Saturday, 23 March 2019

Paysan, pop-up French restaurant, Bloc Coffee, Cardiff


“My mentor chef for instance [Grady Atkins in Cardiff] he’s better than me — he taught me everything. He hasn’t got [a Michelin Star] and he should have been awarded one obviously.”

The above quote from Tomos Parry, one of the UK’s hottest chefs, and the holder of a Michelin Star for his Basque-Welsh cooking at London’s Brat, sums up the high regard he holds for chef Grady Atkins.

Parry trained under Atkins whilst he was head chef at Pontcanna’s Le Gallois (now Heaney’s) and instilled him with a passion for farm to table cooking.

Nowadays, alongside running an ethical soup company, Atkins has recently launched Paysan (French for peasant), a Friday night only French pop-up restaurant in Bloc Coffee, a converted public toilet in Cardiff’s Victoria Park.

With the addition of white tablecloths, Bloc makes for a surprisingly intimate dining venue.


Paysan offers a choice of 2 or 3 courses for a well priced £20/£27 and matching wines for £8/£12. Starters and desserts take the form of no-choice sharing platters whilst for main there’s a choice of meat, fish or vegetarian.


All of the wines we drank were very neckable including a berry rich Laroche Mas La Chevaliere rosé and a big pour of golden honey-like Domaine de Durban Muscat de Baumes de Venise dessert wine.


A pretty platter of Cwm Farm charcuterie and cured seasonal vegetables kicked off the meal in fine style. Smooth textured and big flavoured wild boar liver pate was the star of the show and ably supported by soft textured fennel twanged salami and mildly spiced spreadable 'nduja.

Lightly pickled carrot shavings, dressed roast carrots and purple sprouting broccoli, and a velvety white bean puree brought freshness to the plate. We inhaled a warm and super crisp ficelle bread (like a thin baguette) and thankfully a second loaf was swiftly delivered to the table without asking.


Onto mains and we plumped for the meat and fish options.

A meaty and nicely bronzed (but slightly tight-textured) fillet of monkfish was served with golden caramelised cauliflower, a nut butter and citrus-based meunière sauce and a crisp crouton topped with a luxurious slow-cooked egg with a just set white and perfectly runny yolk.


An Oriel Jones confit of beef was heroically good - crisp of crust, seriously beefy, yielding of flesh and coated in a thick and glossy beefy reduction.


It was served with a filthily good bowl of cabbage coated in a rich cream and mustard sauce.


I can hang my head in shame and say for the first time in 8 years I forgot to take a photo of a dish. That's what happens when Mrs G takes a night off and I lay the blame squarely at my mate Jim.

A top drawer selection (£7) from The Cheese Pantry included the brie-like Baron Bigod, creamy and tangy Ashlyn goats, unsurprisingly hoppy Worcestershire Hop and the Welsh blue classic Perl Las. Soft and fresh seed bread and compellingly different garam masala pickled celery completed the plate.

A trio of desserts was a who's who of comfort food classics.

Thick and creamy fragrant rhubarb custard was topped with a properly shatterable brûléed caramel. Warm bread pudding was light and moist with tangy interest in the form of a cassis sauce. Finally an airy and smooth not-too-sweet chocolate mousse was topped with candied hazelnuts and soft poached pear.


Rather charmingly, a takeaway goodie bag comprised of a generous wodge of onion tart, the vegetarian main option. Buttery pastry was loaded with a soft sweet caramelised onion quiche filling. We made short work of it with a pint in the pub after dinner.


Paysan serves delicious, technically accomplished good-value French food in an intimate atmosphere. I highly recommend it.

The Details:

Address - Bloc, Cowbridge Rd East, Victoria Park, Cardiff CF5 1JN
Web - https://www.instagram.com/paysan.food/
Bookings - email info@bloccoffee.co.uk

Saturday, 16 March 2019

The Black Bear Inn, Usk, Monmouthshire restaurant review


I hate social media.

I love social media.

I hate the fake news, fake followers, lack of nuance in any discussion, blaggers, bots and undisclosed freebies.

I love how it can help you find out about hidden gems which don’t have a PR machine behind them.

