Saturday, 21 May 2022

Bully's, Pontcanna, Cardiff restaurant review 2022


With their charmingly eclectic decor, laid back atmosphere, friendly front of house team, delicious wines and big flavoured French cooking, Bully’s in Pontcanna has been onto a winning formula for over 25 years.

Having had a great night there just under twelve months ago, another visit was on cards because there’s a new head chef in place, Simmie Vedi, a cook whose beautifully curated Instagram account features intricate dishes which blur the lines between food and art.


Bully’s menu, which includes dishes such as welsh beef tartare with rhubarb and soy-cured yolk and pork three ways with apricot and cavolo nero, is at the pricier end of the Cardiff spectrum with starters averaging £11, mains £26 and desserts £7.50.

I’m always a fan of a complimentary snack and a dinky bowl of smooth carrot and coriander soup was pleasingly buttery and spiked with pepper.
 

Piping hot mini rolls were fragranced with the sweet tang of tomato. Crisp of crust and soft of crumb, a couple however were teetering on the edge of being burnt.


The first of two starters (£11) saw thick tranches of meaty cured salmon elevated by their accompaniments of piquant bloody Mary and rich avocado purees and intense salmon roe.


A bowl of well-made tagliatelle (£12) looked diminutive in size but its coating of funky truffle, a flurry of parmesan and a runny yolk combined to make a deliciously decadent dish.


I rarely order steak when I visit a restaurant as it’s one of the *very few* things I can make a decent attempt at home. But, I had no regrets ordering a rare fillet steak (£32), which was well-crusted and flavoured. A slab of panko-crumbed mashed potato was dressed with purple sprouting broccoli and zippy pickled onions whilst a pot of silky beef fat-enriched bearnaise had a good tarragon intensity.


Another dainty yet big-flavoured dish combined disks of herb crusted lamb loin (£25), a buttery sweetbread, wild garlic scented mashed potato and a vibrant salsa verde.


Delicious sides all provided welcome bulk.

Crisp skin-on chips (£7) were seasoned with the funky duo of truffle and parmesan.


An excellent selection of spring greens (£5.50) including sweet leeks, hispi cabbage and chicory.


Salty gruyere-twanged potato puree (£5) was topped with nuggets of crispy bacon.


For dessert, a tarte tatin (£7.50) looked a little anaemic but it very much hit the mark with its crisp and flaky buttery pastry, soft and sweet apple, light and toasty caramel and good dollop of clotted cream.


A dense, smooth and rich brick of Valhrona chocolate cremeux (£8) was bang up my street. Accompanied by blobs of pithy marmalade puree, sponge pieces and a scoop of vanilla ice cream it was a top notch pud.


A cheese selection (£20) was one of the most creative I’ve encountered in the city, with each piece accompanied by a bespoke garnish. The standouts were a slice of socky Golden Cenarth which stood up well against a wild garlic shortbread and carrot chutney and truffled cheddar with fragrant apricot puree and toasted brioche.

Not everything quite hit the mark as a piece of fresh goats cheese was a bit recessive compared to pieces of beetroot and laverbread biscuit whilst a honey cake, which was matched with intense pickled walnut puree and funky Perl Las, was a little bit dry.


With the arrival their new head chef we were all in agreement that the cooking at Bully’s has moved up a notch or two. If it’s been a while since you’ve visited then now is a great time.

The Details:

Address - Bully's, 5 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff CF11 9NP
Web - http://bullysrestaurant.co.uk/
Telephone - 029 2022 1905

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Y Polyn, Carmarthenshire restaurant review


Some restaurants more than others know what it takes to deliver great hospitality. 

They’re the kind of places which achieve substance over style, where the flavours are big and the portions fill you up nicely, where there’s no pandering to the latest gimmicks and fads, and where the atmosphere is relaxed but the service is slick.

Y Polyn, which is located in between Carmarthen and Llandeilo, is very much one of these kinds of places. Owned by husband and wife team Sue and Mark Manson, it’s been a Welsh institution for almost twenty years.


Since our last visit in 2012, the place has had a bit of rejig with the addition of an upstairs dining room. But, the venue has lost none of its charm with its mishmash of wooden furniture and walls adorned with vintage prints of curious cutlery.

With a set menu offering three courses for £55, it’s fair to say that I’d have gladly ordered each and every dish on offer from a starter of tartiflette and main of crispy belly pork to a side dish of beef dripping chips and dessert of baked lemon cheesecake.

Included in the set menu price is sparkling or still water as well as two types of exemplary homemade bread; a super soft rosemary and sea salt loaf and another with a dark caramelised crust and hefty chew.


A bowl of beautifully made tagliatelle thrummed with crab, chilli and sweet peas whilst a good dusting of toasted breadcrumbs added addictive crunch.


