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Ember by John Cook Review at Milk & Sugar – Yr Hen Lyfrgell

I was sat in a pub in pub in the Pembrokeshire Countryside a few weeks back, sipping on a pint of local ale whilst catching up on some socials. We’d been busy walking around Cardigan all day, then me foolishly braving the March Welsh sea by taking a plunge.

I noticed that Milk & Sugar in Cardiff were running a competition for two a table for two at their upcoming collaboration with local chef favourite John Cook, formerly of Arbenig in Pontcanna. Long story short, we managed to win the competition so were joining dinners on the launch night at the Yr Hen Lyfrgell on the Hayes. It was quite funny as we had seen John’s other side project Dirt being advertised at Crwst in Cardigan that same day.

Sadly I was late to the party with Arbenig, with chef Tommy Heaney taking over the venue before I had chance to sample his food, although John seems to have his fingers in many pie’s at the moment and I have managed to try his other incarnation with Dusty Knuckles Phil called Horn to Hide at Sticky fingers.

Anyone who’s anyone has probably set foot in Yr Hen Lyfrgell (The Old Library for you non Welsh Speakers) so I won’t bore you with the details other than saying it’s a lovely big venue for lunch for the whole family or to grab some excellent coffee for a chat on their long tables with friends.

The Food

The new residency from John and his wife Ceri is called Ember and the concept is 4 courses of locally sourced, quality food from a fixed price menu. There’s a one meat option menu (£40) and vegetarian (£30) option menu. Everyone eats the same, so there’s not quarrel’s over whose having the lamb because you wanted to try two different things on the menu. In my case it also saves me hours of changing my mind for two weeks prior to attending a restaurant.

 

Ember by John Cook menu in Cardiff

We asked beforehand if we could bring the (future) mother in law along but pay the difference and the guys were great and fitted in another space on the table. No half hour deliberating over the menu, it was three meat options and a bottle of the highly recommended Argentinian Malbec. That would have been my first choice anyway and at around just £20, I thought it was an absolute bargain for a bottle.

 

Argentinian Malbec red wine at The Old Library Cardiff

First up on the menu was a sausage broth, with creamed white beans, focaccia and olive oil. The sausage was soft and crumbed into the rich and flavoursome broth. A lovely crunch to the oily focaccia that I dipped and ladled full of the gravy, before mopping any remnants from my plate. A hearty dish that you could easily have dived head first into, in front of a roaring fire, with half a loaf to help make a dent in it. Luckily John has a bit more understanding of portion control than me, that allowed me to power through to the next three courses.

 

Sausage broth dish at Ember by John Cook in Cardiff

Next up was a plate of charcuterie with fermented onion and malt vinegar. I do love a healthy mound of cured meats, with pickles and red wine at the best of times and the addition of some toasted almonds, to add a touch of smokiness and crunch was kindly welcomed. I did enjoy the dish although for me and the general consensus of the table was, we would have liked maybe a bit of local cheese to break up the meat, even if it meant having a bit less of the cured pork, for a bit of variation.

 

Charcuterie at Ember by John Cook Cardiff

Onto the main event and I’d seen some teasers on Instagram of the beef ageing, at Cardiff Butcher. The course read: 55-day beef sirloin with celeriac, carrot and marmite and it came out brilliantly pink, on the custom made ceramic plates from a local potter. I had to dissuade the other half from collecting the full set in her handbag, before they came to take away each course, as they really added to the rustic charm of each plate.

 

55 day aged beef from Cardiff Butcher at Ember

The beef was so tender, with slight caramelisation on the crust that paired superbly with the rich coffee and marmite jus, oh and the bold red beauty in my glass from the Patagonia’s. The smooth, silky highly addictive celeriac got me secretly begging that someone left some of theirs, as I’d used my finger to painstakingly mop every last drop flavour from my plate. Unbeknown to me at the time, but the butcher and his wife were sat in front of us. I would have patted him on the back for that beef at the time if I’d known.

Last but not least was a truffled chocolate with bay leaf caramel, hazelnut and cultured cream. This reminded me of a deconstructed snickers and the ill-fated Cardiff Burger and lobster snickers dessert, but on steroids and with a lot more love. Basically 4 of my favourite things on a plate, what’s not to love? Apart from my obsession for adding whisky to anything with chocolate or caramel, but I’ll let them off, as not everybody is an alcoholic and adds alcohol to every course.

 

Truffled chocolate and caramel dessert at Ember Cardiff

Rich, chocolatey, nutty and a faint vegetal addition to the delicious caramel. Again, I was trying to subliminally convince both my fellow dinners that they had a gastric band and they’d eaten quite enough at this point and I was going to take one for the team and resentfully finish off all three plates. This didn’t work, so I just ordered more wine.

 

Empty plate at Ember restaurant Cardiff

The Verdict

I was gutted about not booking into Arbenig before it closed, so I was super chuffed I got the chance to sample some of John’s food and for free, after winning the twitter comp. The Ember residency takes place each week over the weekend, for the next couple of months at least and after speaking to John and Ceri, they are looking at introducing a new menu each month. This is excellent news as there really is a lack of decent restaurants in town and once you’ve been to one, it’s a while before the menu changes.

I’d be more than tempted, in fact I’d be more surprised if I didn’t come back in May, to see what’s new on the menu. £40 each for 4 courses and bloody lovely bottle of Malbec for £20, that’s more than a bargain in my eyes. I’d like to say a big thanks to Milk & Sugar and Ember for treating us to a table for two and a bottle of wine as part of their twitter comp. I’ll be seeing you again soon!

For booking a table at an upcoming Ember evening at Milk & Sugar’s Yr Hen Lyfrgell head to Wriggle who are now running the bookings. If you want a discount on your first purchase then remember to use the code AUHPSS when you register on wriggle and click referral.

Höst Copenhagen Restaurant Review

Apart from Warpigs, we had been living off market food and just grabbing a bite to eat as and when we could since landing in Copenhagen, but I wanted to at least have one experience of Nordic cooking on our 3 day trip.

After a bit of googling and a recommendation from a friend we visited in Malmo, Sweden that afternoon we took a punt on Host. I would have loved to have sampled Geranium or Noma, whilst were in the country but to be frank, they are taking the piss with the pricing. For Noma it’s £300 per person for the tasting menu, then another £200 on top for paired wine. £1000 for a meal for two is outrageous, when our whole trip didn’t even cost that.

 

Tasting menu at Host Copenhagen

 

I was really surprised to find the tasting menu at Host, just £55 for 5 courses. Ok, it’s not the 105 courses at Geranium, but I also don’t own a an Amex Black Card. For a welcome glass of fiz, paired drinks for each course, coffee and chocolate, this bumped the price up to a much more reasonable £105 per person at Host. This meant I could even afford to eat for the rest of the month when i got home too, WINNER!

Before we came to Copenhagen, I had another restaurant on my hit list called Jah Izakaya & Sake bar. I found out that both restaurants belong to the same food collective called Cofoco.

The Restaurant

Host was located just over 1km from our hotel. We tried to book a taxi en route but they didn’t want to know as it was so close and Uber has been banned there, so it was on foot we went.

The restaurant was a situated on the corner of the street, luckily for us on the same main road we walked from the hotel, so there was no weaving in and out of back streets to find it. The interior was a fusion of industrial lighting paired against Scandic design and wood everything. I really liked it as it felt warm and endearing from the bitter wind on our trek there.

