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The (new) Conway, Pontcanna

August 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Words by James McLaren

The New Conway, in the heart of Pontcanna, used to be plain, simple The Conway. It used to have dodgily-coloured carpets and an ‘old man’s pub’ atmosphere. Its contribution to Cardiff’s gastronomic landscape was in keeping with that. Nothing special, in other words.

For the past couple of years, however, it has been The New Conway and alongside the furnishing facelift (light woods, tasteful lighting), its food has also seen a huge development and now it is one of the very few city eateries in the Michelin guide to good UK restaurants. Its menu – reasonably priced in the gastro-pub bearpit – makes encouraging reading. Their ‘specials board’ is pretty much the food on offer (a la carte isn’t an option): chunky hunks of protein with the promise of interesting sauces, jus and reductions to add piquant interest.

Myself and three companions booked easily two days before a Saturday 7pm seating, but any worries about the popularity of the pub were misplaced, as it appears a bustling, lively place, as much with local drinkers as with the well-heeled diners in the restaurant area.

Deciding not to have a starter, we plumped for mains and – hopefully – leaving room for a pudding. Watching plates of crispy, golden chips accompanying the dishes of other tables, we briefly entertained doubts about whether our non-pommes frites – accompanied dishes were the wrong choices. It turned out not to be: I had a large plate of beef, tomato and basil sausages on goats’ cheese mash with olive and tomato jus which was satisfyingly abundant without being OTT. The sausages were plump and fleshy with a strong beef taste, the mash creamy and with a subtle cheesiness. Possibly the olive part of the jus was superfluous, but their saltiness complemented the sweet tomato taste well.

My dining partners enjoyed – without exception – a pan-roast salmon on basil mash, ginger and cherry tomato compote (very well cooked with the mash exhibiting a very pleasant but indefinable taste); local courgette, runner bean and perl las cheese crumble (gorgeously creamy and with one of Wales’ best cheeses) and a pan-roasted cod on patatas bravas with aioli (again, fish cooked with understanding, well-seasoned and with a delicious aioli).

Puddings were three moist, soft and surprisingly airy chocolate brownies with delicious vanilla ice cream and one assiete of chocolate mousse, served on a board (very nouveau nouveau cuisine).

It’s pretty hard to cock up most pub food, but not too difficult to overstretch yourself if you decide to elevate your grub into the gastropub world. The New Conway do it well, they’re friendly and appear efficient. You don’t get silver service because you’re not paying for it, but for an occasional treat with guests, it’s worth checking out.

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