Saturday, 29 May 2021

The Heathcock, Llandaff and Hare and Hounds Bakery, Cowbridge reviews

Apologies in advance, but this blog is going to feel like history is repeating itself for the next few months.

You see, now that hospitality has fully reopened, the places I really want to visit aren’t the newest kids on the block but rather my favourite restaurants in south Wales which I’ve already blogged about at least once. These are the restaurants where I’m guaranteed a good time and which I feel the greatest need get out and support.

So, on my birthday weekend, lunch at the Heathcock was very much top of my list. This Llandaff pub, which is a sister to Aberthin’s Hare and Hounds, is currently offering small plates at lunch time (and I think a la carte in the evening). Dishes average around £8 and we found three each made for a good sized meal.

A thick tranche of duck liver and pork terrine (£7.80) was soft textured with a good offaly twang. A robe of smoky bacon and jewels of sweet prune and nutty pistachio took it to the next level.

A mountain of lamb sweetbreads (£8.20) were golden of crust and tender and buttery of interior. A glossy meaty gravy flecked with nuggets of smoked bacon, finely diced asparagus and fragrant mint completed this luxury riff on the flavours a Sunday roast.

Al dente ribbons of pappardelle (£11) were bathed in a deeply savoury sauce heady with brown crab that was balanced by a note of citrus. A dusting of sweet white crab meat finished the plate. I’d have gladly eaten three bowlfuls and called it a day.

A fine summery salad (£8.40) combined smoke-licked tender squid, crisp fennel shavings, sweet orange segments, fennel-twanged salami and salty samphire. It all balanced really nicely.

Blistered skinned oily mackerel (£7.90) was paired with a blob of silky ozonic oyster mayo and the acidic cut through of pickled cabbage flecked with capers and brown shrimp. It was a good combination of flavours but we found it a bit heavy on the salt.

A pair of golden crusted sweet scallops (£14) were bathed in a compelling savoury sea lettuce butter sauce and topped with salty samphire and cleansing apple sticks.

Soft crumbed house bread was essential for mopping up all those excellent sauces.

 For dessert, a set buttermilk pudding (£7.80) with a good wobble combined creaminess and gentle lactic acidity. Accompanied by toasty pieces of cinder toffee and fragrant strawberry, it was a very successful sum of its parts.

A slice of lemon tart (£8) was let down slightly by a pastry base which could have been a little thinner and crisper. But its silky lemony filling, thin brûléed top and accompanying scoop of cleansing yoghurt sorbet were absolutely bang on.

We had a delicious lunch at the Heathcock. Its flavour-packed seasonal cooking is right up my street and their slick serving team make it a safe and comfortable place to spend time in.

The Hare and Hounds Bakery, Cowbridge

A few weeks before our visit to the Heathcock, we checked out the recently opened Hare and Hounds Bakery in Cowbridge. Located in a arched roofed building with a chalk board menu outside, it reminded me more than a little of the St John bakery in Bermondsey. These parallels make sense considering Tom Watts-Jones, owner of the Hare and Hounds, trained at St John. 

Open Wednesday to Sunday from 8.30am to 3.30pm, a number of the bakery’s daily treats, including sausage rolls, lemon meringue cruffins and strawberry marshmallow doughnuts, had sold out by the time we arrived. 

A really crusty baguette (£6) was stuffed with heaps of blushing pink and tender cold roast beef with a pokey horseradish sauce. 

And for pud, a hazelnut pain au chocolat (£3.50) was filled with plenty of chocolate and nut paste. 

A loaf of soft crumbed malted rye grain sourdough (£4.50) was delicious slathered with peanut butter and marmite over the rest of the weekend. 

I’m looking forward to trying out the rest of the goodies from the Hare and Hounds Bakery - I’ll just arrive a little bit earlier next time! 

The Details:

Address - The Heathcock, 58-60 Bridge St, Cardiff CF5 2EN
Telephone - 029 2115 2290

Address - The Hare and Hounds Bakery, North Road, Cowbridge CF71 7DF

Saturday, 22 May 2021

The Biryani Pot and a few other places to eat in Stroud, Gloucestershire

The Biryani Pot in Stroud is one of those canny takeaway and home delivery businesses that have arrived during the pandemic. Owned by chef Gautam Kaila, he’s the head pastry chef at Bath’s Fine Cheese Company, former head pastry chef at the luxury Calcot Manor, and has years of experience cooking in high end kitchens in India. 

Specialising in Hyderabadi dum style biryani, the lengthy cooking process involves marinading meat for over twelve hours before sealing it inside a traditional clay pot alongside rice and fried onions and cooking it low and slow for a number of hours.

Chicken, goat (sold out when we ordered), vegetable and vegan biryanis are available in either single pots (£12.95 - £15) or large pots (£40 - £46) to preorder only and they’re open for collection or delivery (£2 in the Stroud area) from Tuesdays to Sundays.

Biryani Pot’s food is packaged with a level of care and attention to detail that is almost without compare. A creatively branded card box nestles a trio of clay pots - the pastry sealed biryani pot and a pair dinky accompaniment pots. Impressively, the food tasted even better than it looked.

Gorgeously fluffy spice-fragranced rice gave way to brilliantly juicy bone in chicken thigh and drumstick, and then denser rice tangled with an intense spice-layered sauce thickened with sticky caramelised onions. I’m not sure exactly which spices put in an appearance but I detected the warming, comforting flavours of star anise, cardamom, pepper and cinnamon.

The biryani was elevated even further by its sides - creamy and tangy yoghurt raita studded with cucumber and jewels of pomegranate.

And a mirchi ka salan, a creamy and nutty gravy made with peanuts, sesame seeds, tamarind and coconut, which thrummed with spice and chilli.

It's worth saying that a single biryani pot is an absolute whopper. We just managed to demolish two pots between us but I was as full to bursting as Violet Beauregarde.

Chef Gautam’s pastry skills were given away by a gorgeous packet of complimentary chai spiced fudge - silky smooth, creamy and soft, it was heady with warming spices.

The Biryani Pot is absolutely ace. I hope it's a business which sticks around post-pandemic as I'm already craving another visit to Stroud for one of their delicious biryanis. 

The Details:

Telephone - 07396388954
Address - 1 Hill Top Cl, Stroud GL5 1PZ

Other Stroud food highlights

We ate very well during our three day trip to Stroud, with a number of our meals based around supplies from the food market at Five Valleys Shopping Centre.

We had excellent falafel pockets from Falafel Mama, laden with crisp falafel, heaps of fresh salads and pickles, silky tahini and punchy mango and coriander salsas.

Bao buns from the Singaporean owned Bao Ma were deliciously pillowy and available in a range of crowd pleasing flavours from 48-hour braised pork belly to chicken katsu. We had Korean beef stuffed with tender shreds of meat, crisp slaw, fiery chilli sauce and crisp onions.

A meaty bolognese and sweet pea filled arancino from Non Solo was reassuringly weighty yet still retained lightness of texture.

Oakesy’s fruit and veg had some great produce including heritage tomatoes and Wye Valley rhubarb which was delightful roasted up in the oven.

Focaccia from the Artisan Bakery was crisp of crust yet wonderfully airy and soft of crumb with a good soaking of olive oil and dusting of rosemary.

It was lovely with charcuterie and garlic Yarg from Armadeli and a bottle of perfectly citrusy and funky Mills wild beer purchased from Stroud Wines.

Outside of the food market, we visited the multi-award winning Simpson's where precisely cooked flakey cod was cocooned in golden and seriously crisp-batter. Chips were tasty but not remarkable.

We had a lovely trip to Stroud. It’s a charming little market town with a cool independent food scene, just over an hour’s drive from Cardiff. It's particularly famous for its Saturday farmer’s market

We stayed in a cosy apartment in the basement of the house where Laurie Lee was born. It was packed with complimentary retro treats from Ritz and Cadbury’s animal biscuits to Riesen and Werther’s Originals. During the days we visited Slimbridge wetlands and walked the Cotswold canals and Laurie Lee wildlife trail.

Saturday, 15 May 2021

The Depot, Cardiff street food event review

Last week I realised that I’m old.

When the entirety of the crowd at the Depot began belting out the lyrics to High School Musical’s Breaking Free, our table was left scratching its heads. I also wondered why they couldn’t have played the more familiar theme tune for Byker Grove instead.

It probably explains why it’s taken me so long to visit the Depot for the first time. As I no longer go “out out”, the raucous scenes of merriment from Cardiff’s huge warehouse space have always made me crave a quiet night on the sofa watching Bargain Hunt repeats.

But, now we’re out of lockdown I’m never going to turn down an invite for a social event ever again. So, we found ourselves at the Depot for a Saturday night session (7.15pm - 11pm, £16.50 for a table of six) with Mrs G's work friends.

With the Depot’s warehouse space temporarily replaced with airy marquees to comply with COVID regulations, everything was seriously well-organised for maximum safety and minimum wait times. Drinks and food are ordered to the table via the easy to use Yoello, a Cardiff fintech rising star.

Pints of very drinkable Tiny Rebel Cali (£5.50) arrived in minutes whilst dishes from a strong line-up of rotating Cardiff street food traders took no longer than half an hour.

