Nov 8
Venison Stew, Oh Deer!
posted by: Babette in Babette's Ffest on Nov 8th, 2011 | | 1 Comment »

I had venison once as a child. My next door neighbour, Mr Hughes went hunting for deer every autumn and brought home his spoils for Mrs Hughes to cook for the family.  Mrs Hughes is of Italian descent and I have very fond memories of her cooking. I had Mrs Hughes’ venison stew.  All I can remember about it now was that it was very tasty.

Flash forward to the present.  When venison is sold at the Farmers Market I do buy it, but I tend to buy the loin, pan fry it quickly and make a sauce with a seasonal theme.  For tonight’s supper, I thought I would try something different and make a slow cooked venison casserole.  I bought the venison from the Welsh Venison Centre where I often buy venison, but not this cut.

As I have never cooked venison in a stew, I needed to turn to my trusty cookbooks for guidance as, alas, I lost contact with Mrs Hughes a long time ago. I turned to Leith’s Cookery Bible. Leith’s Cookery Bible falls into the category of cookbooks that I term ‘instructional’ and is of the type I will turn to when venturing into new culinary territory. I decided to follow her venison casserole recipe (p. 428).

Leith advises the reader that as venison has very little fat it has to be cooked carefully. Her recipe calls for the venison to be marinated overnight in a mixture containing aromatic vegetables, juniper berries, red wine and a splash of vinegar. The following day, the venison is removed from the marinade, browned in small batches, and returned to the pot to cook slowly with the marinade liquid along with onion, garlic, button mushrooms, whole chestnuts and cranberry jelly. The casserole cooks at 170c for 2 hours.

I used the haunch of venison for this recipe. The venison casserole recipe did not specify what cut to use but her braised venison recipe, which is cooked in a similar manner, called for the haunch and so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I found the casserole sauce to be very rich and satisfying.  As the meat is very lean, the sauce itself was not fatty, which may please some. However, due to this leanness, I felt the meat itself was very dry. The braising did not cause it to become soft and unctuous as it does with beef.

This is not a dish I would prepare again as I prefer to choose to braise a meat that has some fat to keep it moist  and succulent. I may however be tempted to retry if I discovered a way to keep the venison juicy and tender.

If anyone has any suggestions as how to achieve this or on a better cut to use for a venison stew, then please leave me a comment below.

Nov 7

Red Hot World Buffet directors Helen and Parmjit Dhaliwal (Photo - Mike Hall Photography)I wasn't aware of Red Hot World Buffet until I got invited to the October 26th launch event for their new Cardiff Restaurant, which was to open the following day.

I must admit that fixed price buffets are not normally high on my list of places to eat, although I'm a firm believer that everything has its place, especially in this these economically trying times. So I decided to ignore my preconceptions and go check them out.

With the help of their PR Company and a little bit of digging online, I was able to come up with some background information ahead of the night. It appears that they were founded in 2004 in Nottingham and that Cardiff is the seventh restaurant in the chain. Industry reports are that they are looking to open a further 18 sites over the next three years to bring their total to 25.
The Cardiff location is in Hill Street, the road that links the old and new sections of St David’s Shopping Centre. At 16,000 sq. feet, the two-storey restaurant represents a £1.8 million investment in the city. The figures are impressive no matter which way you look at them; 375 covers at any one time, 8,000 covers a week on average, a 5,000 sq. foot buffet area, 35 chefs, 300 dishes, 9 cuisines from 10 live stations. Wow! As for the food, well how about and expectation that 550kg rice, 1,100 pizzas, 1,200 litres of ice-cream, 800 crème brulees and 9,000 Japanese prawns will be consumed during its opening week.
Now I’m not going to pretend that all this food will be (or could be) locally sourced from nearby farms and producers. So what else, if anything, will RHWB be doing as part of its corporate social responsibility? Well, apparently, they will be creating 120 jobs for starters. When I’m not writing this blog my ‘proper’ job, the one that pays the bills, is in training and development and until recently I managed a Work Based Learning contract that provided training to people living or working in South Wales to achieve Modern Apprenticeships. As such I was delighted to discover that RHWB has created its own apprenticeship scheme in conjunction with ACT Training and has committed to taking on an additional 30 apprentices over the next year.
Helen Dhaliwal, Director of Red Hot World Buffet & Bar, said: “Our apprentices will not only have the opportunity to learn essential skills in food preparation, presentation and service, they will be helped to develop a work ethic that will allow them to flourish in the hospitality industry.
“We feel the Red Hot World Buffet & Bar’s apprenticeship scheme is an excellent way to give back to the local communities that are so integral to our success. The company is expanding by 300 per cent over the next three years, and if this scheme is successful we intend on becoming the biggest provider of apprenticeships in the UK.” 
This, trust me on this, is a ‘good thing’. 
Red Hot Buffet Launch Street Performer
So, what of the launch night itself?  MrsA and I, made our way to Hill Street and were greeted with a troupe of performers outside RHWB entertaining the passers-by. Inside it was pretty packed but we spotted a few of Cardiff’s foodie glitterati across the room and made our way over and claimed some seats.
RHWB had certainly gone to town on the hospitality, there were plenty of wait staff on hand to take drink orders.  There was entertainment to match the various cuisines on offer; Japanese Drummers, Indian Dancers, Italian Opera Singers, Chinese Dragon Dancers and whatever the Tex-Mex equivalent of a Mariachi band would be. BBC News Presenter Sian Lloyd was on hand to act as host and to ‘interview’ some of RHWB’s key players.
I’m not going to write a food review based on the launch night as I think that it’s only fair to give them a few weeks to bed themselves in.  But I will say two things about the food service. Firstly, with the place absolutely heaving, I did expect the buffet to be overwhelmed when it was opened as everyone rushed to get food. Surprisingly not!  This is after all a tried and tested formula and so it was pretty easy to get to the food. Even the live service stations coped admirably. Secondly, of all the things I tried on the night there was only one that I shook my head to after a mouthful and passed on and that was a dessert. Oh sure some things were better than others but on the whole everything was pretty reasonable. Quite impressive for a first night.
With a week day price point of £7.99 for lunch, £13.99 for dinner and kids under 10 eating for half price, it’s hard to fault on the value for money stakes. Throw in the huge amount of choice (where else are you going to get Cottage pie with cheddar and mustard mash, Prawn Sashimi, Mexican Bean Salad, Chick Pea Masala, a tray of Taco’s, Crispy Seaweed and Chicken Yakitori all on the same menu) and it’s bound to appeal to a huge cross section of people. Got one fussy eater in the family? This is the place for you. Vegetarians might think they’ve died and gone to heaven such is the choice; although they might have missed a trick by not putting those little v’s on the menu.
Red Hot Buffet Interior
My plan is to go back in early December, when they’ll have had a chance to iron out the inevitable kinks that a new location and new staff must bring and do a review proper. Until then, if you are in Cardiff doing your shopping and can’t quite decide what you fancy to eat then it might just be worth giving the City’s newest food offering a try.
Red Hot World Buffet
03-06 Hills Street
St David's
Dewi Sant
Cardiff CF10 2LE
Tel: 029 2034 2499
Nov 1
Newport Food Festival LogoAs far as Welsh food festivals go there’s a new kid on the block. The first annual Newport Food Festival was launched on 29 October 2011 and if you did not attend, you missed a great day out.    
The festival was not just about the food, it was about the community as well; with local schools and businesses involved.  Children, from local schools, competed in a cookery competition and local restaurants were invited to offer special festival menus, during the festival period.
The food festival took place in 3 main locations throughout Newport City Centre: the Indoor Market, the central pedestrian shopping precinct and The Riverfront Theatre.
Shopping Precinct
The market was a great choice of venue as the regular market stalls were open that day, introducing festival goers to the fine range of quality produce that is sold from within.  Stephen Terry, chef/owner of The Hardwick nr. Abergavenny, did a quick cookery demo at the market’s fishmonger, picking up his fresh veg for the demo at one of the market stalls on his way over and choosing his fish from the fresh fish on display that day.
Stephen Terry Fish Demo
Outside, stalls lined the street of the shopping precinct giving a chance for Newport city shoppers to take advantage of the food festival whilst doing their shopping.  The precinct could have physically accommodated a lot more stalls, but I imagine with the longer established and much better known Cowbridge Food Festival taking place on the same day, many producers had signed up to go there.
Cup Cakes
As well as the stalls there were also cookery demos featuring some of Wales top chefs, e.g. the aforementioned Stephen Terry, Hywel Jones from Michelin starred Lucknam Park, The Crown at Whitebrook’s James Sommerin, as well as some of Newport’s finest chefs. These were held in both the Indoor Market and the Riverfront Theatre. There was also a wide choice of cooking classes for children. All this was very well received, as one of the festival goers stated, “Every time the tide comes in we lose a bit of the city – until today".
Welsh Treats
This festival can only go from strength to strength and with the organisers pledge that they will ensure that next year’s festival does not clash with Cowbridge, they will be able to attract even more producers.  Keep your eye on or follow them on twitter @NewportFoodFest


