Saturday, 29 October 2011

Cowbridge Food & Drink Festival

Large crowds turned out today for the seventh annual Cowbridge Food & Drink Festival / Gŵyl Bwyd a Diod Y Bont-Faen (29-30 Oct 2011), in the heart of the Vale of Glamorgan. With over 80 exhibitors, cooking demonstrations, food and drink talks, entertainment and children’s activities, it has become one of the regions top food festivals.

We arrived early and parked in a farm on the edge of town – part of the free park and ride service. The main marquees were bustling with activity by mid-morning. Although the festival is centred on these marquees, events occur throughout the market town.

In the main Festival Marquee and the Cheese & Wine Marquee there was a great selection of fine food and drink to sample and purchase. We seemed to sample a lot of cheese, and lingered at Teifi Farmhouse Cheese, Cothi Valley Goats (cheese), Caws Cenarth Cheese, Slade Farm Organics, Wernddu Wines & Vineyard, and many more stalls besides. You can see Cardiff’s The Parsnipship in the foreground of the photo taken down the main marquee.

There was some tempting cooking smells emanating from the hot food marquee. Glam Lamb and the Venison Burger stalls, and the hog roast, were attracting sizeable queues. We opted for Taste of Persia, sharing a Lamb Kebab and a Pomegranate Chicken with Walnuts and rice. Based in Llanbadoc, Monmouthshire, they are regulars at Cardiff’s Riverside Food Market.

Taste of Persia’s owner Kamran Khanverdi was among the chefs doing demonstrations today in the True Taste of Wales exhibition trailer, in the Town Hall car park. Others included Kurt Fleming of ffresh Bar & Restaurant. Martin Cowley (Cowley’s Fine Foods) was demonstrating historical meat-drying techniques.

Bev Robins from the Otley Brewery and Deryck Mathews of Preselli Coffee are among the contributors to the drinks talks programme in Cowbridge Town Hall. A Real Ale Festival was well underway by lunchtime today at the Vale of Glamorgan Inn.

Other events around Cowbridge include a Craft Fayre, a Champagne Marquee & Bar, and a circus (from the Belgian twin town of Mouscron). The festival continues tomorrow (Sunday 30 Oct: 10am-4pm). Entry to marquees: £4 adults (under 12s free).

Last year the event was awarded the National Tourism Awards Wales: Best Community Event 2010. If it continues to be this successful, the organizers might have to get bigger marquees to fit in all the visitors (they already have many more applications for trade stands than they can accomodate). 

Cowbridge Food & Drink Festival is already pencilled into our diary again for next year, with a note that we need to spend much more time there to do justice to all the events!

Cowbridge Food & Drink Festival:

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Red Hot World Buffet Cardiff

The Red Hot World Buffet and Bar was packed for its launch party last night in Cardiff. There were drinks, speeches, belly dancing, Chinese dragon dancing, Indian music, stilt walkers, and finally the opening of the buffet itself.

A walk around the buffet takes you past Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Tex-Mex, Cajun, Italian, Mediterranean and British food items (around 300 in all), including live stations where chefs prepare food such as pizza and risotto. There are also plenty of desserts and ice creams. Portion size is small for most pre-prepared items, to help you make a diverse selection. There's a range of vegetarian options and all the food is attractively presented.

Faced with this cornucopia, I made my usual buffet mistake - my first plateful mixed too many items that did not complement each other. Some of the dishes are pleasingly hot and spicy, for instance, and don’t go with other styles of food. I prefer buffets after I get familiar with them, and always enjoy buffets on all-inclusive holidays more after several days when I can assemble my optimum buffet plateful.

I had an enjoyable seafood selection for my second plate last night, with some excellent mussels. I finished off with several types of dessert (it’s all cream and chocolate rather than fresh fruit). Not all the world’s regions are pulled off with the same success, and I’ll be honing in on the Indian and oriental areas on future visits. I’ll also be taking the kids, to see what they make of it and how the place caters for them. I expect this is where the pizza station comes into its own.

