I’ve been a fan of Jamie, the man behind the Jol’s brand and restaurant for a few years after sampling most of his streatfood plates he’s dished up since I first stumbled on him about 3 years ago.
I’ve also known about his first restaurant venture in Merthyr since it opened about 18 months ago but just never got around to trying it sadly till now. When I saw a Travelzoo deal on for 3 courses for £45 I snapped it up just for an excuse to venture up the top end of the valley in Merthyr. I used to work over Merthyr college for a year a while back so I was aware there wasn’t much in the way of competition of that standard although Nant Ddu wasn’t bad for food but Jol’s being based smack in the middle of town it was a little more accessible with the train station less than 100 metres away.
Anyway Jamie O’Leary the owner and Chef learnt his trade under the wing of well respected Steven Terry of the Hardwick, which gives you a bit of an idea on the standard he’s used to cooking.
Jol’s the restaurant took over a hotel I visited once for an authentic Aussie Pie and Mash for lunch one afternoon whilst working over Merthyr although it’s been re-done and fitted out a lot better than the dark and dingy decor that stood before it when i visited last.
The menu changes frequently and is seasonal making the most of fresh ingredients in season and to hand for the restaurant and when we visited last night I was quite suprised by how many dishes were on the menu compared to a smaller menu I’d seen previously when browsing on their social media pages. Not that that’s a bad thing although it did mean it took me twice as long to decide from the salivating induced state it left me in from reading it.
After some deliberating I bit the bullet and chose the brown shrimp, hummus, raisins and ras al hanout spiced cauliflower to start.
Mwsh originally opted for the pork terrine but sadly they were all out so the waitress came back and asked her to choose something else. Again it was a toss up between a few contenders such as wild mushrooms on toast, salmon or Welsh Rarebit but eventually opting for the later. As standard we opted for the bread to share whilst we waited for our first plates to arrive.
First out of the kitchen doors came a tray of pipping hot, caramel esque mound of dough glistening with egg wash, which led Mwsh to quote it as the most amazing portion of bread she’s ever seen or eaten. It resembled mini hovis loaf with a healthy Quenelle of brown butter and flakes of smoked salt to sprinkle on top. The combination of hot spongy freshly baked bread, slathered and saturated glutinously in brown butter and shards of the smoked salt set the standard for the evening really. Perfectly simple but it put a smile on both our faces from the first bite.
The first course wasn’t long behind. A genous bed of hummus topped with raisins, corriander, ras al hanout cauliflower, almonds, dainty brown shrip and a mopping vessel in the form of chargrilled flatbread. There was a lot going on with the plate and I was a bit dubious as I don’t usually go for little prawns, only king prawns as they are meatier but it was bloody lovely!
Mwsh’s plate of homemade bread with rarebit more than packed a punch and a daily helping of bacon as it was the first time in four days we hadn’t had bacon. Rich with sharp cheddar balanced with the saltiness of the bacon it was delish. Mwsh was ever so jealous of mine in comparison even though hers was good so seeing as it was her birth month celebrations still I let her swap halfway through.
Mains next and I opted for the roast rump of lamb with cauliflower, red currant gel,cavolo nero, anchovy and red wine sauce with a side of tripple cooked chips for good measure. I seemed to be living off cauliflower the past two days between Asdador and Jol’s so it must be in season. Luckily there wasn’t too much to get through even though I don’t mind a portion with my meal but can get a bit hard to stomach with too much unless it’s smothered in cheese sauce.
The lamb was tender, slightly pink and easy to cut through. Accompanying it was a rissole / bon bon like lamb parcel to get through too, which was a nice suprise. Crispy crumb with soft, flaked lamb centre. The plate was brought together with a rich emulsion of red wine and anchovy sauce to add moisture to the contents of the plate and help me through the mountain of crunchy triple cooked chips.
It’s very rare we just take a punt on a dish on our own as we usually make a joint decision so we get to taste a few dishes we both like, but luckily for us theres usually two strong contenders we’re both torn between so this makes it easier and we get to try both then too. She opted for the Roast Duck & Orange this time. A contemporary take on a french classic featuring seared breast & confit leg roll with caramelised endive, buttered kale, burned orange dressing and skinny fries.
The classic Duck a l’orange for me is way to sickly and I’ve felt my teeth disolving from the barrel load of sugar in the sauce in the past but this was more complex and the burned orange meant it was more tart than the usual sweet sickly flavour that would put me off normally. Crispy skin yet tender breast alongside the confit leg falling off the bone into rich, meaty and juicy ribbons of duck with ease.
Dessert was include in the deal so who was I to pass up an opportunity to sample some sugar laden stodge. Again it was a joint effort in pinning down two desserts to share so I decided to go for the chocolate brownie with salted caramel, macadamia nut praline and brownie ice cream. I don’t think it takes anyone with more than a average IQ to work out it tasted just as good as it reads. Gooey centre in the brownie with extra creaminess from the brownie saturated ice cream. The nut praline added a good crunch and texture with hit of saltiness from the caramel.
My only feedback was it could of done with a bit more salted caramel as I could eat it by the bucket but luckily Mwsh had a small urn full so I stole some of hers. For dessert she opted for the Apple and sultana bread and butter pudding with caramel sauce and clotted cream. If we weren’t already over the edge this was pushing us close and we both had to battle the demons to finish our plates even though they were both superb but we were absolutely stuffed after 4 days of eating like kings for Mwsh’s birthday.
Mwsh’s verdict was it was faultless and couldn’t give one criticism and mine was basically the same apart form a little bit more caramel with the brownie but I was lucky she had loads with her dish so I couldn’t really complain not that it warranted a complaint I just have an unhealthy addiction to the stuff.
We will most definitely be back and if you haven’t tried Jol’s in Merthyr yet then what are you waiting for, get booking now! As I mentioned we had a deal on Travelzoo for 3 courses for £45 but we paid for a few extras such as bread for £3, tripple cooked chips for £3, bottle of Sauvingnon Blanc for £19 and £1 or £2 supplement on our mains as I think we got up to £22 value but ours came in at £23.
Starters come in at around £7, mains £22 and desserts around £7 too as a rough guide and the latest menu can be seen at http://www.jolsfoodco.co.uk/menus. Jamie will be bringing the Jol’s streetfood trailer to Womamby Street for Feast Fest Cardiff for a month starting last weekend to the end of August both Saturday and Sunday if you want to see what he’s rustling up in the mean time.