Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Mr Croquewich bistro home delivery, Cardiff review

When restaurant-trained chefs turn their hand to street food you’re normally in for a treat. All that technique is channeled into eking a maximum amount of flavour from what can often be fairly humble ingredients.

Take for example Mr Croquewich, aka Darren Lewis, who’s worked as a head chef in bistros and brasseries and developed a passion for all things cheesy whilst spending five years cooking in the French alps.

It’s resulted in a street food menu of high end grilled cheese sandwiches and Parmesan chicken burgers which he serves at markets, pop-ups and festivals around Wales. He’ll also be taking a unit in Barry’s new Goods Shed development which is set to open later this year.

But, in the current climate, he’s transformed into a bistro home delivery service. With a menu of hearty French classics and a handful of grilled cheese sandwiches, he’s delivering around Cardiff and beyond on Wednesdays and Fridays. Delivery is free on minimum orders over £10 and dishes arrive cooked and simply need to be reheated in the oven. 

To start, we shared a portion of Glamorgan bonbons (£4). A quintet of golden crumbed orbs were filled with a cheesy ooze of leek-flecked deliciousness. 

Unmistakably Glamorgan sausage inspired, I could have eaten a dozen to myself without them even touching the sides. A pot of sweet and fiery chilli sauce was a tasty accompaniment. 

A generous cassoulet (£7) combined herby sausages, tender boneless chicken thigh and white beans in a thick and rich tomato, bacon and thyme sauce. It was accompanied by golden, tender and garlicky Lyonnaise potatoes and garlic butter drenched green beans. 

Red wine chicken saw a pair chicken thighs (£7) bathed in a huge flavoured red wine sauce laced with pancetta and mushrooms. It was accompanied by more of those lovely Lyonnaise potatoes and a mix of roast vegetables in garlic butter. 

On another day we shared a tartiflette (£7) with a pair of steaks.

This bubbling cauldron was a delicious mix of cheese, cream, bacon, herbs, onions and potatoes topped with a melted slice of reblochon cheese for good measure. It reminded me of the kind of steakhouse sides you get in America with a ridiculous quantity of cheese and bacon.

Desserts were both very good but not quite the same level as our starters and mains.

The first jar (£3) was loaded with fudgy brownie pieces, light creamy and tangy cheesecake topping, rich chocolate sauce and a tart cherry studded sauce.

A lemon and lime cheesecake jar (£3) was layered with smooth citrus fragranced posset, delicately warming ginger crumb and a light, creamy cheesecake topping with a good tang of lime. 

We had a properly delicious dinner from Mr Croquewich. His flavour-packed, rich and generous cooking is just the kind of comfort food I’m craving at the moment. With his French cookery background, he certainly doesn’t hold back on the butter and seasoning.

The Details:

Telephone - 00759147210

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Keralan Karavan, Cardiff delivery review

Lockdown guzzling is a constant tightrope walk.

On the one hand my already sedentary lifestyle is more lethargic than ever and I don’t want to emerge from quarantine in a few months with cholesterol levels higher than the Hamburglar.

On the other hand I want to support Cardiff’s independents as much as possible. It’s impressive to see how they’ve adapted their business models to support self-isolators and meet social distancing restrictions.

We’ve had belting beer and wine deliveries from The Bottle Shop and Pop ’n’ Hops.

Even more booze and charcuterie has been supplied by Curado Bar.

Pettigrew Bakery’s daily delivery round has brought us first rate sourdough, a Ty Caws cheese selection and the gooiest of brownies. 

Hard Lines’ delicious coffee was cycled over from their Canton HQ. 

And we’ve had cracking pan-Asian meals delivered by Da Ling Kitchen (highlights include the sambal king prawns and wasabi squid) and KatiWok

Other businesses in my sights include Leyli Joon, Mr Croquewich, Da Mara, Hoof, Dusty Knuckle, Moo Moo Thai and Saray.

On a balmy Easter Saturday, the Indian-inspired street food of Keralan Karavan was top of my list as they’d just started delivering around Cardiff via Uber Eats from Thursday to Saturday (as well as slightly further afield via preorder email).

Krish’s spice-packed cooking at Nomad Kitchen is one of my go to City Centre independents and many of his headline dishes have transferred over to his delivery menu.

Kaleidoscopic poppadom tubes (£1.50) were dusted with addictive vinegar powder. 

Stuffed to the brim samosas (£1.50) were golden, crisp and totally grease-free. Mint-fragranced, pea-studded lamb keema and a soft textured pea and potato filling were both excellent.

They were lovely accompanied by pots of tangy yoghurt and mango and coriander chutneys. 

I wasn’t sure how well a Bolly Sholly burger (£8) would travel but it held up on its journey admirably.

This Indian-American fusion is one hell of a burger; the juicy JT Morgan beef patty stuffed into a squidgy brioche bun with a golden onion bhaji and a sweet, spicy, fragrant and tangy mix of mango, mint and coriander chutneys. 

A Keralan nadan chicken curry (£7) was the star of the two curries we ate. Medium-spiced with a huge depth of flavour from a blend of 6 Keralan spices, it was loaded with tender pieces of dark meat. 

A coconut-based chickpea curry (£7) was big on chilli heat and slightly less complex in flavour than the chicken. Both were lovely with sunshine yellow, fluffy turmeric fragranced pilaf rice (£3). 

We had a delicious dinner from Keralan Karavan. Whether you’re craving a belting burger and fries or a cracking curry, these guys have got you sorted.

The Details:

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Kala, Manchester restaurant review

We eat food for many different reasons. Fuel. Fun. Social connection. Comfort.

