,

Head of Steam Review in Cardiff

With the almost monthly opening of new cocktail bars on High Street Cardiff, it was a welcome addition to have the Head of Steam bar opening up next door to Beelzebubs on Church street this week.

There’s lots of change going on down that neck of the woods in the city centre, with a lot more planned with the redevelopment of the old pound stretchers and the adjoining vacant buildings on Church street too.

Head of Steam has taken over from the recently vacated Harvester restaurant and will be the companies 16th venue in the UK. I was asked to pop along to the soft launch last night to sample some of the 150+ beers and food on offer.

The Venue

I’ve passed the venue twice a day on the way to work since they’ve been giving the place an overhaul. The bar now covers two floors, instead of just the ground floor that Harvester was limited to.

 

 

The ground floor features a central bar with a mixture of movable tables and chairs and also booths to choose from. Large flat screen TV’s nestled around the wall’s rotate through the endless list of beers available.

Upstairs is reserved for mainly food, with no bar and table service. Theme throughout the venue is meandering towards the locomotive industry, hence the brand name “Head of Steam”. There’s references throughout to local railway trivia, but not too in your face.

The Drinks

Beers

As mentioned there’s over 150 beers available on draught, bottles and cans. You’ve got your standard pub offerings for those who aren’t too fussy about craft. There’s a couple of local beers from Cardiff favourites Pipes Brewery, then there’s Magic Rock and Beavertown, which I had the 6.7% Lupoloid that was very tasty.

 

 

They have a heavy focus on Belgian beers too, which is something i’m not too well versed with, so that should be something new to work through too for me.

Gin

I was quite impressed with their gin collection too. I counted 45+ that were in plain sight. Some of the regulars you would find in most bars like your Whitley Neil and Bathtub, then a fav of mine Scapegrace at the more premium end. There were a few new one’s I hadn’t tried too such as the Manchester Gin.

 

Gin selection at Head of Steam Cardiff

Whisky

Around the other side of the bar were the darker spirits like rum and whisky. A few firm Scottish favourites such a Ardbeg and to my delight a few Japanese ones too from Nikka and Suntory. I’ve tried quite a few of the Nikka range so I’m trying to work my way through the Suntory. They had the new Hibiki blended Harmony, which I haven’t tried since the aged 12 and 17 year expressions have dried up. I opted for the Suntory Yamakazi this time though, as i’ve seen it about, but not tried it before.

 

Yamazaki 12 year old Japanese Whisky at Head of Steam Cardiff

Cider

I think their selection of cider was the weakest link in the chain to be honest. The only true apple cider they had was on tap and that was Symonds but the rest were all fruit varieties, which I find way too sweet. They had Rekordelig on tap, a cola cider, which I did have a taster of but found it just tasted like cola and not much in the way of cider. I’d have struggled with more than a half. They you had some bottled fruit options such as rhubarb, mango and a strawberry one at around 4% so you can take a guess as to how sweet they were.

There’s plenty of good cider makers around in South Wales, so I’d recommend having at least one alternative to Symonds considering they have such a vast selection of beers but the rest of the ciders, I’d class as alcopops due to the lower abv and gut rot sweetness. Beezlebubs next door have around 6 draught ciders including Llantwit Fardre’s Gwynt y Ddraig.

The Food

The food menu is split into two, with around 14 starters or tapas options either priced individually or 3 for £12, with the option to upgrade to a tasting flight with 3 x 1/3 beers for £15, which I thought was a nice touch.

 

Sharing food plates at Head of Steam Cardiff

 

We opted to go for 6 of the tapas options between the 3 of us with a side of fries too. Not knowing what the portion size was going to be like, we had all intentions of having a main after it but we had eyes bigger than our bellies. I think if there had been 4 of us to share the plates as in one set of 3 for each, that sounded more doable.

We opted for:

  • Red pepper hummus with garlic corriander naan
  • King prawn tortilla
  • Sweet paprika chorizos in honey glaze
  • Japanese inspired squid with salt and pepper coating and teriyaki dip
  • Hot and spicy wings with chiptole mayo

We did ask for deep fried whitebait but got a second helping of the squid, sweet potato fries and go these plus standard fries and both flavours of the wings so there was a little mix up with the order. It was the opening night / soft launch and we were invited there for complimentary food so I wasn’t going to kick up a fuss.

I thought the food was of decent quality and there was nothing that arrived that I didn’t enjoy. The small plates are just £4 each so i’m not expecting michelin star quality here but what you do get was lovely. Proper beer food and I liked that they suggested a paired beer with each plate or for those opting for the beer flight with it just as I did.

The problem was, we had about 8 plates and 6 beers, so I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to be drinking with what. It was only a suggestion though and I just had a taste of everything with everything. I loved the mini chorizo sausages in the honey glaze though, they were lush and the cherry beer that came with the flight.

 

Nachos at Head of Steam Cardiff

 

Having had an extra few dishes by surprise, main courses were off the question. We did decide to have a sharing plate of the pulled salt beef nachos for the table to pick on though. The tortillas were pilled high, with a lovely rich and smokey beef topping with melted cheese. The dips came in a big bowl rather than making the chips soggy, which was a nice change. No complaints for the nachos, and again, perfect beer food.

If we had gone for mains, there were choices of beef and coconut curry, sirloin steak and chips, Moroccan Harrisa salmon, pie and mash, a decent selection of mammoth sounding burgers or hotdogs. Price wise, i thought these were reasonable too, with mains around the £11 mark apart from the steak, which will set you back £16.95.

 

Sharing desserts at Head of Steam Cardiff

 

We went for a sharing board of 3 desserts to finish up, which consisted of chocolate brownie and ice cream, sticky toffee pudding and waffles with berries and ice cream. At £10 for all three, I thought they were a bargain.

The Verdict

They aren’t trying to be something they are not, in terms of food and offer good, hearty food for a very reasonable price. With starters or tapas at 3 for £12, mains around £11 and £3.33 for a dessert if you went for all 3.