Oct 31

ffresh logo
Disclosure – This post is about an event to which I was invited but didn't pay to attend. MrsA also attended by I paid in full for her ticket.
The problem with being busy and also a bit lazy, is that when you are at an event with other bloggers they will invariably write things up before you do. 
That is exactly what happened when I and a number of other food bloggers got invited to attend the second birthday celebrations at ffresh Restaurant in the Wales Millennium Centre.
Recently ffresh as been inviting some of Wales' top chefs to come and do guest chef evenings there. To date they have had Bryn Williams from Oddette's in Primrose Hill and Bryan Webb from Tyddyn Llan in Llandrillo.  For their birthday celebrations they invited Shaun Hill from The Walnut Tree nr. Abergavenny.  Highly fitting I thought as Shaun has been their consultant chef since they opened and has worked with Executive Chef, Kurt Fleming, and his team to develop the ffresh menu.
I've eaten at ffresh before, but only from their pre-theatre menu which I've found to be one of the better early evening offerings in the Bay.
Now onto the birthday event itself. My fellow food bloggers have already written about how the Red Mullet was the undoubted star of the show, how the Roasted Partridge was a bit hit and miss, and that the Hot Chocolate Fondant was a delicious delight. Matching wine for the evening was supplied by Ancre Hill Estates, nr Monmouth. Everyone was surprised by just how good the wine from this British vineyard actually was.
Roast Partridge
Roast Partridge 2
Hot Chocolate Fondant
With this in mind there's really no point in my re-iterating more of the same. Instead I thought I'd mention the fact that ffresh is a True Taste Partner. I was fortunate enough to attend the 2011 True Taste of Wales Awards in Llandudno (more of which soon) and now realise what a huge deal this is for the people involved. 
ffresh has been working to create a menu that maximises use of ingredients from many of Wales' award-winning producers.
Some 80 per cent of the food on the new menu is sourced from Wales and nearly a third (30 per cent) of those suppliers have won the Welsh food and drink industry's highest accolade – the True Taste award.
ffresh has become the first venue in the country to pilot a 'Wales, The True Taste Partnership', recognising its commitment to sourcing and serving the best food and drink from Wales.
As someone who is passionate about the use of seasonal, local produce I'm very pleased that the Wales Millennium Centre have chosen to take this approach. It is incredibly important that restaurants support their local producers  and the fact that a flagship venue like ffresh at the WMC has chosen this route should be applauded. Hopefully their inclusion in the 2012 Good Food Guide will help ensure their continued success and wisdom of their ethos.
Wales Millennium Centre
Bute Place
Cardiff Bay
CF10 5AL
Tel: 029 2063 6465


Oct 23

I was very lucky this week to be invited to attend the 10th Anniversary Wales the True Taste Food & Drink Awards 2011-12, in Llandudno.

Over the next week or so I'll be posting some of my experiences of the event itself, and conversations with some of the producers I was lucky enough to meet. Some of them have been kind enough to extend open invitations to go visit and hopefully these will turn themselves into a series of posts showcasing them and their products.

In the meantime I'm going to start you off with a quick post and a list of winners from information kindly supplied by Johara and Mathura from Four bgb, who kindly invited me along to the event.

Wales the True Taste Food and Drink Awards 2011/12

Held at Venue Cymru in Llandudno, the 2011-12 Wales the True Taste Food and Drink Awards ceremony showcased and rewarded some of the best and most innovative food and drink products from Wales, and recognised excellence in the retail and hospitality sectors. This year there were some 1,017 entries from 366 companies large and small.