 

 

There was a hole in the middle of the wall with perspex, giving an insight into the workings of the kitchen and the gold splash board behind the cooker, that we saw scrubbed after nearly every pass. It was so clean in the kitchen, we’ve never seen anything like it. They literally scrubbed the kitchen, top to bottom every half an hour.

The Food

Opting for the evening at Host package we had our glasses topped with a sparkling wine to ease us into the evening along with a bowl of fresh, crunchy balls of dough with a whipped buttery cream to smother in, till our hearts content.

Shortly after we were also served our first paired wine to go with the first course. Not our first course, but one of the many surprise additions to our menu we gladly welcomed.

The wine, a Lil Buteo with almost Perry like qualities in both taste and cloudiness.

 

 

The surprise course was a sort of shrimp on toast with a waffle instead of bread. Not sure of the exact mixture within the prawns as it was lost in translation and wasn’t on the menu. It was bite sized and well received by both of us.

The first course on the menu was a Witchflounder with cauliflower and blue mussel sauce. A soft, meaty and white chunk of fish, ladled in the creamy mussel sauce at table side, flecked with mini florets of broccoli and the crunch of nuts to add a bit of texture and bite.

 

 

Next was one of my favourite dishes of the evening. Soft, tender slithers of birch smoked scallop meat, tossed in a subtle horseradish cream with a kick of sweetness from the cubes of apple. A simple concept but executed fabulously. Presentation was on point too, sat on a bed of stones.

We were treated to another surprise course next. An artichoke soup with crispy shards of fried artichoke sprinkled over. This was delicious and the crispy bits on top left me wanting my own pot, to douse every dish with. If I was in the corner away from prying eyes, I would of licked the bowl clean.

To go with the dish we had a mini tree that was hiding a few extra surprises to nibble on.

 

 

Another seafood course was up next in the form of Norwegian lobster with sea buckthorn and pickled carrots. The lobster meat had an almost charcoal, smokey BBQ taste to it, which I thought worked perfectly with the Yuzu IPA beer it was paired with and the zingy pickled carrots.

For our next course we had a choice of cod or beef. Having had a mainly fish fest so far, I was swaying more towards the beef. To make it easy, Llio went for the cod with lingonberries and crispy chicken skin and I went for the beef tenderloin with lingonberries and celeriac for a 50DKK surcharge. The beef also came a different, more punchy red wine, to go with it.

 

Beef main dish at Host restaurant Copenhagen

 

As expected the beef was meltingly tender, with a healthy scattering of crispy celeriac. The same sauce was used on both the cod and the beef, which was interesting. It could have been the lingonberry as I couldn’t work out where else it was on my dish.

We were now past the savoury courses and into something a bit sweeter, along with our final glass of wine came in the form of a 28 year old dessert wine.

Rose tinted and sweet, but not sickly sweet as the dessert of liquid nitrogen frozen hazlenut ice cream with pear and white chocolate didn’t warrant a roundhouse kick of sweetness to match it.

 

 

The bowl resembled the little Calipo Shots I used to love as a kid. With the multicoloured, frozen balls of ice, giving you a multitude and explosion of fruit, chocolate and nuts with each spoonful.

Our final dish was our last surprise course too. This featured a metallic, spherical meringue dome, dusted with a fine crimson powder atop a creamy base with added foliage for effect.

 

Meringue surprise course at Host Copenhagen

 

To be honest, I think I preferred this dish to the actual one on the menu. Even though the ice cream, chocolate and nut balls were nostaligic, this just tasted and looked like a grown up dessert. Again not overly sweet, but the flavours just worked in tandem.

Last but not least was the chocolates and coffee. The chocolates came out presented amongst some wood chippings, with around 3 varieties to savour and one making you question whether you were actually about to chomp on a nugget of wood, it was so realistic.

 

Chocolates and coffee at Host Copenhagen

The Verdict

I loved my visit to Host, from start to finish. From the rustic Nordic ambience of the restaurant, to the friendly and charming service we received and not to mention the epic measure of pairing drinks with the delicious food. There were no 30ml shots of wine to go with each course, that left you gasping for liquid refreshment after the first bite of food. You get a full serving with each course.

I thought it was amazing value for money with it costing about £105 per person for around 8 courses, with 6 drinks and chocolates. Which by UK standards would be pretty good, but for the extortionate cost of eating and drinking in Copenhagen, this was an absolute steal without compromising on quality.

I’d highly recommend a visit to Host if you are ever visiting Copenhagen and I will definitely be interested in trying some of the other restaurants in the Cofoco family.

 

Contact Details

Address: Nørre Farimagsgade 41, 1364 København, Denmark
Website: https://cofoco.dk/en/restaurants/hoest 

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Albert Adria’s Cakes and Bubbles Review at Hotel Cafe Royal – London

By a stroke of luck, we found out recently that Albert Adria was opening his first restaurant outside of Spain, after watching Top 50 best restaurants in the world on Netflix.

We watched the episode on Albert and how he went from being awarded the best pastry chef in the world, working alongside his older brother at the now closed El Buli. You’ve guessed it, also voted the best restaurant in the world, during it’s heyday.

It then went on to document Albert’s own journey, with the creation of the totally bonkers “Tickets” restaurant in Barcelona. After a quick look on the tickets website, we saw a banner mentioning the launch of a new collaboration in London, with the luxury hotel Cafe Royal on Regent Street.

I was due to travel to London on the 17th, to judge in the People’s Drinks awards to find the public’s favourite gin, at the Colonel Fawcett bar in Camden. My star’s must of aligned that day because they had an availability at 7pm on that exact date. This meant I could work my way through 24 gins, go grab some food to sober up, then try some of the best cakes on the planet, before my train journey back to the land of song.

The Venue

I’m not sure what to call the venture as it’s not quite a restaurant as they only do cakes and not quite a bar because they only do bubbles, so lets just call it a very high end Cafe. Being located on the ground floor of the luxurious 5* Hotel Cafe Royal, it seems quite fitting anyway.

The cafe is located within the hotel, but with it’s own entrance a stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus. Located on the outermost wall of the hotel and surrounded in big glass windows, the marbled and gold interior really grabs your attention when you walk past.

Inside Cakes and Bubbles - Hotel Cafe Royal London

There was a mixture of tables for large groups, tables for two and a couple of bar stools next to the bar, that could be used for customers going solo.

The decor was classy yet not too pompous, for the location and being in such a luxury hotel, that demands around £700 a night for a room. A tall Japanese Fasuma esque door, acts as a partition between the cafe and the hotel. I did sneak out to have a look, on the way to the little boys room and the reception area was beautiful, especially with the Christmas decorations and huge chandelier.

Shelf of The Cheesecake by Albert Adria London

The Drinks

As the name suggests, they not only specialise in desserts, but they had the most comprehensive list of vintage carbonated wines I’ve ever seen. Prices started around £9 for the house Champagne, with a few other glasses available by the glass up to around £100 per bottle. Anything higher, and it was by the bottle.

There wasn’t just Champagne available, but Cava’s and sparkling wines from around the world, including Essex right here in blighty. I opted for something a bit different in a sparkling sake, at £16 a glass or just shy of £100 for the bottle.

If you’re off the booze, fair play to you, they have a selection of freshly made juices on offer.

The Cakes

Back to what this place is all about, and that’s the desserts. You have a choice of a few appetisers, to get you in the mood, some fruit bowls and then the main course.