There’s a lack of places in town for a reasonably priced, good bit of grub with some decent beers to go with them. I can definitely see myself coming back, especially as they are dog friendly too. This is downstairs only mind and they have a couple of chairs and tables outside, so I’d probably park myself outside with the mutt, with a beer and couple of small plates on our rounds around town on the weekend.

A Christmas Gin Gift List

I thought I’d make a gin hit list for anyone looking for the best gin to buy for Christmas this year, whether you’re looking to purchase some new and exciting gin for your home bar or for a gin lover in your life, they would make the ideal gift this year.

My Christmas gin list includes gin’s I’ve got at home, some I’ve tried and loved on my travels and ones that I need in my life, like right now!

There’s gin’s close to home in the UK,more exotic ones like the Persian peach and from around the world including my favourite Japanese distillery Nikka, Scapegrace Gold from New Zealand, gin spiked or aged in with wine and barrels from Four Pillars.

That Boutiquey- Gin Company also do the craziest concoctions out there too. I’ve even got to bottle a blend of my own recently with them too at The Dead Canary in Cardiff.

The gin list will be growing as and when I find new epic gins that are worthy of the gin hit list, so if none of them take your fancy now, pop back in a little while to find some more.

I’ve not only added gin though, I’ve got a few items I have in my home bar for making some classic gin cocktails such as bitters and vermouths for Martini’s, Maraschino for Aviation’s and Chartreuse for The Last Word cocktail. Oh and a few recommendations such as the large ice mould’s that come in handy for Negroni’s and Old Fashioned’s (although not gin, but bloody good none the less)

Take a look at my ultimate gin gift list for Christmas. (Please note that gin is for life and not just for Christmas, unless you’ve drunk it all, in that case you will need another form the attached list)

Take a look at my ultimate Christmas Gin Gift List

 

,

The Alchemist Cardiff Restaurant and Bar Review

I went to the launch night of the much anticipated Alchemist a few months back, and i’ve been back since then for a cocktail or three. This time I thought i’d concentrate on what the molecular themed bar has to offer in the kitchen.

We were invited along to try lunch there a few weeks back, so we chose a Saturday afternoon to allow us the chance to tick a few more cocktails off the menu whilst we were there, without having to stumble back to work after.

We happened to sample some bite sized portions of some of the menu items at the launch, but there was far too much alcohol consumed to remember exactly what passed my lips that evening. This time I was back for a full portion and more.

The Food

Having just clocking off on the 3.5 hour Loving Welsh Food Tour 5 minutes ago, I had to dig deep into that special place in order to power through another three courses. For some this may be unreachable, but for me it’s second nature.

I opted for the duck gyoza to start. Llio was going for a salad for mains, so ordered two starters. Asian steamed pork buns with hoisin and a side of halloumi sticks.

The gyoza were soft and silky, filled with a fragrant mix of veg and shredded duck. A sweet, sticky dip added a burst of citrus. The steamed buns were decent in size, soft pillowy mounds, stuffed with soft pork. I drizzled the sweet, hoisin sauce for a tangy bit of moisture.

The halloumi sticks were fried in a layer of crispy, golden breadcrumbs, paired with a pot of mellow chilli mayo.

Not a bad start from all three dishes so far.

For mains I opted for a seared tuna, because I can’t remember the last time I ate fresh tuna. I opted for it pink in the middle and boy did they deliver on that front. Nothing worse than a sorry, dry and grey slab of tuna when it’s fresh.

tuna and rice cake - The Alchemist Cardiff

I’m not normally one to go for something with sweet chilli sauce, as I thought everyone had rode that wave to death a long time ago. I would of preferred something other that sweet chilli, that offered a fiery kick of freshness to add to the beautifully pink tuna but the dish sounded good apart from that. I loved the toasted slab of sticky rice that contrasted between spongy with a crisp outer layer, with ribbons of herbs layered through it.

I’m not sure what state the micro herb salad was in, when it went on the plate but it was a bit miserable by the time it touched our tables. It could of wilted in the heat of the kitchen or surrounding items on the plate, but the plate wouldn’t of missed it if it wasn’t there. The tuna was delicious though and made up for it.

crispy kale side - The Alchemist

I love a bit of crispy kale and often do them in the house to add to asian dishes for a seaweed like crunch so I went for a side of crispy kale with the main. This paired with the tuna really well with little crispy shards of garlic scattered amongst the leafy crisps.

The other half went for a Caesar Salad. More food her there.

caesar salad - The Alchemist Cardiff

After a bit of a breather to sample another drink after the mains, we decided on what sweets to order. I went for a white chocolate and rum mouse with coconut, rum, mango and lime salsa.

This was probably my least favourite dish of the meal. Not that I didn’t like it, it was just a bit boring. I couldn’t taste any rum what so over, but this might of been in part compared to the other desert, which was very potent in the alcohol department. I just thought the dish was a bit bland compared to the other dishes we had.

caesar salad - The Alchemist Cardiff

The other dessert was the cotton candy baked alaska. I’m not a fan of candy floss in cocktails as I think it’s a bit wanky to be honest so i was a bit apprehensive. I do like a baked Alaska mind, so we bit the bullet.

The mini mountain comes out with a mound of candy floss on, which I imediately though “Oh god, here we go” but they heated a little pan of spirit up, which was flambed and drizzled over the dish turning it a molten, sugar inferno. The candy floss didn’t last long and just shriveled into little pebbles of sugar luckily.

I saw the table opposite let her’s burn for a little too long before us and ended up a bit more singed that I would of hoped for so I blew out the flames just as the top of the Alaska started to turn golden in colour.

This was a much better dish that the mouse with it’s crunchy nuggets of warm sugar in a boozy syrup that I spooned with each mouthful of Alaska.

The Drinks

I’ve had a couple of cocktails here by now and tend to stay up towards the last block of boozy numbers that aren’t drenched in sugary syrups. Some of the tweaked classics like the white negroni, which was a lovely change and the old fashioned.

