Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Potted Pig, Cardiff

Potted pig with toast and pickles (£6) is a signature starter at The Potted Pig (located on the pedestrianized High Street near Cardiff Castle). Although served in a small preserving jar with accompanying toast, this is not pate. The jar is stuffed with shredded pork shoulder lightly spiced with cayenne pepper. The pickles are halved gherkins and cubed beetroot. The toast, and the bread served generally, is chunky granary.

My partner had the Smoked trout with poached egg and béarnaise sauce on a potato blini (£5). This starter had wonderfully complimentary flavours, with the fish being richly smoked, and the tight plating bought them all together in every sense.

For main course, I chose Barnsley lamb chop with kidneys, roast onion and parsnips (£15). A Barnsley Chop is a double lamb chop, taken from across the loin of the animal; so named because the cut originated in Barnsley. Here it was served with two lamb’s kidneys (one either side), and topped with bright green peas. Underneath the chop were roasted vegetables in flavoursome gravy.

The other main was Slow roast Hereford pork belly with baked carrots and greens (£13). I find belly pork a bit fatty for my taste, but my partner rated this dish very highly. The crackling was perfect.

You might think that in a restaurant specializing in “nose-to-tail” meat eating that the vegetables might be a bit of an after-thought. However, we found the vegetables at The Potted Pig to be abundant and cooked with the same care as the meat. There are a couple of starters and a couple of main courses for vegetarians, which sound interesting and incorporate seasonal vegetables (e.g., Jerusalem artichoke, purple sprouting broccoli and Welsh cheddar pie). However, this is not a place to bring the kids or anyone who wants puddings to be a big part of their dining experience.

We drank a bottle of splendid red wine from the Languedoc (£16) and rounded the meal off with a couple of liqueur coffees (Frangelico: hazelnut liqueur from northern Italy). The service was first-rate throughout.

The Potted Pig was opened in 2011, in a former Lloyd's Bank vault, by The Chameleon Group (who also own The Meating Place, The North Star and The Vulcan Lounge in Cardiff). There are dark corners, candlelight, brick walls and no over-decoration, so it has atmosphere and retains a feel for the building’s history. Larger groups are put in the former strong room (whole suckling pig being a popular party choice). Don’t be alarmed if the waiter walks off towards the stairs with your credit card: because of the thick walls it’s necessary for the card-reading machine to get a signal!

This was my choice for a birthday meal, and it turned out to be a good choice. The Potted Pig has been one of the most talked about (and blogged about) restaurants in Cardiff since it opened last summer. We found nothing to contradict its generally excellent reviews.

The Potted Pig
27 High Street (underneath Zizzi), Cardiff, CF10 1PU
Tel: 029 2022 4817

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Bosphorus, Cardiff Bay

Sometimes your regard for a country’s cuisine is influenced by your experience on holiday in that country. We had a great holiday in Turkey and are always happy to spend an evening eating Turkish food.

Bosphorus Turkish Restaurant is located on stilts out over the water of Cardiff Bay; an impressive location for this restaurant named after the strait between Europe and Asia.

On a previous visit to Bosphorus we had eaten mainly grilled meats, so we opted for some different choices this time. As a family of four, we went with four vegetarian starters, freely shared, along with pitta-style bread.

Patlikan Kizartma was the pick of the starters for me. Slices of floured aubergine that had been deep-fried, to a crisp outside and melting inside, served with tomato sauce on top, alongside slivers of fried bell pepper and an oversize dollop of yoghurt.

Muska Boregi were triangles of crispy filo pastry stuffed with a mixture of feta cheese, dill and spinach. I particularly liked the taste of dill coming through the cheese here. 

Kisir was a mixture of bulgur, pine nuts, bell peppers, celery, spring onions, tomato juice and herbs. 

Yaprak Sarma comprised vine leaves stuffed with rice, raisins, pine nuts and herbs, along with olive oil.

For mains, we went for a diverse selection of dishes.

The Kiymali Mussaka contained minced lamb, aubergine, courgettes, red pepper and onions under a cheesy béchamel sauce, all afloat (in a slightly deconstructed way) in a sea of tomato juice. This was refined Mussaka, in contrast to the more rustic version I made the other week.