Albert Adria's Dessert Menu at Cakes and Bubbles - London

We opted for the chocolate eclair with praline to start, coming in two finger sized portions served in a gold vessel, for around £8. Other options included a carrot cake, that was another strong contender and a strawberry and chocolate marshmallow after eight.

Chocolate and praline eclair at Cakes and Bubbles - Hotel Cafe Royal Review London

Albert sets out to deceive throughout the cake menu and this was the start of things to come. It looked like a stodgy chocolate bar but was so light, with a crisp white, airy nougat inside. This was laced with swathes of praline and nuts. Oh, and lets not forget the little shard of gold leaf, on top of the dark chocolate casing, for extra bling.

Onto Albert’s most famous creation, The Cheesecake priced at £12. Using a play on words, the cheesecake was in fact made to look like a little round of cheese. With the outer casing mimicking the rind of an aged cheese in colour and texture.

Albert Adria's The Cheesecake at Cakes and Bubbles London

It looked hard to touch, but just gave way to a a gooey almost molten Camembert inside. The outside was made from white chocolate and you were smacked in the face by the strength of the cheese used inside. This was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted.

It played mind games with you as it was made to look like a savoury object, was made of chocolate yet still had an explosion of savoury from the pungent cheese. It wasn’t sweet at all though, which is probably why it forked so well.

Biscuit base for The Cheesecake at Cakes and Bubbles - Hotel Cafe Royal

The cheesecake was served with mini biscuits, that served as the standard crunch base of a cheese cake. I slathered the soft cheesy core onto the biscuits and ate together for a much needed contrast of crunch.

Last but not least, we had the frozen caramel and lemon cake (£12). Again this was different to any dessert I’ve tried previously and was a cross between a cake and a sorbet.

Albert Adria's Frozen Caramel and lemon cake - Cakes and Bubbles London

A zingy frozen centre with an added kick of gin to lift the citrus flavours and just make it extra naughty. A thin creme brulee like layer of caramelised sugar topped the dessert, which I gave a little smash with my fork and spooned in equal measures with the frozen, lemony core.

The Verdict

I’ve never been to Barcelona, so it was great to get to try some of Albert Adria’s desserts on home turf, even if it was over two hours on the train.

The eclair’s were good, not stand out for me but they were totally different in appearance and taste to what I was expecting. Not too bad at £4 a piece for the pair though.

I wish I’d opted for the carrot cake to start, instead of the eclair or just gone for both. The starter courses all seemed to come out in bite sized portions.

For those torn between a dessert or cheese board, then The Cheesecake is the ultimate crossover, for a hit of both. The strong, pungent cheese paired with the only lightly sweetened chocolate was indulgent and addictive.

I noticed a few dishes coming out with an egg in an egg cup, which looked very peculiar. It wasn’t evident from the menu what it was, but I’m guessing it was the egg flan, which mussed of been served inside an egg shell. Again thinking outside the box or outside the shell with this one.

The venue is situated inside a very high end hotel but the vibe here is much more relaxed. Everyone we spoke to from the team were very friendly but I think there wasn’t much in the way of organisation. I think they should of had one waiter / waitress between a couple of tables, who just looked after those tables. Instead it was a bit of a free for all, where we were approached by 3 or 4 people during between ordering and having our drinks, which was a bit confusing.

We got everything we ordered and we really enjoyed the experience, but a bit more thought or planning on the service would of meant it wasn’t like organised chaos.

I’d definitely recommend Cakes and Bubbles for some decadent, mind bending desserts if you are ever in London. We were lucky to get a table when we did by pre-booking two weeks in advance, but it was the first week of opening and it should die down slightly.

The bill for cakes and bubbles - hotel cafe royal london

We had a starter course to share, two desserts, a glass of Champagne sparkling Sake, which came to around £65. Not exactly cheap but then, you get what you pay for.

If you want a soft serve ice cream, with a few sprinkles and a plastic cup of coke for less than £5 for two, then there’s McDonalds. Albert has worked in the best restaurant in the world and been crowned best pastry chef in the world for a reason and you will pay for the constant experimentation to get desserts of this standard.

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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.

Private Chef in Cardiff – Private Dinning at Home with La Belle Assiette

Have you ever fancied sitting at home with a glass of wine with friends, whilst someone sweats over a hot stove, cooking up a feast for you all and then does all the dishes too, so you don’t have to lift a finger? Well apart from topping up your guests wine and aeroplaning said feast into one’s mouth.

If you didn’t know that was a thing, aeroplaning your own food or having someone cook up a three course meal for you and your guests in your own home, well they now are. Both of them. And I had the pleasure of relinquishing my place behind the cooker in my own home to a guest chef, courtesy of La Belle Assiette. They provide private dinning experiences not just in Cardiff but throughout Europe.

I recently welcomed chef Stephen Gallagher into my home to cook for me and my family. Speaking to Stephen, he’s worked at a few well known hotel resorts in South Wales area such as the Vale Hotel and more recently The Celtic Manor. Along with running his own pub and restaurant with a friend, it sounded like he’d had bags of experience in the kitchen.

 

Prosecco and elderflower gin liquer welcome drink for private chef event in Cardiff

 

That meant I could relax and just concentrate on pairing the food with drink and making sure everyone kept topped up, starting with a glass of Prossecco topped with a dash of Condessa Elderflower Gin Liqueur.

The Food

This being Stephens first private chef event with La Belle Assiette, he had a couple of example menu’s on his profile on their website, but he was more than willing to offer something bespoke if they didn’t take my fancy.

Not making things easy on myself to work with him to satisfy what was probably the most fussy bunch of eaters, we managed to wittle the menu down to the same mains and desserts for everyone. I’m not usually the one with the fussy label attached to me when it comes to food, but I was the one who didn’t want the starter as documented many times throughout my blog I just can’t take to salmon.

Instead of me ruining what sounded like chef’s signature starter dish and for those who really did like salmon, he kindly offered to do an alternative starter for some of us too.

 

Dinning table ready for private chef experience in Cardiff

 

I absolutely love carbing up on bread before a meal and is one of my favourite parts of a meal, slathered thick with salty butter. I meant to pop into Pettigrew Bakery for a loaf of sourdough, the afternoon of the meal, as it didn’t mention anything about bread on the menu. I was too busy buying some new glasses and booze though unfortunately.

Luckily for us, Stephen came prepared with a bounty of bread big enough to put Jesus to shame, which was well received, by none more than me.

 

La Belle Assiette Private dinning menu for Cardiff

 

Annoyed with myself, as the sound of the salmon dish sounded bloody lovely, but I just couldn’t. The three that ate the salmon concurred too. Us salmon dodgers were treated to a tandoori chicken, a whole breast I must add, with mint raita. Portion size would of filled two people to be fair, of lightly spiced chicken morsels and a cooling mint drizzle.

For mains, I was amazed I got everyone to agree on one dish, but then it was duck. Again the portion size of the breast was very generous and cooked perfectly pink for me. This came with oodles of a rich, meaty blackberry jus, that added a lovely fruity kick to balance out the natural fattiness of the duck.

We were presented with not only a duck breast, but a very impressive duck leg croquet, loaded with tender shreds of duck in a super crunchy crust. A sweet carrot puree and a velvety garlic mash.

 

Duck and blackberry main course for Cardiff Private Chef night

I know I was in my own home, but I was entertaining guests so licking the plate was sadly out of the question. I did however, happily finish off my mums duck. She really enjoyed the dish, she’s just not a big eater and had already consumed a whole breast of chicken for the starters.