Red Hot World Buffet reminds me somewhat of Epcot’s World Showcase in Orlando, Florida. This is not a criticism of the food by the way; some of the pavilions around the lake at Disney’s park pull out all the stops to promote their nation’s cuisine (although Ye Olde British Pub serving “warm beer” and greasy chips is to be avoided). The connection is the attraction of sampling many world cuisines in one place; although the disneyfication of the dining experience was evident in the choice of entertainment at Red Hot World Buffet and Bar last night.

The first Red Hot World Buffet and Bar was founded in Nottingham in 2004. The Cardiff branch is the seventh in the UK. It offers all-you-can-eat buffet dining for a set price, from £7.99 for lunch and £12.99 for dinner.

If you really want, say, Italian or Japanese, then you should probably stick to a specialist restaurant, but if you want to sample a range of world cuisines in one sitting then Red Hot World Buffet is definitely the place for you.

Red Hot World Buffet and Bar
3-6 Hills Street, St David’s Dewi Sant, Cardiff CF10 2LE

The last time I ate at Epcot I had an excellent Moroccan evening (complete with obligatory belly dancer, of course). Penarth-based food blogger Rebecca (Fasting Foodie) recently ate in Epcot. Here's her post:

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The NOMA cookbook

Recently I staggered home from Cardiff City Library with their copy of NOMA: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi, head chef of NOMA in Copenhagen (“The Best Restaurant in the World™”). I should make it clear I borrowed the book on my library card. If you do likewise, I suggest leaving a wheelbarrow outside the library to help you get the volume home (don’t worry – there’s currently a low incidence of wheelbarrow theft in central Cardiff).

There seems to be a competition among alpha-male celebrity chefs (see also: Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal) to produce the biggest, heaviest and most expensive cookbook. I believe Nathan Myhrvold is currently winning with his 2,438 page, 40 lb, £395 r.r.p. book Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking (suck on that Redzepi). I like reading these books, despite knowing I’m never likely to eat in the actual restaurants. I did see the outside of NOMA on a recent trip to Copenhagen, en route to a Tivoli snackbar.

NOMA is a fascinating book, which traces the origins of the restaurant. The main challenge, and the main source of interest for me, is this: How do you go about presenting original and seasonal Nordic cuisine year-round to the highest possible restaurant standards. When the idea was first hatched, top-end Danish restaurants served mainly French and Mediterranean cuisine and the idea of NOMA was not taken that seriously (jokes about seal blubber, apparently). Redzepi has certainly proved his critics wrong.

The best-reading section of the book comes early on. It is a diary of Redzepi’s initial research trip through the Nordic region, looking for inspiration and potential suppliers for the restaurant. He takes in Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Finland and northern Scandinavia. Here, the core idea of foraging for wild ingredients takes hold. Among the memorable dairy entries are descriptions of eating raw puffin and whalemeat, and live langoustines: “you can still feel the meat pulsating in the mouth.” He learns that there are 59 types of edible berry growing in the Nordic Region (actually, he probably knew this already being a clever sort of bloke). The diversity of seafood and edible flora gets his mind racing.

The second section is of photographs: Noma dishes, Nordic scenery and food producers. The food is picturesque. Colour is important, with red and yellow dishes a particular feature. Circular swirls of sauce help to unite the components of the dishes, which frequently contain elements representing the wild habitat from where the main ingredient was found.

The final section of the book is the recipes, which refer back to and make sense of the photographs of the dishes (it is sometimes unclear how the dishes relate to their titles). These are not recipes to do at home, unless you have an off-kitchen laboratory (equipped with thermomix, water baths, Pacojet, vacuum bags, refractometer etc.) and several assistants. They are however inspiring, like conceptual art, and give an essential insight into why Noma is so highly regarded.