Rust coloured fish soup, served in a steaming cauldron, delivered bags of intensity and compelling notes of aniseed and throat-tickling heat. The classic accompaniments of croutons, gruyere and pokey rouille completed the magic potion.


Mains took the heartiness up another belt notch.

Gloriously tender and pink Creedy Carver duck breast was bathed in a deeply meaty sauce and served alongside a cast iron pan filled with a duck shepherds pie made with slow cooked parts of the bird. Bringing balance to the richness was crisp lightly pickled cabbage and a sweet and tangy spiced plum sauce.


A meaty and flaky fillet of crisp-skinned skrei cod was bobbed in a dish of creamy and fragrant fennel and orange velouté that was punctuated by the zing and crunch of pickled fennel. A little bit of filth came in the form of a golden crumbed smoked haddock risotto cake which had more than a shade of kedgeree about it.


When you see something described on a menu as legendary, it's a) a must order and b) comes with a serious weight of expectation. Fortunately, Y Polyn's “legendary” dauphinoise potatoes delivered on its promise by the pan-full with the indulgently rich layers of buttery and creamy spuds surrounded by ruggedly golden edges.


Desserts were just as ribsticking as the preceding courses.

The sight of a knickerbocker glory on offer brought out my inner child. Thankfully, this was a very grown-up interpretation with scoops of soft vanilla ice cream layered with chocolate orange sauce, a chocolate crumb with a good coco bitterness, and cleansing orange segments.


A sizeable wedge of pear tart combined thin crisp pastry, a light frangipane (which probably could have taken a bigger hit of almond) and pieces of fruit with a bit of bite. The star of the show was an accompanying scoop of ice cream with a great wallop of stem ginger.


We had a corker of a meal at Y Polyn and it’s a fine example of what great hospitality is all about. I'm not really sure what I waited ten years to go back because it's the kind of place I could visit every week.

The Details:

Address - Y Polyn, Capel Dewi, Carmarthen SA32 7LH
Telephone - 01267 290000

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Mangal 2, Dalston, London restaurant review


I can't think of a restaurant that I've been as excited about visiting as much in a long time as Mangal 2.

The story of the 25-year old traditional Turkish grill house which reinvented itself last year to serve modern Turkish food is something which resonates with my internal conflict between Friday night doner muncher and try-hard hipster wannabe.


With multiple glowing reviews from bloggers and national critics; a booze list which features natural wines, local craft beers and 3Fonteinen lambic; and a menu with captivating dishes such as lambs heart pide with pickled cucumbers, it was top of our list of places to visit on our most recent trip to London.

So, we found ourselves in Dalston on a vibey Saturday night, tucked away in the downstairs dining room of the rammed restaurant.


Starters all smashed it out of the park.

Light and crisp chickpea fritters (£9) were capped with intense smoked cods roe and the crunch and zing of pickled cabbage.


A brilliantly crisp, soft and airy sourdough pide (£3) was as good a restaurant bread as I've had in a good while. Drenched in fat it was also accompanied by whipped butter with a superb cultured tang. We immediately ordered another.


A cull yaw (ewe mutton) kofte (£5) was exemplary - intensely lamby, juicy and accompanied by a blob of chicken fat mayonnaise, this was top tier kebabage.


Mains was where we first encountered a few issues.

A precisely cooked sweet fleshed lemon soul (£32) was covered with a buttery sauce seasoned with the intense earthiness of brown crab. It sat on top of nutty bulgur dressed with more of that excellent brown crab sauce.


Our two other mains could best be described as arriving at our table as warm - having already waited a long time for our food and with no check back from the very friendly yet stretched server, I was only able to raise the issue once we'd finished our plates.

Cull yaw loin (£28) was served a bob-on medium with a lovely depth of flavour, light chew and lick of char. Comfortingly meaty lentils flecked with bits of lamb offal and a charred green pepper were great accompaniments, but it was a dish which would have been so much nicer if it was hot.


A tepid bowl of ratte potatoes (£7) were dry, lacked the crispness which they teased from their blistered appearance, and didn’t really deliver on the promised hit of sucuk and aged kasar cheese.


Desserts were also a mixed bag.

An excellent warm, soft and sugary carob cake (£9) was accompanied by a genius dollop of butterscotch with the nutty savouriness of tahini and a glug of hazelnut milk which was a more than fitting substitute for cream.


A scoop of floral mountain ice cream (£9) and zingy rhubarb pieces and coulis were all bang on the money. But it was topped with a piece of baked filo which perhaps would have more appropriately been described as charred filo. Unfortunately, the astringent taste of the pastry rather overwhelmed everything on the plate.


Overall we had a tasty meal at Mangal 2 with flashes of brilliance. However, there were a few too disappointing elements for me to recommend it wholeheartedly.

