Saturday, 26 March 2022

Alium, Barry restaurant review

Alium is undoubtedly one of the most high profile new openings in south Wales so far this year.

Occupying the space in Barry’s imposing Pumphouse building that was previously home to Hang Fire Southern Kitchen, it’s owned by Cardiff chef Antonio Simone, the man behind the highly-regarded Humble Onion in Dinas Powys. There he’s built a reputation for his love of slow-cooking which transforms humble ingredients into something delicious.

Whilst long-cooked cuts of meat such as ox cheek, pork belly and breast of lamb all appear on Alium’s menu alongside dry-aged steaks cooked over charcoal, there’s a scattering of lighter fish and vegetarian options too. Influences are drawn from across the globe with components such as dashi, burrata, harissa, labneh, and orzo all featuring. 

On the Wednesday night we visited its fair to say there was a bit of a frenetic atmosphere in Alium’s stylish dining room as a large group of around 30 people dominated the space. With the guests standing around their tables and queuing to order drinks it gave the feeling of eating in a busy bar rather than a relaxing restaurant.  

However, the quality of the cooking and the friendliness of the serving staff still ensured that we had a delicious meal. 

A bowl of plump and fleshy gordal olives (£4) demonstrated that this is a restaurant which takes care in sourcing quality produce. 

Out of the three white wines by the glass on offer, Mrs G enjoyed a citrusy Pierre Lacasse sauvignon blanc (£5) and was a bit underwhelmed by a Les Lauriers grenache blanc (£6). A half of Sharp’s Atlantic pale ale (£2.75) was the most interesting option from a fairly uninspired selection of draught beers. 

Luxuriously thick and silky celeriac soup (£7) had a huge depth of flavour from its headline earthy root vegetable. Vibrant green sauce, crunchy almonds and batons of cleansing apple all added pops of texture and flavour. 

Stuff on toast is one of my favourite food genres and Alium’s spiced ox cheek ragu (£9) on brioche was a fine example. 

The mound of thick and deeply meaty ragu, which arguably could have taken a bigger punch of spice, was heaped onto soft crumbed toast and topped with a good ooze of tangy cheddar and the lightly acidic crunch of pickled red cabbage. 

Two more slow-cooked meat dishes for mains did not disappoint. 

A rolled piece of tender lamb breast (£20) was paired with a butterbean and carrot cassoulet which thrummed with the chilli heat of ’nduja. A dollop of creamy mint labneh was a clever use of the herb which goes so well with lamb whilst a scattering of nuts and red cabbage provided crunch and zing.

A tranche of top drawer pork belly (£19.50) was served alongside a good shard of crackling and more of that vivid salsa verde. The star of the dish was a mound of golden cider braised cabbage with a great meaty intensity and comfortingly soft texture - the elevation of this humble ingredient was a fine example of the restaurant’s cooking style. 

Sides were just as memorable. 

Rustlingly rugged chips (£4.50) most certainly lived up to their triple-cooked billing.

A slab of deep-fried ox cheek macaroni cheese (£6) could be a street food star in its own right. Its luxuriousness was taken up a notch by the addition of pokey sriracha mayo and a snowdrift of savoury manchego. 

When Mrs G declared she was too full for dessert, I still should have ordered two because it was inevitable that she’d eat half of mine. 

It’s understandable when the wobbly, creamy and salted-caramel flavoured panna cotta (£8) was so damn tasty. I was also rather taken by the scattering of popcorn which added crunch but also provided lightness. 

We had a delicious meal at Alium and its decadent cooking is a more than fitting replacement for the building’s illustrious predecessor... we’ll just have to check there’s no big parties happening the next time we visit. 

The Details:

Address - The Pumphouse, Hood Rd, Barry CF62 5BE
Web -

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth restaurant review

Never doubt a Northern portion size.

It's something I should have reminded myself of during my visit to Riley's Fish Shack in Tynemouth.