Unusual ingredients commonly used include hay, for smoking food - with the ash being used for organic effect - and malt (a brewery by-product) that's also used to create ‘soil’ and landscapes on the plate. Milk skin with grass and herbs, and dessert of wild flowers, are signature dishes. Crabs, sea urchins, scallops, squid and other seafood are often combined with foraged seashore herbs or berries. You could be served bulrushes, violets, elderflowers, spruce shoots, juniper or wood sorrel, with fresh cheese or tartare of beef. You get the picture.

So is there anything a cook in Cardiff can learn from NOMA? The main thing is that food is out there for the taking, and foraged food should not be looking down on or regarded as inferior to ingredients sourced from a high-end supplier or deli. Indeed, handling ingredients from picking or harvesting all the way to the plate, Redzepi suggests, gives you a better feel for the food. There are plenty of berries, nuts, fungi, herbs, wild flowers, seaweeds to be foraged, for instance, in the Vale of Glamorgan (most recently blackberries, sloes, haws, mushrooms), and it’s free.

Cardiff’s library copy of NOMA is now safely back on its groaning shelf (I’m currently in training so I can borrow Heston’s Home Cooking). I don’t think they have the Myhrvold in yet.

Copenhagen Food Diary:

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Tesco Express, Dinas Powys

The arrival of a Tesco Express in a village well-served by local shops was always going to be controversial. It’s a story familiar to communities all across the land. There have been no riots in Dinas Powys, in the Vale of Glamorgan, as occurred recently in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol, but there has been significant opposition to the development. Advertising material has been torn down and “Local Shops - Use Them or Lose Them” signs have proliferated in the local butchers, greengrocers, pharmacy, post office etc.

The Tesco Express is replacing The Castle Oak pub, which shut down earlier this year. Although Tesco did not need planning permission to convert from a pub to a convenience store, they had to apply for planning permission for signage, the installation of air-conditioning units, an ATM, and a new shop front. The relevant Planning Committee meeting was held on 29 September.

When Tesco appeared to be working on the shop front weeks before this meeting, the “unauthorized” work created a local storm. The situation was exacerbated by the pavement being blocked, forcing pedestrians into the road. An 84-year old woman tripped on the kerb, banged her head, and needed hospital treatment. The elderly shopper was making her way to the Valley View Fruit Stores, owner by Jan and Tony Mapstone. They have run the local shop for 14 years and, like many local traders, consider the attitude of Tesco to be arrogant and cavalier. A Tesco spokesperson said that they had simply been improving the internal structure of the building.

It should be noted that not everyone in Dinas Powys is opposed to Tesco. One local resident expressed a typical view: “I for one will be using Tesco alongside the local greengrocers and butchers.”

The outcome of the Planning Committee meeting on 29 September was indecisive and a decision was deferred pending a site visit. This took place on Thursday 20 October at 3.15pm. The Planning Committee was met by a demonstration of protestors with placards.

Local Plaid Cymru Councillor Keith Hatton said: “Concerns are centered on the applications for an ATM (where one already exists next door in the newsagents) and the proposed non-illuminated gantry sign on the grassed area to the west of the site.” The proposed gantry sign was particularly contentious, being 3.2m high and 17m from the building; potentially dominating the approach to the shops.
The members of the Planning Committee returned to the Civic Offices in Barry for a Full Planning Meeting on the evening of 20 October. The outcome was that the signage situated away from the store was refused, but the ATM was deemed acceptable.

Tesco will be hard-pressed to open before Christmas, but work is now going full-steam ahead including Saturdays and Sundays. Tesco will be selling very little that is not already available in the shops of Dinas Powys. Furthermore, their produce is unlikely to be locally sourced, as it is in the Valley View Fruit Stores. It's not just about the local stores, remember, it's also about the local farms, bakers, pie-makers and other producers who sell through local stores.

