Saturday, 24 July 2021

Marmo, Bristol restaurant and wine bar review

With its distinctly Noble Rot-esque logo and an Italian-focused menu with shades of Brawn, Bristol’s Marmo takes influences from two of the UK’s best wine-focused restaurants. So it was always odds-on that it would be right up my street.

Located in Bristol city centre, Marmo’s high-ceilinged dining space oozes cool with its eclectic posters, colourful shelves of wine bottles and open plan kitchen. But, the friendly serving team who looked after us for the night gave the place a warm and down to earth atmosphere.

Marmo’s wine list focuses on the natural and there’s a good selection available by the glass if you’re looking to dip your toes. A glass of Domaine Bohn L'Indigène 2019 orange wine had heaps of citrus, a lovely dryness and a little funk whilst my friend knocked back a pear-twanged Domaine La Luminaille Luminaris 2018.

Quality house sourdough (£2.50) with thick golden cultured butter was an essential order to accompany smoked cods’ roe (£5.50). Savoury, smoky, salty and creamy with a good drizzle of olive oil, there's something so addictive about the stuff and it’s a must order whenever I see it.

Gnocco fritto (£7.50), crisp and slightly flaky deep-fried dough parcels, were delicious draped with garlicky and peppery salame rosa which had the gloriously soft texture of a mortadella.

Tender asparagus (£9) was dressed in a classy savoury silky tonnato sauce. It was a clever change to the classic veal version of the dish and one which I’d be keen to repeat at home.

Well-flavoured and seasoned ruby red beef tartar (£9.50) bathed in a confit egg yolk. It was given an additional savoury hit from the use of anchovy colatura (aged Italian fish sauce). 

First class agnolotti (£14.50) were stuffed with velvety pink fir mashed potato and topped with a meaty wild boar sauce drenched in parmesan. Leaves of mint dotted throughout provided a clever lift to this top notch piece of comfort food.

A ricotta fritter (£7) was basically a high end cannoli and I was 100% down with it. A super crisp and thin pastry shell was loaded with sweetened creamy ricotta and strawberries macerated with elderflower.

A good dollop of rich and thick chocolate mousse (£7) was paired with a toasty molasses-esque salted caramel, a quenelle of clotted cream and crisp feuilletine flakes. It was a rich treat.

Marmo is the kind of restaurant I could come back to time and time again. Its technically accomplished cooking, hip setting, friendly service and ace natural wines by the glass all hit the mark. 

The Details:

Address - Marmo, 31 Baldwin St, Bristol BS1 1RG
Telephone - 0117 316 4987 

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Bully's, Pontcanna, Cardiff restaurant review

I think it’s fair to say that since I last visited Bully’s almost ten years ago, Cardiff's dining scene has changed a hell of a lot. 

However, since it originally opened in Llandaff 25 years ago before moving to Pontcanna in 2009, this 2014-15 AA Wales Restaurant of the Year has steadfastly gone about its business serving refined French food. It’s an impressive achievement for any restaurant.

Bully’s doesn’t have the feel of a hushed temple of gastronomy. The eclectically decorated dining room has a warm homely vibe. It’s a place where you can come for a romantic meal or a raucous Saturday night with mates.

I’d have happily ordered anything from the menu, which focuses on crowd pleasing dishes such as scallops, ham hock, steak, lamb and chocolate mousse, and the concise wine list of French classics.

Throughout the meal we worked our way through some lovely bottles of wine - gluggable Domaine Astruc viognier (£27) and Jules du Souzy fleurie (£39) and a nectar-like Domaine de Grange Neuve monbazillac (£41). You can tell how much fun we were having from the wonk on the picture below.

A complimentary bowl of tomato and red pepper soup combined sweetness with the warmth of black pepper and the richness of dairy.

A black truffle and cauliflower cheese mille feuille (£9.50) was always going to be a success, after all it contained “cauliflower cheese” and “truffle” in its title. Crisp pastry, caramelised cauliflower pieces and puree, a big ooze of blow torched comte and a generous drift of funky truffle were a lovely comforting combination.