Mrs G and I put most of the traders through their paces and there wasn’t a dud to be found. 

We were seriously impressed by the menu of pan Asian influenced bao buns from The Greedy Bear. A pair of Japanese chicken buns (£8.50) saw pillowy soft bao stuffed with crisp and rugged crumbed chicken thigh, harmonising pickles, creamy Kewpie mayo and ferocious red chillies.

There’s nowhere to hide with a pizza margherita (£6) and the Neapolitan-style example from Fwrnes didn’t disappoint. Leopard spotted and airy of crust with a thin and floppy base, it was topped with light and fruity tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella and aromatic basil.

Keralan Karavan always bring the spice to the party and their Bombay tikka taco (£7.50) was true to type. A caramelised cheese crusted crisp and flaky paratha was loaded with well spiced chicken tikka, pokey pickles, sweet and tangy chutneys and the crunch of Bombay mix. It was Mrs G’s pick of the night.

Frank’s no fuss hot dogs (£5) are an assemblage of quality ingredients - a deliciously smoky and snappy skinned Gloucester Old Spot frankfurter was stuffed into a soft and sweet brioche bun alongside ketchup, mustard and crispy onions.

Finally, a Meating Point chicken souvlaki wrap with halloumi (£7) saw a soft griddled pitta filled with chicken pieces, golden cheese, chips, red onion and a decent dollop of tzatziki.

We had a belter of a night out at the Depot. It’s hard to argue with the quality of street food on offer and how well everything is organised. I could certainly get used to more street food events where everything is ordered to your table via an app and you don’t spend half the evening queuing instead of socialising.

The Details:

Address - Depot Cardiff, Williams Way, Curran Embankment, Cardiff CF10 5DY
Telephone - 029 2022 0491

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Uisce, Pontcanna, Cardiff restaurant review 2021

Ah man, it’s great to be back in the saddle.

After over four months of restaurant closures, I’ve been itching to get back to eating out.

Whilst the boom in at home restaurant kits has been a real source of joy, there’s nothing quite like taking a load off in a restaurant and putting your dinner in the capable hands of hospitality professionals.

So, where better for our first meal back out than Tommy Heaney’s Uisce, his cracker of a small plates restaurant in Pontcanna?

Their outside seating area wraps around the entire front of the restaurant alongside their impressive tent. So there’s plenty of room for outdoor diners looking to make the most of any fleeting glimpses of sunshine.

Golden orbed croquetas (£4) were filled with silky bechamel.

Crisp crusted and tangy crumbed sourdough (£3.50) was served with Heaney’s signature Marmite butter with a big whallop of umami and dairy creaminess. The mound of butter had doubled in size since our last visit so we of course had to order some more bread to go with it.

Meaty slivers of raw bass (£9) were bathed in a summery dressing of cleansing orange, quality oil and warming stem ginger. A version of this dish was a highlight of our Heaney’s lockdown meal kit.

Barbecued lamb was treated with reverence (£14). Blushing pink and gorgeously tender with a lick of smoke and crisp well-rendered fat, it was joined by the glossiest of sauces, verdant cavolo nero, potent wild garlic salsa verde and the tempering creaminess of goats curd.

Wye Valley asparagus (£8) had also been licked with the flames of a BBQ. It’s accompaniments of salty, smoky, creamy cods roe and the crunch of hazelnut were bang on.

Uisce’s crumpet (£10) has changed topping with every visit. This time their crisp yet squidgy crumpet was topped with yielding pork belly slices dressed with XO butter sauce thrumming with savoury shellfish. Coriander leaves and a squeeze of lime added levity and a south east asian twang.

Desserts were refined riffs on two of my favourite puds - profiteroles and lemon meringue pie.

A choux bun (£8) was filled with a rich chocolate cremeux and topped with lighter hazelnut mousse. Contrast was provided by a sharp citrusy gel and the crunch of hazelnut but the star of the show was a compelling banana miso which was intensely fruity, salty and a little savoury - I just wanted a lot more of it.

Creamy and citrusy lemon posset (£8) was topped with a buttery crumbly shortbread and peaks of Italian meringue. The masterstroke was a basil puree which provided an aromatic herbal hit to balance the sweetness.

We had a belting meal at Uisce, as expected. Everything was on point from the slick and friendly service, to the delicious wines by the glass (we had Austrian and Argentinian Gruner Veltliners) and technically accomplished small plates which seem to get better with every visit. It’s great to be eating out at restaurants again.

The Details

Telephone - 029 2034 1264
Address - Uisce by Heaney's, 4 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna CF11 9NR