Arguably though, one of the most important reasons is to line your stomach before a colossal session on the booze.

It was for this purpose we found ourselves at Gary Usher’s Kala in Manchester city centre before a trip to Cloudwater’s all you can drink beer festival, Friends & Family & Beer, which took place in the middle of February.

With a CV including the Michelin-starred Chez Bruce, Usher’s cooking is big on flavour and classical technique. He's also one of the most passionate and outspoken people in the hospitality industry on social media. Kala is his most recent opening and the fastest ever funded restaurant on Kickstarter; it raised £100k in 11 hours.

An excellent value set lunch offers two courses for £20 or three courses for £23.

A whopping bowl of thick sweet onion soup had an addictive savoury note from the presence of madeira whilst a pile of fried onions brought crunch to the party. A doorstep of toasted focaccia was rich with olive oil and salt.

Uber-smooth and rich chicken liver pate was accompanied by more of that excellent focaccia and a sweet and tangy farmhouse chutney.

A hearty main will almost certainly be one of my standout dishes of the year. A long cooked, fall apart tender pork knuckle was coated in a seriously sticky and meaty sauce. Creamy risotto had a lovely texture from the use of orzo pasta, mellow salsa verde provided richness balancing cut through, and a toasted macadamia crumb offered welcome crunch.

A veggie main saw nicely caramelised roasted cauliflower pieces sat in a silky smooth butterbean puree with the fragrant hit of salted lemon, warmth of green chilli and crunch of toasted almonds and sourdough crackers. The dish was a little off balance in terms of the quantity its components with the puree rather than the cauliflower being the dominant element.

Golden wedge cut chips (£4) were proper fluffy rustlers.

Tenderstem broccoli (£4.50) was cleverly paired with sweet caramelised onions and a tangy mayo with a good hit of umami anchovy.

Desserts were both belters.

A big spiced ginger parkin was half cake, half flapjack - the moist sponge studded with the crunch and chew of oats. It was doused in a decadent salted caramel sauce and a pretty quenelle of vanilla-fragranced chantilly cream.

A silky smooth sweet honeycomb semifreddo was tempered by the bitterness of dark chocolate sauce with a beauty of a piece of honeycomb perched precariously on top.

We had a cracking lunch at Kala. This restaurant serves great food with bags of technique, their set lunch is a steal and the serving team are really friendly. Crucially, Kala did a sterling job of lining our stomachs before an epic beer session.

The Details:

Address - Kala, King Street, Manchester, M2 4LQ
Web -
Telephone - 0800 160 1811

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Matsudai Ramen, Cardiff ramen pop-up restaurant review

A number of South Wales’s best cooks have had completely different careers before setting up their acclaimed restaurants.

Sam Evans from Hang Fire Southern Kitchen used to work in graphic design.

Phill Lewis from Dark by Dusty Knuckle worked in social care.

James Chant from Matsudai Ramen is another name to add to that list. The former musician, composer and artist-manager taught himself how to make ‘proper’ ramen when looking for a change in direction in life.

Having had a sell-out run of pop-up nights prior to Christmas 2019, a longer residency at Blue Honey Local followed in early 2020.

This time around their expanded menu included starters and desserts and rotated weekly between different ramen styles - rich and creamy tonkotsu and tori paitan; more delicately flavoured shoyu and shio, and umami-rich miso.

Both nights I visited they were serving either tonkotsu or tori paitan; it wasn’t a coincidence. 

To start, light and squidgy bao buns (£5) were filled with a soft and tender pieces of sweet, soy marinated chashu pork, mayonnaise and slices of cleansing cucumber.

Delicate gyoza (£5) were filled with a light pork mince and accompanied by soy-vinegar dipping sauce.

The starter star of the show was a mound of fried chicken karaage nuggets (£5). Tender of flesh and uber-crisp of crumb, they were drizzled with a compelling curry mayonnaise.

Onto main and a bowl of classic tonkotsu ramen (£13) looked deceptively dinky but it more than compensated in sheer richness and depth of flavour. I was stuffed by the end. The milky-complexioned porky, savoury and creamy broth combined with uber-tender rolled pork slices, fine noodles with plenty of bite, a fudgy soy egg, pickled ginger and greens. It was an absolute belter of a dish and as good a bowl of ramen as I've had anywhere .

On another visit, a bowl of tori paitan (£14) delivered the same effect as the tonkotsu but in poultry form. Rich, creamy, salty and seriously chickeny, the broth was everything I needed on a dreary night and the result of boiling chicken bones for hours and hours. 

I’m already a fan of Matsudai Ramen and I can’t wait to see where they pop-up next. I predict that James Chant is a Cardiff culinary name you’re going to hear a lot more about.

Update 29/09/2020

Matsudai have started home delivery of frozen and fresh ramen kits so you can get a fix of their noodles without having to leave the comfort of your own home. 

Each pack of frozen ramen (£7.50) contains broth, noodles and chashu pork or vegan shiitake soboro. With clear cooking instructions, all you need to do is defrost your kit in the fridge in advance, juggle a few pans and add your own gooey egg and chopped spring onion. 

I’ve seriously enjoyed their meaty, savoury, spicy and creamy tantanmen which was paired with spicy pork mince and sapporo style noodles with plenty of bite.

I’ve also had their gloriously rich, creamy and porky tonkotsu; their savoury, spicy and aromatic miso; and their uber-chickeny tori paitan. 

They were all bloody lush and I highly recommend placing an order.
The Details:

Address - Around Cardiff