A few nights ago I disappeared down a social media rabbit hole when I saw a local food writer had posted about a meal they’d eaten at the Black Bear Inn in Usk.

A swift trip over to the Black Bear’s Instagram and I was sold by the snaps of their lush looking seasonal food and a message from the acclaimed Coombeshead Farm team exclaiming they were looking forward to a visit.

A few days and a 40 minute drive from Cardiff later and Mrs G and I found ourselves sat in the cosy dining room at The Black Bear.


Under new ownership since November last year, it’s run by a couple with plenty of restaurant experience; chef patron Josh was most recently at Bristol’s Bar Buvette.

The Bear’s chalkboard menu is enjoyably compact with just 3 starters and 3 mains alongside snacks and desserts.


The wine list is interesting too (unsurprising given Bar Buvette’s wine focus). We drank a bottle of Slobodne Jantara Slovakian orange wine (£42) with lovely citrus and mineral notes.


Delicious house sourdough was enjoyably tangy and soft of crumb with a caramelised crust. The butter, however, would have benefited from sitting out of the fridge a little longer.


Snacks were both crackerjacks.

Such was the runniness of the filling of a quartet of ham and cheese croquetas (£3.75) that I couldn’t tell if it was a ridiculously cheesy bechamel or just a ridiculously large amount of melted cheese. It was the former and they were delightful with their flecks of salty ham and golden crumb.


Welsh rarebit (£3.75) with a thick oozy slick of a savoury mustard and beery cheese concoction was very tasty indeed.


An overflowing bowl of mussels (£7.50) were perfectly plump and juicy without a shrivelled bivalve in sight. Soft and sweet leeks and a slightly boozy, buttery and shellfish-twanged cider broth completed the lovely combination.


A mound of tender purple sprouting broccoli (£8) were coated in a tempura style bubbly and super crisp batter. By chance or design, some of the leaves had extricated themselves from the batter and become crunchy giving the effect of crispy seaweed. A liberal dusting of funky Welsh truffle shavings and savoury cheese whacked up the luxury levels whilst a vibrant dill, parsley and sage mayonnaise brought freshness and acidity.


Onto mains and a meaty and golden-tinged fillet of cod (£18) was upstaged by a pair of beautifully crisp and caramelised yet perfectly tender cauliflower pieces. They were accompanied by herby green lentils with just the right amount of bite and a butter sauce which could perhaps have done with a bigger hit of the richness balancing punch of caper.


A gloriously pink Madgett’s farm duck breast (£18.50) was tender of flesh, well-rendered of fat and full of flavour. The skin could have been crisper but it was still a top drawer piece of meat. Alongside moreish braised red cabbage it was joined by a pair of genius accompaniments. Pear mustard was the lovechild of apple sauce and mustard - sweet and warming in equal measure. A fried potato cake was ridiculously crisp on the exterior with soft buttery thin layers of spud on the interior.


Onto the home stretch and dessert didn’t let the side down.

Apple and cider sorbet (£3) was as light and airy a sorbet I’ve eaten with a luxury cider lolly vibe.


A pear and almond tart (£6) ticked all the boxes. Thin, crisp and golden pastry - check. Light and moist frangipane - check. Soft and fragrant fruit - check. A big jug of double cream - check.


With its warm welcome and delicious seasonal cooking, the Black Bear is a lovely addition to the gastronomically well-endowed wilds of Monmouthshire. I seriously recommend a visit.

The Details:

Address - The Black Bear Inn, Bettws Newydd, Usk NP15 1JN
Web - https://www.theblackbearinn.co.uk/
Telephone - 01873 880701

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Cin Cin, Hove, Italian restaurant review


Bowie, Beirut, The Flaming Lips and The Shins.

Does a restaurant which has good taste in music also have good taste in food?

Using Cin Cin’s above playlist as an unscientific sample of one means the conclusion is a resounding yes.

Having opened in central Brighton in 2016, this seasonal Italian small plate and pasta restaurant expanded to Hove in 2018. Last year, the Brighton mothership picked up a Michelin Bib Gourmand for its cracking yet good value counter top cooking and interesting selection of Italian wines.


