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