Adana came as an attractively-shaped blend of minced lamb with herbs and spices. Grilled on flat skewers (not present on the plate), it is served with a mound of plain rice and a salad. A minty-herb flavour at first paved the way for a gradual and attractive mild-hot spiciness.

Ciftci Boregi was served as a couple of crisp rolled pancakes stuffed with feta cheese spinach, peppers and herbs. It was served with roasted vegetables.

Tuna Steak was a thick chunk of grilled tuna served with plenty of capers in a lemon sauce, with a good mixture of vegetables.

For dessert, there was a trio of different flavour ice creams (with two spoons), a Crème Brule and, for me, Apricots. These dried and stuffed apricots had a concentrated apricot flavour supplemented with cream and crushed nuts in a fruit compote. There was strong Turkish coffee to finish.

Bosphorus also serve Turkish wines and Efes beer, with its refreshing citrus tang.

This was our best trip to Bosphorus to date. The place was busy (it can be a bit quiet overwinter) and the view across to the Penarth headland was spectacular on a sunny spring evening.

In the first photo above (to the right) you can see one of the latest additions to the landscape: the new Dr Who Experience (opening this summer). Our holiday in Turkey was also pretty cosmic. We stood on a beach and watched a total eclipse of the sun.

Bosphorus Turkish Restaurant
31 Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay CF10 5BZ

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Lamb and Flag, Wick

The village of Wick (Y Wig) in the Vale of Glamorgan has a population of around 700 and once boasted six public houses. The Star closed recently (and is currently for sale), leaving the village with just one: the Lamb and Flag. It’s the latest stop on my tour of Vale pubs.

We were given a very warm welcome by the couple who run the pub, despite being a bit late for lunch. Food is served at lunchtimes, and again in the evening.

A central area serves both the traditional local’s bar and the lounge, which is mainly set up with tables for dining. The two parts of the pub have separate doors.

Home-made pies are the main feature of the menu. We ordered a couple of Steak and Ale Pies (the Lamb and Rosemary had all gone). The rich and short shortcrust pastry is made by the landlord. The filling had rosemary flavour and some quality meat, which was sourced from a farmer near Carmarthen who rears Welsh Black cattle. Steak and Kidney pie is also listed on the menu. The intention is to expand the range of pies further.

Our two girls split a large lasagne. We all enjoyed the large chips. They were crisp outside and fluffy inside, and ballooned in a way that suggested two sessions in the fryer. I also had some fine new potatoes.

The Lamb and Flag is a free house, albeit with a modest real ale selection. For me, Hancock's HB was the pick of the beers on tap. With drinks, our bill came to £31.70.

You’ll also find faggots, sausages and mash, scampi and other standard pub meals on the menu. The philosophy at the Lamb and Flag appears to be “back to basics” with its simple and traditional pub meals. However, this is no return to the bad old days of pub food. In common with many Vale pubs, the emphasis is on the home-made and on high-quality, seasonal and local ingredients.

Even if you have never been to the Vale of Glamorgan, you may have heard of Wick. The village is home to the family of Nicole Cooke, the cyclist who took Britain's first gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games. A party was held in the family’s local pub – the Lamb and Flag – to celebrate her achievement.

Lamb and Flag
Church Street, Wick, Vale of Glamorgan CF71 7QE
Tel: 01656 890278

Directions: Wick is on the B4265 between Llanilltud Fawr/Llantwit Major and St Brides Major.

Nicole Cooke celebration:

Other pubs in the Vale of Glamorgan you might enjoy:

Blue Anchor, East Aberthaw

Six Bells, Penmark

Blacksmith’s Arms, Llanmaes

Plough and Harrow, Monknash

Friday, 13 April 2012

Narberth, Sospan Fach, Ultracomida and El Bulli beer

The market town of Narberth in Pembrokeshire has rebranded itself over the past couple of decades as a regional arts and foodie centre. Its aspirations are evident in its recent twinning with Ludlow in England (a centre of gastronomy with a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants). Both have annual Food Festivals: Ludlow’s 18th on 7-9 Sept and Narberth’s 14th on 22-23 Sept 2012.