Located in the picturesque King Edward’s Bay, I can't think of many nicer spots to guzzle some fish.

Constructed from shipping containers, Riley’s combines a sheltered outdoor terrace with plenty of blankets and stunning views out to sea; a small indoor dining room; and a kitchen where locally sourced fish is cooked over charcoal and wood.

However, as I browsed their chalkboard menu, with dishes including pan roast turbot (£34) and crispy halibut (£29), I second guessed myself and ordered what sounded like a small plate and a main. How wrong I was…

A half of Two by Two Idaho 7 pale ale (£3) was a juicy treat. I really wish more restaurants moved with the times and served a quality hoppy beer or two.

With none of the advertised Rockerfeller oyster topping available, the kitchen cooked up an alternative on the fly. A plump, sweet and briny Lindisfarne oyster (£3.65) was bathed in a big flavoured hit of dry white wine, green herbs and lemon juice.

A salt cod fish cake, which at six quid sounded like a starter, turned out to be gargantuan.

The golden and slightly too charred exterior gave way to soft and tender mashed spuds flecked with massive flakes of meaty salt cod. 

There was no risk of this dish lacking flavour as it was accompanied by a vibrant salsa verde; a citrusy salad of gherkin, cucumber, caper and lettuce; and a big dollop of silky and garlic-twanged aioli.

My other dish, a monkfish bang bang kebab (£19), was about twice the size of the plate it was served on. 

The soft and bubbly flatbread was topped with a skewer of warming spiced and meaty monkfish which held up well against its big-flavoured accompaniments - a smear of lentil dhal, creamy raitha, crunchy onions and chickpeas, tamarind ketchup and fresh tomatoes and herbs.

If that wasn't already enough for one person, it was served alongside a bowl of crusty-edged roasted potatoes and another huge dollop of aioli.

Somehow I managed to finish my feast but I needed a good five hour break before I ate anything else (that's a long time in my book).

Riley’s Fish Shack serves bold flavoured and very generously portioned fish dishes in a lovely setting. If you ever find yourself in Tyne and Wear then I recommend a visit.

The details:

Address - King Edward's Bay, Tynemouth NE30 4BY
Telephone - 0191 257 1371

Saturday, 19 March 2022

West Pizza at Kongs, Cardiff review

Since the closure of Bubs, it feels like there’s been an independent craft beer void in the heart of Cardiff city centre.

However, until its replacement opens, there’s already an alternative venue that hits the spot and it’s slap bang in the middle of St Mary’s Street.

I just tend to forget that Kongs exists because they so rarely promote their craft beer selection.

Open since 2016, this subterranean gaming bar always has an impressive selection of craft beer on tap from a permanent Deya Steady Rolling Man pale ale line to brews from Burning Sky, Verdant, Polly’s, Siren and Wylam.

On our most recent visit I tucked away halves of Deya as well as deliciously dank Verdant Marylou and highly-sessionable Lervig House Party pale ales.

The other reason I wanted to visit Kongs was to check out West Pizza who run their kitchen.

Owned by Ieuan Harry and Jez Phillips, the same duo behind the excellent Ffwnres Pizza in Cardiff Market, West Pizza specialises in New York style pizza and was previously based at Lufkin Coffee in Grangetown.

Traditionally sold by the slice, New York-style pizza is known for its thick and crisp rim and thin base.

West Pizza’s compact menu offers just four different types of pizza, of which three are available by the slice. There’s also two crust dips and fries and that’s it. I’m always a fan of such concise menus as there’s hope that the kitchen is focused on doing a few things well.

Whilst a whole 18 inch pizza costs between £13.50 and £18, we stuck to the pizza by the slice which weighs in at a very reasonable £2.50 to £3.50. Both the slices I ate were absolutely delicious and whopping to boot.

The crust was crisp and airy with a nice chew whilst the base was thin and floppy. Combined with a well-balanced tomato sauce and a big ooze of salty and savoury golden cheese it’s the kind of pizza I could guzzle in large quantities.

A Meri-Ann margherita (£2.50) was my favourite whilst Mrs G preferred the Ray (£3.50) topped with disks of paprika-spiked pepperoni.

I’m all in favour of crust dips (£1) and both of West’s are belters - a vibrant garlic and herb mayo with plenty of fragrant dill and sriracha mayo with a good hit of chilli.

A mountain of crisp skin on fries were great value for £3.50.

I was very impressed by the pizza by the slice from West Pizza. It’s perfect beer food and an excellent accompaniment for the delicious craft beers on offer at Kongs.

The details:

Address - Kongs, 114 St Mary St, Cardiff CF10 1AT
Telephone - 07957 961323

Craft beer bites
  • The excellent Pop 'n' Hops on Whitchurch Road has just started selling beer on tap to drink in. With ten different lines, their launch line-up includes belters such Beak's Parade IPA; Holy Goat's Unicorn Wizard, a golden sour with white peaches; and Neon Raptor's Centaur Army, a peanut butter, chocolate and caramel imperial stout. 
  • The sadly missed Bubs, a craft beer bar on Cardiff's Church Street, has just announced their replacement. Scaredy Cats Cafe Bar will open on Working Street in the city centre and will focus on craft beer, coffee and cocktails. 
Credit: Scaredy Cats

  • Barry's Craft Republic has been named the UK's Best Independent Craft Beer Bar or Pub (City) by the Society of Independent Brewers. It's an impressive achievement for the bar, which opened in 2020, and sells 14 different craft beers, lagers and ciders on tap.
Credit: Craft Republic
  • In case you missed, it Mad Dog Brewery has relocated to Cardiff's Castle Street and opened a bright and airy taproom too. On a recent visit we enjoyed their easy drinking Hair of the Dog pale ale. 
  • I finally got around to visiting the Gwaelod y Garth Inn for the first time following a hike up the Garth Mountain. And what a boozer it is with its roaring fireplace and cracking selection of craft beer and cask ale. I had halves from Deya and Crafty Devil. I also had a belting plate of locally made faggots with a rich offaly twang served with thick gravy, sweet petit pois and proper homemade chips.

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

Upstairs at Landrace, Bath restaurant review

Over the years, I’ve become increasingly assured about the types of restaurant which I know I like.

It's the places which serve top notch seasonal produce, that don't mess around with it too much, where the portions are decent, the atmosphere is relaxed and there's an interesting selection of booze.

It's not too much to ask for really but it's surprising how few restaurants really nail it.

Upstairs at Landrace in Bath is a restaurant which most definitely fits the bill. 

Located upstairs from a craft bakery that sells superb cardamom buns, tarts and sourdough bread amongst other things, their compact chalkboard menu is strewn with the sort of dishes I want to eat.

We worked are way through glasses of bruised apple-like Ajola orange wine (£8.50), a citrusy and zesty Gruner Veltliner blend (£5.50) from Kamptal Kollectiv and a strawberry juice-esque pinot noir blend (£5.50) from the same Austrian winemaker.

Complimentary slices of sourdough were crisp of crust, soft and tangy of crumb and served with a dollop of golden butter. It was delicious, as you’d expect from a bakery which specialises in sourdough.

Parmesan fritters (£6) were epic, and that's me being restrained in my praise. Light and thin battered nuggets were filled with a silky, deeply cheesy and salty sauce and topped with a flurry of even more cheese. Woof.

A simple yet corking salad (£9) combined lightly bitter radicchio, creamy and funky Edmund Tew cheese, earthy beets and crunchy pine nuts.

Charred, smoky, tender and sweet cal├žots (£7) were paired with a coarse romesco with a lovely hit of nuts and roasted red peppers. It’s the first time I’ve ever tried this close relative of the spring onion and I’ll most certainly be seeking them out next time they’re on the menu at Bar 44 in Cardiff.