The 10th anniversary Awards ceremony was hosted by BBC Wales presenter, Jason Mohammed, and S4C presenter Heledd Cynwal.The Awards were held in association with leading organic dairy, Aberystwyth based Rachel’s.
Rachel Rowlands, who founded the company with her husband Gareth, was named True Taste Ambassador at the inaugural Awards.
Said Rachel Rowlands, “The True Taste Awards are something very close to us, we have seen them grow to become among the most prized and prestigious food and drink awards in the UK; and I wish all this year’s winners every future success.

Among the evening’s top awards was the Product of the Year trophy, which went to Emma and Mark Baravelli for their tangy Lemon Marmalade with Brecon Welsh Gin. The couple, who run The Little Deli in Llandudno, also received trophies for their Vanilla Salted Caramels, and their Raspberry Ripple Dairy Ice Cream.
The 2011-12 True Taste Champion is Conrad Davies, Managing Director of the Eurospar stores in Dolgellau and Blaenau Ffestiniog, and the Spar store in Pwllheli. The fifth generation of his family to be involved in the retail trade, Conrad is an ardent supporter of local and Welsh produce and stocks a wide range of produce in his store.

Conrad Davies of Eurospar the 2011 True Taste Champion
Cig Mynydd Cymru – Rack of Welsh Lamb
Graig Farm Organics – Organic Sirloin of Lamb
Welsh Venison Centre – Rack of Welsh Lamb
Cwmcerrig Farm Shop and Grill – Sirloin Steak
Castell Howell Foods Ltd – Bone In 711g Welsh Beef Rib Eye Steak
Ifor's Welsh Wagyu – Quick Fry Steak (Rump Tail)
Dawn Meats (UK) Ltd – Pork Belly Joint with Smoky Barbecue Glaze
Welsh Venison Centre – Welsh Belly of Pork
Rob Rattray Butchers – Sweet Cured Bacon
Hooton's Homegrown – Free Range Chicken Breast
Bethesda Farm and Coffee Shop – Garlic and Smoked Bacon
Blas ar Fwyd Cyf – Chicken and Welsh Ale Soup
Edwards of Conwy – Pork, Black Pudding and Egg Pie
Trealy Farm Charcuterie – Beech-Smoked Air-Dried Ham
Cnwd – Pork and Pistachio Terrine
Gorno's Speciality Foods Ltd – Spicy Chorizo Sausage
Saloni – Saloni Chorizo
Castell Howell Foods Ltd – Gourmet Welsh Pork with Honey and Mustard Burger
Sanclêr Organic – Melys Strained Yogurt with Seville Oranges
Ty Tanglwyst Dairy – Fresh Whole Milk
Derimon Smokery Ltd – Welsh Oak Smoked Welsh Butter
Holden Farm Dairy – Hafod Cheese
Trethowan’s Dairy Limited – Gorwydd Caerphilly
Y Cwt Caws – Peli Pabo Garlic and Herb
Baravelli's – Raspberry Ripple Dairy Ice Cream
Hufenfa'r Castell – Riwbob Ice Cream
The Patchwork Traditional Food Company – Vanilla Pod Ice Cream with Anglesey Sea Salted Caramel Ripple
South Caernarfon Creameries – Dragon Welsh Salted Butter
Proper Welsh Milk Company – Proper Welsh Milk
South Caernarfon Creameries – Dragon Whole Milk
Milk Link, Llandyrnog Creamery – Cadog Mature Welsh Cheddar
First Milk – Pembrokeshire Mature
Carmarthenshire Cheese – Company Ltd
Subzero – Luxury Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream
Forte's Ice Cream – Vanilla Ice Cream
Forte's Ice Cream – Clotted Cream with Peach & Raspberry
choc-o-art – Marbled Chocolate Orange Temptation
Harvies Ltd – Raspberry and Almond Frangipane
The Village Bakery (Coedpoeth) Ltd – M&S Welsh Cakes
Uncle Peter's Fudge Company – Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Fudge
Cathryn Cariad Chocolates – Salted Caramels
Baravelli's – Vanilla Salted Caramel
Cradocs Savoury Biscuits – Perl Las Savoury Biscuits
Cradocs Savoury Biscuits – Leek and Caerphilly Savoury Biscuits
La Crème Patisserie Ltd – Frangipane Mince Pies
Welsh Farmhouse Apple Juice – Egremont Russet
Brecon Mineral Water – Brecon Carreg Welsh Natural Mineral Water – Still
Brecon Mineral Water – Brecon Carreg Welsh Natural Mineral Water – Sparkling
The Celt Experience Ltd – Celt-Golden
Monty's Brewery – Sunshine
Blaengawney Cider – Hallets Real Cider
Celtic Spirit Co. – Danzy Jones
Condessa Welsh Liqueurs – Sloe Gin
Da Mhile Distillery – Da Mhile Orange Liquer
Welsh Seafoods Ltd – Brill
South & West Wales Fishing Communities Ltd – Welsh Wild Line Caught Sea Bass
Gill's Plaice – Cardigan Bay Silver Mullet
Aberdaron Seafood Ltd – Dressed Crab
Llandudno Smokery – Kiln Roasted Oak Smoked Salmon
Black Mountains Smokery Ltd – Traditional Smoked Salmon
Stubbins Marketing – Baby Plum Tomatoes
Primrose Organic Centre – Tayberries
Primrose Organic Centre – Raspberries
Puffin Produce Ltd – Rudolph Potato
Llwynhelyg Farm Shop – Folia Fragrantia
Hooton's Homegrown – Asparagus
The Anglesey Sea Salt Company – Halen Môn smoked over Welsh Oak
Sarah Cooks Your Homemade Pickles and Preserves – Mediterranean Chutney
Goetre Farm Preserves – Pineapple, Red Pepper and Roasted Cumin Chutney
Baravelli's – Lemon Marmalade with Brecon Welsh Gin
Tropical Forest Products Limited – Welsh Chunk Comb Honey
Bryn Seiriol Preserves – Lemon Curd
Harvies Ltd – Mince Pies
Pennsylvania Farm Free-Range Eggs – Free-Range Duck Eggs
The Mushroom Garden – Antipasto Shiitake Mushroom
Welsh Venison Centre – Venison Haunch Steak
Siwgr a Sbeis Cyf – Bara Brith
Sanclêr Organic – Cottage Cheese with Garlic and Chives
Homemade Country Preserves – No Added Sugar Raspberry Preserve
Homemade Country Preserves – No Added Sugar Damson Preserve
Coco Bean – Classic Gluten Free Brownie
The Anglesey Sea Salt Company – Halen Môn with Organic Celery Seeds
The Anglesey Sea Salt Company – Halen Môn with Organic Spices
Holden Farm Dairy – Hafod Cheese
Baravelli's – Lemon Marmalade with Brecon Welsh Gin
Village Bakery Nutrition Ltd
Capestone Organic Poultry Ltd
Randall Parker Foods
Llwynhelyg Farm Shop
Cwmcerrig Farm Shop and Grill
Hawarden Estate Farm Shop
Douglas Willis Ltd
Pembrokeshire Produce Direct
Gower Cottage Brownies
Ultracomida Ltd
Leonardo's Delicatessen Ltd
Bradleys Deli
Edwards of Conwy
Douglas Willis Ltd

