example. Slippery pasta topped with golden breadcrumbs is tossed with tender shreds of bunny, crisp lardons and a super meaty, herby sauce.

2. Cured monkfish - Heaney’s, Cardiff

Tommy Heaney’s modern cooking is crammed with interesting flavour combinations. This Scandinavian influenced monkfish dish saw wafer thin slices of meaty fish topped with grape slices, crunchy hazelnuts, aromatic dill oil, warming horseradish sorbet and a sweet and spicy cucumber, mustard seed and chilli relish. 

3. Double cheeseburger - Hills, Brecon

Does Hills in Brecon serve the best burger in Wales? I don’t know. But, it’s the best one I’ve eaten here since the demise of Burger & Lobster. Their double cheeseburger is a towering juicy delight which combines four pink-cooked coarse ground patties, oozy cheese and richness balancing burger sauce in a sturdy Alex Gooch roll.

I recommend a walk up Pen y Fan followed by a burger. Alternatively, if you’re like me you can drive an hour from Cardiff just to eat a burger and then come home again. 

4. Stuffed courgette flower - Parva Farmhouse, Tintern, Monmouthshire

This Monmouthshire restaurant with rooms is run by a husband and wife team who were head chef and manager of Abergavenny’s legendary The Walnut Tree.

Parva Farmhouse’s food is hearty yet refined and this stuffed courgette flower sums up what they’re all about. Stuffed with a creamy, tangy and melty cheese mix and coated in the lightest of batters, it’s accompanied by finely diced baby courgette, broad beans, baked provencal tomato and fresh pesto. 

5. Caruso pizza - Anatoni’s, Cardiff

Pizza maestro Tony Frawley has departed the still excellent Da Mara and set up shop around the corner on Wellfield Road with Anatoni’s. His Neapolitan pizzas are the best in Cardiff and the Caruso is my favourite. The airy leopard spotted base is topped with salty salami, rich goat’s cheese, wilted spinach and the funky sweetness of honey truffle oil. Woof. 

6. Huntsham Farm suckling pig - The Whitebrook, Monmouthshire

It was great to see Chris Harrod’s technically accomplished, foraged ingredient focused cooking make it all the way to this year’s Great British Menu banquet.

This celebration of suckling pig saw crisp-skinned chop, spoonably tender belly and a rich flavoured head croquette served with caramelised celeriac puree, a gorgeously meaty sauce, Japanese artichokes, lamb’s sorrel, a clever stack of finely sliced roast potato and pear, and cleansing raw pear slices. 

7. Glazed passion fruit tart - The Fox and Hounds, Llancarfan

We had a delicious meal at this Vale of Glamorgan pub back in April and their desserts were a particular highlight, including this glazed passionfruit tart.

A crisp pastry crust was filled with a tangy and aromatic passion fruit custard with a brûléed sugar top. Chocolate ice cream and caramelised hazelnut crumb completed the plate. 

8. Italian Job - Lazy Leek, Cardiff 

The Lazy Leek’s Italian Job can hold its own amongst Cardiff’s best burgers. And it happens to be vegan.

A crisp crumbed patty filled with cheesy risotto and uber-garlicky mushrooms is sandwiched in an Alex Gooch roll with gooey vegan cheese, punchy hazelnut and rocket pesto, lemon and basil aioli and refreshing tomatoes. 

9. Shrimp and grits - Hang Fire Southern Kitchen, Barry

In October, Hang Fire was named the best restaurant in the UK by the readers of Observer Food Monthly. It’s an incredible accolade for this Barry-based restaurant which is one of my absolute favourites.

Their ribs would be an obvious choice as one of my favourite dishes of the year. But, their shrimp and grits are frigging amazing too. Velvety grits twanged with rich cheddar and cream are topped with plump shrimp and a super savoury Creole butter and bacon sauce. It’s not the most insta-friendly looking dish but it’s as tastebud-friendly as it gets. 

10. Cobnut tart - Dirt, Cardiff

The closure of Arbennig was Cardiff’s biggest restaurant loss of 2018. But, John Cook’s food is still regularly available at his vegetable-led Dirt pop-up restaurant and his meat-led Hoof street food stall at Cardiff’s Sticky Fingers.

This dessert, which reminded me of the ultimate jam tart and cream, was the standout of our meal at a Dirt night at Cocorico. Warm and super short pastry was filled with compellingly nutty and moist cobnut frangipane. It was served with tart elderberry sauce and a clever airy barley cream. 