Tony Curtis described Narberth as “the Cowbridge [Vale of Glamorgan] of Pembrokeshire” in Real South Pembrokeshire (2011, Seren Books): “the boring village of my childhood has recreated itself as a trendy town… crafts and arts and pricy frocks; bric-a-brac, dried flowers, jewellery and deli food.”

Our first stop was The Queen’s Hall, the arts centre with its hall for concerts and community activities, art gallery and a café: Sospan Fach. A current feature of the menu is the Six Nations Soups, served in individual small cast-iron saucepans (sospan bach). The concept may be slightly gimmicky, but the food was not. I had the Irish stew, with plenty of chunky steak and vegetables in a rich Guinness gravy. The Welsh cawl was similarly meaty, although (unlike the rugby) the Irish came top on this occasion. Both were served with fresh bread. Our eldest daughter had a substantial sundried tomato, pesto and mozzarella panini.

The steak in my stew was sourced from Andrew Rees & Sons Butchers, based further down the High Street by the somewhat quirky Narberth Town Hall (built 1835). In addition to the shop, with its attractive displays of meat, fish, and pies and pasties, they supply to around 150 local businesses.

Around the corner from the butcher, in St James Street, is PlumVanilla, which serves vegetarian and vegan food. It was too busy on this occasion, but we liked the look of the place and their salads looked very appetizing, so we made a note to go next time we’re in Narberth. There are several other good-looking cafés and pubs (although nothing to attract a Michelin star yet!).

Back up the High Street, opposite Queen’s Hall, is Ultracomida Delicatessen. This is building on the success of the Ultracomida in Aberystwyth, which was the gold winner in the Deli/Speciality Store category of the Wales the True Taste 2011-2012 Awards. Ultracomida specialises in Spanish artisan food products and wines, but also stocks a range of Welsh and French products.

We bought some smoked chicken from the Crickhowell-based Black Mountain Smokery and other items for a salad supper. The cheese display looked so good I had to take a photo. At the back of the deli is a Spanish restaurant, renown for its tapas.

I also emerged from Ultracomida with a couple of bottles of Inedit, a wheat beer brewed in Barcelona by Estrella Damm in collaboration with chef Ferran Adrià and his team from the El Bulli restaurant. This beer has been especially created to go with food; in particular, foods containing citrus and oils, bitter notes, and oily textures (e.g., salmon, fatty cheeses). It is made using barley malt, wheat, hops, coriander, orange peel, yeast and water. They suggest serving it chilled in a white wine glass. It’s a fine tasting brew. Good enough for El Bulli; enjoyed in a caravan park in Tenby.

Queens Hall, Narberth:

Sospan Fach:

Andrew Rees & Sons Butcher


Ultracomida Delicatessen:

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Blue Anchor, East Aberthaw

With a cement works, quarry and coal-fired power station in the vicinity, this might not seem the most promising location for a country inn. However, the latest venue in this series of rural Vale of Glamorgan pubs is an essential stop on our tour. As the road nears the coast and curves towards Rhoose (directions below), you enter the hamlet of East Aberthaw, home of a large thatched hostelry: the Blue Anchor Inn free house and restaurant.

Established in 1380, the Blue Anchor is certainly one of Wales’ oldest pubs. It was also ahead of the game in terms of serving quality food. Back in the 1980s, when most pubs were fixated on chicken-in-a-basket or ploughman’s lunches, the Blue Anchor started to gain a reputation for fine dining. It has held on to that reputation ever since. You’ll find it in all the good food pub guides, including the Michelin Eating Out in Pubs guides since 2007.

I was first introduced to the Blue Anchor when the pub was recovering from a serious fire in 2004 (which destroyed the thatched roof). The pub was still serving a limited menu of excellent bar meals made from local produce (I remember sausages), even though most of the rooms were closed for renovation. Our latest trip was for a family lunch on Friday.