T.J. Roberts & Son
Claws Shellfish
Gill's Plaice
Pysgod Llŷn Seafoods & Delicatessen
Llwynhelyg Farm Shop
Hawarden Estate Farm Shop
The Village Bakery
Y Ffarmers
number eighteen
The Grove
Llansantffraed Court
Tyddyn Llan Restaurant with Rooms
The Award Winning Old Stables Tea Rooms
Caffi Florence
The Hive
Primrose Organic Centre
Lloyds of Penlanlas
Cwmcerrig Farm Shop and Grill
Conrad Davies – Eurospar

Oct 22
Chicken. A bland, blank canvas?
posted by: Babette in Babette's Ffest on Oct 22nd, 2011 | | 1 Comment »

Growing up in the United States, we ate a lot of chicken; it was a bland, blank canvas that could be transformed into a myriad of tasty meals by combining it with a countless combination of ingredients. It was rare that chicken was simply baked…too tasteless for that. We had it soused, curried, steamed, fried, smothered, stewed and gumboed to name a few.

When I moved to the UK, I tried the local supermarket chicken simply baked and decided that this chicken as well needed to be soused, curried, steamed, fried, smothered, or stewed in order for it to have some flavour.

Well one day, I went to my local farmers market in Penderyn and there was this nice man, Mr. Buck, from Glaisfer Uchaf Farm, near Llangynidr, selling chicken. Well someone at the market said that “yes his chickens are a little dearer, but they are delicious”. I bought one to see if it was any different than a supermarket chicken. Glaisfer Uchaf's chickens are free range, home reared and a slow growing variety, Hubbard and Sasso. They take upwards of 90 days to mature and so I was assured by Mr. Buck, that they would, indeed, be flavoursome.

That evening, I cooked a simple roast chicken. I put lemon, garlic and ginger inside the cavity and rubbed the outside with butter and seasoned it with salt and pepper. The chicken was full of flavour. It was not a blank canvas waiting for flavour, it was simply delectable in and of itself. The taste was so much richer than the supermarket chickens I have had and therefore needs less fuss. As a home cook, I am grateful for ingredients that help me save time in the kitchen.

When I start with a chicken that has been bred to be full of flavour, I tend to cook it as simply as possible to just enhance that flavour . I absolutely adore Stephan Renaud’s recipe for “Poulet Roti Tout Simplement “ found in his cookbook, Ripailles. Stuff the chicken with Boursin, lemon, garlic and tarragon, oil the skin of the chicken and season, bake in the oven and baste regularly. Add a little wine in the pan and the giblets for a rich gravy. The Boursin keeps the chicken moist and as it melts, it enriches the pan juices. I also love to simply roast a good chicken with lemon garlic and fresh herbs in the cavity; whatever I have on hand. I don’t have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen to make a chicken tasty if the chicken was reared well.

But what about costs? Well it is true that a bog standard supermarket whole chicken is cheaper than one from Glaisfer Uchaf. At my local supermarket it would fall in between the price of a Free Range Whole Chicken and an Organic Whole Chicken. However the top of the range organic bird is still only reared for a little over 70 days, against Glaisfer Uchaf’s 90 day average.

When one starts to compare a whole Glaiser Uchaf bird against supermarket chicken portions a different picture starts to emerge as the portions come at premium prices but not necessarily premium qualities.

If you’re looking for a chicken with bags of flavour, that requires the minimum of effort, then maybe it’s time you gave your local producer a try.

You can find more information on local producers and markets at:- – UK Farmers Markets – Local foods in Wales – reconnecting consumers with their local producers

Glaisfer Uchaf Farm
Owner/Manager: Kate Buck
Llangynidr, Crickhowell Powys NP8 1LN UK.
Phone: 01874730876

Oct 2
The Hand & Flowers, Marlow
posted by: Gomez in Dinner, Restaurant Reviews on Oct 2nd, 2011 | | 5 Comments »


The Hand & Flowers

"Never trust a skinny cook" it used to say on an apron hanging in my mother's kitchen. I, like Mr. Kerridge, have little danger of being described with the adjective "skinny". Although I'm sure that this similarity wasn't the only reason that I wanted to eat Tom Kerridge's food pretty much the moment I saw him on TV.

It was Great British Menu that first brought him to my attention, in 2010, when he went through to win the main course with Slow-cooked Aylesbury duck with duck fat chips and gravy. In 2011 Tom won again and became the first chef ever on Great British Menu to cook the main course twice, as well as being the first to cook a main course pork dish with his Hog Roast.

Having decided that Tom's food was high on our list a quick Google led us to Marlow as being the home of his Michelin starred pub, The Hand & Flowers. Unfortunately Marlow is a long way for a night out and so the Hand & Flowers joined the "maybe one day" list.

Then we had some good news. MrsA's mother was coming over from the USA on her first visit to us, and the UK, and her arrival time meant that we needed to be at Heathrow fairly early one morning to meet her. The sensible option was to travel up the night before, stay over somewhere close and be at the airport without having had an early start and a 3.5hr drive before breakfast. Those nice people at Travelodge had yet another one of their 15 quid deals on and so accommodation was sorted, but the prospect of 'dining' at Heston Services gave rise to the idea of a slight detour.

One quick phone call later and a table for two, at the Hand & Flowers, was secured.

We had left plenty of time for the journey from South Wales to Marlow, which was just as well as the radio gave us advance notification on long delays ahead due to an accident. We opted for a detour and a more circular route, in order to keep moving. So we arrived in Marlow pretty much bang on time.

