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!

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