The side door into the pub leads you to the small and very welcoming traditional bar. Immediately, you know you are in a proper pub: stone-floored, real fire, row of real ale hand-pumps. A narrow and surprisingly long stone passage takes you through to the first in a series of small rooms for diners (where no two tables or antique oak seats are alike).

For starters, I had the smaller portion of the River Exe Steamed Mussels (£5.45); with eldest daughter at hand to help me sample them. These were relatively small but very tasty mussels, in a rich creamy sauce and served with organic bread. The others shared Marinated Olives with Balsamic Oil and Fresh Organic Bread (£3.95). This was superior bread for mopping up.

For my main, I had Confit Duck Leg (£9.50), served with puy lentils and pickled baby vegetables. Lentils can be a bit dull, but not these; with aniseed, lemongrass and other flavours taking it in turns to leap out at you. The lightly-pickled vegetables had intense flavour. The duck was moist rather than juicy, and certainly delivered on the flavour front.

My partner had the Homemade, Lightly Spiced Vegetable Tagine (£8.25) with perl couscous, a larger grained type of couscous. The vegetarian options on the menu are few, but even hardened carnivores would probably find them tempting. The couscous was lifted by the presence of preserved lemon, and was a great complement to the subtly spiced vegetables.

The eldest had a Caerphilly Cheese, Tomato and Apple Chutney Baguette (£4.75), and particularly approved of the chutney. The youngest had the Children’s Meal (£4.95), choosing the burger, chips and beans option. This was substantially more than she could eat; with good crispy chips albeit very salty.

Local sourcing is part of the philosophy here. They even sell their own free-range eggs at the bar. This is also a hostelry where you can eat without distraction. There is no background music or TV screens showing sport. It’s quite a novelty in a pub these days to hear the clinking of cutlery and the murmur of conversation as the predominant sounds.

The Blue Anchor is a freehouse, with a serious real ale bar. They usually have Wadworth 6X, Brains Bitter, Theakston Old Peculiar and Wye Valley Hereford Pale Ale. These are supplemented with interesting guest ales. I went for a Jubilee Ale (4.3%) from the Cardiff-based Bullmastiff Brewery.

In the evenings (Mon-Sat), there is also a restaurant (up stone steps to an extension opened in the 1990s) with an a la carte menu. On this menu you’ll find additional dishes such as wild mushroom ravioli, paupiette of wood pigeon, panfried supreme of pheasant, and roasted local venison.

The Blue Anchor is without doubt one of the “hidden gems” among the Vale of Glamorgan’s pubs.

Blue Anchor Inn
East Aberthaw, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan CF62 3DD
Tel: 01446 750329
Take Port Road heading west from Barry (B4265). Pass Cardiff International Airport, and take the left turn toward East Aberthaw, the cement works and Rhoose. The pub is on the left as the road starts curving to the left. There is a car park across the road

See also:
Six Bells, Penmark:

Blacksmith’s Arms, Llanmaes

Plough and Harrow, Monknash

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Raw Vegan Rock and Roll: Jónsi and Alex's Recipe Book

A raw vegan diet is not the first thing you associate with a rock and roll lifestyle, but that’s the food eaten by Jónsi Thor Birgisson and Alex Somers.

Jónsi is the frontman with Icelandic band Sígur Rós. He has also released a solo album and records with his partner Alex. I have included a link to my Jónsi and Alex-related playlist on Spotify at the end of this post.

Jónsi and Alex have produced a booklet - Good Heart Recipe Book - with 15 of their favourite recipes and made it available for fans to download and printout for free from their website:

I was interested in exploring raw vegan food, so I have been preparing some of their recipes to get a feel for this style of food preparation.

Gôđan daginn Super Smoothie
I saw the word smoothie and immediately reached for the milk in the fridge. It was then that I realised these recipes were going to require a slightly different way of thinking on my part. In addition to the lack of dairy, another distinctive feature of this recipe is the mix of green leaves with fruit. It calls for a banana, an apple, handfuls of green leaves (e.g., spinach, parsley, kale), frozen berries and cold water. They have this for breakfast and vary it every morning with different fruit and greens.

I made mine with banana, apple, spinach and frozen blackcurrants (grown in the garden last year). I had some in the morning, but preferred it in the afternoon after it had been in the fridge for a few hours.