When Tesco opens, it will be up to the community of Dinas Powys (and similar communities throughout the land) to either support their local shops or lose them.

I’ll post again here on developments.

Re: Comments below:
I agree about the Spar, which really does need to raise it's game if it is to survive.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

St David’s, Cardiff

The extended St David’s / Dewi Sant shopping centre was officially opened two years ago today. It's now hard to imagine Cardiff City centre without it.

The Eastside part of the extension (formerly St David’s 2) was designed as a Café Wing, which remains open in the evenings after the main shopping concourse closes. There are now two major concentrations of chain restaurants and cafes in Cardiff: here and in Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay.

All-together there are around 35 places to eat and drink in the wider St David’s Centre complex: BB’s Coffee and Muffins, Bellini’s Express, Bhs, Boof, Cadwaladers, Café Rouge, Carluccio’s, Chimichanga, Costa, Costa Coffee, Debenhams, Ed’s Tasty Diner, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Greggs, Jamie’s Italian, John Lewis, Krispy Kreme, M&S, Muffin Break, Nando’s, Pizza Express, Prêt a Manger, Prezzo, Ruby Tuesday, Shake Away, Soho Coffee, Spud-U-Like, Starbucks, Starbucks Link Bridge, T.G.I. Friday’s, Wagamama, Yo Sushi and Yoo Moo.

There are three significant food openings in the coming weeks: Auntie Anne’s, Signor Valentino and the Red Hot World Buffet.

Auntie Anne’s is moving into a unit on the ground floor of Eastside. A US chain founded in 1988, Auntie Anne’s has its roots in a Pennsylvania Farmers’ Market and will sell baked goods, including pretzels.

Signor Valentino, the Italian restaurant chain established by Barek Arabestani in 2011, will be opening shortly on Level 1 Eastside, in the unit vacated by the closure of the Sale Pepe Italian restaurant. The chain will be building on the success of their outlet in Mermaid Quay.

The Red Hot World Buffet opens next week and will offer food from around the world (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Tex-Mex, Cajun, Italian and so on) in a large unit on pedestrianized Hill Street opposite Debenhams. I’ll be there for its opening next week to check it out.

The keystone to St David’s 2 was arguably the early involvement of John Lewis, whose store is at the far (southern) end of the mall complex. With John Lewis in place, others followed. At the sharp end of the John Lewis resides the department store’s main restaurant. This is a light airy space, with glass walls offering views down to The Hayes. It’s a good place for relaxing and quiet conversation. Finding a table seemed to be no problem early lunchtime (11.45am onwards) and there are plenty of food options (hot meals, salads, jacket potatoes).

I enjoyed my cappuccino (£2.25) and honey and almond slice (£1.95). The John Lewis restaurant is called The Place to Eat, rather a grand claim given that it looks down on the likes of Carluccio’s and Jamie’s Italian!

The success of St David’s is not in doubt. Figures just released show that the shopping centre attracted more than 75 million visitors in its first two years, making Cardiff one of the busiest city centres in the UK.

St David’s:

All you need to know about St David's (catchment area etc.). Click on Downloads, Leasing Brochure:

Further visitor number information:

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Four Seasons Pizza

A family meal last night: the teenager (birthday and off to Italy tomorrow) chose Pizza Express on Mermaid Key, Cardiff Bay. We dug out a voucher for an offer on Dough Ball starters and Classic pizzas. It fitted the bill.

I ordered the Four Seasons (Quattro Stagioni). This was my favourite pizza when I was a teenager, but I have not had one for years (in fact, I'm not a big pizza fan).

Pizza Express started as a chain in the UK in 1965 and the Classic pizzas are apparently made using the original recipe. A “sampler pizza” when pizza first became popular in the UK, the Four Seasons was once thought sophisticated. Now, in concept it sounds a little dated and off-message (“what, only a quarter of it is fresh and seasonal!”).