The Hand & Flowers is a 17th Century, low beamed, pretty, roadside ex-pub on the main road through the town. We pull into the car park and I look at the attendant in his Hi Viz jacket and wonder if this is a municipal pay and display. No, he's an employee making sure that it's patron's only and tending to the outside seating area which, being a balmy evening, is in use by more than the usual between course nicotine addicts.

The atmosphere inside is very relaxed, the decor simple; low ceilings with exposed beams, plain tables without tablecloths and a wooden floor. Service is friendly, helpful and happy to describe and recommend dishes.

Inside we peruse the menu. Winning the main course for Great British Menu two years on the trot and having that Michelin star over the door have brought a high level of expectation and the menu does not disappoint with both GBM dishes featuring. We start, as does everyone with an amuse bouche of a Cone of Whitebait. Delicious, salty, crispy, fresh Whitebait.

Cone of Whitebait

To start MrsA choses the "Maple Glazed Veal Sweetbread with Pearl Barley, Sweetcorn and Chives", whilst I opt for "Quail Tart with Green Olives, Chicory and Aged Gruyére."

Being a lover of Sweetbreads MrsA there is no way MrsA is going to to order anything else but Sweetbreads and Maple Syrup? How is this going to marry, let alone with the addition of Pearl Barley and Sweetcorn. Uncharted territory for sure. Of course she needn't have worried as it was a perfectly and expertly balanced dish.

Maple Glazed Veal Sweetbread

Quail Tart with Green Olives

MrsA thought the Sweetbread was a homage to America, well she would wouldn't she, with the Maple Glaze (Vermont) and the Barley and Sweetcorn being reminiscent of Succotash. This tongue in cheek, "tribute to America" was to become her running theme throughout the meal. Back in Britain I was very impressed with the Quail. Although I had been intrigued enough to order it I wasn't at all sure how all the ingredients would come together but I need not have feared. The unmentioned but underlying layer of pork pate being the glue that pulls it all together yet still allows the individual flavours to show through.   

For main course we both run up and down the menu looking at the 2010 GBM winning Slow Cooked Duck Breast, the Essex Lamb "Bun", the Cornish Plaice, but of course we really both know that we are going to join together as that Minimum 2 People and order the "Roast Hog with Salt Baked Potatoes and Apple Sauce".

On GBM they are forever going on about needing "Theatre" with the food presentation and it is easy to see how this dish managed to achieve that as even here in 2 person mode it is still a pretty impressive sight. For your £25 a head you get a trotter, a rolled joint with crackling and some cubes made of the meat from the head, together with apple sauce, jus and a mug of cider. Each of these three variations showed a different aspect of the versatility of the pig and the expert hand of the Chef.

The pork comes from Dingley Dell, the Hayward Brothers farm in Suffolk and is outdoor reared, welfare assured.  It's damn good pork and this dish is designed to show it off to perfection. The trotter is boned and stuffed to make something so rich and so intense, so packed with flavour it is hard to describe.  The loin showing the subtly of flavour that a beautifully moist piece of pork can bring, coupled to the wonderful crisp crackling. The cubes of head meat with their rich yet distinct flavour. The Gauls once held the pig as a sacred animal, I wonder if Tom Kerridge is descended from Gauls.

Then alongside this porcine wonderland we get a salad. A simple green salad. "Why?" I ask myself. Balance is the answer. A simple dressed salad perfectly judged to cut through the rich, fattiness of the pork. He's clever this Chef. Bloody clever.

Roast Hog & Salt Baked Potatoes

Salt Baked Potatoes

Roast Hog


The dish was accompanied by the salt baked potatoes. These are cooked in what appears to be a highly salted pastry casing, roughly wrapped round them and then tied at the top to create a bag.  We are advised that trying to eat the pastry won't kill us, but it isn't designed to be eaten and consequently doesn't taste very nice. Whilst it's good fun to untie the rope, break open the crust and fish out the spuds, I'm not really sure what this actually does to improve the potatoes. If I hadn't done it myself and they had just been put on my plate there is no way I would have thought them to be anything special. In fact to be honest I would probably have preferred a couple of nice roasties! MrsA disagrees! For her roasties would have meant more fat in the cooking. So the neutrality of the baked potato is the perfect accompaniment. She might just go with boiled but thinks that may be too wet for the dish. No, she'll stick with the baked but does conceed the method owes more to theatre than to taste.

I'm sure she was able to link this dish into her American Homage theme at the time but for the life of me I can't remember how now.

Dessert was a delightful "Glazed Cox's Apple Tart with Rose Water Ice Cream" for me and "English Blueberry Soufflé with Blueberry Sorbet and Verbena Sauce" for her.

Glazed Cox's Apple Tart

English Blueberry Soufflé

I love an Apple Tart and there's only two ways to make one. You either have to go the deep dish route so there's lots of sweet pastry and lots of filling that can be slathered in cream, custard or ice cream (delete as appropriate) or you have to present something that is intensely appley. Here they have gone the latter route so we have something light but flavourful, which is just as well as that main course has made anything heavy out of the question. The Blueberry soufflé brings MrsA back with glee to her "Homage to America" whilst I just roll my eyes and say nothing.

Fresh Mint Tea

As I sip my post dinner coffee and MrsA her fresh mint tea, we discuss the evening. The Hand and Flowers has been, we both agree, an enjoyable experience. Good food, served without pretention in relaxed surroundings. Highly recommended! My only regret? That I didn't book a room here so that I could just fall, replete into bed and into sleep instead of having to get back in the car and drive to Heston. Ah well, next time……

The Hand & Flowers
126 West Street

Tel: +44 (0) 1628 482 277


Hand & Flowers on Urbanspoon

Aug 7
Crown Social, Cardiff
posted by: Gomez in Dinner, Restaurant Reviews on Aug 7th, 2011 | | 2 Comments »

I think I was one of the first local foodies to pick up on the fact that “ex Michelin two star Chef Martin Blunos” was going to open a restaurant in Cardiff. The fact that he was going to do it in conjunction with Crown Hotels and Restaurants (CHR), owners of the one Michelin star ‘The Crown at Whitebrook’ and the three rosette ‘Crown at Celtic Manor’, made it all the more interesting. Would the new restaurant become the group leader? Certainly with Blunos at the helm it had the potential to. How would Whitebrook’s head chef James Sommerin, previously quoted as saying that Cardiff by night was one of the dirtiest places around and needed to mature a bit before a fine dining establishment would work, feel about having to share the spotlight. Only time, as they say, would tell.

