Thursday, 26 December 2019

Ten of the best things I've eaten in Cardiff in 2019

Please allow me a moment to indulge myself.

After nine years of writing this blog, I’ve finally racked up three million page views. It feels like a huge milestone and validation that my writing is vaguely useful to people looking to find out about Cardiff’s independent restaurants.

Since starting this blog, Cardiff’s food scene has improved immeasurably. From street food, tapas and small plates to belting burgers and killer kebabs, things continue to get better and better.

In the last twelve months I’ve eaten far too much delicious scran in Cardiff. Here are some of the best dishes I’ve eaten:

Sunday roast - Bar 44, Cardiff city centre

My first Bar 44 Sunday roast was a road to Damascus like experience. Before, I was never fully convinced by the merits of going out for a roast. After, I realised the error of my ways and how truly incompetent my efforts are compared to the chefs at Bar 44.

From their truffled cauliflower cheese, to red wine gravy, uber-crisp bravas roast potatoes, jamon-slathered hispi cabbage, chorizo-spiked Yorkshire puddings and 40-day aged sirloin of Hereford beef, everything is absolutely on the money.

The Almighty Hoof - Hoof, Sticky Fingers, Roath

Cardiff has a new burger King. The Almighty Hoof (£9.50) combines a juicy Welsh and Longhorn beef smashed patty in a light yet robust Alex Gooch challah roll. It’s topped with a terrifically filthy combination of rich chicken liver pate, savoury truffled mushroom duxelle, crisp streaky bacon, smashed hash brown, oozy cheese, tangy burger sauce, cleansing pickles, shredded lettuce and white onion. I’m drooling at the mere thought of it.

Afternoon tea - Cocorico Patisserie, Cathays

Ridiculous amounts of flavour and technique go into everything that this team of Bake Off: The Professionals finalists make at their Whitchurch Road patisserie.

At fifteen quid including a drink, their afternoon tea is an absolute bargain. From mini chicken, leek and mustard pies to spiced apple tarts, praline stuffed giant ferrero rochers and a selection of macarons, everything is excellent. If you’re looking for Cardiff’s definitive afternoon tea, this is it. 

Crumpet - Uisce, Pontcanna

2019 was the year of the luxury crumpet according to Waitrose and Tommy Heaney has a next level version at Uisce, his wine and small plates bar.

Whilst his lamb and salsa verde crumpet is mega, his duck version is double mega. The squidgiest of crumpets is heaped with a mountain of long cooked yielding duck, light and crunchy kimchi, a savoury and silky miso emulsion and a glossy meat sauce flecked with the herby complexity of salsa verde. 

Menemen with sucuk - Longa Turkish Cafe, Cathays

This sibling owned Turkish cafe on Whitchurch road makes some of the prettiest food in Cardiff from simit bagels and manti dumplings to table-topping breakfast spreads.

It’s their menemen which is the star of the show for me. Golden runny yolked baked eggs are muddled together with soft green peppers, onions, fresh tomatoes, discs of crisp and fatty spicy Turkish sausage, and chopped parsley. Accompanied by a basket of freshly baked bread, there’s no doubt this is one of Cardiff’s best breakfasts. 

Confit of beef - Paysan, Bloc Coffee, Victoria Park

Cardiff culinary legend Grady Atkins’ Paysan pop-up has built up a seriously good reputation since opening in early 2019. His weekly changing menu of hearty yet technically accomplished French cooking includes dishes like cod cheek meunière and pan-fried skate wing with red pepper coulis.

On the night we visited I gorged on a heroically good confit of beef, which was crisp of crust, seriously meaty, 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. 

The Parm - Hard Lines, Canton

From their striking aesthetic, to their delicious comfort food and killer coffee, Hard Lines’ Canton diner is one of Cardiff's coolest openings of 2019. Their Parm sandwich combines crisp-crusted, soft and airy toasted focaccia stuffed with meaty grilled aubergine, light and fresh marinara sauce, oozy melted mozzarella, grated parmesan and crucial richness balancing pickled red peppers. 

Chicken shawarma sandwich - Shawarma Laziz, Roath

If there’s a better three quid to be spent in Cardiff than the chicken shawarma sandwich from Shawarma Laziz then I’m not sure what it is. A delightfully soft freshly baked samoon bread pocket is stuffed with heaps of meat, fresh salad, and chilli and garlic sauce. 

Tandoori chicken - Salkaara

Tandoori chicken is normally a pretty vanilla order as far I’m concerned. Not at Salkaara, a Southern Indian restaurant in Llandaff North which is run by Santosh Nair, former executive chef of Mint & Mustard.

Served on the bone, the bird is gorgeously tender, crisp-crusted in places and coated in an almost buttery and smokey marinade. A pot of rich and tangy tomato based curry sauce is a lovely bonus. 

Ox cheek and confit potato - Heathcock

I’ve already bored you a lot by banging on about how much I love the Heathcock. This Llandaff pub serves unfussy, flavour-packed, seasonal cooking which takes inspiration from British institutions like St John and Anchor & Hope.

On a recent visit to celebrate Mrs G passing her PhD viva, I loved a decadently rich and spoonably soft ox cheek with celeriac puree, a thick reduction of onions and red wine, and shavings of truffle. 

Of course, I ordered a side of crisp, tender and buttery confit potato too.

Honourable mentions

I could easily pick another top ten awesome dishes I’ve eaten in Cardiff over the last twelve months. Highlights include Matsudai’s ridiculously chickeny Torikotsu ramen, Bearded Taco’s Better Call Seoul Korean BBQ pork tacos, Franks’ brilliant gourmet hot dogs, countless pizzas from Anatoni's and Da Mara, Nomad Kitchen’s bobby-dazzling KFC burger and Babhaus’s flavour-packed Korean fried chicken kebab.

Pontanna’s Milkwood continues to impress with their modern Welsh cooking. A cracking value set lunch (3 courses for £19) included confit creedy carver duck leg with haricot bean and kale stew, and pistou.

Nook's small plates and natural wines are another cracking addition to Cardiff’s restaurant line-up. Glossy and smooth milk chocolate mousse was served with a heap of thick and rich soft toffee, tangy crème fraîche and a light dusting of zingy lime zest.

Happy eating in 2020.

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