Thursday, 26 July 2012

An Olympic Diet: Part Two

The first action of the London 2012 Olympic Games was the Woman’s Football, and the first game kicked off at 4pm yesterday at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. We were there for both matches: Team GB beating New Zealand 1-0 and Brazil beating Cameroon 5-0. The football played by the Brazilians was a joy to watch. There was a great atmosphere, and I could go on about all the positive things that happened. Unfortunately though, this is a Food Blog.

At the bar, the prominent taps were dispensing Olympic-sponsor beer products. So, looking for something to drink, we spotted some taps at the end labelled generically “ale” and “cider.” As non-sponsor products cannot be identified by name, lest it be deemed advertising, this seemed hopeful. We anticipated a pint of Brains, the beer that usually flows from these taps, produced by the brewery that is just a stones-throw from the Millennium Stadium. However, it was not to be. “Ale” is John Smiths (£4.10 pint) and “cider” is Strongbow (this will be the case at all Olympic venues). Alcoholic drinks could only be consumed in the bar area and not taken to the seats.

At the food outlet, things were dominated by Olympic-sponsor soft drink products. On the food menu where bacon baguette (£5.50), Steak pie, Cheese and onion pasty, noodles, soup, sandwiches, hot or cold wraps, crisps, sweets and Olympic-sponsor chocolates. Most of the food was in the £4 to £6 range.

There were big queues for the food between the two games. By the time we approached the food outlet at half-time of the second game, all the food had sold out. People were buying small tubs of official-sponsor crisps (£2) and sweets to keep them going.

So, it was a fantastic sporting event that was thoroughly enjoyed by all the family. The staff and stewards at the Millennium Stadium were very polite, helpful and efficient. However, the food and drink on offer was a little disappointing.

Meanwhile, local businesses in the vicinity of the Stadium who tried to benefit from any Olympic association were pulled up by Locog’s “Brand Police”, a continuation of the heavy-handed treatment of independent cafes and sandwich bars seen during the Torch Relay. Taste on the High Street, for instance, had to change the name of one of their sandwiches. Even Michael Payne, a former marketing director at the International Olympic Committee, has said over-zealous enforcement of brand protection risks damaging the Games image (see link below).

The tickets come with the written promise: “There’s a variety of healthy and tasty food for you inside the venue.” This covers all the venues and in particular the main London venues. Cardiff has whetted our appetite for our next Olympics experience, which will be in London. Will this prove more of a positive showcase for British food and drink products? We’ll see!

An Olympic Diet: Part One:

Independent article on Olympic brand-protection:

Taste, Cardiff:

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Pelican in her Piety, Ogmore Village

The Pelican in her Piety is a pub in a fantastic location. In Ogmore Village, Vale of Glamorgan, up the river from Ogmore-by-Sea and its beach, and across the road from Ogmore Castle and the stepping stones to the spectacular sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr.

I first went to the Pelican around five years ago, when its reputation for food was riding high; thanks in part to some rave newspaper reviews. It was a gastropub when the term still meant something. The pub is still under the same management. Stephen Fisher took it on as Managing Director in 1999 and spectacularly reversed its fortunes (claiming a 500% increase in turnover); he is currently Operations Director.

On Friday, after dropping my eldest at her work experience and taking a strenuous walk around Merthyr Mawr in the sun, an al fresco lunch at The Pelican in her Piety seemed to be called for.

I had one of the lunchtime specials (on the slates): Fresh Gower mussels cooked in garlic, white wine and cream sauce. They were served in an impressively large Mussel Pot with a crusty baguette (£10.95). The mussels were large and succulent. The portion size was large, the creamy liquor plentiful and the bread was fresh.

Other specials on offer included Homemade Moussaka with Greek salad, Green pesto and homemade onion marmalade and Goats cheese flatbread, cod and chips, Beef madras, minted lamb-burger. There’s also a full menu of lunch options, including sandwich baguettes.

The real ales on tap on Friday included Wye Valley Ales, Sharp’s Doom Bar and Marsden’s Pedigree. The Pelican is an occasional live music venue.

The Pelican in her Piety has recently divided opinion on review sites, as to whether the food justifies the above-average prices. If you drop in after a day on the beach expecting inexpensive pub food you may be disappointed. Some may also have over-inflated expectations, based on previous rave reviews in the press.

However, The Pelican has loyal regulars and people who regularly return as visitors. I personally have no complaints as an occasional visitor. I think this is a place to go when you know what you want, and are prepared to pay restaurant prices to get it. It may be beer-battered fish and chips by the log fire in the characterful Ogmore Bar or, in my case, mussels in the sunshine outside.

With the change in the weather, and the kid’s off on holidays next week, my summer definitely started with a lunch at The Pelican.

The Pelican in her Piety
Ogmore Village
Vale of Glamorgan CF32 0QP
01656 880 049

The Vale of Glamorgan Pub Tour 2012:

The Farmers Arms, St Brides Major

The Bush Inn, St Hilary

Lamb and Flag, Wick

Blue Anchor, East Aberthaw

Six Bells, Penmark

Blacksmith’s Arms, Llanmaes

Plough and Harrow, Monknash

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Farmers Arms, St Brides Major

You would once have got a funny look if you said you were going for breakfast in a pub. Thankfully those chicken-in-a-(plastic)-basket days have long gone, and food can be shamelessly enjoyed in pubs at all times of the day.

After dropping my eldest daughter at the Glamorgan Heritage Coast Centre in Southerndown for her work experience earlier this week, we had planned on a coastal walk. The weather was pretty foul, however, so after a token look around the walled garden and headland, the pub in St Bride’s Major advertising breakfast from 10am proved irresistible.

The Farmers Arms is also known as the Pub on the Pond, due to its location across the road from the large village pond. We passed here a while back and it was closed. However, The Farmers Arms was being extensively refurbished and in April this year it reopened under new management.

This is very much a dining pub, with a thoroughly modernized dining area that looks like any number of other pubs, although there is a traditional bar area at the opposite end to the restaurant. It’s a big pub that caters for visitors passing through St Bride’s Major to get to the Glamorgan Heritage Coast. It’s also close to a circular footpath walk.

I had the full English breakfast. This was a meaty affair, with sausages, bacon and black pudding, along with egg, beans, a large mushroom and fried bread. There was also a plate of toast, which didn’t fit into the photo. One of the largest and most enjoyable breakfasts I had had in a while. Our other choice was the egg and bacon roll; the fresh bread met with particular approval. With two lattes, the bill came to £13.95.

Lunchtime and evening specials kick in alongside an extensive all-day menu. The chef’s specials on the board this week included lamb curry, steak, and creamy chicken breast dishes. Prices are reasonable and a quick survey of Internet review sites suggests the pub’s reputation for food has been maintained, and quite possibly enhanced. The new manager at The Farmers Arms also owns The Sportsman’s Rest in Peterston-super-Ely, in The Vale of Glamorgan, just outside Cardiff.

There are two pubs in St Bride’s Major, the other being The Fox and Hounds.

Summer crowds have been notably absent on the Heritage Coast this week. However, things may soon change. The sun may eventually appear (The Farmers Arms has a beer garden); while the coming month will be an important time for all the pubs in the area, because thousands of visitors will be arriving for the National Eisteddfod (4-11 August on the old Llandow airfield in the heart of the Vale of Glamorgan). Pendants welcoming Eisteddfod guests are hanging in bars, while a chain of new campsites have opened along the coast.

The Farmers Arms
Wick Road
St Bride’s Major
Vale of Glamorgan CF32 0SE
01656 880224

NB. Website still under construction []

Visit the Vale (Glamorgan Heritage Coast):

The Vale of Glamorgan Pub Tour 2012:

The Bush Inn, St Hilary

Lamb and Flag, Wick

Blue Anchor, East Aberthaw

Six Bells, Penmark

Blacksmith’s Arms, Llanmaes

Plough and Harrow, Monknash

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Bush Inn, St Hilary

St Hilary is situated south of the A48, about a mile southeast of the market town of Cowbridge, in the Vale of Glamorgan. The village has a population of around 260, living in 80 houses. There is also the 14th century Church of St Hilary, a village hall, and a 16th century coaching inn.

The Bush Inn is a Grade II listed building with a thatched roof. You enter into a traditional stone-floored bar. To the left is the snug and to the right a wooden-floored lounge with dining tables. The main restaurant and largest room is up a few steps from the lounge, and beyond that is the kitchen, in an extension to the original pub.

The pub specialises in pies and wellingtons, made with puff pastry, and, as they say, other “rustic food which displays a generosity of spirit in both flavour and portions.” We went at lunchtime for their pies. I had the Venison with red wine and chocolate, and chose new potatoes and vegetables to accompany it. An attractive and ample mound of courgette, carrot, broccoli and ribbons of cabbage comprised the vegetables; the potatoes were very flavoursome.