Sweet white Cornish crab meat (£10.50) was cannily bound together with the components of a gribiche; egg, vibrant green herbs and the light acidity of caper and cornichon. First rate Wye Valley smoked salmon, lightly dressed leaves and a hyper crisp cracker completed the delicious plate.

Both mains were lovely examples of classic cookery.

Gloriously tender and well-flavoured pink lamb rump (£27) was joined by perky broad beans and asparagus, a glossy lamb sauce and a killer Glamorgan sausage inspired croquette filled with a silky cheesy, leeky and mustardy sauce.

A properly rare piece of fillet steak (£32) was served with an earthy mushroom puree, shimeji mushrooms, crispy shallots and an excellent meaty red wine sauce. Beef fat roast potatoes had a lovely tenderness and richness but lacked the expected crispness of their descriptor.

 Nicely caramelised roast heritage carrots (£3.50) were dotted with aromatic green sauce heady with coriander and cumin.

An ugly delicious bowl of soft mash (£4.50) was whipped through with bacon and tangy cheddar. It would have been a meal in itself.

Buttered green beans and broccoli (£4) provided some welcome lightness.

A layered “strawberries and cream” pud (£7.95) was a refreshing combination of crunchy shortbread crumble, tangy strawberry jelly, light chantilly cream and smooth prosecco sorbet.

Thick, rich and sweet chocolate mousse (£7.95) was countered by a cleansing fragrant coconut sorbet, whilst crunchy coconut granola pieces dotted with chewy fruit brought welcome texture contrast.

We had a whale of a time at Bully’s catching up with friends over lovely food and wine. It’s great to see the place on such fine form after a quarter of a century in the business.

The Details:

Address - Bully's, 5 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff CF11 9NP
Telephone - 029 2022 1905

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Wingman, Cardiff chicken wings review

When I discovered on the Cardiff food grapevine that Mike St. Amand was the owner of Wingman, I got pretty damn excited.

You may not have heard of Mike, but he was the Head Chef at Hang Fire Southern Kitchen in Barry until earlier this year and had been ever since they opened. Anyone who’s worked in such a senior role at one of Wales’s best restaurants must be a hell of a cook.

Located on the former site of Sticky Fingers in the Brewery Quarter in Cardiff City Centre, Wingman provides the food at Boom Battle Bar, an “adventure bar” offering axe throwing, darts, crazy golf and shuffle board. If you’re looking for a more sedate experience then they handily have a large outside seating area.

With a name like Wingman, the menu understandably focuses on wings (chicken and cauliflower) as well as American-style sides such as tater tots, slaw and mac ’n’ cheese.

If you're visiting Wingman in a group then there's a bargain to be had by ordering the wings in large quantities. We shared 24 wings (£13) between the three of us but I'd love to take down 50 wings next time (£25).

Ordering takes place through a slightly annoying app. We managed to get there in the end, making a note of our wing flavours in the comment section and confirming our choice with one of the helpful servers.

Timber Cruiser (£3.50) was an easy drinking lagery beer. Having some hop character, I think it was a step up from the “fizzy piss” it’s billed as (yes, that's actually how it's described on the menu).

A trio of chicken tenders (£4) lived up to their name. Coated in a thin lightly seasoned crumb, we really should have ordered some dip to go with them.

Spicy cheesy fries (£4.50) were a hearty bowl of stodge. Crispish chips were drenched in a comforting cheese whizz-esque sauce cut through with the vinegary heat of chilli sauce and pickled chillies.

Excellent Kansas BBQ coleslaw (£3) was made with crisp vegetables and a light and creamy dressing with a pop of fresh parsley. You can tell the chef made a lot of slaw in his previous role.

The star of the show were undoubtedly the wings, which were crisp of skin, juicy of flesh and coated in quality sauces rather than something squeezed out of a catering pack.

Hyper crisp lemon pepper wings, with a sweet sticky citrusy glaze tempered by the warmth of pepper, were the best of the bunch. They were like a lux version of Chinese takeaway lemon chicken.

Teriyaki had that comforting sweet, savoury, salty combination by the bucketload, with a good dusting of sesame on top.

Garlic parmesan were drenched with a serious amount of garlic butter and cheese. This was a chicken kiev in wing format.

Last up, BBQ wings had a good depth of flavour; they weren't too sweet and a note of bourbon complexity lurked in the background.

We had an ace meal at Wingman and it was a bargain too. Our meal for three cost just £24 excluding drinks. Whether you’re ordering their food on one of the local delivery platforms or during a session in town, Wingman is a new indie which is definitely worth checking out.

The Details:

Address - Wingman, Boom Battle Bar, The Old Brewery Quarter, Cardiff CF10 1FG
Telephone - 02922 801 555

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Heaneys, Pontcanna, Cardiff restaurant review 2021

Our 2021 reunion tour of our favourite Cardiff restaurants continues apace, having already taken in Uisce, Bar 44, and the Heathcock.

Next on the list was Heaneys.

Owned by Tommy Heaney, a previous Great British Menu finalist, we’ve only visited once since it opened in 2018. In the meantime, the evening menu has shifted towards a tasting menu format with a set menu also available at lunchtime.

Despite the move away from sharing small plates, Tommy’s modern cooking style retains its focus on raw and cooked fish dishes alongside barbecued meat plates.

Opting for the longer tasting menu (£70) over the short version (£55), we worked our way through a series of wines from their extensive range by the glass.

We kicked off the meal with a gulpful of light and sweet aerated pea soup which hid a nugget of creamy goats cheese at its bottom.

A wafer thin pastry case was loaded with pert chalk stream tartare, cleansing diced apple, an intensely herbal dill puree and savoury bonito flakes. It was a mouthful which summed up Tommy’s style of cooking.

A raw oyster dish was kindly substituted for a cooked alternative. It was a belter. The plump bivalve was coated in grease-free panko crumbs and joined by lightly pickled cucumber, salty pearls of caviar and more of that lovely dill puree.

Tommy’s house sourdough and marmite butter needs no introduction. Obviously, it was just as blinking lovely as always.

Sweet and meaty raw scallop slices sat in a light onion consommé were topped with a decadent smoked cods roe. Its richness was countered beautifully by lightly pickled enoki mushrooms.

A golden crusted halibut fillet was the first of two dishes to demonstrate Tommy’s fish cookery prowess. The meaty fish was sat in a crab bisque with a lovely intensity and accompanied by sweet garden peas.

A pearlescent fillet of poached cod flaked into pieces with the merest nudge. Accompanied by a punchy wild garlic salsa verde and a clever broth, which somehow tasted of sourdough, it made for a lovely spoonful.

Loin and breast of lamb were so flavoursome, tender and beguilingly licked with smoke that I’d have happily eaten them on their own. As it was, they were paired with excellent barbecued asparagus, the glossiest of lamb sauces, an intensely savoury seaweed puree and the creamy tang of yoghurt. 

Dessert number one saw fragrant macerated strawberries joined by a hearty dollop of clotted cream, a crunchy white chocolate crumb and nuggets of prosecco slushy, which added a floral, drying and delicately boozy note. Speed eating was of the essence before the slushy melted, rendering the dish a bit watery.

It was trumped by the second pudding, a luxurious combination of light chocolate cremeux, silky coffee ice cream, intense sweet and savoury banana miso and the thinnest of coco nib studded tuilles.

A pair of snacks completed dinner. A slightly crumbly textured macaron with an earthy twang of beetroot was filled with a lovely combination of tangy jam and sweet white chocolate puree. Soft, squidgy and creamy chocolate fudge was elevated by a couple of sea salt crystals.

We had a belter of a meal at Heaneys. Its change of format makes it more of a special occasion rather than every day kind of place. But, if you’re looking for a top notch tasting menu in a laid back dining space, then Heaneys is the place.

The Details

Address - Heaney's, 6-10 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff CF11 9NR
Telephone - 02920 341264

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Bar 44 Cardiff, Spanish restaurant review

It’s been almost eighteen months to the day that we last stepped through the doors of Bar 44 Cardiff.

And whilst we’ve had numerous orders from the excellent Mercado 44 in the interim, it’s not quite the same as going out to snaffle a cornucopia of tapas and booze and then returning home, safe in the knowledge that there’s no washing up to do.

I’ll save you my usual wittering about how the 44 Group has raised the bar for hospitality in Cardiff; it's a given how important their high end Spanish restaurants are to the city's dining scene. 

We visited Bar 44 on a Saturday lunchtime and worked our way through a selection of booze by the glass including sweet, savoury and herbal La Copa vermouth rojo (£5), citrusy Ama-Vida albariño (£6), highly gluggable Beronja Ecologico rioja (£5.40) and hoppy and refreshing Toro Blanco pale ale (£2.50).

Slices of jamon iberico de bellota (£14) were the paragon of pork. Ruby red with mouth melting fat, it’s a luxury which is worth every penny.

Pan con tomate (£3) was laden with fruity tomato, a huge honk of garlic and first rate olive oil. Some of the simplest combinations really are the best.

Salty and creamy payoyo hard cheese (£7) was soaked in a canny layer of contrasting nutty oloroso sherry. It was accompanied by the crispest of rosemary fragranced crackers.

Golden croquetas (£5.80) never disappoint. I mean, what’s not to like about jamon-studded, nutmeg-fragranced bechamel coated in a crisp crumb?

Hulking pieces of battered hake (£7.50) were paired with the silkiest of aliolis and a sweet and lightly spiced piquillo relish.

A runny centred tortilla (£6.50) was a killer combination of first rate egg, tender spud and sweet caramelised onion. It’s amazing how such humble ingredients can transform into something so decadent.

Pieces of dark chicken meat (£6.50) were bathed in a sweet and savoury sherry glaze and topped with the crunch of hazelnut. The sticky glaze reminded me a lot of the devil paneer I’d eaten from Family Choice the night before; it’s certainly no worse off for the comparison.

A stupidly tender, fat-rich mini rack of lamb ribs (£8.50) was topped with a dusting of savoury, salty, crunchy and slightly sweet anchovy breadcrumbs. Accompanied by a punchy parsley and red onion salad, which is very similar to the one which accompanies St John’s bone marrow, it was essential to balance the dish’s richer elements.

Providing further evidence for my theory that slow-cooked bits of meat in a bun are an upgrade on most fast-grilled burgers, Bar 44’s confit duck and smoked morcilla burger (£4.50) is unquestionably one of the best in the city. A sturdy mini challah roll was loaded with crisp-crusted yielding shreds of fat-rich duck flecked with addictively smoky black pudding. A sweet and delicately spicy piquillo pepper ketchup and creamy yet cleansing apple and fennel slaw completed the belting bun.

Dessert maintained the highest of standards.

A Café Solo Martini (£9) was essentially a next level espresso martini with roasty notes of coffee, the sweet stickiness of PX sherry, a good whack of booze, and a dusting of chocolate.

Valencian orange and almond cake (£6.50) took the prize for best pud I’ve ever eaten in a 44 Group establishment. A beautifully soft, juicy and citrusy sponge was topped with sticky and tangy marmalade, almond-adorned cream, floral moscatel soaked charred orange slices, and a warming hit of cinnamon. It was opulent but at the same time light and refreshing.

We had a truly epic lunch at Bar 44. They’re dishing out tapas of the highest level with brilliant booze and first class service to go with it. What a restaurant.

The Details:

Address - Bar 44, 15-23 Westgate St, Cardiff CF10 1DD
Telephone - 0333 344 4049