Of course, you rightly say, the four quarters are only representative of the four seasons, and this pizza was served in Italy many years before pizza chains became fashionable in the UK. Traditionally, artichoke hearts represent spring, olives summer, mushrooms autumn, and prosciutto or another ham represents winter.

The Four Seasons has been variously reinterpreted in the UK; for example, with pretty contrasting colours. Fortunately, Pizza Express go for contrasting taste sensations. Their Quattro Stagioni has a mushroom quarter, a meat (pepperoni) quarter, a mozzarella quarter, and an anchovy and caper quarter. The olives were fairly random and didn’t belong to any particular quarter. I liked the salty/fishy taste in contrast with the rest of the pizza, but where were the artichokes?

I prefer my pizza crust a little crisper than Pizza Express were serving last night. The ingredients also lacked a little zing or freshness. The pizzas were not bad, but fell a little short of value-for-money, and are certainly not the best you can get down Cardiff Bay. My particular recommendation for pizza is Bar Cwtch, the cellar bar of Jolyon’s Hotel.

The Dough Ball starters at Pizza Express are, in effect, a variation on garlic bread. The more-ish Dough Balls have also recently appeared (minus garlic) with Nutella on the dessert menu.

Pizza Express score with their Dolcetti – mini-portions of sweet dishes to have with coffee. Last time I enjoyed the Caffé Reale (figs, cinnamon, white wine spiced syrup and mascarpone). This time the Semi Freddo Reale (a gelato dessert with marsala and a crust made from nougat and praline) hit the spot alongside a cappuccino.

It will be interesting to hear how our oldest rates the food in Italy compared to Pizza Express.

Pizza Express menu:

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Penarth Apple Day

Apple Day was first launched as an annual food awareness day in 1990 by the environmental charity Common Ground. Today (16 Oct), Penarth’s local environmental group Gwyrddio Penarth Greening (GPG) organized Penarth’s first Apple Day in Belle Vue Park.
Among the stalls was a display of different apple varieties, with notes on their history, and a comparison tasting of three stewed apples (Bramley Seedling, Tom Putt and Golden Noble). An apple press was being put to constant use, making freshly-pressed apple juice from local apples. You could buy apple chutneys and preserves, cider and apple wine and apple juice, and apples from an orchard “picked on Thursday.”

Hampton’s were selling half-a-dozen different types of apple cake and tarts. I went for a large slice of the Apple Date and Cinnamon Cake, which was generously topped with toasted nuts. This kept me going for the rest of my cycle ride from Dinas Powys.

La Crêperie de Sophie were cooking apple-themed pancakes.

In addition to organizing the Apple Day, GPG have been running the Harvest Penarth scheme. Anthony Slaughter of GPG said that this involves some complex logistics. Groups of volunteers have to be organized to visit gardens around Penarth that have unwanted and surplus fruit. They have harvested over 20 trees from residents who are happy to support the scheme. The idea is that the fruit is distributed to care homes and charitable organizations in the area. Some of the damaged and bruised fruit collected was used to make the chutneys on sale today.

PGP also organize the Penarth Food Festival:


Thursday, 13 October 2011

National Food Weeks

This week it is apparently National Curry Week, Chocolate Week and British Egg Week.

There has been a proliferation of National Food Weeks in the UK (and globally) over the past ten years or so. These promotional or awareness weeks are initiated by corporate concerns, government bodies and pressure groups. They are usually promoted uncritically by the media. No wonder National Food Weeks are so popular - it’s free advertising!

In addition, there are any number of food promotion days (e.g., Yorkshire Pudding Day falls on 5th Feb 2012) that are too numerous to record here.

There are also health awareness weeks most weeks, highlighting medical conditions that are often food-related (e.g., Food Allergies and Intolerances: 23-28 Jan 2012). The medical conditions rising in incidence the most alarmingly, such as diabetes, are linked to overeating and obesity (National Childhood Obesity Week: 4-12 July 2011).