For the duck I paired this with either an Argentinian Malbec or Oloroso Sherry, depending on the guests preference. I opted for the Malbec.

The third and final course, cooked and prepared by the chef was a Chai tea panna cotta, Earl Grey syrup, brioche toast and orange gel. Not having any prior exposure of what chef could knock up in the kitchen, I wasn’t entirely sure the both tea’s would work with each other.

Chai Panna Cotta dessert from La Belle Assiette Private Chef in Cardiff

 

I wouldn’t normally have had much experience of tea until recently, when I was tasked with pairing an Indian food tasting menu with gin for Cardiff Gin Club. I spent a few weeks experimented with Indian spices, gins and a playing around with a range of different tea syrups.

I wasn’t sure if the highly perfumed Early Grey tea would work with the spiciness of the Chai tea but the orange gel brought together the bergamot in the Earl Grey with the cinnamon and cardamom of the chai. The panna cotta had a decent wobble to it too.

 

Jindea Darjeeling Tea Gin

 

Keeping in with the tea theme, I paired this dish with an Indian Inspired Jindea Darjeeling Tea Gin and tonic, with a twist of lemon.

The Verdict

This was my very first experience of having a private chef cook for me and my family in my home, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I was a little nervous too if I’ll be honest, that I’d invited everyone around and had no idea what the quality of the food was going to be like.

I really didn’t have anything to worry about though, as Stephen was very professional throughout the whole process. From putting the menu together, arriving early to make sure everything was prepped on time and the final output of the food to a very high standard.

 

Group photo of a private chef experience in Cardiff

 

It really was excellent restaurant standard food, without the hassle of leaving your own home. This would make an ideal choice for a dinner date with friends if you struggle with child care, spoiling family members with accessibility issues, who find it hard to leave the home or because why bloody not.

Why go to the trouble of dressing up, travelling to a venue, only to have them tell you what you can and can’t have, even though it’s you handing over your hard earned cash.

Why not design the night or special occasion, exactly how you want it. From the guests, the drinks, the venue and the bespoke menu, to suit everyone.

 

Me tucking into the duck main course for our private chef event in Cardiff

The only thing I was annoyed about, was that everyone was so stuffed after the food, nobody touched my cheeseboard that I spent about 30 quid on in M & S earlier in the day.

The experience was provided complimentary by La Belle Assiette but we really couldn’t fault the experience. I would recommend it to anyone who has thought about having a private chef, but not quite sure or to anyone who didn’t know you could have it done, for the same price of eating out at a restaurant if not cheaper.

Contact Details

La Belle Assiette Private Dinning
Chef: Stephen Gallagher
Web: labelleassiette.co.uk
Tel: 020 3318 5003

Meatopia Review – Tobacco Dock London

London’s annual celebration of smoked and bbq’d meat at Tobacco Dock, aptly name “Meatopia”, has been on my hit list of summer events for a few years now.

A post on instagram a couple of weeks before this year’s event still promoting tickets for the Sunday got my mind going overtime. I’d already booked a 48 trip in Dublin the middle of the week, but i’d be back on Friday evening albeit a little lighter in the pocket from Dublin’s notoriously pricey pints of their famous black tipple.

I couldn’t wait another year, so I booked two tickets for the Sunday sesh and managed to get a good deal on another hit list of mine in the capitol, Dukes Hotel in Mayfair, to go sample the best Martini’s in the world at the same time.

The Event

The event was set in the now listed, old Tobacco warehouse near the docklands in East London that’s now used as an event space. I’ve been there once for the winter Taste of London event but I needed about 5 layers to shelter from the outdoor cold then. We were now in the middle of a month long heatwave, so the outdoor waterside location was perfect for some smoking and grilling.

We got off at Wapping Underground station and it was just a 10-15 minute walk through the old maritime quarter of London.

 

The event was set over 3 days, Friday evening, Saturday and all day Sunday. With 20 of some of the best BBQ based food producers around the world, cooking up taster plates each day.They shipped people from all over, smokers and all to feed hungry visitors. They even had Wales’ most famous BBQ girls, Hangfire there on the Sunday too.

Each trader would have one signature dish, which was published in the programme for the day. Each dish was a taster or starter size, which meant you could plow through as many as your stomach could handle on the day, to try as many different dishes as you liked.

The payment method was 1 meatbuck per plate. Meatbucks were purchased at various points around the two storey warehouse location and cost £5.50. For London that was a bargain. For a food festival in Cardiff, you’d be fucked trying to find something that cheap!

Tickets cost about £30, to cover the cost of hiring the place, security etc on top but this was my ideal day out for me. With a host of craft beer brewers and Josh from Scapegrace Gin doing mini tasting sessions in the Grace Wagon outside along with the epic meaty offerings, I was in absolute heaven!

The Food

As there was a single dish per chef there were just 20 dishes to choose from. I’m guessing this made it way easier to accommodate the numbers and meant they can focus all their attention on one thing.

I had a good stab at what was on offer and we managed to try 10 out of the 20 that were available. Between the booze and the food I was pretty stuffed at this point and didn’t want to go overboard. Plus we had a table booked at Dukes Bar to try their signature martini’s so I needed to leave a little room to ft into my evening attire.

 

The Drinks

There was something for everyone in terms of drinks. There was a room dedicated to craft beers from a good range of brewers, some familiar and some I tried for the first time.

Summer and BBQ’s are traditionally paired with cider for me any anyway, so it was rude not to sample a pint of fermented apple juice whilst we were sat out in the sun, having a nibble.

There were a few talks going on throughout the day from brewers, wine makers and Scapegrace doing mini tasting sessions in their converted wagon. Scapegrace was the gin of the day too, with G & T’s available from the outside bar. Whilst on the subject of gin, we also bumped into Longflint Drinks, who I first saw on Sunday brunch a while back. They do a few varieties of pre-made cocktails from vodka, gin and whiskey.

They use East London Liquor Company gin in their hedgerow G & T and they kindly gave us a can to try after we told them we ran Cardiff Gin Club. They also offered to collaborate on a giveaway on our socials too, where we’ve just offered three lucky winners a case of the Longflint Hedgrow G & T cans.

We also managed to get chatting to some guy, whilst sipping almost neat Scapegrace gin by they’re truck about gin. It turns out, he’s the guy who owns and runs the Ginfoundry website, which we already followed on instagram. Their the guys who run the annual Junipalooza Gin festival at Tobacco Dock, that I missed this year due to being usher at my best mates wedding. I’ll be there next year, with two years of drinking to make up for.

I also noticed a bourbon bar too for those American BBQ lovers.

The Verdict

What can i say other than I had an absolute blast at my very first Meatopia. I get a bit pissed off when places charge you to go eat and drink, as you wouldn’t ever be charged to just rock up at a restaurant until you actually order.

I do realise that the cost of hiring the London venue must be quite extortionate, but to get nothing but a few samples of drinks, that the brands have no doubt paid an arm and a leg to be there and providing them free of charge for in excess of £30 is a bit of a piss take.

The traders are obviously paying a small fortune to trade there for the day too.

Apart from that, I loved every minute and would recommend it to anyone. One thing i was glad though, was going on the Sunday and not the Friday or Saturday. I’ve heard of the traders running out early on the Saturday and I can imagine it can be a bit over whelming with the crowds those days too.

Don’t get me wrong it was busy on the Sunday, but we didn’t wait longer than 10 minutes for a dish, which was perfect. We got to try most of what we wanted to. One place did run out and they were absolutely rammed all day. As a consolation though, they did offer us some buns that were leftover drenched in a rich, meaty gravy fair play to them.