The Details:

Address - 4 Stoke Newington Rd, London N16 8BH
Telephone - 020 7254 7888 

Saturday, 7 May 2022

SY23, Aberystwyth Michelin-starred restaurant review


Most chefs don't achieve in their whole careers what Nathan Davies did in the space of two days.

On the 15th and 16th of February this year, the chef patron of Aberystwyth's SY23 secured a perfect ten for his starter on Great British Menu (he went on to cook the dish at the banquet), his restaurant was named Michelin’s best new opening in the UK, and he secured his first Michelin star.

Not bad going at all.

Unsurprisingly, a table at SY23 is now one of the UK’s hottest tickets and it's currently nigh on impossible to secure a reservation for a Saturday night until the end of the year.

Tucked away in the corner of a square in the middle of Aberystwyth, SY23’s name comes from the town’s post code and is a reflection of Nathan’s passion for sourcing local ingredients


Pre-dinner drinks are served in the downstairs bar, whilst the main event takes place upstairs in a cosy 14 seat dining room, where the focal point is an open kitchen with a charcoal grill and a beast of an extraction system. By raising and lowering the ingredients to different shelves on the barbecue, Nathan and his team skilfully adjust the intensity of heat.


As a former head chef at the nearby two Michelin-starred Ynyshir, it’s understandable that there’s Asian influences dotted across Nathan’s menu, including the use of miso to provide seasoning. The boundary between chef and front of house is also blurred as Charlie the sous chef served a number of dishes, each accompanied by an enthusiastic explanation.

There's a single tasting menu on offer with 10 dishes costing £110. And a matched wine selection consisting of 6 glasses costs £65. We shared a single flight and it was a good amount of booze.

“Mushrooms" was our first dish and its title gave away very little about the amount of effort which had gone into its cooking A brilliantly savoury and 'shroomy construction, it comprised of layers of pickled shiitake mushrooms, grilled maitake mushrooms brushed with miso, mushroom ketchup and a light yet intense aerated mushroom puree. Sourdough croutons dotted throughout the dish proved crunch with every bite.


SY23 is probably the first restaurant that I've ever visited where they give you a whole loaf of bread to go with your meal and it's an idea which I'm very much in favour of. The loaf of caramelised crusted sourdough was made with fermented grains from Felin Ganol watermill and accompanied by a good smear of tangy cultured butter seasoned with red miso. We found ourselves reaching for a slice between every course to mop our plates clean.


A behemoth of a hand-dived scallop was one of the two standouts of the meal. Cooked ferociously over the flame on one side to develop a corking caramelised crust, it was unlike any scallop I'd ever eaten. Dressed with a savoury, sweet and zingy Japanese sanbaizu sauce, toasty brown butter, little pops of briny pickled sea vegetables, toasted nori and a crisp crumb made with dehydrated scallop, it was a cracking bowl of complex comfort food.


A tranche of turbot, cooked whole in a metal cage in the Basque style, had clearly been shown a lot of love. Aged for six days to draw out the moisture and then gently cooked over flame, the meaty fish was balanced by the light savouriness of a dashi broth and slices of al dente asparagus punctuated with pickled cockles.


On the side, a slice of char-licked crisped turbot skin was impressively pork crackling like. Someone needs to put this in a bag and sell it.


Next up was the other star dish of the meal, a supremely chicken-y pot of silky liver parfait scattered with the crunch of toasted hazelnuts and pine nuts, shards of crisp chicken skin and blobs of glistening chicken fat. A drizzle of sweet and fragrant birch syrup took the dish to the next level. With 400 litres of sap lovingly tapped from local birch trees by the SY23 team and reduced down to produce a mere 4 litres of syrup, it’s a huge undertaking which more than pays off. P.S. apologies there's no photo - it was shockingly bad. 

A perfect showcase of Welsh lamb combined a rosy pink, tender and well-flavoured piece of loin and a crisp-fatted yielding rib accompanied by a sweet and meaty shallot that had been cooked in lamb fat. But the big wallop of flavour on the plate came from an intensely savoury, sweet and tangy black garlic ketchup.


An optional cheese course (£14 supplement) was a luxury riff on cauliflower cheese. A slice of blow-torched creamy and socky brie-like Pen Helyg cheese was joined by pieces of soft caramelised cauliflower, golden breadcrumbs and a scattering of funky truffle.


Onto the sweet stuff and first up was a blast of citrus. A dainty pastry case was filled with sweet, zingy and intensely aromatic yuzu curd topped with a cloud of Italian meringue charred with coals from the barbecue. Funnily enough it was the delicious aroma of toasted meringue which filled the dining room and not the very subtle clouds of dry ice poured over a bowl of citrus fruits at the table.


Impeccably smooth Valrhona chocolate mousse had been made with silken tofu rather than eggs and cream. If the future is plant-based then I'm definitely going to be eating a lot of tofu chocolate mousse. Its accompaniments were just as memorable - miso caramel, tangy sour cream ice cream, and sugar coated barley grains which provided crunch and a sugar puff like flavour dimension.


Our last dessert was very much inspired by rhubarb crumble. Blushing pink forced rhubarb compote, sorbet, gel and pieces were served with smooth and sweet cream cheese, granola crumb and unusually fragrant shiso leaves.


Petit fours were both bangers - smooth and creamy chocolate ganache and a cube of toasty burnt butter fudge flecked with crisp sugar crystals and dusted with salt.


With its creative, technically accomplished and delicious flame-licked food, SY23 is undoubtedly one of the most exciting restaurants in Wales. I’m sure it won’t be long before more accolades come along for Nathan and his team.

The Details:

Address - SY23, 2 Pier St, Aberystwyth SY23 2LJ

Saturday, 30 April 2022

Banana, Cardiff southern Indian and Sri Lankan restaurant review


I’m always the first to admit that I’m no expert when it comes to most world cuisines, from Sri Lanka and Mexico to Vietnam and Syria.

And I certainly wouldn’t pretend to be an authority when it comes to passing judgement on what is or isn’t an authentic pho, dolsot bibimbap, ful medames or black daal.

All I am is an enthusiastic ignoramus who’s visited a lot of restaurants and watched a lot of food programmes on TV.

Which brings me to Cardiff’s newest southern Indian and Sri Lankan restaurant, Banana, which is located on the city’s busy North Road thoroughfare. This bright and colourful spot is a relative of Swansea’s popular Banana Leaf and serves a broad menu of dishes including mutton biriyani, Ceylon kingfish curry, uttapam and paneer butter masala.


With City Road’s Ponnuswamy and Cathays’ Curry Hut, two of my favourite restaurants in Cardiff, serving southern Indian and Sri Lankan food respectively, how would Banana compare?

More importantly, what would my friend Pat think of it? He’s a man who will waste no opportunity to tell you he once lived in Sri Lanka for a couple of months and visits Curry Hut at least once a week.

First up, it’s worth flagging how warm, friendly, and efficient the service at Banana was. They were also genuinely interested in getting feedback on the cooking, either positive or negative. 

Bottles of Sri Lankan Lion lager (£3.80) were crisp, malty and a little sweet.


From the selection of starters, devil mutton (£7.99) was the standout but it certainly wasn't a looker - plentiful pieces of tender meat and crisp peppers were bathed in a sauce with a good hit of spice and soy.


Gobi Manchurian (£6.99) saw pieces of cauliflower with a nice amount of bite coated in an Indo-Chinese sauce with a tasty sweet-savoury vibe.


Whopping mutton rolls (£2.99) ticked all the right boxes; they were crammed with soft spiced mashed potato dotted with pieces of tender meat.


Sticks of crisp and lightly battered paneer 65 (£6.49) were accompanied by a chilli-licked ketchup. But, I think the dish could probably taken an extra dimension of spice. Some curry leaves certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss.


Finally, an egg hopper (£2.99) was crisp around the edges with a pleasingly runny yolk. But it would be lovely to see it served with some chutneys or sambols to add an extra layer of flavour.


Onto mains and a monster of a masala dosa (£6.99) was commendably thin and crisp with delicately spiced mashed potato lurking in its folds. Hidden beneath its canopy were pots of coconut and coriander chutneys and a silky dhal.


A bowl of chicken kothu parotta (£7.99) was just as comforting as I’d hoped. Tender golden pieces of fried flatbread were flecked with soft shreds of chicken, egg and onion. However, once again I think the addition of curry leaf wouldn’t have gone amiss like versions of the dish I’ve eaten elsewhere.


A Sri Lankan chicken curry (£7.99) was beautifully creamy and grease-free with its coconut milk based sauce studded with juicy meat and sweet tomatoes. But, it was quite mild and didn’t deliver the wallop of chilli that I associate with Sri Lankan curries - when I mentioned this to the front of house team they advised that they can most definitely make things spicier on request.


For dessert, a bowl of warm and creamy rice pudding-esque Sri Lankan payasam (£3.99) was beautifully fragranced with cardamom and contained crisp cashews, sweet sultanas and fronds of rice vermicelli lurking in its depths.


Accompanying the bill was an indulgent deep-fried sweet which tasted of coconut, sugar and a bit of fatty richness.


We had a lovely evening at Banana and I'll certainly go back for their fresh tasting southern Indian and Sri Lankan food. Whilst I can't tell you how authentic their cooking is, I did hope for a bit more spice from some of their dishes, like versions I've eaten elsewhere.

And what was Pat’s verdict? He was very impressed. But, I don’t think it’s knocked the bargainous Curry Hut off its pedestal.

The Details:

Address - 148-150 North Rd, Maindy, Cardiff CF14 3BH
Telephone - 02920 615135