If you want to start your own awareness week, you better get in quick as there are not many weeks left free (in fact, most weeks are double-booked!). The more they stack up, the more ineffectual they are going to become.

This week I cooked curry, scrambled eggs and ate chocolate (not all at the same time), but I refuse to believe that it had anything to do with National Food Weeks.

Below I list some of the main promotional weeks in the UK with dates and the names of the organizations behind them.

National Farmhouse Breakfast Week (22-28 Jan 2012) is a government promotion of cereal farming by the Cereals Division of AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board).

Bramley Apple Week (5-12 Feb 2012) is bought to you by The Bramley Campaign.

National Chip Week (21-27 Feb 2011) is an initiative from the British Potato Council.

Fairtrade Fortnight (28 Feb - 13 March 2011) is Fairtrade organized.

British Pie Week (7-13 March 2011) is bought to you by Jus-Rol Pastry, a division of General Mills Berwick Ltd.

Bacon Connoisseurs Week (21-27 March 2011) is a Red Tractor initiative - a government agricultural promotion.

British Sandwich Week (15-21 May 2011) is organized by The British Sandwich Association and supported by Tesco, Sainsbury’s, M&S, Ginsters, Greggs, Prêt a Manger etc.

National Vegetarian Week (23-29 May 2011) is organized by The Vegetarian Society of the UK and supported by Cauldron Foods.

British Food Fortnight and Welsh Food Fortnight (17 Sept - 2 Oct 2011) is sponsored by Aramark.

British Cheese Week (24 Sept - 2 Oct 2011) is organized by The British Cheese Board and sponsored by Ryvita. Events include The Great British Cheese Festival in Cardiff Castle.

National Cask Ale Week (1–9 Oct 2011) is a brewing industry initiative.

Chocolate Week (10-16 Oct 2011) is sponsored by Hotel Chocolat, Thornton’s, Divine Chocolate and others.

British Egg Week (10-16 Oct 2011) is organized in association with British Lion Eggs (the egg marketing board).

National Curry Week (9-15 Oct 2011) is supported by ASDA, Cobra Lager and Pataks.

British Sausage Week (31 Oct -6 Nov 2011) is an initiative of The British Sausage Appreciation Society (supported by several commercial sponsers).

National Taste of Game Fortnight (5-19 Nov 2011) is organized by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC).

National Eating Out Week (20-26 Nov 2011) appears to be a spin off from National Curry Week, supported by Indian restaurants among others.

Of course, being a food writer, I am as guilty of passing on National Food Week marketing as the next blogger. Sometimes it just can’t be resisted.

Here’s a previous post on British Pie Week:

For a complete list of US National Food Holidays see:

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

RWCMD, Cardiff

The recent extension of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) houses The Richard Burton Theatre and The Dora Stoutzker Hall. At the back of the central lobby, there is also The Café Bar, which does coffees and teas, sandwiches and jacket potatoes, along with a soup and a hot meal special (£6). It’s a good place to get a filling lunch, if you are happy eating the dish the chef happens to be cooking.

Today I picked up some tickets and stayed for lunch. The main meal was Pork Belly with Sweet Sage and Apple Sauce served with Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables. This comprised a large chunk of succulent belly pork, slightly caramelized on top and topped with hot apple slices (good to see the skin still on) in a sweet and rich sagey gravy. It was served with steamed cauliflower and baby carrots, and roast potatoes (I probably didn’t need the potatoes). This was a hearty meal that sort of demanded a colder day. The lunchtime soup special was French Onion.

The café was busy with students, people attending the Electric Stage event, and community police officers (the station is nearby). As I was leaving, the main meal had changed for the afternoon. The chef was now cooking Spicy Aubergines filled with couscous served with garlic bread. On a previous occasion it was Swansea Mussels.

A walk around Bute Park on this balmy October afternoon was in order afterwards.