I’m hoping to go back again next year and it will be the Sunday again for me.

My Shakshuka Recipe – Turkish Eggs

Shakshuka Ingredients

  • Tin of good quality plum tomatoes. Go for whole not chopped
  • 1 pepper chopped into chunks
  • 1/4 of a pack of feta
  • Bunch of parsley chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic grated
  • 1 red onion diced
  • 1 teaspoon cummin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Paprika
  • 2 teaspoons tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon mixed middle eastern spice (I got a meatball spice mix from my local world food market that I used or you can just stick with the cumin and paprika)
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Dukka
  • 4 eggs
  • Sourdough bread
  • Real butter

Shakshuka recipe ingredients

Instructions

  1. Fry the onions in a bit of oil to brown for a few minutes.
  2. Add the peppers after a couple of minutes to the onions to give them a chance to brown as they don’t always brown with peppers due to the moisture they give off.
  3. When the onions are brown, add the garlic to the pan for a minute along with the tomato puree, cumin seeds, paprika and spice mix to cook out a little.
  4. Add the plum tomatoes to the pan and squash them in the pan. Mix everything to combine and cook on a lower heat for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Add half the fresh parsley and stir and then c.
  6. Make 4 wells in the mixture and crack an egg into each.
  7. rumble the feta evenly over the mixture
  8. Cover the pan with a lid so that the eggs cook on top or if you haven’t got a cover, cook for a few minutes then finish under the grill. Just make sure you leave the eggs a bit runny for dunking.
  9. Just before the eggs are done, whack 4 pieces of sourdough in the toaster.
  10. Take the eggs off the heat as they will still continue to cook in the mixture.
  11. Scatter remaining parsley over the mixture and a good measure of Dukka for extra crunch.
  12. Place the pan on a heat resistant matt on the table and either eat from the pan or divide between two bowls.

** Make sure you dunk that thick, toasted, butter drenched sourdough in the gooey eggs. **

Loving Welsh Food Tour of Cardiff

We were recently invited along to the Loving Welsh Food tour in Cardiff. If you haven’t heard of them, they run tours every Friday and Saturday, tasting your way through some of Cardiff’s best love independent’s and favourite delicacies (Yes we do have some!)

Just so that everyone knew were X marked the spot at the starting line, we were told to meet at Cardiff Castle for a 10.30am start.There were only two other Cardiff dwellers, apart from us and we still managed to rock up late, surprise, surprise.

Our tour guide for the day was Sian, who was Cardiff born and bred, but capable of delivering tours in a variety of other languages too. After giving our (Llio’s) apologies for our poor time management, we got right into a brief history lesson about Cardiff, the castle and how the Bute family shaped the small farming town into the great city it is today. I also found out that the Castle buildings were home to a music college, not long before I made it into the world and Sian learned to play piano there, which is pretty bloody cool if you ask me.

Luckily for us there, were no 5 metre high flags to follow, megaphones to deafen us or cattle prods to keep us in check for our meandering trail through streets and arcades, it was a nice casual affair in a group of around 10 of us.

First pit stop – Pettigrew Tea Rooms

We didn’t have far to walk from our meeting point, which happened to be just along the boundary wall of Cardiff Castle and one of my favourite breakfast spots in the Diff, Pettigrew Tea House.

This is how I want every Saturday to start from now on, with thick wedges of Bara Brith and butter, savoury laverbread scones with cream cheese and chilli relish all washed down with some posh loose leaf tea form Caton Teas. Well there was going to be walking on this tour, so we had better make sure we had enough calories to keep us going till the next stop.

Pettigrew Tea Rooms

After polishing off the sweet and savouries from the first stop, we made our way through Bute Park on what must have been the clearest morning i’ve seen in Cardiff for a while. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Heading to the Civic Centre, the tour was mixed with little nuggets of historical information, which I love just as much as sampling my way through some classic Welshy food.

Stop 2 – Wally’s Deli

We made our way across town, whilst being pinpointed to spots of interest such as historically significant buildings that I probably pass several times a day without looking up and noticing them. The next time you walk through Queen Street or St Mary’s street, cast your eyes above the horizon, and you’ll be surprised by what might catch your eye.

Our next stop was at Cardiff’s favourite deli and ever expanding Wally’s, situated in one of the city’s famous Victorian arcades. I love popping in for for some charcuterie, biltong and to have a browse at their latest gin delivery.

We were treated to a selection of cheese including some welsh varities, along with tasters of cured meats. I loved the Welsh Black Bomber cheese. It does what it says on the tin, with an explosion of strong mature cheesilicous flavours going off in your mouth with each tasty bite.

Stop 3 – The Cottage Pub

The Cottage Pub Cardiff

What goes hand in hand with cheese and meaty nuggets on a cocktail stick? Yes, Alcohol, you’re correct!

Next up, and one of Cardiff’s oldest watering holes, was the Brain’s owned The Cottage Pub. You can’t get more Old School. We popped in for a pie and a pint a few months back, and it was like home from home for me with my grandparents pub.

Although Brain’s Brewery haven’t been brewing for quite as many 100’s of years as Guiness or have the mammoth marketing budget of the Black Irish medicine. What they do have, is rugby favourite Brains Dark. Also coloqually known as a “pint of Daaahke”, which were tasting today. From living with my grandparents in a rugby club till the age of 1, fuelled by barrels of Brains, I was well acquinted with the nectar.

Welsh beer at The Cottage Pub Cardiff

For those with a less malty thirst, we also got to try a tipple of fermented apples by my longstanding favourite Welsh cider producer Gwynt y Ddraig.

I never used to miss a bank holiday shindig in their straw bale dotted farm yard in Llantwit Fardre, when they first came onto the scene over 10 years ago. Sadly not everyone could keep up with the potent offerings, especially with the half a mile walk back down the mountain from the farm after supping on 7.5% rocket fuelled black dragon.

One guy I worked with broke his leg and had two months off work, falling arse over tit back down the mountain at one open day. In the end there were more St John’s Ambulance volunteers than patrons so they knocked it on the head.

Welsh Cider - The Cottage Pub Cardiff

On this occasion, we were gently ushered into Gwynt y Ddraigs back catalogue of ciders with a respectable 4.5% award winning Orchard Gold.

Stop 4 – Cardiff Market

After sipping our way through the two drinks and finishing off the last morsels of our Wally’s platter, which we took for the road, we headed to my favourite lunch time stop, Cardiff Market.

If you’re hungry and want something to eat for under £5 then this is the place to be. There’s not much you can’t find here and what you can’t they are probably in the pipeline to open with the likes of Ffrness, Holly Yolks and Milgi opening up within the past 12 months.

You’ve also got Thai, cheese stalls, old school baps, sandwiches and corned beef pies to choose from along with my weekly fruit and veg run and butchers. Oh and don’t forget the cat or gold fish upstairs.

Laverbread and cockles at Cardiff Market

Today we were starting with some Welsh (Wo)Man’s Caviar. Also known as laverbread, of which we had a taster in our savoury scones at Pettigrew. This time though we were going head first, with unadulterated slathering of cooked seaweed on biscuits topped with cockles and a few shakes of the vinegar bottle. This was my first time trying laverbread and cockles, as it is without being blitzed, mixed, deep fried or baked in some concoction. I’m glad I tried it, but I can’t see it making it’s way onto the weekly shop.