The new restaurant was to be called “Crown Social” and was to open at The Thistle owned Parc Hotel. To quote the official CHR press release “The innovative concept, ‘speak easy’ style of dining, will see sensational Welsh produce sourced to create a distinctly different, social dining experience right at the heart of Wales’ capital city. Crown Social will offer remarkable food fusing world tastes and contemporary flavours.

We’re confident that this lively new social hotspot will become the place to meet, chill and socialise.  It’ll be a social hub to see friends and to be seen. Crown Social is chic and casual with an eclectic atmosphere and unique ambience. The exhilarating food Martin will be producing will be as fashionable, funky and as fresh as the wonderful new interior. And all this inside one of Cardiff’s most established, revered and iconic hotels – the Parc.”

Shortly after the launch I was contacted by one of the PR companies involved and asked if I’d like the opportunity to visit and also to interview Mr Blunos. I was a little undecided at first as at every other restaurant I’ve ever written about I’ve bought and paid for the meal with my own hard earned cash. However the chance to conduct an interview swung it as I doubted I’d get any other opportunity and I duly accepted. (OK so maybe my ego did get a massage as well but that was only a secondary consideration, honest!) However, dear reader, you need have no fear about the integrity of this review as in the end no free meal or interview was received. Despite a flurry of exchanged emails concerning dates and approvals we hit a brick wall in the shape of, would you believe it, the crockery. Apparently Chef Blunos wanted to wait until his new crockery arrived before cooking for us and so things got put on hold until it turned up and I can only assume it never did!

So, free of accusations of bias, let’s wind forward a few months. Just two months after opening the Crown Social is awarded two AA rosettes, good going by anyone’s standard. Reviews have been a little mixed but generally positive, although it’s still early days. Oh and they’ve done a 50% off deal via Travelzoo, which I find a bit surprising as I’d be expecting a new place of this calibre to still be packed to the gunnels! So bearing all this in mind, I decide that it’s high time MrsA and I go see what Crown Social is all about for ourselves.

The Online Oxford English Dictionary has a few definitions for “social” but the one that seems to fit this context is “relating to or designed for activities in which people meet each other for pleasure”, well I’m all up for that so let’s go.

The entrance to the Crown Social takes one into a large spacious bar area, where one presumably can socialise over drinks and nibbles, but we have booked a table and decide, being hungry, that  we’d rather  just go straight to it.  Inside the Crown Social looks exactly what it is; a restaurant in a hotel! Dark woods, big hanging lamps, muzak and no atmosphere, pretty much sum it up. For a restaurant with social in the name the staff, unusually, appear to be all formally dressed; the males in well-tailored suits for example. This formality seems to have invaded their personas as well and I wonder if, in fact, this is the crew from the starred Crown at Whitebrook on a staff exchange programme.

At the time of our arrival there is just one other couple in the restaurant and the maitre d’ decides that we should sit on the next table to them. Now I understand why in an empty restaurant you want to create a little grouping to try and generate some atmosphere, but really! Put me two maybe three tables apart but don’t put me two feet away especially when there is no background noise. I don’t want to listen to their conversation all night nor do they mine. This is not social this is intrusive.  I’m just about to mention this when MrsA beats me to it and requests a different table. Interestingly ten minutes later when the next guest arrives he is shown to exactly the same table we were and likewise asks to be re-seated. By now I figure that the initial couple have got a complex!

The waiter comes to explain things to us. Basically if you haven’t worked it out yet then the concept is either “up-market tapas” or “little dishes”, you decide.  Order lots of dishes and share! Simple, eh?

We decide to start with –

“Seared lambs liver, cauliflower, hot caper butter” – More cooked through than seared but tasty none the less.

Seared lambs liver, cauliflower, hot caper butter

“Grilled mackerel, Russian Salad” – Slighty under seasoned, but otherwise a very nice dish.

Grilled mackerel, Russian Salad

“Welsh pork boudin, shallot piccalilli” – Not really a boudin, the consistency but not the taste of a chorizo. Really porky and really nice.

Welsh pork boudin, shallot piccalilli

“Poached duck egg, rarebit topped choux bun, béarnaise” – A flashy eggs benedict.

Poached duck egg, rarebit topped choux bun, béarnaise

“Swiss pasta, Welsh streaky, morel cream” – Something of a high point as I loved the way the texture of the dish worked to complement the intensity of the morels.

Swiss pasta, Welsh streaky, morel cream

“Leek & potato terrine, roast garlic, toasted hazelnuts” – cold and bland. This is the poorest dish we tried.

Leek & potato terrine, roast garlic, toasted hazelnuts

Dishes on this menu page are priced between £3.65 and £5.95 so I’m treating them as starters.  The only dish that I didn’t think tasted nice was the Leek & potato terrine and that was because it was served cold.  Now I know that terrines are normally cold but this is basically a slice of cold potato and that’s just not pleasant.  The application of heat would have improved it immensely.

For the rest one cannot fault the presentation and the dishes were nicely cooked but the issue comes in the concept. The dishes are minute, really almost bite sized, totally not meant for sharing. The pictures really don’t show just how small they are, more of which later. As for the sharing, well we just got frustrated over how to divide each dish in such a way as for us both to enjoy.

Page two of the menu introduces us to the “main courses”, more substantial in price if not size.  Here we chose three dishes and two sides, comprising of

“Roast quail, satay, straw potatoes” – The satay worked well with the quail, which was rich and tasty. If I was splitting hairs then it could have done with 30 seconds less cooking but really no complaints on flavour. I liked the straw potatoes too.

Welsh pork belly, apple, Pease pudding, cider sauce

“Welsh pork belly, apple, Pease pudding, cider sauce” – A tiny sliver of belly pork, size wise more like half a strip of streaky bacon. Again good flavour but not enough of it.

Welsh pork belly, apple, Pease pudding, cider sauce

“Cornish turbot, leek and Penderyn taglietini” – Well-cooked turbot and the Penderyn Whisky bringing an interesting dimension to the taglietini.