I was a bit disappointed with my last visit as I tried to order three drinks from the more potent, short and strong section but they didn’t have all the ingredients to make them. It was a Thursday, so I let them off. I was a bit peeved when the same thing happened with another couple of drinks this time considering it was a Saturday, you would think they would be fully stocked for t he menu.

cocktail at The Alchemist Cardiff

First up this time was the Penicillin drink, that came in a mini medicine bottle that i decanted over a large spherical ice cube. This was a bit more like some of the drinks I would order in Lab or Pennyroyal in terms of strength and lack of over the top sugary syrups.

My second drink, after not having the ingredients to my first option was a smokey number that came out in a round science lab beaker, on a tripod and was smoked in front of me. Having had my fair share of smoked old fashioned’s in my time, the drink would normally have been smoked in the glass, with a healthy chunk of ice to keep it cool.

smoked cocktail at the alchemist cardiff

This was smoked in the beaker and left on the tripod to sip at my leisure. The problem being the round beaker wasn’t the safest in the tripod and I just about managed to save it spilling several times. The other issue was the drink therefore couldn’t be chilled with ice, and i was left to sip the warm, smoked liquid like a 15 year old working his way through the ethanol in GCSE science.

I don’t care much for what glass the drink is in, well I do it should fit the drink. But I think the drinks tend to be a bit gimmicy here, whilst hindering on quality and taste. If you want to smoke it, fine. Just smoke it in a rocks or old fashioned glass with ice or a coupe as long as it’s been stirred the shit out of with ice. Just don’t give me a warm drink that I’m scared will plunge to the floor every time i put it down.

The Verdict

I was pleased with our starters, which were both flavoursome and decent in size. I really enjoyed the tuna and the rice cake, especially scattered with my side of crispy kale. I would of preferred something a bit less old school than sweet chilli, maybe a soy, gochujang or miso glaze but the rest of the dish was spot on.

Desserts were hit and miss. I enjoyed the boozy baked Alaska but the white chocolate and rum mouse was missing the main ingredient…rum.

I’ve had some decent cocktails here, don’t get me wrong but I don’t think the flavour and quality should be neglected just because you want to add a bit of dry ice for some theatrics or a bunsen burner and shitty round glasses that don’t sit in their tripod.

The staff are all really friendly and I like that they ask you before you even look at the menu if you have any allergies, so they can offer you a customised menu. That way you aren’t left disappointed, when you go through the menu ordering only to be told they contain something you’re intolerant or allergic to.

I’d probably have food here again, and it is a nice looking venue. There’s not much else like it in the centre of town, where you can get a decent cocktail (if they’ve pulled their finger out with the ingredients) and some good food that’s central.

It seems to be really busy in there every time i walk passed and every time i’ve been in there, which is unusual for Cardiff as most places are quiet apart from Saturday. If you are going for lunch on Saturday, I would recommend booking in advance as they turned loads of people away when we were waiting for the to clear our table.

Contact Details

117 St Mary Street
Cardiff
CF10 1DY

Web: thealchemist.uk.com
Tel: 02921 303755

Classic Cocktail Recipes & Bastardised Classics

If you’re looking for some inspiration for some classic cocktails or my spin on classic gin and whisky cocktails then these few cocktails might be right up your street.

I’m mostly found drinking gin when out in bars in the evening but I’m a sucker for a Japanese whisky, especially the Nikka Whisky range. Luckily for me they’ve recently branched out into the juniper spirit world too.

I’m by no means a professional mixologist but I do like to experiment not only in the kitchen but with my ever growing collection of spirits at home.

The Last Word Cocktail

Classic Last Word Cocktail

  • 50ml gin
  • 25ml Green Chartreuse
  • 25ml Maraschino Liquer
  • 25ml fresh lime juice

Instructions

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir with a bar spoon for around 15-20 seconds to both dilute and cool the mix. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and serve.

Last Samurai Cocktail

Last Samurai cocktail

  • 50ml Nikka Coffey Gin
  • 25ml Green Chartruese
  • 25ml Maraschino Liquer
  • 12ml lime juice
  • 12ml yuzu juice

Instructions

This is a play on the Last word cocktail above but with a Japanese twist using Nikka Coffey Gin with it’s Japanese inspired botanicals and subbing half the lime juice with Yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit.

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir with a bar spoon for around 15-20 seconds to both dilute and cool the mix. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and serve.

Aviation Cocktail

  • 50ml gin
  • 12ml Crème de Violette
  • 12ml Maraschino Liquer
  • 25ml fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Luxardo maraschino cherry to garnish

Instructions

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir with a bar spoon for around 15-20 seconds to both dilute and cool the mix.

Add a Luxardo maraschino cherry and a little of the syrup into a chilled couple glass. Strain the cooled mixture into the couple glass and serve.

Chocolate, Hazelnut and Tonka Bean Old Fashioned Cocktail

Nikka whisky cocao tonka bean hazlenut old fashioned cocktail

 

  • 50ml Cocao butter fat washed Nikka From The Barrel Whisky
  • 10ml Tonka Bean and Hazlenut Syrup
  • 3 dashes umeboshi

Instructions

Add the Nkka, Tonka Bean Syrup and umeboshi to a mixing glass with ice. Stir with a bar spoon for around 15-20 seconds to both dilute and cool the mix.

Strain into a cut glass old fashioned or rocks glass with a block of ice and serve.

How to make the components of the cocktail

  1. To make the Cacao butter fat washed Nikka you will need to melt cacao butter in a bowl over hot water and pour the liquid butter into a container with the whisky. Depending on how much you want to make depends on how much cacao butter to use.
  2. I made 50ml of whisky to test and used a chunk about the size of my thumb. Make sure the container is to seal as you want to shake it to mix the fat in with the whisky.
  3. I left out to make sure it cooled for a few hours, then put it in the fridge overnight. I then placed the whisky in the freezer for an hour or two so the fat hardens. It has probably solidified already but we want to make sure it is solid so we can scoop it out easily.
  4. When you’re ready to roll, take the container out of the freezer and use a spoon to scoop out the cocao butter. Mine resembled a mini poppadum and was in two large pieces so was easy to fish out. Then take a fine sieve and pour the whisky into whatever container you want to store it in so it could be the empty whisky bottle but using the sieve to catch any small remnants of the cocao butter.
  5. The longer you leave the butter in the whisky the more pronounced the flavour. You don’t want to overpower the drink so play around with the timings. Mine was about 24 hours but you could do it less for a more subtle taste or depending how much cacao butter you use.
  6. To make the tonka bean and hazelnut syrup you want to smash up a few hazlenuts and dry roast in a pan to toast them and give them a more smoky flavour. Depending on how much you want to make up the measurements but I went for a test batch and used about 5 or 6 nuts with equal amounts of water and sugar. For this small batch I used 75ml of water and 75ml of sugar.
  7. Once the hazlenuts have toasted but make sure they don’t burn, add the sugar and water and turn it up to a boil. Cook for another minute once it’s boiling and take off the heat. I then added 1 tonka bean, which I snapped into 4 pieces.
  8. Bare in mind that in high does tonka beans, much like nutmeg can become toxic so don’t overdo it but some sources have said it could take around 20+ tonka beans for a person to cause damage. It’s for this reason tonka beans are banned in the US but this is from many years before too much research had been done to say they are toxic but in high quantities.
  9. Leave the mixture to cool for a few hours and to develop. Once you are happy with the concentration of flavours, decant the mixture into a clean container or bottle using a fine mesh sieve again to remove any residue that could cause it to spoil.

The best places in Cardiff for a Gin and Tonic

Being the gin whore I am, I’ve pretty much tried most places in Cardiff over the past two years for a juniper based beverage. With so many craft gins on the market and new ones being released each week it’s hard to keep up but the list below will stand you in good stead to sample a whole range of gins from around the world.

There’s quite a few selling local Welsh Gin’s such as Eccentric, Dyfi, Da Mhile and Gower, with is very nice to see. Also something I’m a bit obsessed with these days is all things Japanese and and the Japanese gin’s if you haven’t tried them yet are bloody lovely!

Take a look at my top picks of where to go for a decent Gin and tonic in Cardiff below.

Pennyroyal

High Street, Cardiff

genever at Pennyroyal

 

A very good selection of craft gins including my fav Nikka Coffey, Welsh Gins such as award winning Dyfi Gin and one of the only places I’ve seen Gin’s older brother, Genever served in Cardiff. They also do shit hot cocktails and the Classic Club between 5-7pm Wednesday to Friday is a game changer.

Want something off menu? Tell Alex, Jay or Sam what you like and they will rustle something glorious up for you.

Lab22

Caroline Street, Cardiff

gin martinin at lab22 cardiff

 

This is probably where I fell in love with cocktails and all things gin in Cardiff way back when. I’ve tried many a new gin on the market here and learned a thing or two from mixologist extraordinaire Alex whilst sat at the bar interrogating him.

Their molecular mixology inspired menu looks something out of a nutty professor handbook with acids and potions I’ve never even heard of before featuring in the majority of drinks.

 

Cardiff Gin Club

Anywhere and everywhere

Cardiff Gin Club pop up gin tasting at Hawkes Bespoke Cardiff

 

Cardiff’s very own travelling Craft Gin Bar and quirky gin event pop up with over 60 gins in their arsenal. Tired of the same old boring gin tasting from gin’s that have been on the market for 20+ years?

Sign up at Cardiff Gin Club or give them a follow on socials to find out when and where their next event is taking place. Whether it’s sipping botanically infused water whilst doing yoga or zipping over the Bristol channel in a speedboat for a tipple on a former pirate and smugglers loving island they’ve got it covered.

 

Dead Canary

Barack Lane, Cardiff

East India Company Gin at The Dead Canary Cardiff

 

Cardiff’s original speakeasy, nestled inconspicuously off Barack Lane just behind St Davids 2. Bookings are usually a must but give the doorbell with a ring next to the gold feather on the wall and you might be lucky.

I’ve mainly gone here for cocktails with the new menu themed on Welsh Folklore but they’ve got a pretty impressive back bar of gin and whisky if you want to venture of piste later on in the evening.

 

Park Plaza

Greyfriars Road, Cardiff

park plaza gin tasting main

 

The only hotel on the list but this place has something for everyone. Not the biggest selection of gin to be found in the city but it was here I first tried a couple of gins they have on the menu at the new gin menu launch I was invited too back last year. The Caorun with apple was my fav for a little while too.

Did I mention they do a gin afternoon tea too? Well they do, and you should try it if you haven’t. This might not be the biggest seller coming up to summer but the lobby room in the hotel, slouched in a leather chair with a roaring fire, glass in hand and nibbling on a cheese board whilst it’s snowing outside was my favourite thing to do this winter.

 

Bar 44

Westgate Street, Cardiff

Cardiff’s most popular tapas bar don’t just know their food. Us Brit’s have borrowed the now staple Copa da Ballon glass from our Spanish friends and Bar 44 definitely know how to present them with full to the brim with ice, my favourite Spanish Gin Nordes a Gallician white grape gin then expertly paired with garnish and tonic.

Excellent food meat’s excellent gin. Oh and they don’t half know a bit about Sherry if you fancy one in between. Owner Owen, being a subject expert and recently crowned IMBIBE personality of the year at the prestigious London event they take their drinks just as serious as their food.

 

Small Bar

Church Street, Cardiff

zymurgorium gin at Small Bar Cardiff

 

My favourite pub in Cardiff hands down and mostly known for their delightful array of craft beers, sours, ciders and porters and more recently the Kerala Karavan takeover in the kitchen. If you cast your eyes behind the pumps behind the bar you will see some mighty fine examples of gin, found nowhere else in Cardiff.

Heavily beer influenced with some examples such as the Wild Beer Snoodlepip and Northern Monk Brewing Zymurgorium Gin and their own collaboration with Bristol gin ninjas Psychopomp.

 

Pitch

Mill Lane, Cardiff

With outdoor seating and set over two floors on Mill Lane, Pitch is bigger than it first looks outside. Recently refurbished with quirky, mind bending painting frames on the ceiling this tardis esque venue has an envious cocktail menu and tempting gin collection.

Fancy an afternoon gin teapot sat in the Sun? Look no further.

 

Curado

Guildhall Place, Cardiff

Gin and yuzu tonic at Curado Bar Cardiff

 

My other favourite tapas venue in town and somewhere you can just nip in for a drink without worrying about having to have food (not that I’ve ever been strong enough to fight off the urge) is Curado.

A great wine selection but they only sell Spanish Gin and most other than my fav Nordes I’ve never seen anywhere else in Cardiff. Santamania is their go to Gin with one being a collaboration with my Ozzie fav Four Pillars Gin. Oh and you just have to have yours with QYuzu tonic because Yuzu in anything is the bomb!

 

Potted Pig

High Street, Cardiff

Not only do the guys at Potted Pig do shit hot food, for a long time they had the biggest selection of Gin in Cardiff too.

Not exactly somewhere you can just go for a drink but something to bear in mind if you want to end a good meal with something wet and tasty.

 

Ten Mill Lane

Mill Lane, Cardiff

scapegrace gin cocktail at ten mill lane Cardiff

 

More of a late night venue, this basement bar comes to live after midnight. Most customers have probably been well oiled by the time they get here but they recently won the Scapegrace Gin Trail in Cardiff I recently tagged along in with their crazy out of the box gin concoction that blew us judges away.

A good gin selection and a very reasonably priced cocktail menu will see you through till lights on at 6am.

 

Peppermint

Mill Lane, Cardiff

Peppermint is a place you can go for an afternoon drink sat in the sun on Mill lane or for a knees up and boogie till late. Set over two floors with an outside seating area and food menu, you can be entertained for hours.

With a good selection of gin favourites on display and a tempting cocktail list this should definitely be on your list of venues to stop by on your gin tour of Cardiff.

 

Bootlegger

Womamby Street, Cardiff

ki no bi Japanese Gin at Bootlegger Cardiff

 

This prohibition themed bar might be easy to miss walking through Womamby Street but make sure you pop in to the 1st floor venue the next time you’re in the area. With an ever increasing selection of juniper based spirits, twisted classic cocktail menu and live jazz performances on the weekend it’s a nice addition to the music loving street. #VIVALAWOMAMBY

 

Gin and Juice

High Street, Cardiff

This spin off ginspired venue is from the coffee and tea house jugernaught that is Barkers. Formerly known for kitting out South Wales in denim and check shirts for 30 years, they’ve now basically taken over half of Castle Arcade with the addition of Gin and Juice next door to Coffee Barker.

With close to 200 gins from your household names to more niche and rare bottles there’s something for everyone. Those cut glass drinking vessels look the part too. I’ve heard they do a pretty healthy breakfast too if you fancy pairing it with your citrus spiked gin of choice.

 

Cathedral 73

Cathedral Road, Cardiff

Off the beaten track and one to think about if looking for somewhere to hydrate on a trek from Pontcanna to town. I attended the launch of the new food menu and management of the venue back towards the end of 2017 and was rather impressed with the collection of gin behind the bar.

With 30+ at the time including local Eccentric Gin they told me they were hoping to increase this to 73 in homage to the street number at which they reside. If you’re looking to make the most of the evening, I was bowled over by the quality of the rooms and accommodation there too especially the two story fully kitted out kitchen apartment.

The Mulberry Cocktail Bar review at The Celtic Manor, Newport

I’ve always been a fan of The Celtic Manor down in Newport and like the fact they are always evolving, changing and enhancing what they have to offer under the roof and in the mass of acres surrounding the Luxury Hotel Complex.

Not content with trying the afternoon tea once i’ve been back 3 times for the ever changing specials they run such as the Willy Wonka Chocolate and the Easter themed one i’ve taken my younger sister to. I love the afternoon tea that much I’ve booked in for a 4th time in March for their afternoon tea with a twist and exploration of world cuisine with the Ribs Slider Afternoon tea that is there for the month of March. I’m equally keen to try out the Asian themed afternoon tea there in June.

Then there’s the inaugural Polo at the Celtic where everyone gets glammed up I’d like to say to watch the Polo but it’s an excuse to put some smart summer wear on, shades high heels / loafers and quaff measurable amounts of Pimms and Champagne in sun kissed Newport Countryside. I attended the event last, 2 years ago but contemplating adding it to this summers list of events.

I was saddened to hear about the fine dinning restaurant closing at the Celtic Manor back last year but when an invite landed in my inbox to the vacant spaces latest incarnation the Mulberry Cocktail Bar I was more than happy to check out what they had mustered up in it’s place.

Mulberry Cocktail Bar Celtic Manor Resort

The Bar

I’ve stayed and ate plus attended a couple of years at the Digital Wales events at the Celtic Manor but I was unfortunate not to eat at the Epicure restaurant when it was open so can’t compare what the decor was like before the Mulberry opened but I thought it did make a lasting impression walking through the glass doors with the bar in front, swooping chandeliers, large high backed chairs, mood lighting and classy fittings.

Mulberry Bar cocktail lounge Celtic Manor

There were scutterings of tables in all shapes and sizes to fulfil groups of varying sizes from small tea seaters, large canvas backed lounge seating to hold small groups that was occupied by a friendly gaggle of locals and regulars at the restaurant who were enjoying their first round of Mulberry fizz’s. There were offshoots with rooms and couches curtailed by thin threads giving a sense of privacy that can be booked out for groups and parties I was informed and then weather permitting (which it wasn’t on Thursday sadly) outside parasol entombed tables centered around a modern fire pit, which i’m sure would be well exploited come early spring and into the late evenings in summer after feasting on one of the many current restaurants across the resort.

Not being one who prefers the element of surprise, I had – had a sneak peek of the menu before the evening to see how they compared to recent visits to some of London’s favourite cocktail haunts such as Duck and Waffle, The Shard and the legendary Savoy. Sticking to my mantra of doing a smaller menu very well rather than an excessive menu very badly there were 11 cocktails to choose from. If you would of asked me what the ingredients to most of them were 12 months ago I wouldn’t of had a clue but to anyone whose graced the pages of my Instagram recently they’d know I’m partial to a cocktail or two these days.

There were a few familiar faces in attendance and not just fellow foodies and bloggers but Welsh Rugby hero Gareth Edwards, who i’m guessing is a keen golfer down at the Celtic Manor and none other than TV favourite Bradley Walsh who was staying at the hotel during filming of an upcoming show.

The Drinks

Price wise the cocktails were around the £15 mark, which for a Cardiff City Centre before 10pm might sound excessive to some but most of the venues in town who offer two for one generally in my eyes based on taste just use the same amount of alcohol but spread over two glasses so you’re just getting more juice or ice for your money. Having visited one venue well known for their two for one pricing the night after my visit I was quite appalled to see they were charging £9.70 for an Aperol Spritz outside of the happy hour window.

Here though at The Mulberry Bar they aren’t just using your standard house spirits such as red labeled vodka or sub £20 London Dry Gin they are using some of the best spirits available to make up the cocktails, which I think does warrant the slightly higher prices one would be more accustomed to in nearing Welsh cities. I’ve never actually been to a hotel for their amazing cocktail deals anyway as you come to expect to pay a little bit extra as it’s not just about the drink it’s about the experience, the service and having everything under one roof.

mulberry Fizz cocktail and canapés Mulberry Bar Celtic Manor

First up we were served a Mulberry Spritz containing vodka infused mulberries, Blackberry Pimms and Ice Cuvee. This wasn’t just some berries thrown in some vodka and shaken to within an inch of it’s life with ice with a straw. some thought and preparation and been involved from the steeping of the mulberries, the ice shaped carriages to hold the berries and the overall presentation of the drink. The first sip was quite potent but a little stir and muddle of the ice and it was a lot smoother.

We were treated to a decadent selection of canapés to go with the drinks with fois gras and truffle, lobster with scallops and a mushroom with mozzarella. These were later joined with a panko crumbed raspberry with poppet of boozy liquer along with a rich chocolate and rose pot.

candyfloss cocktail at Mulberry Bar Celtic Manor

Next up was the Candy Floss Royal. Not a drink I would normally opt for myself as I don’t go for anything that sounds overly sweet but it was a lot better than i thought it would be and not too sweet at all. A chunk of candy floss drizzled with black muscat and finally drenched in Champagne. What’s not to like with anything topped with Champagne?

Negroni and Mulberry Bar Celtic Manor review

I got to choose my next drink so obviously went for a classic gin cocktail and what’s more classic than a Negroni, but not just any Negroni… a Posh Negroni with Martini Rosso, Roby Italian Roby Marton gin and bitter Campari. This was the biggest glass of Negroni I’ve ever set eyes on. They’re an acquired taste if you’ve not tried Campari before but i’ve had my fare share over the past 12 months and got a taste for it now. It was good as is but the bar manager offered a splash of Prosecco, which just lifted it perfectly.

Japanese Whisky Cabinet at Mulberry Bar Celtic Manor

The Whisky Cabinet didn’t escape my radar right by the entrance to The Mulberry Bar and on further inspection they’ve added a few Japanese Whisky’s that I’ve had a soft spot for since my visit and Whisky flight at A Bull in a China shop in Shoreditch, London just before Christmas. I’d also treated myself to a sexy bottle of Nikka From The Barrel for Christmas. I’d not seen the Nikka Coffey in a bar yet though and been dying to try it. It didn’t disappoint either so if you like your Whisky, next time you’re at a bar or take a trip to The Mulberry Bar at the Celtic Manor make sure you sample one or two in their ever growing list of Japanese Whisky’s.

Cheese trolley at Mulberry Bar Celtic Manor

Did we mention the cheese trolley they have too? Just our luck they plonked it next to us with it calling out “EAT ME!” for the duration of the visit. Sadly it was just to entice us back as it was just for show but we were informed it was around £14 for a choice of 4 cheeses. To make up for it though the friendly and attentive bartender rustled up a the showpiece of the cocktail menu the Cheese Delice featuring Monkey Shoulder Whisky blended with Kahulua and hazelnut liquer in the centre of a plate adorned with nuggets of cheese and drops of chocolate.

Cheese Delice cocktail at Mulberry Bar Celtic Manor

The idea is to dip the cheese in the chocolate, take a bite and then have a sip of the drink. This was definitely a dessert to share much like a cheeseboard. I loved the different flavour combos going on with the dish / drink but it would of been a struggle to finish on my own and was a great sharing drink after some food.

The Verdict

We both loved our first visit to The Mulberry Bar at The Celtic Manor and will no doubt be back to finish off where we left off. I loved the surroundings, the vibes and of course the cocktail and whisky list. We had a good chat to the bar manager who talked us through some of the drinks on the menu, techniques they’ve employed to deliver the epic cocktails and plans for the future with drink and menu development, which sounded more than promising.

The waiters and bar staff were very knowledgable and more than happy to explain some of the more unusual ingredients and offer recommendations based on our tastes.

If you are staying at the Celtic Manor and booked in for food at one of the restaurants then the Mulberry Bar is a must to end a perfect evening in Wales most prestigious Hotel. Even though it’s in the afternoon, we’re off for the afternoon tea in a few weeks and I’m definitely going to see if they can sneak us in if it’s close to opening time.

The Bar is open Wednesday to Sunday from 5pm but closed Monday and Tuesday and to find out more visit The Mulberry Bar website.

New Gin menu launch at Laguna Bar in Park Plaza Cardiff

Last week I was lucky to be invited by Park Plaza to sample the new offerings from their gin menu in Laguna bar and restaurant.

I’ll be the first to admit I was a late convert to the juniper botanical blended spirit but it’s my new go to spirit of choice. The initial hesitation to gin stems from growing up in a pub and no I wasnít an alcoholic child but my grandparents have ran a pub for over 30 years and I’ve lived with them on and off over the years. The problem was the only option we had 15 years ago when I first probably tried it working my way through the top shelf after my shift behind the bar was Gordon’s, Schweppes tonic and a plastic lemon!

One try I had and it put me off until a chance encounter with a wine and gin cellar bar in Chester back last year when I was introduced to what present day craft gin had evolved into.

Since then I’ve attended a few master classes and the Gin Festival down the bay last year and left with a new found knowledge of the craft and history of the stuff from the talks and tasting sessions down in the vaults in Portland House and a book of pairings for the 150 odd gins they had on offer, which has acted as my bible since then.

The Gin Tasting Event

I’d been to Laguna for the Gentleman’s afternoon tea and tried the amazing Sunday lunch but I’d not been for a while to sample the Gins on offer although I have been stalking them on Twitter seeing the ever growing selection they have behind the bar.

Cardiff park plaza gin tasting with Adam

There was a good mix of other bloggers invited to the evening at the Park Plaza with what promised to be a journey the new gin menu sampling 5 of the Gins in the range. I was a bit too keen I think and turned up first so I was kindly offered a choice of any of the ginís from the menu before the tasting commenced and everyone else turned up.

The menu had good balance of familiar faces and some that had I’d heard of but not had the chance to try. I didn’t want to double up and test any on the tasting options we were going through so opted for a new gin the Aviation. The aviation cocktail is probably one of my fav gin cocktails so this was one of the other reasons. I’d not paired a Gin with elderflower previously so this was a pleasant change to my normal choices available.

park plaza gin tasting gin bottles

Our host for the evening was a lovely chap called Adam who was very knowledgeable on the Gins we were sampling, giving a brief history behind the distillery, tasting notes and suitable garnishes to enhance the botanicals.

The gins we got to sample on the night were:

  • Sipsmith
  • Brecon Gin
  • Opihr
  • Caorun
  • Monkey 47

Adam told us about some of the botanicals used in the gins with some having around 5 unique neutral flavours to the German Monkey 47 brand that you’ve guessed it had a whopping 47 botanicals and a cool 47%abv.

I’d tried Sipsmith neat, well watered down with vermouth in a Martini but not tried it with a tonic and garnish. I’ve got a bottle of Monkey 47 in the house too but with the price on it it’s only come out on one or two occasions and Iíve always had it with lime twist.

I was keen to try the Brecon Gin as it’s only one of a handful of Gins produced in Wales and comes from the Penderyn Whisky Distillery the guys behind my favourite Whisky the Penderyn Sherrywood.
Mwsh had ordered an Opihr down The Dock down the bay not long ago but it came with an almost cartoon like chilli the size of my arm, which left me in hysterics so I couldn’t take it seriously at the time but this time it came with a wedge of orange, which cut nicely through the spicy notes of the Gin.

Gin tasting Cardiff Park Plaza Caorunn with apple

The other Gin on my to do list was the Caorunn. I’d seen the uniquely shaped bottle many times but not had the pleasure of sampling it before then. I was surprised to see it garnished with an apple and tonic, which I had never seen before and it turned out to be my favourite pairing of the evening. I think I liked the fact the apple parted with subtle hints of the fruit instead of the sometimes overbearing bitterness and burning taste of the rind of citrus.

Not wanting us to fall flat on our faces by the end of the tasting Park Plaza kindly brought out some sharing plates of nibbles so we weren’t too much affected by the powerful effects of some of the Gin on offer. Olives, cornichons, cured meats and breads with dips a plenty accompanied by some perfectly perfumed spirits, I was now in my oils.

Gin tasting at Park Plaza Cardiff with bulldog gin

After the tasting had come to a close and I’d polished off the lions share of the mezze boards we were given the option of trying one more gin to finish off a great evening of tasting. One I’d seen many times especially spending the best part of the weekend in the Bulldog pub in Krakow the week before was Bulldog gin. The gin was palatable but I’d say it was probably my least favourite of the Gins I’d tried that night but it was up against some stiff competition.

The Verdict

I enjoyed the Caorun so much we went out on Saturday and picked up two bottles from Asda in the World Gin Day promotions they had on. Armed with the menu and tasting notes they gave us on the night to take away in a goody bag we paired a Botanist and Caorun with the recommendations from the menu that evening.

Gin goody bag from Cardiff Park Plaza

I think the new gin menu at Park Plaza is a great idea as it can be quite intimidating ordering gin for the first time not knowing what tonic and garnish to pair with it but the options on the menu have obviously been tried and tested many times before making the final cut on the menu.

Lurvill’s Delight Botanical Water Review with G and Tea cocktail

I was asked to test out the relaunched Lurvill’sDelight recently. For those unaware of the brand or product it was born out of the Rhondda Valleys some 100 odd years ago by twin brothers Harold and Lolo Lewis.

The story goes that the brothers used profits of the drink to pay for 150 local coal mining families in the Ynishir area of the Rhondda to travel to the states around 1900’s. The carbonated drink ceased production not because a decline in sales but from a shortage of one of the main ingredients, dock leaves in 1910.

Having heard about the relaunch back last year on social media, I was keen to sample the drink especially as it was initially brewed and bottled just over the mountain from my home town of Abercynon.

I found the botanical blend of Welsh Springwater to be rather refreshing, poured over a large 3″ chunk of ice made from my recently aqcuired ice cub tray from Amazon. This is definitely an adults drink as there is no added sugar, colour, preservatives or artificial flavours.

With hints of rhubarb, dock leaf, nettle and juniper the botanicals lend themselves very well to Gin and not just as a thirst quencher on it’s own. I did enjoy the drink by itself but it wasn’t as fizzy as I would of liked personally although that might of been something to do with the huge block of ice in my glass. It sounds more of a health drink and had that sort of medicinal feel when first trying but with a sence of nostalgia knowing the history behind the drink but the mellow flavours where made for marrying the juniper flavour with a good gin.

I tried a few different concoctions of gin and garnish with the Lurvill’s Delight but found the Masons Yorkshire Tea Gin to compliment it best. I gave the Negroni cocktail a go from the Lurvill’s website but I’m not sure if I used too much Campari but it overpowered the subtle flavour of the Lurvills Delight as it is quite bitter.

Where can I buy Lurvill’s delight?

I’ve been informed that bottles can be bought from a range of deli’s and suppliers in Cardiff with Wally’s deli being the most well known. They can be picked up online at Amazon with a crate for £20 and drinkstuff also had some in stock too after a quick search on google too.

lurvills delight g and tea cocktail

Lurvills Delight G & Tea

  • 50ml Masons Yorkshire Tea Gin
  • Twist of lemon
  • Dash of Lurvills Delight
  • Loads of ice

Fill a large goblet type gin glass with large chunks of ice.

Use a potato peeler to shave the skin of the lemon. Cut in half lengthways and twist the skin to release the essential oils but take care not to tear it in half then drop in the glass with ice.

Pour the double measure of Masons Yorkshire Tea Gin into the ice filled glass and top up with the Lurvills Delight to your desired strength.

,

The Best Gin Martini Cocktail in Rome – Stravinskij Bar

Having tried the best Pizza in Rome and wandering around St Peter’s Basillica with a blistered and beetroot red scalp for a while with no hope of beating the qeueues into the Vatican before close there was only one thing left to do…rehydrate with a cocktail of course!

A quick scout online for the best places for a gin in Rome brought back some good results with a few hidden bars and speakeasy places coming out on top such as Jerry Thomas Speakeasy, Club Derriere and Spirito but none of them opened till around 10pm and it was just pushing 4pm.

One other place that kept coming up was the Stravinskij Bar at the 5* Rocco Forte Hotel de Russie. Aparently they do the best Martini in town and seeing that that’s my tipple of choice we were sold.

Roads were basically at a standstill at this time around the Vatican and google maps reconed it would only take an extra 2 minutes to walk the 1.3 miles from our location so thought this would be a good time to burn off the 3 million calories I’d consumed in the past 48 hours and seeing there was treasure at the finish line we set out on foot armed with my ever frustrating google maps on my phone.

The Bar

We arrived at the hotel after more than a handful of pit stops to browse at bloody crockery as usual. We walked through reception and headed to the back of the hotel where we guessed the bar might be. There were garden chairs and sofas nestled amongst heaters and unopened parisolls on a patio area in a courtyard between the hotel buildings but thought it looked a bit low key considering the reviews we had heard online.

I wandered over to one of the waiters to ask where the bar is and he said you’re in it to my slight dissapointment as we could see terraces overlooking the courtyard embellished in sunlight. Apparently that was the restaurant but the view looked so much better than the patio courtyard below and come on I’m from Wales who knowns when i’m going to actually see the sun again this year.

I wish i’d just ordered a plate of chips looking back now to sit up there with a dirnk but I was parched and needed to rest my little trotters. We pondered over the drinks menu whilst the waitress tempted us with an array of complimentary snacks from mixed olives, a variety of crisps and honey baked almonds. These got me pining for my first Martini of the trip with the tray loaded full of salty favourites and there were more concoctions on the menu than i’ve ever seen.

The Drinks

After some deliberating I opted for the Gold Bond Martini with both gin and vodka with a glimmering display of gold flakes swirling round in the martini glass. Pointing out the obvious it was a potent mix of alcohol, mixed with alcohol watered down with yet more slightly weaker alcohol pimped up with a healthy portion of gold flakes to jazz it up and lemon twist for extra zing.

There were a few others I was torn between but this was a good choice. It was a good job were were just sampling the one (at 22 euros a pop) we just thought we would see what the bar was like but I wouldn’t be steady on my feet after many that’s for sure.

Mwsh opted for a prosecco based fruity number although not of the martini variety. That was ok, had a slight Pimm’s feel to me and at that price I wanted a that hit of alcohol to headbut me in the face but it was a bit to reserved for my liking.

The Verdict

After being a bit disheartened at first not having a seat up on the sun laced terraces I did enjoy the relaxing ambience of the terrace down below (after about 15 minutes of some devil child bawling uncontrollably till the Russain looking child bride and Oil Oliagarch handed over said child to the stone faced nanny who soon got it to sleep).

It was a far cry from the tidal wave of tourists within the Vatican, noisy car and motobikes weaving in and out of traffic and the relentless assault of sales pitches from street reps trying to sell you JUMP THE QEUEUE tickets for the Sistine Chapel.

Ok so 22 euros a pop for cocktails isn’t cheap but this was a 5* hotel and one of the best in Rome at that plus the snacks we got probably would of cost us around 15 euros in any other bar no doubt. If we weren’t so pushed for time and was celebrating a birthday or something I’d definitely stayed to tick off a few more of the Martini’s on the list and would encourage anyone to swing by if you’re in Rome even if it’s just for one.

Negroni recipe

My first taste of a Negroni was the woodland Negroni at Duck and Waffle in London, which I have to admit wasn’t to my taste as it tasted like i’d just necked a bottle of pond water as it was seaped through layers of nature or moss as I’d call it.

I wasn’t put off though and knew there was more to this classic Gin cocktail as i’ve seen it cropping up a lot lately so after working my way through the taster menu at Mint and Mustard in Penarth last night we popped into Asda on the way home. I wasn’t quite ready for bed so left with a bottle of Campari in tow after hunting down a bottle of Noilly Prat Vermouth a few weeks back to make my own Negroni.

Negroni ingredients

2 x 25ml Gin (I used Portobello Road as it’s my favourite all rounder)

1 x 25ml Noilly Prat Vermouth

1 x 25ml Campari

1 twist of orange

Negroni cocktail making

Instructions

To make two add 2 x double shots of Gin, 1 double Noilly Prat and 1 double Campari to a large tumbler filled with ice and stir for a good 30 seconds. Take a potato peeler to an orange and peel a slither of the rind, twist and squeeze to release some of the oils in the orange and add to cut glass tumbler. Pour the Negroni mixture equally between two glasses along with thick chunks of ice to keep the glass cold without over diluting.