Being serious vegan smoothie-makers, Jónsi and Alex suggest imaginative optional extras, which include goji berries, spirulina, blue green algae, hemp seed oil, maca powder, crystal manna, and young coconut. Maca is the dried root of a plant grown in Peru and crystal manna is a preparation of freshwater algae (I looked them up so you don’t have to!). Their smoothie shares a name with a track on the most recent Sígur Rós studio album.

It’s already clear that a good blender/juicer is an essential piece of kit for this type of diet. With no cooking involved, the blender is the tool doing most of the work for you.

The second and third recipes in the booklet are for Thai Coconut Curry and Noodle Rainbow Miso Soup. Both look tasty and colourful. The noodles in question are not real noodles, but noodle-thin slices of cucumber, bell pepper and other vegetables. Pasta is off the menu as it needs cooking.

A Classic Green Soup is based on juiced carrots, while a Sweet Garlic Dressing blends together dates, garlic, parsley, cider vinegar and seasoning.

Raw vegan is colourful food. There is no cooking to leach out or degrade the colour pigments in the food. The dishes are a picture (and are artfully pictured in the booklet; Alex does the art work for Sígur Rós and related projects).

Pistachio Pate
I like pistachio nuts, so no surprise I liked this one. The recipe calls for 125g Pistachio nuts, a clove of garlic, the juice of 1/3 lemon, a handful of parsley, some olive oil, salt, and water to thin. Everything is blended together until creamy.

I used a 200g bag of roasted Pistachios in their shells (when shelled this leaves 105g of nuts). I didn’t skimp on the lemon or parsley. It made for a good lunch, with crispy (unbuttered) toast, tomatoes and grapes.

Creamy Spinach Dip involves blending together tahini paste, dates, garlic, lime juice, spinach and other ingredients. Green Pine Pesto is a traditional mix of basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil.

Avō Mango Mash
This seems a very simple recipe: just cube a mango and an avocado and mix them together (with a bit of salt and pepper). However, to get it right you seem to need fruit of equal size and equivalent ripeness. My avocado was smaller and riper than my mango (it would be best if both were very ripe). Nice idea this, the mango supplies the sweetness and the dominant taste, while the avocado supplies the creaminess and enhanced mouthfeel. I saved some of this for later, returning the avocado stone and adding lemon juice to the bowl to keep the avocado colourful. Good, but I think I prefer my avocado and mango served separately.

Macadamia Monster Mash
Like the Pistachio Pate, but with Macadamia nuts, which I have not bought for years. I must buy them more often.

Sundried Good Heart Sauce mixes fresh and sundried tomatoes with dates and herbs.

Indian Sagg-Acado
The recipe calls for a blenderful of spinach, avocado, tomato, cardamom seed, garlic, ginger, and tandoori masala and garam masala powder; with diced apple, tomato and red onion ontop. Using the spices to hand, I substituted cumin, coriander and medium curry powder. This was the most popular recipe I have done to date from the booklet. It’s a bit like an Indian guacamole.

The dessert section contains recipes for The Best Chocolate Milk (without milk), Strawberry Milkshake (ditto), Strawberry Pie, Arkansas Apple Pie and Chocolate Walnut Fudge. Nothing is baked, of course, while the fat used is almond butter and coconut oil. Agave and agave nectar also feature.  The apple pie, with its crust made of coconut, pecans, dates, cinnamon, almond butter and salt, looks particularly appealing. I have bookmarked it for later.

I have been having fun with these recipes, but I also have a hungry family to feed. They are demanding their roast beef (well, pasta actually); the eldest described raw vegan as “a diet made up of dips” as she reached for the bacon and eggs. Therefore, I think I have gone as far as I can with this at the moment, but may return with another post at a later date. The authors “encourage improvisation and experimentation” and I have a feeling there is a Welsh twist to be put on some of these dishes!

In the meantime, here is a link to my Jónsi and Alex/ Jónsi/ Sígur Rós playlist on Spotify, comprising two hours from the dreamier and more ambient side of their music: