Sunday, 26 September 2021

The Mariners, Rock, Cornwall, Paul Ainsworth pub

Fashion designers' diffusion collections often bring a taste of high end luxury to a more mainstream audience at a more affordable price than their haute couture ranges. 

Furthermore, whilst haute couture ranges often feature PVC oompa loompa suits and horse hair scuba masks that you might wear to a gala dinner once, diffusion collections generally contain the kind of thing you’d happy to be seen wearing in the pub. 

It's much the same with Michelin-starred chefs. Their offshoot restaurants often end up delivering a more crowd-friendly, affordable and yet still brilliant quality product in comparison to their flagship temples of high gastronomy.

Take Paul Ainsworth's pub, The Mariners in Rock.

It's as good an example of a gastropub as I've encountered, with Michelin-starred technique deployed to knock out pitch perfect pub classics at a relatively affordable price.

With panoramic views over the Camel Estuary, it's a pretty dreamy setting for a restaurant. Their starter selection is pretty dreamy too; I wanted to order everything from crispy baby squid and Welsh rarebit to buttermilk chicken and marmalade glazed sausages.

A scotch egg (£10) was as good as I've had - golden yolked with a little bit of run and ooze; laden with loosely packed, juicy, sage-fragranced sausage meat; and coated in a crisp crumb. Piccalilli with crunchy veg, a good acidity and warmth of mustard was a lovely foil.

A big pot of creamy and smokey taramasalata (£9) was a treat dolloped onto nicely charred toast with a good drizzle of olive oil.

Shepherds pie (£21) was as far removed from the pedestrian stodge it so easily ends up as. Gorgeously meaty slow-cooked lamb ragu was packed with generous hunks of meat bathed in a gravy with the added savoury complexity of seaweed. If that wasn’t enough, it was topped with silky celeriac mash, golden cheese, crispy nuggets of lamb and puffs of skin and accompanied by a zingy mint salsa verde which thrummed with the savoury depth of anchovy.

When your fish and chips (£19.50) are served with a trio of killer condiments you know you're going to be in for a treat. Fruity curry sauce, tangy caper and gherkin-packed tartare and clever cold mushy sweet peas were all bang on. 

So too was a whopper of a meaty, crisp-battered piece of cod that was topped with heaps of scraps/scrumps/scanners (delete as appropriate). Golden fluffy chips were lovely but didn't quite deliver on the hyper-crispness I'd associate with their triple-cooked billing.

A massive wodge of hispi cabbage (£6) was delightfully tender, licked with smoke and slathered with a warming tangy mustard dressing and a flurry of savoury cheese.

Ignore the 'roly poly' billing (£8.50) associated with my dessert and what I had was a deliciously light, moist and toasty brown butter steamed sponge topped with sweet yet tart strawberry jam and vanilla-packed custard.

Mariner's trifle (£10) was a work of art. Lime-thwacked whipped cream, toasted almonds, more of that excellent cold custard, and raspberry jelly studded with sherry-soaked sponge and fresh raspberries all combined to make a cracker of a pud.

With its outstanding pub classics, first class service and a lovely setting, you'd struggle to find anyone who isn't impressed by the Mariner's in Rock.

The Details:

Telephone - 01841 532093
Address - The Mariners, The Slipway, Rock, Wadebridge PL27 6LD

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Bacareto, Venetian bar and restaurant, Cardiff city centre

There's almost nowhere in Cardiff which oozes effortless cool like the recently opened Bacareto.

Based on Church Street on the former site of a gambling shop and the New China restaurant, the venue has been taken over by the team from Spit and Sawdust skate park and overhauled into a Venetian bar, cafe and restaurant. They also share the building with the new headquarters for Cardiff Skate Club.

The refurbishment has been done beautifully with a sweeping wood-panelled bar, terrazzo tiling, canary yellow banquette seating, roof terrace and wall-mounted planters.