On a musical note, it’s good to see RWCMD programming modern jazz. Cardiff jazz fans have long been resigned to frequent trips to Bristol, which has a superior jazz scene, to hear the top modern jazz acts. Among the concerts I’ll be attending later this month at RWCMD is one by the jazz trio Meadow. With Cardiff setting great store on its music scene, jazz concerts to rival Bristol’s would be most welcome. Here’s a plug for Meadow's new album Blissful Ignorance on Edition Records.


A previous post on the RWCMD:

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Red Mullet

Back in the day, we thought a mullet was a haircut. Nowadays, we know it’s a fish; a fish that is becoming more common on UK fish slabs.

We need to change our fish-eating habits. Cod stocks are depleted and switching to whiting, mackerel, coley and other sustainably-fished species is desirable. However, there is another change coming: global climate change.

A recent report by marine biologists concluded that global warming will lead to profound changes in the populations of common fish species in the waters off the UK. Rising sea temperatures will adversely impact cold-water species such as cod, haddock and pollock. The good news is that the study demonstrated responses to warming in 72% of common species, with three times more species increasing in abundance than declining. The study is supported by recent data from actual catches. Red mullet, hake and dab are among the species that are now being caught more frequently in British waters.

It is therefore a good time to look out some recipes for red mullet and other warmer-water species. You will not find them in British seafood cookery books; you have to look to Mediterranean cuisine.

Red mullet or surmullets are actually two species of goatfish (Mullus barbatus and Mullus surmuletus), which are unrelated to grey mullet. They have been eaten in the Mediterranean since Roman times, when they were reared in pools (an early example of fish-farming).

The Silver Spoon, Italy’s best-selling cookbook, has the following recipes for red mullet: with fennel, Livorno-style, with herbs, and with beans. The book advises that red mullet be touched as little as possible, since the tender flesh breaks up easily.

On Monday, I had Red Mullet with Anchovies and Herb Crème Fraiche, cooked by guest chef Shaun Hill, at ffresh in Cardiff Bay (see October 4 blog). It is a pretty pink fish, with delicately flavoured white flesh. On that occasion it was cooked to perfection.

I was going to cook red mullet tonight, but didn’t manage to get hold of any (rather undermining the thrust of today's post!). However, I did cook sea bass; briefly under a hot grill and then roasted with fennel seeds, lemon and a splash of wine, and served with ratatouille and some apple smoked sourdough made by Geraint here in Dinas Powys. The fennel seeds inside the fish cavity imparted a pleasing flavour.

Continental Shelf-Wide Response of a Fish Assemblage to Rapid Warming of the Sea. Stephen D. Simpson, Simon Jennings, Mark P. Johnson, Julia L. Blanchard, Pieter-Jan Schön, David W. Sims, and Martin J. Genner. Current Biology, 15 Sept 2011.

The Silver Spoon. English Edition. Phaidon Press. 2005.

A previous post on tilapia:

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

PastaPot, Cardiff

Pasta Pot opened for business today on Guildhall Place, near the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. I was one of their first customers.

The first thing that strikes you about PastaPot is the bright and distinctive colours. This is the first food venture for the three owners, but it’s obviously branded with an eye to a franchise.

This is very much a take-away; with very little space for eating-in (three stools and a counter shared with the cutlery, sugar etc). Meals are served to go in waxed cardboard boxes. I’m not sure how often I’ll be using PastaPot (the street furniture along St Mary Street looks less attractive in the autumn rain); pasta is a less versatile on-the-move fast-food than a baguette (and potentially messier). Customers will probably be from local offices, although it should be popular with crowds heading for the nearby Millennium Stadium.

The main focus is on build-your-own pasta meals. There are three pasta shapes to choose from: penne (tubes), conchiglie (shells) and spaghetti (strings); then a choice of sauces, and then a choice of toppings. The pasta is genuine Italian: sourced from De Cecco. There is no Jamie’s style in-house pasta maker, but co-owner James wasn’t ruling it out as an option long-term.