I’ve enjoyed cockle popcorn, the Bara Menyn cockle bomb for breakfast and the savoury scones at Pettigrew but on their own, not quite for me. Some people had 2nd’s so each to their own.

Faggots and gravy - Cardiff Market

Not content with sampling one dish from the market, we had another two stops to go here. Next up was the deli in the middle, and first up was the hearty classic , Faggots with gravy. My grandmother always used to do a banquet of faggots, peas, chips, gravy with bread and butter for the Welsh international games and this took me right back. Obviously, being a tasting tour, we got more manageable portions as we had a few more stops to go.

Clarkes Pie at Cardiff Market

Also on the menu at the deli, and something that would of went hand in hand with our pint of daaaaahk earlier was the humble Claaaahks pie (Clarkes Pie to non Cardiffians). Luckily for me, I still had a pool of gravy left in my container from my faggots, so I went fully valleys and moped it up with my meaty portion of steak pie.

Scotch egg at Holy Holks - Cardiff Market

With our last stop of the market, we headed over to a relatively new stall. Holy Yolks started life around the local food markets and we’ve picked a few freshly fried, golden, crispy globes at Riverside on a Sunday. There’s a couple to choose from and these not a hard boiled grey yolk in sight. Be prepared for a gooey amber dribbling mess around your face. But it’s definitely worth it. The honey i shrunk the pig is delish but they’ve got a bacon riddled version and a veggie (maybe vegan) too.

Stop 5 – Fabulous Welshcakes

After an onslaught of savoury goodies to dive into, we were not on full sail into something sweet. Nothing says Welsh and sweet more than a bag full Welsh Cakes. Even though there’s a few stalls churning out mountains of the stodgy Welsh favourite, we were heading out of the Market to try somewhere else.

Welsh Cakes from Fabulous Welshcakes Cardiff

Fabulous Welshcakes happens to be less than 5 minutes from work, and I often pinch a taste when they are holding samples outside the shop on Castle street on my lunch break. Going full circle, we’re now stood opposite the starting line waiting for the freshly griddled sugary mouthfulls to be bundled into a bag for us to devour.

We had the classic Welsh cake batter mix, but they do different varieties such as orange and cinnamon, chocolate chip. Although to purists these might be frowned upon, but hey if it’s good enough to eat, I don’t care what you call them.

Stop 6 – Bar 44

With the finish line in sight, we took a leisurely stroll up Womamby Street, nibbling our Welsh Cakes on foot. Well I finished mine before we left the shop but others were savouring each bite.

Last but not least, we headed into the red brick slightly underground tapas haven that is Bar 44 for a good chin wag with fellow food tourer walkers and something sweet and wet. We were presented with a couple of plates adhorned with rich, dark, meltingly delicious chocolate truffles flecked with sea salt.

Cava and chocolate truffles - Bar 44 Cardiff

We then had a choice of poison or coffee. The stronger options were beer or Cava. We had a bottle of the Vilarnau Brut Reserva to take up north, to celebrate Fiesta Calcottada and knew how banging it was, so there was no competition in my eyes.

The Verdict

Apart from the early start (yes 10.30am is early for me on a Saturday!) I loved every bit of the tour. I managed to try some of my old favourites, things that brought back memories from my past, growing up and some were totally new to me.
We also learned a lot about some of the history of Cardiff, which I always find fascinating along with taking in some of the amazing locations right on our doorstep that we all take for granted most of the time.

Yes i work in town and have tried a couple of the things we tried, but they are bloody lovely so I will keep eating them but even if you are local to Cardiff I’d still recommend going. We had a really lovely group that we were with and it was great to have a chat to some of the people to see what they thought of some of the food we eat or places to eat. We had people from Cardiff, further afield in Wales and as far as Canada.

If you aren’t from Wales or are visiting the city then this food tour would be at the top of my list of things to do. You get a guided tour around some of my favourite places to eat that you just wouldn’t stumble on if you walked across the city by yourself or know what to order if you did happen upon just one of them.

The cost is around £40 and as you can see, we had plenty to taste and places to visit in the 3.5 hour tour around the capital of Wales. We were invited along on the tour so our space was voluntary, but seeing as they picked my favourite spots to eat and drink, I’d have no hesitation recommending joining the tour one weekend.

Contact Details

Loving Welsh Food

Web: lovingwelshfood.uk
Tel: 01970 631731

Sosban Restaurant Review Llanelli

Sosban has been on my hit list for a while now but I’ve not got around to organising a trip down to Llanelli’s most highly regarded restaurant located within a listed Victorian Pump House close to the docks due to the fact it’s not within easy reach of uber.

If you’ve been watching this years Great British Menu on BBC you might of noticed head chef Andrew Sheridan representing Wales just last week, so it was exciting to be heading down with such a buzz about the place at the moment.

We booked in for the 7 course taster last Saturday at 6pm, which meant we could nip down on the train have a few drinks with our food and not have to worry about one of us driving or booking into a hotel for the night. The train from Cardiff Central was about 1 hour 20 each way and cost around £16 for a day return if you fancy doing something similar on your trip down to Sosban.

Not having been to Llanelli on the train previously and only stepping foot in the town once before, I wasn’t quite sure where in relation to the restaurant we would vacate the train. It’s a bit of a weird one really as the train station about half a mile away from the town centre and in the middle of streets of terraced housing snaking in all directions.

We had half hour to kill so we set off on foot with my best friend google maps, which ended up taking about 20 minutes. On the way back we opted for a taxi, which only set us back £4.

The Venue

I tried popping in to Sosban on my one and only visit to Llanelli but we got to the venue at 2.15pm on a Sunday and they closed at 2.30pm so we we didn’t bother in the end.

We made sure we had a good few hours ahead of us this time and once we hit the docks and followed the route of the old Carmarthenshire Canal. Meandering next to the muddy banks until we saw the chimney poking it’s head up behind the units of the business park it’s located on.

I love that the impressive, stone clad building has stood the test of time and is testament to the previous industry around the time it was erected in 1900. It will no doubt still be stood there in another 100 years, whilst the carbon copy buildings of this day and age look outdated within 10 years and age get bulldozed over after 20-30 years.

The pump house chimney overshadows anything else within miles and at night the stone fortress facade is illuminated by spotlights, making it all the more impressive. Inside, walls lay bare exposing the bowels of the century old Victorian industrial marvel. The name Sosban coming from both the tin plating industry during the last century and the Sosban Fach song that has become synonymous with Llanelli rugby and The Scarlets.

A harmony of contemporary style with autumnal farm barn feel with timber ceilings and joists, slate floor and leafy chandeliers paired with white walls, exposed stainless steel kitchen, lemon tree and perfectly ingrained walls of glass that filled the rooms with natural light.

Chef Andrew Sheridan

We were lucky to grab 5 minutes with the chef as it was really early and one of the first to arrive. He gave us a brief history of where he worked previously and found out that he worked at the fairy tale like Chateaux Rhianfa in Anglesey, which me and the other half had a leisurely stroll around back in April when we visited the Island last.

Also interesting because he was faced with the head chef of the Chateaux on last weeks Great British Menu along with The Whitebrook, representing Wales. I didn’t realise till he mentioned it but it was filmed nearly a year ago so it must of been torture not being able to tell anyone the results of the show and how he got on. He would neither confirm or deny whether he would be back for round two when it starts filming again in a few weeks.

The Food

There’s a choice of menu’s at Sosban with the option of dinning a la carte or the 7 or 9 course taster menus. Chef told us they had been churning out over 60 taster covers a night recently and I can imagine it’s only going to get busier with the recent stint on The Great British Menu.

bread and marmite butter at Sosban Llanelli

We were dinning from the 7 course taster menu, which started with my favourite…bread! Soft but dense mini loaf, halved to share and served with Netherend farm butter and a marmite butter swabbed on two little rocks. I could eat bread for days especially slathered thick with butter. The marmite butter wasn’t just a dollop of marmite mixed in but must have gone through some dehydration process as it was dry and grated onto the butter. I love marmite and toast and this provided a lovely yeasty, umami hit.

Our poison for the evening consisted of a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, which i thought would suit the majority of the courses that lay ahead of us.

Tasting menu starters at Sosban Llanelli

Second and third courses were served together as they were bite sized portions. Well depending how big your bite is and I nibbled away at each one to savour the flavour instead of shoveling it down like I do when i’ve cooked myself.

The delectable mini nacho like nibbles consisted of:

Crispy chicken skin, smooth chicken parfait, elderflower jelly and grape chutney giving an amalgamation of flavour and texture

and

Sweet Potato Cracker, pickled mustard seeds that popped in the mouth, onion marmalade and creamy cheddar custard.

The cod 5 ways course at Sosban Llanelli

Next came the Chefs signature dish and the one served on Great British Menu, which is cod 5 ways. A take on the British seaside favourite, fish and chips. Perfectly poached cod loin, crispy puffed cod skin, lightly battered cod cheek, mini fried potato cubes, burnt aubergine puree, which could not go without tiny nuggets of pickled gherkins to add a mellow vinegar tang to the dish.

hay smoken venison at Sosban Llanelli

Fifth course was the standout dish for me. Soft and tender blushing pink, hay smoked venison with beetroot ketchup, silky black pudding to add an extra earthy note that paired with a pang of tartness from the raspberries.

Sosban trifle dessert

With the savoury dishes over we went into the sweets and first up was the Sosban trifle. This wasn’t your average 70’s trifle from a birds packet. This was made from chunks of sponge, pickled blackberries whisky and lavender jelly and citrusy lemon curd to bring it all together. A decent modern interpretation of your nan’s favourite although I would of liked a bit more of a kick of whiskey in the jelly. Saying that I always go overboard when mixing alcohol with dessert and it never sets but a nip more in the mix wouldn’t go a miss for my taste here. I liked the little shards of cinder toffee to add a slight bitter, sugary crunch.

Coffee pannacotta dessert at Sosban Llanelli

The second dessert up and my fav of the two was a coffee pannacotta, chocolate and coffee textures. An assault of rich coffee aromas from the pannacotta, creamy chocolate ice cream and the gooiest chocolate brownie chunks. The malty nuggets gave a Malteser like crunch to the coffee dessert.

Cheese board at Sosban Llanelli

We thought this was the end to the food but we were surprised with a slate board with a selection of 5 cheeses, each paired with a different base and eating vessel and an assortment of different chutneys for each cheese.

Cheeses included:

– Barkham Blue – a medium strength blue veiny soft cheese

– Kidderton Ash Goats – a creamy ash coated goats cheese

– Black Bomber – a strong no nonsense extra mature cheddar

– Ogle Shield – a soft west country cheese. I’ve used this at home to make amazing cheese toasties. I stole the idea from producer and owner Bill’s Kappacasein’s at Borough Market in London, which are the best in town.

– Eve – a soft goats cheese washed in Somerset Cider Brandy

An excellent journey through cheeses from around the UK with some I’d tried, some I hadn’t but all of which I’d happily have adorning my cheese board in future. We both decided to have a large 10 year old port to help us finish off the cheese

This last course finished us both off and there was no way we were walking back to the train station unless someone rolled me there.

I was planning on sampling a few more drinks in the bar after the food but I was so stuffed, I would of struggled with anything after the wine and port.

The Verdict

You can see why there is such a buzz around this place and why head chef Andrew had is face on BBC’s The Great British Menu recently.

We were invited down to sample the tasting menu but The Sosban has been on my list of places to eat at for over a year now and it was definitely worth the journey down to Llanelli for. The 7 course taster menu costs £55 per person. The 9 course will set you back an extra £10, which will get you the addition of a chargrilled Jumbo Prawn, prawn mayonnaise and puffed potato and a saffron mousse, orange ice cream and cookie date crumble to take you from the mains into the desserts.

The drinks menu features some Welsh favourites from the Whiskey and Gin world such as Penderyn and Da Mhile.

Chef mentioned he is hoping to have a best of night coming up soon with some guest chefs joining him to put on a menu of menus and I for one can’t wait to snap up a ticket when they pencil a date in the diary.

Update: Sosban have just launched a discount voucher on Travelzoo offering two dinners a 6 course tasting menu for just £49 of 4 diners for £95.

 

Gymkhana Restaurant Review – Mayfair, London

Gymkhana is another restaurant I only found out about recently after researching gin and food pairing for a recent Cardiff Gin Club collaboration. The restaurant is a Michelin star Indian restaurant located in Mayfair and it was the Pink Gin menu that first caught my attention. None of this sugar laden, plastic pink gin bullshit but how Pink Gin was first drank by the British Navy over 200 years ago, with gin and bitters to give it a pink hue. 

They actually had a use back in those days too with the bitters used to treat sea sickness and counter the effects of not being able to refrigerate food by settling the stomach and aiding digestion. They were also enjoyed by the British in India during the British Raj an hour or two before Sunday tiffin.

After giving the gin and cocktail menu a once over it, it didn’t take me long to cast my gaze over the food menu, which turned out to be just as enticing. With several menus on offer from a la carte, tasting menus and feasting menus with varying number courses and prices for lunch and evening dinning from £25 to £90.

I was keen to visit the venue sometime in the near future when up in the big smoke and it just so happened I booked tickets to Meatopia, which took place a week ago. Wanting to try some the Martinis at Dukes Bar in Mayfair whilst I was up there it made sense to book Dukes Hotel for the night, which meant we were within walking distance of Gymkhana for lunch the following day.

The Venue

The Gymkhana Restaurant was only around 10 minutes walk from Dukes Hotel so we strolled across after checking out for our 12pm table booking. It would only be about 10 minutes from Piccadilly Circus and Carnaby Street too if you’re around the neck of the woods.

Gymkha Restaurant London

The venue is based on the old Gymkhana sports clubs in India that were frequented by high society to drink, eat, socialise and play sport. The theme ran right through the restaurant with dark wooden panelled decor and ceilings, prized stuffed animal heads from hunting and illustrations adorning the walls depicting cricket players, Indian Military officers and polo players throughout. Attention to detail was unreal, right down to the basement toilets with branded water toilet tank and a seating loo seat that resembled an actual throne. This reminded me exactly like the other half’s, aunties toilet in her cottage up in Anglesey. 

Seating consisted of green leather panelled benches around the outside of half of the upstairs with narrow dark wooden tables to seat tables of two. There were a couple of cubicles for larger groups too. We both thought the restaurant looked a bit smaller than we thought it would be upstairs but it was only toward the end of the meal and after visiting the little boys room that I realised there was also another room downstairs that was also full of dinners.

We were sat by the front window, on the corner so we had a full view of the upstairs but also a slightly larger table compared to tables in the middle. This was handy as we had a bit more table surface and saw one table struggle for room with drinks and a selection of plates each that happened to arrive at the same time.