We visited the Hove branch where there wasn’t the slightest whiff of a melon with parma ham or tagliatelle carbonara.

Kicking off the meal were all three small plates on offer (3 for £20).

Cleansing discs of raw kohlrabi “ravioli” were stuffed with rich and meaty mackerel tartare dotted with fragrant dill oil and punchy capers. Blobs of vibrant yellow saffron aioli added a luxury tang.


A pile of gloriously tender, lightly crumbed sweetbreads were sat on a nut brown, big flavoured roasted celeriac puree.


A bready chickpea flour pizzetta was topped with light and creamy stracciatella cheese, sweet and tangy blood orange marmalade and a faintly sweet pistachio puree. It was perfectly pleasant but the sweet and creamy notes veered dangerously towards dessert territory.


Mains were both great pieces of comfort food.

Gnocchi (£14) was one of the finest iterations I've had. Light, squidgy and humming with savoury gorgonzola, they were bathed in a creamy tomato sauce flecked with fatty fragrant fennel sausage, fennel slices, and topped with gooey melted cheese, savoury parmesan and the crunch of toasted breadcrumbs. Woof.


I’d never heard of cresc’tajat pasta or Indo-Italian cooking before but Mrs G’s main course (£12) was a big hit. The sauce-grabbing, firm-textured pasta (traditionally made with leftover polenta) was well coated in an aromatic and tangy curry sauce with a big hit of shellfish and dotted with plump mussels and sweet golden sultanas.


To accompany dessert, we both had a glass of deliciously different Bianchdudui moscato under flor (£6.50). Like sherry, this wine is aged under a flor of spontaneous yeasts but without the addition of fortifying brandy. The resulting wine was dry, savoury, peachy, and a little bit funky.


A lovely selection of creamy young pecorino; seriously creamy, salty and funky gorgonzola; and a well aged crystallised parmesan (£8) were joined by thin cracker shards and a sweet and tangy tomato and pear chutney.


A pair of unadorned scoops of textbook salted caramel gelato (£4.50) were thick, salty and vanilla-flecked with a big toasted caramel note.


Including service and a decent amount of booze, our bill came to a very reasonable £44 quid a head. We had a lush dinner at Cin Cin and I reckon there’s definitely a gap in the market in Cardiff for an innovative pasta joint along the lines of London's Padella, Bristol's Pasta Loco or Cin Cin - I wonder if Giovanni's Pasta Piatto in Cardiff Bay or Victoria Park's Mastri Pastai will provide the answer?

The Details:
Address - Cin Cin Hove, 60 Western Rd, Hove BN3 1JD
Web - https://www.cincin.co.uk/
Telephone - 01273 726047

Saturday, 2 March 2019

The Lamb and Flag, Wick, Vale of Glamorgan pub review


After a beautiful but blustery morning’s walk at Ogmore-by-Sea, a hearty Sunday lunch was always going to be on the cards.

 
When it comes to country pubs, the Vale of Glamorgan really holds its own. Aberthin’s Hare and Hounds and Llancarfan’s Fox and Hounds are both excellent. And I’ve heard good things about the Bush Inn in St Hilary and the Lamb and Flag in Wick.

It was to the latter that we headed this time, Wick being only a short hop from Ogmore-by-Sea. 


With its roaring log fire, the Lamb and Flag appears to be a traditional, cosy and slightly gloomy local village pub. And its laminated menus and lack of web presence don’t give much away in terms of the quality of the food they serve.

However, the fact it’s owned by John Cook, former chef patron of Arbennig and current owner of Dirt and Hoof, means you know you’re going to be in very capable hands.

 
Whilst waiting for our food, I tucked away a pint of bitter shandy (£3.30) made with a lovely Glaslyn Ale from North Wales’s Purple Moose.


Our starters were all delicious. A prawn cocktail (£6.50) was thankfully not presented in its namesake glass. Instead, a mound of sweet prawns coated in piquant thousand island dressing were loaded onto a heap of fresh iceberg.

  
Crispy chicken fillets (£5.25) saw big juicy pieces of bird coated in a light and crisp batter joined by a sweet chilli mayonnaise which added complexity to the dish. 

 
My fried cheese and beer croquettes (£5.95) kicked serious ass. In fact, they’re one of the nicest bits of comfort food I’ve had in a while. Super-crisp golden crumbed croquettes were loaded with an oozy, gooey, fluffy, cheesy, beery and savoury potato mix. Oofh. Whilst they could have conspired to be too rich, a tangy and sweet onion marmalade cut through the richness beautifully. 

 
Onto mains and a pair of roast dinners were both excellent.

Roast chicken (£11.95) saw hunks of tender poultry accompanied by a nicely herbed stuffing. 

 
Beef brisket (£11.95), supplied by Cardiff’s legendary Martin Player butcher, was fall apart tender and packed with flavour. Both plates were accompanied by crisp and fluffy roasties, thick gravy and whopping textbook Yorkshire puds. 


A generous bowl of well-buttered vegetables were the only minor let down. Whilst the cabbage was nicely al dente, a mix of potatoes, swede and carrot were a little on the soft side. 

 
Additional respect goes to the jug of extra gravy which was brought without request. There’s nothing worse than a stingy pour of gravy on a roast dinner. 


My fish and chips (£10.95) was another cracker. A beautifully flaky fillet of fish was coated in a light and thin batter and joined by proper marrowfat mushy peas. 

 
But, the triple cooked chips were the kicker. Stupendously golden, rustling with crispness and fluffy on the inside, they were a damn fine example of their type. 


A chocolate brownie Sundae (£5.95) was a handsome fellow. Warm, soft, gooey, chewy and crisp brownie pieces were joined by a thick chocolate sauce, scoops of vanilla ice cream and perhaps a little too much squirty cream. 


We had a lovely lunch at The Lamb and Flag. If you’re looking to combine a quality roast and a lovely walk in the Vale of Glamorgan, then it’s definitely worth checking out.

The Details:

Address -
The Lamb and Flag, Church St, Wick, Cowbridge CF71 7QE
Web - https://www.facebook.com/lambflagpub/
Telephone - 01656 890278

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Rotana Wraps & Kebabs, Caroline Street, Cardiff review


Tony’s or Dorothy’s?

When it comes to Caroline Street’s fast food joints, loyalties traditionally lie in one of these two camps.

However, I’m throwing my hat into the ring and pledging allegiance to Rotana Wraps & Kebabs.

I’ve visited twice whilst boozed up late at night and once whilst entirely sober on a Saturday lunchtime.

 
Rotana’s specialism is wraps. A vast array are available from shish and kofte to shawarma, piri piri chicken, falafel and halloumi with prices ranging between £3 and £6.20 for a medium wrap.

It’s worth highlighting the quality and range of their salad. Mrs G declared it to be the best kebab salad she’s had in Cardiff and it’s hard to argue.

Crunchy white and red cabbage, punchy jalapenos, pickled whole chillies, fresh lettuce, cucumber and tomato all feature. But, it’s the crunchy and acidic neon pink pickled turnips which are a particular highlight. 


On both my late night visits I’ve ordered a chicken shawarma wrap with extra halloumi (£4.45). A grill-marked tortilla was loaded with crisp, tender and fatty shreds of meat, melted salty cheese, loads of salad and a big squeeze of minty yoghurt sauce. I highly recommend it. 

On our lunchtime visit we both ordered a kebab instead of a wrap.

Mrs G showed calorific restraint by ordering a medium chicken shish (£5.80) without sauce. Tender, nicely caramelised pieces of chicken were loaded onto a generous mound of salad and a tortilla wrap. 


I went for the lux option and ordered the mix grill (£9.95). A ton of meat included a combination of the excellent chicken shish, inconsistent lamb shish (which was very tender in bits and chewy in others), and a well-seasoned but slightly too soft textured lamb kofte. I drenched my meat in mint sauce and a potent chilli sauce. 

 
I’m a fan of Rotana, especially their chicken kebabs. It’s a testament to the quality of their food that I’d just as happily eat it at midday or midnight.

The Details:

Address - Rotana Grill House, 21 Caroline St, Cardiff CF10 1FG
Telephone - 029 2022 7799