I must admit, I am not a fan of the Subway approach, where you decide on a staple (bread type, pasta shape), then the filling and then the garnish. Mathematically it suggests infinite choice, but you always end up with basically the same thing. I much prefer a creative cook to do the thinking and to come up with something a little different. This does not happen at Subway, but Cardiff independents (e.g., Fresh baguette bar) are generally good at this sort of thing.

Luckily for lazy people like me, Paul the chef at PastaPot has come up with interesting ready-made favourite options and he’ll be doing daily specials. I went for today’s special, the Cheesy Green Nutter (a reference to the green men who have been running around promoting the place). It consisted of penne pasta, with roquefort cheese, fresh asparagus, pine nuts, fresh basil & cracked pepper, and it was good. Today’s soup special was sweet potato and roasted red pepper.

The hotpot sauce choices include arabbiata, bolognese, carbonara and pesto. I would suggest going for the larger pot (£3.95 cf. £3.50) and arming yourself with a plastic spoon rather than a fork if your option has pine nuts and suchlike. Don’t forget to pick up a 10% off loyalty card.

There are different coldpot selections for building your own pasta salad. There's also fruit on the counter. In fact, the food in PastaPot all looks very healthy. Pot Noodle it’s not.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

ffresh bar and restaurant

ffresh bar and restaurant is celebrating its second birthday in the Wales Millennium Centre, in Cardiff Bay, and its recent inclusion in The Good Food Guide 2012. Last night, Michelin-starred Chef Shaun Hill (Consultant at ffresh and Executive Chef at The Walnut Tree) and ffresh’s own Head Chef Kurt Fleming prepared a stunning meal as part of the restaurant’s celebrations.

There was a veritable smörgâsbord of food bloggers among those invited, spread over three tables (so you won’t need to look far for a second opinion).

Politicians present included Alun Davies, the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes. ffresh is notable for its policy of sourcing locally (around 80% of its ingredients) and working with Wales the True Taste partners (an annual awards initiative funded by the Welsh Assembly Government).

The wine for the meal was supplied by the Wales the True Taste award-winning Ancre Hill Vineyard, Monmouth, whose owner Richard Morris was present. A sparkling rose accompanied the canapés, which included a very tasty wild rice arancini (breadcrumb-coated fried riceballs).

Red mullet with anchovies and herb crème fraiche was an exceptional dish; the herby saltiness enhancing and not overpowering the fish’s subtle flavour. The crème fraiche was sourced from Rachel’s. An Ancre Hill Chardonnay had the right citrus notes to accompany this fish dish.

The Roasted Partridge with its own pudding was an uncompromising dish, with a deep and intense gaminess. It was accompanied by some hispi lettuce and the mysterious round puddings. Partridge is a feature of Shaun Hill’s menus. The taste evoked memories of an off-the-beaten track gamekeeper-supplied rural pub I knew in my youth. Shaun also seems to like working with lentils, but pureed so it’s not obvious they are lentils. The main course was helped along by a fruity and full-bodied Ancre Hill Pinot Noir 2009, the pick of the night’s wines for me.

Hot chocolate fondant, hazelnut praline sauce and Wild Fig vanilla ice cream was nothing short of sensational. The hush that descended on the dining room was an indication that something special was going down. A honey-sweet wine accompanied this, which tasted way-to-sweet before the pudding arrived but made perfect sense against the intense chocolate.

There were a couple of other restaurants in this unit before ffresh, but being operated by the Wales Millennium Centre itself has worked to ffresh’s advantage – it feels more integrated into the building and it’s activities. With its open kitchen, enabling diners to see the chefs working, programmes of bar music and guest chef nights, ffresh serves up Good Food Guide quality food and an entertaining dining experience.

ffresh, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay:

Ancre Hill Vineyard, Monmouth:

The Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny: