Saturday, 29 August 2020

The Gaff, Abergavenny restaurant review

In the current circumstances, a restaurant with a decent outside space holds a trump card.

Even more so if they’ve got shelter from the rain and outdoor heaters to boot.

In fact, I predict the hottest restaurant guide in 2021 will be "The UK’s best restaurants with outdoor seating".

A dead cert for inclusion will be the Gaff in Abergavenny which is located in a pretty courtyard just off one of the town’s main streets. It’s a calming idyll and a lovely place to enjoy a leisurely lunch on a sunny weekday in August. 

The Gaff has been on my to do list since before they even opened last year. Owned by a former head chef of the legendary Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, it was always going to be my kind of place (much like Parva Farmhouse, which is also owned by a former Shaun Hill acolyte).

Their menu of small plates is divided into snacks, fish, meat and vegetables - everything sounds delicious with interesting international flavour combinations strewn across it. 

As we were on holiday, Mrs G sank a glass of citrusy and floral Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs English sparkling wine (£9). I enjoyed a juicy and piney Tiny Rebel Cali pale ale.

We kicked off with a couple of snacks.

A plump, light-battered oyster (£3) served with parma ham, chilli mayo and lime was comforting yet full of zip and zing - as far as first mouthfuls go it was a very good indicator of things to come.

A bobbydazzling scotch egg (£5) combined an uber-crisp crumb, well-seasoned juicy sausage meat and a perfectly oozy golden yolked egg. 

Accompanying triple mustard mayo delivered a sinus warming kick. 

The richness of meaty, fatty and sweet lightly-soused mackerel fillets (£6) was balanced well by the acidic hit of pickled carrot, radish and onion. 

Onto the mains where we were veg-focused dishes in our ordering.

Tender, crisp-battered cauliflower pieces (£6) were bathed in an addictive as heck bang bang sauce of well-judged sweetness, saltiness, savouriness and spice. 

A lightly-charred tranche of hispi cabbage (£7) had just the right amount of bite. Joined by the classic Caesar accompaniments of a poky dressing, crisp bacon lardons and croutons, and a dusting of parmesan, it made for a compelling interpretation of the celebrated salad. 

Crisp and cleansing courgette shavings (£7.50) were luxed up by a liquid-centred burrata and a fragrant dressing packed with mint, first rate oil and a whiff of chilli.

A juicy buttermilk marinated chicken piece was coated in a crisp and intensely seasoned Southern fried crumb. A creamy mustardy slaw, a light and citrusy red cabbage slaw and perky pickles were a trio of delicious sides. But, at £14 for a single chicken leg it was the only dish in the meal that stood out as poor value. 

Last up, an overflowing pot of seriously chunky duck fat chips (£6) were joined by a lightly-spiced ketchup.

Sharing puds are always the kind of thing which grab my eye - I still think longingly of the trifle for two we had at Rochelle Canteen.

The Gaff’s sticky toffee pudding (£15) was no exception. A hillock of light, sweet and sticky sponge was joined by jugs of thin creamy vanilla-fragranced custard and toasty dark sugar and salt-twanged caramel sauce as well as scoops of thick, subtle banana-flavoured ice cream.

Why argue about whether custard or ice cream is better with a hot pud when you can have both? 

Mrs G and I had a cracking meal at The Gaff. With it’s flavour-packed small plates and lovely courtyard setting, it’s another great addition to Abergavenny’s culinary riches.

The Details:

Address - The Gaff, Unit 4 The Courtyard, Lion St, Abergavenny NP7 5PE
Telephone - 01873 739310

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Made in Oldstead food box review

I’ve got a lot of time for these top notch restaurant meal kits which have sprung up during lockdown.

So far we’ve enjoyed meals from James Sommerin, Leyli Joon, Matsudai Ramen, Kapow Ribs, Mr Croquewich and Chez Vous Grady.

And with national delivery available for places like Elite Bistros, Hawksmoor, Opheem, Bao and Bleecker Burger, I’ve got quite the to do list of some of the UK’s best restaurants.

Take for example Tommy Banks’ Black Swan at Oldstead, recently named the best restaurant in the UK and the 4th best in the world by T**tadvisor.

Last year, we made a pilgrimage to Yorkshire to visit the Black Swan and Roots to experience Tommy’s technically accomplished, seasonal-produce focused cooking. It was well worth the trip but it was a bit of a shlep. 

So, to be able to eat Tommy’s food without having to leave the comfort of my own home can certainly be chalked up as a win. And at £84 for two three-course meals for two (i.e. 12 plates of food) including delivery, it’s cracking value for the quality.

Made In Oldstead Food Boxes go on sale on Thursday afternoons with delivery on Friday the following week. Everything arrived beautifully packed, cold and well-insulated with exceptionally clear cooking instructions. All of the starters and puds were ready to eat straight out of the box whilst mains took a maximum of 20 minutes to reheat. 

On the first night, our meal kicked off with sweet and brilliantly tomatoey Black Swan tomatoes. Preserved in rapeseed oil, fragrant with lemon verbena, thyme and garlic, they were served with creamy curd, uber-crisp crackers studded with nigella seeds and Black Swan garden flowers. 

A seriously juicy brined and steamed chicken leg and thigh was served with epic golden-crusted mashed potato, heady with pokey Old Winchester cheese and smoked butter; I’d have been happy with just a bowl of the mash. A top notch glossy coq au vin-esque sauce made with senshyu onion, red wine, chicken stock, smoked bacon lardons and a smattering of herbs finished the dish.

Dessert didn’t look up to much but beneath it’s beige surface was a bevy of treats. White chocolate yoghurt glaze gave way to a sweet and unmistakably Douglas fir flavoured mousse, followed by citrusy lemon verbena gel and a crumbly biscuity base studded with big chunks of white chocolate. 

The second night’s menu was even better.

A coarse, creamy pate was loaded with big hunks of hot smoked salmon and topped with a citrusy and peppery nasturtium vodka jelly with plenty of zip and zing. 

It was delicious slathered over toasted hunks of Ty Melin's sourdough.

Comforting minestrone was packed with soft pasta and a mix of fresh vegetables including tomatoes, courgette, peas, fennel and broad beans. It was topped with a fall apart tender piece of slow-cooked lamb shoulder in a shiny meat glaze as well as a herb-packed, anchovy-twanged lemon balm salsa.

A ludicrously moist sponge was delicately fragranced with floral marigolds and topped with toasted almonds. Served with a thick dollop of cream infused with a note of toasty rye, it was a proper pud in a proper portion.

Technically accomplished, huge flavoured and good-value for money, we were seriously impressed by our Made in Oldstead Food Box. I really recommend it if you’re not planning a trip to Yorkshire anytime soon.

The Details:

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Hang Fire Southern Kitchen, Barry, street food menu review

Hang Fire Southern Kitchen is back in action.

With new hygiene measures, a new outdoor seating area and a new street food menu to go with it, we had as warm and friendly a welcome from the Hang Fire team as ever; just minus the hug from Shauna.

Hang Fire's outside seating is only available for walk-ups (we were able to reserve on the soft reopening weekend) and serves a condensed menu of sandwiches and loaded fries compared to the indoor menu of BBQ plates and southern staples. On a sunny day in Barry, it’s a lovely place to sit and catch some rays. 

A Square Root Seville Mandarin soda (£3.25) was full of bright summery citrus whilst Hang Fire’s house Lockhart IPA (£2.45) was a cracker of a session beer, loaded with hops with a good malt backbone. 

Boudin (£5.95), Hang Fire’s take on arancini, saw tender spiced pieces of Creole-seasoned pork and distinct grained rice coated in a super-crisp panko crumb, accompanied by a pot of piquant, creamy and zingy Louisiana remoulade.

Mac n Cheese bites (£5.95) cannily dodged stodge-territory. Rich and oozy macaroni cheese was coated in more of that crunchy crumb. Tangy and mustardy fry sauce was another delicious dip. 

Smoked wings (£6.95) were juicy of flesh, crisp of skin and well-licked with smoke. Coated in Hang Fires’s signature Kansas City BBQ sauce, it’s the ideal balance of sweet and sharp. 

For mains we ordered a pair of belting smoked meat sandwiches - soft and squidgy toasted buns jam-packed with meat were served with hefty portions of golden well-seasoned fries. 

Smoke-ringed buttery and beefy brisket (£10.95) was counterbalanced by sweet and cleansing bread and butter pickles. 

A hefty mound of crusty-barked pulled pork (£10.95) was topped with light and delicately creamy slaw.

Stuffed, we soldiered onto dessert. 

Hang Fire’s pecan pie (£4.95) was a beaut of a pud - served warm, it was thin and crisp of pastry and stuffed with toasty nuts and light maple-twanged caramel. 

It’s brilliant to see the First Ladies of 'Cue back in action. In the Observer, Shauna talked about her worries of "the spirit of hospitality" being lost under the new normal; at Hang Fire there’s no risk of that. 

Whilst their main restaurant is almost fully booked up until November, it’s definitely worth pitching up for one of their outside tables.

The Details:

Address -  Hang Fire Southern Kitchen, The Pumphouse, Hood Road, Barry, CF62 5QN
Web -

Saturday, 8 August 2020

The Caribbean Way, Cardiff Bay takeaway and restaurant review

A visit to the Caribbean Way on Dumballs Road allowed me to kill two birds with one stone.

Whilst waiting for my lunch to be prepped at this portakabin-based Caribbean restaurant and takeaway, I was able to stock up on groceries next door at the legendary Cardiff Food Centre.

During the twenty minutes it took for our food to be cooked to order I bought Middle Eastern dips, Lithuanian crisps and Indonesian instant noodles.

Anyway, I digress. Caribbean Way opens Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 6pm, offering breakfast until a rather late 1pm and lunch after 1pm. Their menu includes Caribbean classics like jerk chicken, oxtail, dumpling and fried plantain as well as quirkier dishes such as fried jackfruit wraps, salmon burgers and rasta pasta. 

On Fridays and Saturdays they exclusively serve heaving Insta-friendly combo boxes, with options including lobster (£27) and a meat feast (£15).

Mrs G and I visited on a Tuesday lunchtime and put their regular lunch menu through its paces.

A fillet of jerk salmon (£8) was a lovely bit of fish cookery - meaty and tender of flake, crisp of skin and lightly licked with char, the fillet was bathed in a jerk marinade of fragrant spice and good chilli heat. Accompanying rice and peas, nicely twanged with coconut, was never-ending in portion size - there's no risk of being left hungry. Lightly creamy and acidic coleslaw provided a vital richness balancing role.

Jerk chicken on the bone (£7.50) could have been a touch juicier but it was still very tasty - coated in more of that big flavoured marinade, there was no shortage of flavour.

Mac ’n’ Cheese (£3) was of the variety you could cut with a knife (in a good way). Soft textured and very very lightly coated with cheese sauce, it was topped with a compelling crust of golden cheese.

Finally, golden tender fried plantains (£2) deftly straddled the sweet savoury divide. 

On another visit, I ordered a whopping portion of goat curry with rice and peas (£8). On the journey home, the warm-spiced gravy soaked its way through the rice, leaving the long-cooked super-tender pieces of meat dotted across the surface.

A slab of jam and coconut sponge (£2) was a retro school dinner treat; the light sponge was topped with sweet tangy jam and desiccated coconut. It was delicious cold but I’m sure would have been even better warmed up and served with a puddle of instant custard.

We really enjoyed the Caribbean Way. Their good value and hearty comfort food is right up my street.

The Details:

Address - The Caribbean Way, 1 Dumballs Rd, Cardiff CF10 5FF
Telephone - 07925 890124

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Milkwood, Pontcanna, Cardiff review 2020

When the world eventually returns to normality, Pontcanna’s Milkwood is going to find itself in a bit of a quandary.

This restaurant, which serves some of the most technically accomplished high end food in the city, has pivoted (PIVOOOT) towards a more takeaway friendly menu of burgers, sandwiches and pizzas.

As a result, they now also happen to serve one of the city’s best burgers and sandwiches, both of which can’t possibly be taken off the menu. 

Open Thursdays to Saturdays for takeaways and outdoor dining, Milkwood’s menu of small plates, pizzas and sandwiches is a compelling prospect. I was gutted my elasticated waistband didn’t have enough stretch to accommodate the ribs with slaw, ox cheek fries, buttermilk fried chicken parm and French dip. 

Mrs G and I sat in the cosy courtyard garden at the back of the restaurant with just a trio of socially distanced tables. We had the place to ourselves as we ate at our customary toddlers’ teatime of 5.30pm. 

A glass of fruity house white (£4) and a Warsteiner lager (£3.50) were both knocked back in a few gulps. 

Golden, super crisp and super fluffy salt cod fritters (£5) were well-flecked with salted fish. Serious aioli certainly lived up to its billing; it’s still lingering on the palate as I write this blog post. 

A Caesar salad (£6) was a fine example of its type. Fresh Romaine lettuce leaves were coated in the classic pokey dressing and topped with a snowdrift of funky pecorino and plump salty anchovies. 

Charred and blistered padrons (£4) were drizzled with a creamy and tangy buttermilk dressing and a good scattering of sea salt. 

Both our mains were absolute belters.

Their Cubano (£8) is an essential Cardiff sandwich. A crisp pressed soft-crumbed loaf was stuffed with fall apart tender hunks of pork belly and sliced ham and a good ooze of melted Swiss cheese. Cleansing pickles and warming American mustard provided vital balance.

The lynchpin of a house burger (£8) was a big-flavoured, seriously juicy and slightly pink dry aged Carmarthenshire beef patty. It was stuffed into a sturdy yet light potato roll and accompanied by shredded lettuce and red onion, cleansing pickle, a slick of American cheese and a secret sauce which tasted remarkably like that found in a Big Mac (I’d like the recipe please). 

This burger is instantly one of the city’s finest. 

A notable mention should also go to Milkwood’s double-cooked chips which are proper golden and crisp rustlers. 

Stuffed, I couldn’t possibly pass up on one of the house doughnuts (£3). Beautifully light and squidgy, a blackberry ripple was stuffed to the brim with berry-fragranced whipped cream. 

Mrs G and I had a cracking dinner at Milkwood and it was a lovely and relaxed first experience of eating out post lockdown. I’m already planning on working my way through the rest of those sandwiches.

Address - Milkwood, 83 Pontcanna Street, Pontcanna Cardiff CF11 9HS
Telephone - 02920 232226