If that wasn’t lush enough, they've also got the hugely-talented Grady Atkins, at the helm of the kitchen serving a menu of Venetian small plates (cicchetti) downstairs as well as a menu of more substantial rustic Italian cooking upstairs.

I visited with the downstairs bar with mates after a clutch of craft beers at Bubs a few doors down. Bacareto’s booze menu is impressive in its own right - a fully Italian wine list includes house red served in traditional 100ml ombre glasses, craft beers include Lost and Grounded helles and Bristol Beer Factory’s milk stout, and a spritz menu has eight different options.

I knocked back a really good citrus and bergamot fragranced Italicus spritz (£5.50) as well as a classic bitter Campari spritz (£5.50).

Cicchetti are ordered at the bar so you can work your way through a load as you order your drinks. They’re brought on sharing plates as and when they’re ready.

Bacala (£2.70) saw brown bread loaded with addictively soft-textured, savoury and slightly fishy mashed salt pollock.

A cube of summery watermelon (£1.50) was topped with a leaf of fragrant fresh mint and a piece of firm and salty vegan Trimma cheese, which bore an uncannily good likeness to feta.

A retro devilled egg (£1) was dialled up to 11 on the flavour scale, the yolk seasoned with a big thump of mustard and topped with a pile of salty anchovies. It perhaps would have benefited from being reigned in slightly but it certainly had me reaching for my drink.

Nutty rye bread (£3) was topped with a creamy funk of gorgonzola, sweet honey and crunchy hazelnuts. This simple yet killer flavour combination was my pick of the night.

A crisp arancino (£3), fresh out of the fryer, was loaded with distinct grained risotto and a creamy salty ooze of taleggio. This was quality deep-fried booze food.

Across the table, friends enjoyed slices of soft brown bread loaded with delicate salami (£2.50) and various dried tomatoes of different intensities and sweetness.

Finally a massive wodge of creamy melted and stringy buffalo mozzarella (£3) was coated in a crisp herb crumb. Mozzarella sticks can get in the sea compared to this.

For dessert, two scoops of pistachio gelato (£3) were milky, smooth and well-flavoured with their billed ingredient.

Bacareto is exactly the kind of place I could spend many an evening - they serve lovely bites to eat and booze in a cool setting and it’s great value to boot. I’ll certainly be back soon to explore their upstairs menu.

The Details:

Address - Bacareto, 13 Church St, Cardiff CF10 1BG
Email -

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Kindle, Cardiff city centre restaurant review

Small plates. Natural wines. Open-flame cooking. Sustainability-focused.

Kindle, Cardiff’s newest restaurant opening in the old Warden’s House of Sophia Gardens, ticks all the boxes on the trendy restaurant checklist.

Owned by husband and wife team Phill and Deb Lewis, who also own Dusty’s Pizza and Nook, Kindle has been a long time in the making.

A successful crowdfunding campaign back in 2019 saw the couple raise funds towards renovation costs. But delays in the project occurred due to the pandemic and other unforeseen hurdles.

Now, in September 2021, Kindle has opened its gates.

The first phase of the project sees the restaurant set up for outdoor dining whilst phase two, which may take up to a couple of years, will see the building renovated with indoor seating and a shiny glass extension.

Leading the kitchen team is Tom Powell, a former head chef at the Michelin-starred Walnut Tree in Abergavenny. He’s pulled together a menu which balances its focus on vegetables, meat and fish, and international influences including Southern India, Korea and Iran.

We visited Kindle on a humid midweek night and welcomed the fresh air in the sheltered outdoor dining room. As the Welsh weather inevitably turns colder, Kindle plan to offer blankets and hot water bottles and curtain off the seating area to provide respite from the elements.

During the meal we knocked back some delicious glasses of natural wine - peachy Naturlich pet nat (£6), a fragrant In a Gadda da Vida orange wine (£8) and honey-like Monbazar dessert wine (£6).

A complimentary snack saw a slice of sweet tomato coated in breadcrumbs and topped with a flurry of rich and salty provolone cheese. 

We ordered six small plates between us as recommended by our friendly server and it made for a good sized meal.

Highlights included a super-crisp crumbed piece of bone-in quail (£11) sat in a silky and buttery champ and glossy meaty gravy. Fried chicken, mash and gravy is a classic combination and here it was elevated excellently.

It was cracking served alongside a bowl of lightly bitter and slightly smoky collared greens (£5) tangled with soft and sweet caramelised onions and topped with crispy onions.

Crispy potatoes (£5) lived up to their billing. With their soft interior and drizzled with rich confit egg yolk and burnt onion salt, it was a high-end take on hash browns and dippy egg.

Sweet and tender leeks (£6) with a nice bite and shavings of raw leek were bathed in an oniony, nutty and slightly sweet brown butter sauce with a great depth of flavour. I mopped up every last drop.

Delicate white crab (£11) was tumbled together with crisp white radish and sat in a pool of romesco sauce with a good thwack of earthy brown crab meat. Whilst it was very tasty plate, the wateriness of the radish somewhat washed away the flavour of the sweet white flesh.

Lastly, crisp sangak flatbread (£4) with a good chew was topped with soft aubergine with a delicate lick of char.

Two puds were on offer and we of course ordered both of them.

A crisp cannoli (£6) was loaded with rich dark chocolate ganache and a smooth sweet custard.

A moist and nutty oaty cake (£5), not to be confused with the oat cake found on a cheeseboard, was served with a caramelised roast apple piece with a delicate fragrance of rosemary and a good dollop of cream.

We were really impressed by the open-fired seasonal small plates and natural wines at Kindle. There’s most certainly substance to back up the buzzwords and it's a great addition to Cardiff's restaurant scene.

The Details:

Address - Kindle,  Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, CF11 9SZ 

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Scruffy Pups, Dog Cafe, Llanrumney

If I told you that the best reuben sandwich I’ve eaten in Cardiff is from a dog cafe hidden away in a Llanrumney back street, you'd probably accuse me of telling you a shaggy dog story.

But, it's true.

Scruffy Pups’ facilities include dog grooming, washing and an agility area as well as a menu for canine diners featuring puppuccinos and doggy doughnuts.

However, it’s their menu for two-legged diners which I’m interested in. Featuring reuben sandwiches, birria tacos, churros, and buttermilk chicken sandwiches, it’s most certainly a cut above the usual cafe fare.

With both indoor and outdoor seating areas, ordering takes place using Uber Eats. They also offer takeaway and delivery through the same platform.

The kitchen is run by a self-taught cook who’s a passionate foodie. He previously lived in London where he was a big fan of the salt beef sandwiches on offer in Brick Lane. It shows - the seven day brining process involved in making their salt beef leads to excellent results. Seriously tender, lightly licked with salt, and with a good meaty hit, it’s better salt beef than I’ve had from far more acclaimed enterprises.

The reuben it was used in was one heck of a sandwich. Thick pieces of meat were stuffed into soft toasted white bread and accompanied by crispy cleansing kraut and pickles, Swiss cheese, tangy thousand island sauce and warming American-style mustard. For £10 including a can of soft drink and ready salted kettle chips, it was a very hearty lunch.

A buttermilk chicken sandwich saw a whopper of a juicy chicken breast coated in a hyper-crisp gnarly golden crumb. Topped with dill pickles, American cheese and herb mayo and stuffed into a brioche bun, it was a cracking sandwich.

It was served with a can of pop and a mahoosive box of fries as part of a meal deal for £8.50. The fries were on the limp side but they were grease free and compellingly seasoned with smoky and savoury chip spice.

If you’re looking for a delicious sandwich then Scruffy Pups gets a big thumbs up. Handily, it’s also located on the Rhymney Trail so it’s ideal if you want to want to walk off your meal, whether you’re on four legs or two.

The Details:

Address - Scruffy Pups, The Hut, Ball Lane, Llanrumney, Cardiff CF3 4JS
Telephone - 07494 595690