Cornish turbot, leek and Penderyn taglietini

Mr. Little’s Yetholm Gypsy dripping cooked chips and Fresh asparagus – roughly chopping a potato, leaving the skin on and frying it does not a chip make.  Sorry Martin they were OK but I’ve had better. Nice asparagus though!

Mr. Little’s Yetholm Gypsy dripping cooked chips and Fresh asparagus

Again I can’t really complain about the cooking on these courses but these are simply not sharing dishes. Also one has to seriously question the value here. Two bites of pork belly for just over a tenner is ludicrous and you can add another two pounds to that for a mouthful of turbot, with the quail sitting somewhere in between.

By the time we reach dessert I’ve given up on being social and have decided to order just what I want without thought to sharing. Of course this take on a banana split is called a Social Split so I can’t escape social for very long.

Social Split

I have to admit it’s an interesting take and quite a clever one too. Nicely executed, I was impressed.  MrsA opted for the Bitter Chocolate Tart and Orange.

Bitter Chocolate Tart and Orange

Whilst the quality of the cooking and the presentation is, on the whole, very good I can’t help but feeling that naming this place “Social” is something of a misnomer as it fails on just about every level.  The dishes are ill conceived for the concept, being too fancy and too small for proper sharing.

Unfortunately my pictures really don’t show just how small these portions are. Some of you may be old enough to remember back to when Nouvelle Cuisine was all the rage and we moaned about going to a restaurant and paying a fortune for miniscule portion accompanied by three peas and a baby carrot on a plate. Well here we have the Nouvelle Cuisine of tapas and that just isn’t made for sharing. I’m sorry but I just don’t get it. The food is nicely cooked and nicely presented and apart from the portion size would be great if all they were doing was aiming to create a bog standard fine-dining restaurant, but they are not.  They are selling sharing, socialising, passing the dish on to the next person and you simply can’t do that when there’s only a forkful on the plate. Oh, and just in case you think I’m just moaning about the price here then I’m not. I’m moaning about the fact that I’ve bought into their sharing concept and now I can’t actually share.

The décor is straight from “Hotel Restaurant Interior Design for Dummies” and only enhances the lack of atmosphere. I have to totally disagree with that press release again when it says “We’re confident that this lively new social hotspot will become the place to meet, chill and socialise. It’ll be a social hub to see friends and to be seen. Crown Social is chic and casual with an eclectic atmosphere and unique ambience.”  Repeat after me “Oh no it isn’t!” I thought that the main advantage that Crown Social had was that it was attached to a hotel; thereby ensuring a regular flow of diners who hadn’t been there before.  I really couldn’t see this becoming any ones regular haunt.

Then, just as I was writing this up and only nine months after opening, Crown Hotels and Restaurants announced it had ended its contract with Thistle Hotels and was planning to move the Crown Social out of the Parc Hotel and into an, as yet, unknown premises in the city. The old restaurant will reopen in September as “The Social” and be run by the hotel’s food and beverage team.

According to CHR, Blunos will remain with the group and is “currently reviewing a number of different locations in the city centre in which to establish a new, independent fine-dining Crown restaurant.” I wish both CHR and Martin Blunos good luck with this venture as Cardiff really is a capital city in need of less chains and more independent fine-dining. One thing I do know is that either the dishes need to change if they are to retain the sharing concept or the concept needs to change if they are to retain the dishes.  Either way you have until the end of August if you want to see how social the Crown Social really is.

Crown Social
The Park Hotel
Park Place
CF10 3UD
Tel: 02920 785593


Crown Social (Parc Hotel) on Urbanspoon

Jul 9

The White Hart Village InnEver since I was a kid, I've always loved looking at maps. In those days it was maps in encyclopaedias and atlases. Then, in my days as a Rally Navigator, it was Ordnance Survey maps with all their incredible detail. These days, of course, anyone interested in maps or cartography is living in the golden age of Google. Google Earth, Google Sky, Google Maps and Google Streetview bring information and detail that was unimaginable only a few years ago.

So there I am happily scrolling around in Google Earth, when up pops a little champagne glass shaped push pin for The White Hart Village Inn. Two clicks later I'm on their website, where I find they are billing themselves as a Gastro Pub and Restaurant. A few more clicks and I've checked out the sample menus, read the Chefs' profiles and decided that this one is worth a try.

The web link is sent to my social secretary, a.k.a. MrsA, for approval and a table duly booked for the following Saturday.

The White Hart Village Inn is in the village of Llangybi, near Usk a short drive from Caerleon and hence Newport. A family run business, their stated aim is "to position the White Hart as one of the best eating venues in Wales, offering a unique, tasteful, quality product where like minded people will wish to frequent". Well let's see how they are doing.

As you can see from the photo above The White Hart is a pretty traditional looking country pub, but appears to be be very well kept. Inside we find ourselves in a comfy lounge, with a few local characters, where we enjoy a drink and peruse the menu. I'm very interested to see what's on the menu as I want to see how this really fits into the ‘Gastropub’ label. For me a gastropub should be cooking top quality local ingredients, in a way that shows off those ingredients and not how clever the chef thinks he is. Too many places I visit, that want to be gastropubs, end up producing a pale imitation of the kind of fare I expect to find in somewhere with a star or two hanging on the wall. I say pale imitation because invariably they fail to replicate these complex, multi-layered dishes and you are just left with a plate full of disappointment.

Tonight's menu scans well, a nice chilled courgette soup, a chicken liver parfait, bits & bobs from the garden with the obvious (V) after it, a confit chicken with scallop, sardines and a slow cooked trout make up the starters. The mains are well catered for by steak & chips, veal, hake, chicken breast, sea bass, Glamorgan sausages and an artichoke royale. So far so good!

Chicken, Scallop, Sweetcorn and Hazelnut Bread and Butter Chicken liver parfait, apple & Plum, toasted bread

MrsA chose the "Confit chicken, scallop, sweet corn & hazelnut", whilst I opted for the "Chicken liver parfait, apple & plum, toasted bread."  The parfait was really smooth with a great depth of flavour, really rich and creamy. The apple and plum chutney, which I originally thought might be too sweet a combination, wasn't and provided just enough bite to take the edge off the rich parfait without overpowering it. Nicely done!  MrsA felt her dish was really two dishes in one, the chicken, sweet corn & hazelnut worked well together as did the scallop, sweet corn & hazelnut. The chicken and scallop however, didn’t really do anything to enhance each other and so she thought the dish would have been enough with just one but not both.  MrsA would have preferred it to be the scallop but that’s just personal preference.

Steak & Chips Veal More Veal

For mains I opted for the signature "White Hart steak & chips" on the principle that if they are prepared to put their name on it then it should be a damn good steak and chips. For me this is the perfect dish for a gastropub, it's simple and straightforward with nowhere to hide. It's either going to be good or bad there's no middle ground.  I glad to say that the White Hart has managed to take the perfect dish for a gastropub and turned it into the perfect gastropub dish! You can see from the pictures that it was nicely presented with its 'Tower of Hanoi' onion rings, separate bowl of chips and little bottle of jus. The steak itself was an excellent quality piece of meat, tender, juicy and cooked exactly to order. No wonder they are confident enough to put their name on it.

MrsA ordered "Roast veal loin, potato terrine, spring greens, asparagus and roasted garlic". She was very pleased to see veal on the menu as it's such a rarity.  Veal has never really recovered from the bad rap it received in the nineties that turned it into the ultimate ethical no-no. The public hasn't really grasped that with support from the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming amongst others that eating high welfare or "rose" veal is the best way to stop hundreds of thousands of unwanted calves being slaughtered at birth or exported to veal farms in mainland Europe. It's good to see a restaurant putting veal back on the menu and in doing so to help educate the public that veal consumption no longer need be guilt ridden.

The veal, like the steak, was a quality piece of meat, well prepared, again simply cooked and as ordered. Perfectly complemented by the seasonal asparagus and spring greens it delivered what it promised.

Lemon MeringueDessert for me took the form of a "White hart lemon meringue" whilst MrsA had the "Chocolate terrine, strawberry and parma violet". The lemon meringue was served as an individual portion as opposed to the traditional slice from a larger pie. If I had any criticisms of the food so far then I would level them at this dish. For me there were two things that could be improved here. The lemon just needed to be a bit more tart to stand up to the sweetness of the meringue and the meringue itself need a bit more than a whizz over with a blow torch to finish it off as it had taken colour but no crispness from the process. However these really are minor issues and I'm fully aware that someone else would probably think it perfect.

Chocolate TerrineThe Chocolate Terrine on the other hand was what it should have been. Nice and rich and with the strawberries and parma violet offering a nice contrast in terms of flavour, texture and temperature.  

All in all I was very impressed with The White Hart Village Inn. It really has captured exactly what I think a gastropub should be all about; seasonal, locally sourced, high quality ingredients cooked and served with care and appreciation. Highly recommended!

The White Hart Village Inn
Llangybi, Near Usk,
Monmouthshire, NP15 1NP.
Telephone: 01633 450258


White Hart Village Inn on Urbanspoon

May 31
.cn Restaurant, Cardiff
posted by: Gomez in Dinner, Restaurant Reviews on May 31st, 2011 | | No Comments »

Logo for .cn restaurant

“13 weeks,” said Nathan, our waiter, in answer to my question of how long had .cn been open.  I liked Nathan and not just because apart from MrsA, the niece and myself he was the only other Westerner there. I liked Nathan because he was extremely helpful and seemed to enjoy answering all our questions about the dishes.  I liked Nathan because he took the time to ensure that we knew what we were ordering and that we were enjoying what we were eating.

I don’t know how Nathan had landed the gig of being the Western face of .cn but he seems pretty knowledgeable about the dishes and their background, so either he’s a serious Googler or they’ve got a damn good training programme going on. Nathan and I have only known each other for about an hour, so I decide not to press on trying to find out. Besides, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be coming back to this place, again and again, so there’s going to be plenty of opportunities to ask in the future.
“13 weeks, but we haven’t really marketed to Westerners yet,” says Nathan. “We’ve been full of Chinese students since we opened, so we haven’t needed to; but the students will be going home for the summer soon and so we need to start widening our market.” I almost want to try and convince him not to. I’d much rather keep this to myself. I rather not risk them diluting the menu by trying to cater for the tastes of most Westerners. 
So what was it that was making me so protective of a place that I’d never been to before and was barely familiar with? The food of course! .cn specialises in Northern Chinese cuisine. That cuisine is the food of the working man, hearty food in hearty portions. Typically that means there’s little waste and the whole of the animal gets utilised. Ears, stomach, intestines; it’s all cooked and eaten. In the current British food renaissance they call it “Nose to Tail” eating. For some of us of a certain age “nose to tail” is what we grew up on and what we've been missing.
So let’s talk about the food (we have to talk about it because in my haste to tuck into what was put in front of me I totally forgot to take any pictures).
Here’s what we had. Sliced belly pork in chilli sauce; we had ordered pigs ears but they’d run out so we opted for the pork belly. This was served cold. There are a number of cold dishes on the menu and these can be taken as starters but we elected to have everything as it comes. I wasn’t too sure about this when we ordered it, as I couldn’t quite get my head round cold belly pork. Fat might mean flavour but cold fat is never normally a pretty sight. I shouldn’t have worried though as these wafer thin slices of pork, benefiting from the heat of the chilli oil, just worked.
On the seafood selection we chose Squid with Chives and Stewed Fish with Sour Chinese Cabbage. The squid was perfectly cooked, not rubbery at all thank god and nicely complemented by the chives.  The Stewed Fish was served as a broth in a large tureen; it was packed with fish and packed with flavour with enough red chillies to catch the unwary by surprise.
Throw in some Pak Choi with Black Mushrooms, boiled rice and a steamed twisted bun (great for mopping up the juice) and you have an awesome meal. 
Of course we couldn’t just stop at awesome; we added some home made steamed dumplings filled with pork and then threw some Steamed Trotters into the mix. If you’ve had trotters in a Modern European restaurant recently you’ll have been impressed how they slow cooked them, de-boned them and then reformed them into something still resembling a trotter. This, however, is workingman’s cuisine. Here they just cook them slowly until they turn into the most gooey, unctuous, delicious entities and then they cover them in the most delightful sticky sauce imaginable. I just can’t tell you how good they were!
As I said earlier the portions are hearty and so despite the fact that three of us were tucking in there was still plenty left for us to take away for lunch the next day.
In summary, MrsA and I absolutely loved .cn and we’ll be going back again and again I'm sure.  You should too; just don’t you dare suggest they change a single thing.
228 City Road
Cardiff CF24 3JH
Tel: 029 2048 6688

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