Onto mains and a generous ray wing (£25) was bathed in nut brown butter cut through with the acidity of caper and cleansing slices of blood orange. Soft and sweet anise-twanged fennel pieces and buttered agretti greens completed the cracking plate.

A first rate blushing pink, bronze crusted pork collar chop (£25) with melting fat was bathed in a luxurious sauce with plenty of mustard, cream and meaty goodness. Coarsely mashed buttery and peppery swede and greens rounded off the belting dish.

Puds didn't disappoint either.

A dark chocolate tart (£8) with a light and delicately bitter filling and thin biscuity pastry was lovely dipped in a pot of tangy creme fraiche.

A trifle (£8) was layered with delights - fragrant rhubarb, soft soaked sponge, silky egg rich custard, vanilla fragranced cream and crunchy pistachios.

We had an absolutely top notch meal at Upstairs at Landrace and it’s the kind of restaurant which ticks all of my boxes.

The Details:

Address - 61A Walcot St, Bath BA1 5BN
Telephone - 01225 424722

Saturday, 12 March 2022

Pasture, Cardiff bar and terrace menu review

To say that Pasture has been a success story since it opened its doors in Cardiff in 2020, is probably a bit of an understatement.

In fact, they’re nearly fully booked for dinner on Saturday nights until the end of November and if you want to visit at all in the next couple of months then you’ll be scraping the barrel with a freakishly late lunch.

It’s a testament to the quality of Pasture’s cooking and its broad appeal - their dry-aged steaks and crowd-pleasing sides are top drawer and their classy dining space transports you a few thousand miles away from Cardiff.

However, as I don’t usually plan to eat a steak six months in advance, I was very pleased to find out that they also offer a terrace and bar menu which is walk-ups only.

Whilst it doesn’t include their signature steaks, it does have a selection of their indulgent small plates, a burger, a dessert and an umbrella. Really, what more could you want?

When we pitched up around 5pm on a Wednesday evening the restaurant was impressively almost completely full but there was still a few tables available in the bar.

With a few more drinking destinations planned on our night out, we supped a couple of halves of deliciously crisp and bready Lost and Grounded Keller Pils.

A stack of wings (£7.50) were categorically epic. Tender of flesh, crisp and rugged of crumb and coated in an addictively sticky, savoury, sweet and complex soy and bourbon glaze with a drizzle of pokey and garlicky kimchi mayonnaise, they were some of the best wings I’ve eaten anywhere.

A 45 day dry-aged burger (£14.95) was an intensely rich and delicious affair. A hugely meaty, juicy and fat-dripping patty was stuffed into a light and soft bun alongside tangy secret sauce, baconnaise and oozy and savoury Ogleshield cheese.

Crisp and refreshing dill pickles provided essential cut through for all that protein and fat whilst a bowl of crisp skin on fries were excellent too.

On a separate visit, a quartet of short rib croquettes (£5) were just as memorable as the first time we tried them. Tender beef shreds in a thick meaty gravy were coated in a crisp crumb and accompanied by gochujang aioli with a lovely thwack of chilli.

Striking looking black crispy squid pieces (£7.95) were impeccably tender and served with a dollop of aioli with a good hit of roast garlic.

Dessert was equally indulgent but didn’t quite hit the same level as the savoury dishes.

A soft and squidgy sticky toffee pudding (£7.95) with a scoop of light and creamy coconut ice cream was topped with a thick miso caramel sauce with a good hit of toasty dark sugar. However, I wasn’t quite sold on the sauce's slightly gloopy texture and the savoury complexity of miso was hardly noticeable. 

We've had a couple of excellent experiences of the bar and terrace menu at Pasture. It’s a great way to visit one of Cardiff’s best restaurants without any of the faff of planning months in advance.

The Details:

Address - Pasture, 8 - 10 High Street, Cardiff CF10 1BB
Telephone - 07511 217422