Other highlights

We’ve had some other great things to eat in Wales during 2018. Notable mentions go to the ever brilliant brunches from Early Bird, Cocorico’s stunning custard slices, Wok-ker Shaker’s bargainous Malaysian food, Tuk Tuk’s excellent pork skewers and Mowlana’s chicken joojah (the best kebab in Cardiff).

In the last month I’ve visited Sticky Fingers, Cardiff’s first permanent street food market, and had a kick ass slow-cooked beef flank bun from Hoof and garlic butter drenched scallops and chips from Two Anchors.

I’ve also spent a disproportionate amount of my time drinking amazing craft beer in Roath’s Bottle Shop whilst Wright’s Wines in the Castle Arcade has brought something new to the city centre with their interesting selection of natural wines and first class charcuterie.

Happy eating and drinking in 2019!

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Odessa, Crwys Road, Cardiff, Middle Eastern restaurant review

We didn’t originally plan to go for dinner at Odessa.

We planned to visit another recently opened Mediterranean restaurant. But having seen that the menu incorporated burgers, pizza and pasta as well as French and Greek dishes, we decided it probably wasn’t for us.

Odessa is much more singular in its focus. It's a well-priced Middle Eastern charcoal grill restaurant with most starters costing around £3 and mains around £8 - £9. 

Located on the corner of Crwys Road and Fairoak Road, Odessa’s building has been in a state of refurbishment for a number of years. Whilst Niche (the previous occupants) sadly never managed to open their doors, it’s good to see the building finally in use.

A pair of juices (£3) were both lovely. Mint and lemon was ice cold, super zesty and not too sweet whilst mango was thick and delivered a good hit of tropical fruit. 

Starters were unquestionably the highlight of the meal.

Borek (£3.50) was fried to order. The bubbly pastry parcels were filled with tangy melted feta and wilted spinach, and accompanied by a cucumber-laden and garlic-thwacked tzatziki. 

A mixed mezze (£6.50) was excellent too. Smooth hummus, a lightly smokey and creamy baba ganoush, a fiery tomato-based ezme dip and more of the lovely tzatziki were joined by citrusy stuffed vine leaves and olives. 

Fresh Turkish bread was warm and soft with a light chew.

Mains didn’t quite hit the same high as starters but they were both tasty, particularly my Odessa mixed grill (£10.50).

A quartet of kebabs saw herby and juicy chicken and lamb kofte joined by tender chicken and lamb shish. Also on the plate was buttery and fluffy rice, slightly under-charred tomatoes and green peppers and a fresh green salad. 

Mrs G’s chicken quozi (£8) saw half a grilled bird accompanied by a bowl of flavoursome tomato and okra sauce. The chicken’s thigh and leg were properly juicy but the breast could have been a touch moister. 

Stuffed, we passed on the dessert options which included freshly baked baklava and kanafeh. But, the bill was accompanied by a couple of pieces crisp and syrup laden katayef. If the rest of their desserts are this good then they’re well worth checking out. 

We had a very tasty and good value meal at Odessa. It’s a nice addition to Cardiff’s roster of kebab restaurants and it should be far enough from City Road to be able to cater to a different crowd.

The Details:

Address - Odessa Mediterranean restaurant, 150 Crwys Rd, Cardiff CF24 4PW
Telephone - 029 2034 4664

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Tuk Tuk, Thai street food restaurant, Cardiff

Do you believe that some restaurant locations are cursed?

You know, those venues that have a wicked combination of low passing trade, bad parking and an odd layout or huge number of covers.

I’m dubious.

Whilst some spots are definitely much better than others, I believe (perhaps naively) that if you’re good enough then people will come.

One such awkward location is 22 Crwys Road, the former home of Jerk It (good), Mashup (also good) and Munchies (they served a fried breakfast in a jar).

Tuk Tuk, a Thai street food restaurant, is the latest business to make a go of this location.

Their menu is compact, well-priced and features familiar Thai classics as well more unique dishes such as kai jieaw (crispy Thai omelette), larb (spicy and sour mince with mint) and nomyen (pink milk tea).

A pair of Singha beers were ice cold and malty. They’re complimentary until 28 December if you follow Tuk Tuk on Instagram or Facebook.

Starters were excellent. In fact, they were the highlight of the meal.

Crisp and golden grease-free spring rolls (£4.25) were filled with a light mix of chicken, mushroom, carrot and onion. Accompanying sweet chilli sauce was free from clag. 

Som Tam, green papaya salad (£5.95), saw crisp shreds of papaya and carrot bathed in a potent dressing of citrus, chilli and fish sauce. It was a lovely balance of sweet, spicy and sour with crunch and chew in the form of toasted peanuts and dried shrimp. 

The standout dish of the meal was a quartet of delightfully tender pork skewers (£4.25). Crisp, sticky, lightly charred in places and warming spiced they were perfect beer food. 

Mains were both very good.

A big portion of pad thai (£7.95) saw a mound of well separated rice noodles bound with tangy tamarind sauce flecked with plentiful chicken, nuggets of sweet spring onion, peanuts, al dente beansprouts and the freshness of lime. 

A Massiman curry rice set (£7.95) was good too. A bowlful of creamy, coconutty, mildly spiced curry sauce was bobbing with fall-apart tender chicken, sweet onions and soft potatoes. 

A mound of sticky rice was cooked on point. 

We had a delicious and good value meal with charming service at Tuk Tuk. I really hope they can make a success of 22 Crwys Road.

The Details:

Address - Tuk Tuk, 22 Crwys Rd, Cardiff CF24 4NL
Telephone - 029 2023 1334

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Market Hall Victoria review

Whenever I plan a visit to London I find myself in a state of dilemma.

Which restaurant should I visit this time?

Is Shoreditch’s newest Peruvian barbecue guinea pig joint or Mayfair’s edible gold leaf encrusted Russian salad specialist the safest bet for a great meal?

The opening of Market Hall Victoria (just opposite the train station) has eased my indecision as it brings together some of London's best restaurants under one roof.

It's essentially a luxury canteen. You order from one of the numerous traders, grab your buzzer and wait for your scran to be cooked to order.

There's some good breweries on the bars - Thornbridge, Siren and Magic Rock to name a few. We had a few halves of light and hoppy Magic Rock Saucery session IPA for a London priced £3.50 a half.

Amongst the traders we didn’t have a chance to visit this time were salt beef specialists Monty’s Deli, Japanese noodle masters Koya Ko, the questionably named Fanny’s Kebabs, and award-winning fish and chip shop Kerbisher & Malt.

Here’s a run down of everything we ate in order of deliciousness. We visited Market Hall Victoria on day ten of business so I’m sure there’s still plenty of scope for further improvement.

Gopal’s Corner was the most popular vendor on our visit by a mile, and with good reason too. Owned by the legends at Euston’s Roti King, there are regularly large queues for their critically acclaimed Malaysian food.

Flaky, light and buttery roti cani (£7.95) was a dreamy mop for a beef rendang of tender slow cooked beef bound together by a deeply spiced coconut gravy. 

A gargantuan thosai / dosa (£5.95) was thin, crisp and slightly tangy. It was served with a trio of great dips - a coconut chutney with a big whallop of ginger and thwack of chilli, a luxurious lentil based sambhar stew and a piquant tomato chutney.

Hackney’s Marksman pub are renowned for their starter of baked and steamed beef and barley buns, so it would make sense for them to open a stall that just sells buns.

Bun Shop’s beef bun had sold out so we made do with the bacon bun (£5). The gorgeously light and squidgy glazed bun was filled with tender shreds of ham hock and toasted oats. It was lovely with a tangy and lightly acidic homemade tomato ketchup. 

Dim sum specialists Baozi Inn’s signature dumplings include ruby prawn dumplings in beetroot dough and custard baozi in carrot juice dough.

We had a plate of delicious traditional jiaozi (£5.50); thinly cased filled pork mince dumplings flecked with a ton of fragrant chives. A bowl of vinegar was a perfect foil for the fatty meat. 

Super Tacos is an outpost from the Breddos Tacos team. Their flavour-packed corn flour tortillas were the star of the show but the toppings on both tacos we ate (2 for £6.50) had a good balance of fat, chilli and citrus.

Crisp and smokey charcoal grilled chicken was accompanied by black beans and avocado salsa verde whilst a spit roast pork taco was lovely but slightly on the tepid side. 

The only dish of the day which disappointed was the pici cacio e pepe (£8) from Nonna Tonda

The sauce was a silky and potent mix of emulsified parmesan and black pepper. But, the pasta was poor - our first portion was really underdone rather than al dente and after we sent it back, our second portion was still pretty rubbery. Hopefully this was just teething troubles. 

Market Hall Victoria is a delicious and fun place to while away a few hours. There also plans or a roof terrace to open next year so I can imagine it will be an awesome place to spend a summer's evening.

Update 23/12/2018 - On another visit, I inhaled a Reuben sandwich (£9.50) from Monty’s Deli. Bags of spiced pastrami, tangy kraut, melty swiss cheese and piquant Russian dressing were loaded onto toasted rye bread. This was a damn tasty Jewish deli sandwich.

The Details:

Address - Market Hall Victoria, 191 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5NE
Telephone - 020 3773 9350