Posts Tagged ‘review’

Falafel Wales, Cowbridge Road East, Canton

June 28, 2012 Leave a comment

This tiny cafe-style eaterie in Canton proudly boasts its menu emblazoned on its front window. It’s cheap – and has been on the list of places for me to try for some while.

A fearsome appetite was the only excuse to wander in with my partner; no booking necessary.

Imagine a British-style greasy spoon cafe. Don’t get me wrong, I love a greasy spoon. But cuisine from other countries has a special quality. It’s the lure of the exotic, even in a cheap place. Falafel Wales is halal and concentrates on Middle Eastern food, with a Lebanese bent.

There were a lot of really nice-sounding salads and things as starters, but my dining partner and I plumped for mains straight away; for me, a chicken Shawarma with chips, mixed pickles, salad and a flatbread (£5.95). It was mountainous. And tasty. The chips were fries, as is the way with most middle-eastern places I’ve been to. The mound of chicken pieces atop the flatbread was full of flavour, with lots of brown meat. For the price of a Burger King Whopper meal I got an eminently satisfying plate.

My partner went for the chicken sheesh tawooq – cubes of chicken, marinated with herbal olive oil and lemon juice, cooked on skewers and served on a flatbread, with salad and rice (£4.95). The chicken was great, again with lots of flavour from the marinade. And another big portion.

Puddings were five baklava pieces, all gooey and sweet. Hard to go wrong with a £2.50 pudding. For me, I had an oum ali (£3) – described as a traditional Egyptian dessert of pastry, milk, fresh cream, sugar and nuts, served hot. I had to ask for it to be reheated, but it was pretty fine. <imIt had something of a school pudding about it, which was no bad thing. By this point I was so full I had to leave a quarter of it. The lovely manageress/chef offered to pack it up for me to take home, but I declined. She also was happy to explain to me the Turkish coffees (£1.50, just 25p more than the advertised ‘Nescafe’!). They arrived in small, delicate mugs, all thick, stewed and sweet. They had an odd, minty, burned taste that wasn’t unpleasant, just… odd. Turns out, as explained to me, that the very finely ground coffee is infused with cardomom. I’m not sure I’d go for another one, but certainly it was interesting to try.

In total, a sub-£20 bill for all that, plus a couple of cans of coke. Falafel Wales is an absolute bargain if you place tasty, voluminous, interesting food above decor. A big thumbs-up from the gourmand in me, if not the gourmet.

James McLaren


The Potted Pig, High Street, Cardiff

April 18, 2012 1 comment

Words by James McLaren

Following Jay Rayner’s highly positive review of The Potted Pig a few months back in The Observer, half of Cardiff seemed to descend on this new city centre eaterie.

I eventually managed to make a reservation to coincide with my birthday, and, while it was nice… it wasn’t quite as special as review and reputution had made it out to be.

The signature of The Potted Pig is pig. Lots and lots of it. It crops up all over the starter and main course menus, so it would have been rude not to indulge. I went for the potted pig – a little glass kilner-style jar filled with slightly spiced pork melange/terrine with toast and pickles. It was delicious. My partner’s duck hash with fried egg also hit the mark, apparently.

For my main course I went for the 10 ounce New York strip steak with Maris Piper chips, kale and a bearnaise sauce while my partner went for the pork belly with baked carrot and greeen beans.

There’s something that struck me at the moment the dishes arrived: this is really nice pub grub, but it’s certainly no successor to Le Gallois. The plates were filled – a giant mound of pork and, naturally, a 10z steak like a slab of flesh. Both dishes were nice, and the triple-fried chips were pretty damned spectacular, but they lacked finesse.

The steak was cooked well, rare as I like, but there was no deft touch. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare but my partner had belly pork at Le Gallois so was able to compare and contrast. We concluded that the price differential was not so large as to make the now-defunct French restaurant anything other than really good value for money.

In summary, then, this atmospheric, somewhat dark, former bank vault is great for a nice romantic dinner or as somewhere to take the in-laws, but don’t expect anything more than quality pub food.

Seren, Cowbridge Road, Cardiff

September 16, 2011 1 comment

Words by James McLaren

Want nice-sized portions of well-cooked eastern Mediterranean nosh for sensible prices? You couldn’t do much better than Seren on Cardiff’s Cowbridge Road.

I’ve been here before, when it operated as Bosphorus, but as Seren it’s retained its Turkish slant, and I was drawn by its meat-heavy but exotic menu, with lots of spices, yoghurt and tomatoes appearing in the dishes. Forgoing starters, we were nevertheless presented with a couple of dainty courgette and cheese fried patties with cucumber, tomato and yoghurt as an appetiser.

IskenderGiven the Turkish slant to Seren, we thought it was important to choose Turkish booze to go alongside the food. I don’t remember the names, but the house red and white wines both come from Turkey and are worth investigating. The white is a fresh, light number with a really appealing but unusual tang of olives alongside a citrus flavour, while the red was woody and spicy with a cherry and blackberry fruitiness. I also had a glass of Turkish lager which, while nothing special, was perfectly fine.

KarniyarikI deliberated over the delicious-looking seafood and grill dishes (marinated, whole, char-grilled sea bass, for example, or pieces of monkfish tail steamed with Seren special pear and honey sauce and flavoured with brandy) before plumping for one of the main dishes: Iskender: cubes of lamb on bread smothered with tomato sauce, drizzled with butter and served with yoghurt. My partner had the Karniyarik: aubergine filled with minced lamb, onion, pepper, tomato and herbs. It’s oven-baked and usually served with mozzarella but a dairy intolerance necessitated an absence of the cheese. Not a problem, as Seren cook everything fresh to order.

Both dishes went down very well, with my lamb tender and juicy in the rich tomato sauce. The sourness of the yoghurt complemented with sweetness of the meat and tomatoes, as is typical with cuisine from the Mediterranean. I did manage to burn my tongue on the bread, which I then exacerbated by chewing on the chilli which came atop the dish, but a mouthful of yoghurt sorted that out. The Karniyarak was equally appreciated: apparently ungreasy, the aubergine was soft and flavoursome, the herbed meat delicious. I should know, I tried a big mouthful.

Thankfully the portions weren’t huge, so puddings were chosen. I went for Kayisi: sun-dried apricot cooked in honey syrup with ice cream. It was top. Soft, plump and juicy fruit swimming in an unctuous sauce cut with icy oral refreshment. My partner went for baklava, a classic of the area. Four pieces of the filo and pistachio cakes exploding with honey syrup and served with cream and a drizzle of a dark fruit sauce. As good a portion of baklava as I think either of us have tasted.

Turkish coffeeCoffees finished up (one filter, and one a classic Turkish coffee, with a dusty, thick texture and served with amaretto liqueur). Replete, we had spent £46.50 including drinks which represents good value in an area in which restaurant choice is something of a lottery.

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.

Vintage Trouble – Cardiff Big Weekend Saturday 6th August 2011

August 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Pictures & Review by Seun Babatola

It’s around 8pm. Up come four suited and booted men who can only be American, from the self-confident swagger to the massive, cheesy grins.

The crowd are prepared to be unkind. Especially since no one’s ever heard of these guys.  Behind me I can hear three girls laughing and singing ‘Scha Mon’ – in honour of Bo! Selecta’s impressions of black american singers.

But when Vintage trouble start to play, they go all out. ‘Nancy Lee’ is an uptempo ballad with a rock edge.  They move seamlessly from the stadium filler to pure old school soul songs like ‘Gracefully’ and ‘Not Alright By Me’.  They unashamedly pull out guitar solo after guitar solo, and in between the songs front man  Ty Taylor yells at the crowd in his good humoured, Southern US drawl, telling us that the next song is, inevitably, about making love.

The memory of the performance lingers long after they’ve smashed through their final song and Ty has spun on the spot like a whirling dervish.

The truth is, they’re not my cup of tea, but even my jaded self couldn’t help by shake my ‘thang’ at Tyler’s frenetic showmanship.

Vintage trouble provided an object lesson in how to work a crowd, and it’s a lesson Cardiff isn’t likely to forget anytime soon.

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Shona Foster – Gwdihw, Sunday 5th June 2011

August 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Pictures & Review by Seun Babatola

Shona Foster is sexy, stunning and has a beautiful voice.  All of these things are true, and yet it is none of the those things that explain the mesmeric hold she has on an audience.

On a quiet welsh evening in the intimate atmosphere of Cardiff’s quirky venue; Gwdihw; Shona Foster entertained a small but appreciative crowd with her brand of genre-defying music.  I won’t bother trying to explain or define the music, its best if you have a listen for yourself.  What I will say is that i enjoyed the rare treat of accomplished musician combined with crafted lyricism.

From the softly-softly introduction of the ‘Bad Intentions’ (reminiscent of Tainted Love’) to the conversational tone of ‘Hard Work’  The songs allow her voice to breath, to fill the little spaces deliberately left by an impressive range of clever little instruments.

Would I recommend her?  Hell yes.  Shona Foster is unique in that what you hear on the album is not massively different from what you here live.  The quality of her voice shines on any and every stage.

If you get a chance, pop along and watch her.  The music is great, but your eyes will be held by a slightly ethereal, quietly provocative beauty who weaves her voice around you like some aural thread.

Be prepared to be enchanted.

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