The Food

The Feasting menu or hunters menu featuring 7 courses, which included prawns and a few different game birds costing up to £90 were only available in the evening. We were dinning for lunch so there was either the choice of a la carte, a set lunch menu with 3 courses starting at £25 or 5 courses for £38.50. No prizes for guessing what option we went for. Luckily for us there was a choice of two dishes for each course so we just asked for one of each to share so we got to taste a bit of everything.

Pink Gin menu at Gymkhana London

cocktail menu at Gymkhana London

After picking one of everything from the lunch menu, it was time to delve head first into the drinks menu. I’d seen a thunderbolt G & T on instagram so I was going to order one of those as they looked very nutritious but they didn’t seem to appear on the menu. I was also keen to try some of the pink gin’s with wonderfully flavoured bitters such as dandelion and burdock with Monkey 47. I’d taken some inspiration from the menu and ordered a bottle of the Jindea Single Estate Darjeeling First Flush to pair with the dessert menu at Purple Popadom, which we sweetened to match the sugary creme brûlée with the aid of a Darjeeling tea syrup.

I decided to go off piste for something totally different with a tequila cocktail from the punch and club classics menu called green leaves. This consisted of Tapatio Tequila, cucumber, green chutney cordial, lime and Himalayan salt, which I thought would be a good all rounder to pair with the different courses.

CARMICHAEL CUP cocktail at Gymkhana London

Green leaves tequila cocktail at Gymkhana London

Llio opted for something a bit lighter with an Indian inspired Pimms Royale. This fruity number featured Ciroc vodka, Early Grey tea, elderflower and vetiver grass, lemon, ginger, seasonal fruits and a touch of champagne for elegance.

Although Sake is usually more at home and Japanese restaurants, I read somewhere that the head chef at Gymkhana is looking to start pairing the food with Sake, which will be an interesting change. Sake is derived from rice though, which is a staple in Indian cuisine.

The first of the courses and usually my favourite part of an Indian and that’s the chips and dips. 

I liked that we had a selection of different dipping devices and not just a plate of standard popadoms, each with their own unique flavour and texture. I’d never seen the white bubbly variety called Sabudana Papads, which looked like little slabs of polystyrene at first but tasted a lot better than I’d imagine it’s lookie likey to taste. There wasn’t much of each dip to go around with the amount of chips we had but they were strong and punchy and a little went a long way especially the shrimp dip, which gave a good savoury contrast against the sweet mango chutney.

Potato chaat at Gymkhana Mayfair

The bowl of potato chat, chana masala and tamarind was plentiful and took us in to the first round of the starters. Soft potato and chickpeas layered in a sweet sauce, yogurt and crispy shreds of sev, a fried crispy potato noodle. This was a flavourbomb of textures and flavours that prepared us for the bountiful feast on the senses to come.

It was interesting to see Gymkanas take on some of the popular street food favourites in India compared to some similar dishes I’d tried at Bwyta Bwyd Bombai (3 B’s) in Cardiff, which does a very good selection themselves including the Potato Chat and the next dish coming up, the dosa.

dosa and kid goat methi keema at Gymkhana -London

The dosa is a cripy rice pancake like parcel with a filling and a selection of dips. The pancake can look overwhelming at first but the filling is usually limited to a few spoonfulls in the centre so it’s not too heavy.

This came served at the same time as the kid goat methi keema, salli, pao, which was probably one of my favourite items on the tasting menu. A medium spiced sauce, flaked with goat meat with crispy potato sticks that is meant to be mixed in and sandwiched between a bread roll. A buttery roll with a rich spiced meat and crispy shards of potato. I could of eaten 10 in a row they were divine!

Paneer Tikka at Gymkhana Mayfair

 

Well this is embarrassing. I thought the Paneer Tikka, Cashew Nut, Corn Chat was a stuffed chicken. Paneer if you’ve not tried it is an Indian soft cheese that looks like a cross between halloumi with the softness of tofu. It’s used in many Indian dishes as it keeps it’s shape unlike more well known European cheeses and is good at absorbing the spices and flavours it is cooked in. It also resembles cooked diced chicken if you’ve had too many Martini’s for supper the night before.

fish tasting dish at Gymkhana Mayfair

The Hariyali Bream, Tomato Kachumber was a here or there dish. It was ok but didn’t stand up to the other rich, flavoursome dishes on the menu but it was a pleasant addition of a seafood dish instead of a full on meat feast as I’d eaten half a farm the day before at Meatopia.

We’re now into the mains with two rice dishes, but only because we ordered one of everything to share. The first was a vegetarian dish consisting of wild mushroom, asparagus, morel & truffle pilau and probably my least favourite of the dishes. It’s the first time i’ve ever seen a dish seasoned with fresh truffle instead of the usual salt or pepper so this looked really impressive but I think it was the asparagus i didn’t like in the dish. I do like asparagus but it just wasn’t for me in this.

wild mushroom and truffle pilau at Gymkha Mayfair

The Samudri Seafood Biryani, Pomegranate & Mint Raita was miles ahead for me though and I don’t even like salmon. Generous nuggets of seafood such as prawns and a portion of salmon entombed in golden, perfumed rice, which I piled on top of the huge pile of scorched bread with dollops of Dum Aloo Benarasi & Lasooni Dal.

After soldiering on as best we could, we submitted in defeat at the two rice dishes and bread overload as nice as they were. All was not lost though as everyone knows there’s a second stomach always on standby to be called up when faced with dessert.

With a choice of three desserts we opted for a Mango Shrikhand, Yoghurt & Lime Sorbet and a
Black Carrot Halwa, White Chocolate & Rose Ice Cream to finish off the Indian lunchtime banquet.

Desserts at Gymkhana Mayfair

The Mango shrikhand is a sweet yogurt based dessert mixed with fresh mango that was stuffed in a sweet crunchy tuile like cigar coated in sesame seeds with nuggets of fresh mango and cooling sorbet.

The quenelle of carrot halwa was interesting, which is a sweetened dish made of grated carrots slowly cooked in ghee and milk. It was dense but not sweet enough for my liking but I really liked the white chocolate and rose ice cream it was paired with.

The Verdict

We had an absolute mountain of food between us and got to try all but one dish on the whole tasting menu by ordering one of each of the two options between us. This was Indian food like I’ve never tried and blew every other Indian meal I had out of the water and this was just the introduction to what Gymkhana is capable of. They’ve got a well deserved Michelin Star, based in the heart of Mayfair meaning they’ve got some very affluent customers who will be used to eating very good quality food, so they have to be at the top of their game to survive where they are based.

I didn’t like every dish but I did taste 10 and it’s all down to personal taste. It wasn’t that the food wasn’t good I just didn’t particularly like it myself. We dinned at the lunch time tasting menu and it was excellent value for money for what we had but I would love to go back in the evening to try the feasting or hunters menu featuring more luxurious ingredients. For twice the price I’d be expecting nothing less than a masterpiece but I think they could very well pull it off from what I had at lunch.

I’d also make a bigger dent in the cocktail menu as we dinned at 12 midday and had a day of shopping ahead of us, I didn’t want to go overboard so we only had the one cocktail each.

I would have no hesitation about recommending this restaurant to anyone and would love to dine there again, although I’ve got my eyes set on Dishoom in Shoreditch first before I head back.

We spent £116 for the 5 course taster menu for two and a cocktail each with service charge. The hunters and feasting menu is around £90 each, so I think i’ll have to wait till my birthday for that one.

Final bill at Gymkhana Mayfair