My partner had the Chicken pie with tarragon and mushroom, and opted for salad and chips to accompany it. There was no skimping on the tarragon, which lent a great flavour to the chicken pie. In both cases there was plenty of rich gravy, with the chocolate giving a very pleasing depth of flavour in the venison pie. You almost needed a spoon to get the last of the gravy.

Sandwiches, soup, burgers and jacket potatoes can also be ordered at lunchtime. There is a specials board, for lunchtime and evenings, which includes dishes such as Rump of Welsh Lamb (served on borlotti beans, courgettes and shallots with a rich soft ewe’s cheese), Pan Fried Duck Breast (in plum sauce served on mash), Ballontine of Chicken (stuffed with basil, cherry tomato and chorizo and wrapped in smoky bacon and served with a red pepper and pesto jus) and Roulade of Lemon Sole (with goat’s cheese and cherry tomato on a bed of mash with a parsley white wine sauce); all these between £13.25 and £15.50.

The Vegetarian blackboard includes Pear, walnut and dolcelatte tart; Glamorgan sausage with a spiced fruit chutney; Spicy beanburger; and Wild mushroom pie with asparagus and tarragon (all £10.95). There is also a gluten-free menu.

There were several cask ales (e.g., Greene King’s Abbot Ale and a guest appearance of St Austell’s Tribute Ale at the moment) and also a cider on tap. I had a good pint of Hancock’s HB. Twenty wines are listed on the wine list.

Light jazz was the music playing quietly in the pub (e.g., Madeleine Peyroux). In fact, it is very quiet in St Hilary, because there is no through traffic. It’s a great place to come and unwind for a couple of hours to enjoy some food and drink in the rural Vale.

A footpath passes the front of the pub: you can walk the old roman road into Cowbridge from here. The old church is across the street.

The Bush Inn was used as a location for The Hounds of Baskerville episode in the recent BBC series Sherlock (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman). The pub was renamed The Cross Keys and pictures of Dartmoor temporarily replaced the period photos of The Vale on the walls. The current owners Liz and Andrew, who have run the pub for the past couple of years, hope the pub’s TV experience will continue to attract fans of the show.

The Bush Inn
St Hilary, Vale of Glamorgan CF71 7DP

More on The Bush Inn and Sherlock:

The Vale of Glamorgan Pub Tour:

Lamb and Flag, Wick

Blue Anchor, East Aberthaw

Six Bells, Penmark

Blacksmith’s Arms, Llanmaes

Plough and Harrow, Monknash

Thursday, 12 July 2012

La Crêperie de Sophie, Cardiff

My eldest daughter loves crêpes. Therefore, on a lunchtime trip into Cardiff to buy sports gear for her forthcoming athletics competitions, we only had one food destination in mind: La Crêperie de Sophie in the High Street Arcade.

La Crêperie de Sophie opened in Cardiff just two weeks ago, but their name may be familiar to anyone who has visited outdoor events in Wales over the past four years.

Loïc Moinon was born and raised in Brittany (“the crêpe capital of the world”). He founded La Crêperie de Sophie in 2008; naming the company after his wife. Loïc and his hard-working team have been making authentic French crêpes at hundreds of festivals, shows, Farmers’ Markets, corporate events, private parties and weddings over the past four years. The Outside Catering Services will continue, but now the Llantwit Major-based company has its first permanent outlet.

Take-away will be an important part of the High Street Arcade business, but there’s also plenty of seating for eating in (which adds £1 to the bill). There are seven tables in the basement and one by the serving counter, but the place to be is at one of the tables outside in the historic arcade.

We went for Savoury Crêpes. I had Cocorico! (seasoned chicken breast, brie, cranberry sauce, rocket salad and balsamic dressing), while my daughter had L’Italienne (Parma ham, mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, pesto, rocket salad). There was a choice between spinach and rocket on the day. The crêpes were crispy and light, with pleasing arrangements of fresh ingredients. We also had two Americano coffees and our bill came to £14.90.

Quality is important to Loïc and he says it’s not something that will be compromised. Getting the right balance between quality and cost for his customers is a key challenge as the outlet becomes established. Lunch Deals (crêpe plus drink) currently start from £4.45.

There is nothing quite like the crêpes served at La Crêperie de Sophie elsewhere in Cardiff. They offer a real lunchtime alternative to the usual sandwiches, baguettes and wraps.

Other Savoury Crêpes on the menu include The Barn (free range egg, cheddar cheese, red onion and rocket salad) and L’Atlantic (smoked salmon, herby cream, red onions, rocket salad and balsamic dressing).

The Sweet Crêpes selection includes all the classics, alongside some of Loïc’s own inventions. The Brittany includes sliced banana, home-made Caramel Breton, crushed biscuits and “Chantilly” cream. Typical ingredients include chocolate, Nutella spread, fresh fruit, nuts, cream and liqueurs. Sophie’s – A Love Story combines Belgian chocolate (or Nutella or Caramel) with fresh strawberries, cream and flaked almonds.

La Crêperie de Sophie hopes to get a license to sell alcohol shortly, so you’ll be able to enjoy cider from Brittany with your crêpes.

Eating crêpes on plates at La Crêperie de Sophie is a different experience from eating them take-away at outdoor events. On a plate, they look a picture (particularly a seasonal fresh fruit one that arrived at an adjacent table). They are crisper and give more scope for ingredients and innovation.

A special Olympics-themed menu will run during the London 2012 Games this summer. We’ll be back to try some Sweet Crêpes, and see what Loïc has dreamed up on the sports theme. My daughter reckons there will be no problem running off excessive crêpe calories around the track!

La Crêperie de Sophie
16 High Street Arcade
Cardiff CF10 1BB

Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm. Sun 10am-4pm
Tel: 08454757508

Monday, 9 July 2012

Cardiff International Food Festival 2012

This year’s Cardiff International Food Festival (6-8 July) was one of the best yet. Around 100 exhibitors attended, with stalls in Roald Dahl Plaza, in front of the Pierhead Building, and along toward the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay. The food available ranged from Welsh venison burgers and Glamorgan Vale hog roast to French-style crepes and a Taste of Persia.

There was a strong programme of events in the John Lewis Food Theatre. Highlights included Chef Anand George, owner of Purple Poppadom, cooking up some nouvelle Indian dishes from the celebrated restaurant’s new menu; Norman Musa demonstrating Malaysian dishes; and Angela Gray showcasing the afternoon tea menu at Llanerch Vineyard.

Chef Richard Yearnshire demonstrated some items from the Tempus at Tides menu (St David’s Hotel): Baked cod fillet and sweet chilli crust, pea and mint risotto, followed by Tiramisu. Samples were snapped up smartly by the audience.

Three dishes from the Laguna Kitchen in Park Plaza Cardiff were demonstrated by Chef Justin Llewellyn. His Bruschetta included heritage tomatoes, chorizo sausage, mozzarella balls and sourdough bread. Justin extolled the virtues of Welsh rapeseed oil, which was used liberally instead of olive oil (it has half the saturated fat of olive oil and is rich in 3-omega). Tuna Niçoise was made with seared but practically raw sushi-grade tuna, Jersey Royal potatoes, quail eggs in breadcrumbs, anchovies, black olives, green beans, samphire and rocket cress. At Lugana, this dish is served on a slate with a wedge of lime.

There seemed to be a lack of coordination between the different chefs. On Saturday, for instance, three different versions of Eton Mess were made. My favourite was by Jane, the John Lewis chef, whose version was made using rhubarb.

Apart from Eton Mess, what’s in this year? Well, anything that’s gluten-free it seems. I have never before seen such a concentration of food businesses promoting gluten-free ranges.

I liked the central positioning of the music bandstand this year. Pick of the cats for me were Zervas and Pepper, excellent as always, and Funhouse, who had their audience dancing in the rain with their infectious ska music.

The Cardiff International Food & Drink Festival is part of the wider Cardiff Festival. Still to come is The Harbour Festival (31 Aug – 2 Sept) on the same site, which features The British Fishcraft Championships (which may partly explain the very few fish and seafood exhibitors at the Food Festival).

Considered on its own, The Cardiff International Food & Drink Festival is not a Premier League event, such as Abergavenny or Cowbridge, but it has firmly established itself as an essential date in the calendar and it gets a little bit better each year.

Cardiff Festival:

Monday, 2 July 2012

Summer Country Fair and Food Festival, Fonmon Castle

The weekend (June 30/July 1) saw the first Summer Country Fair and Food Festival at Fonmon Castle, in the Vale of Glamorgan. We went along before the crowds to see what was on offer (admission £6).

Fonmon Castle is one of the few mediaeval castles still lived in as a home, according to their brochure. It’s a homely sort of place, with Georgian interiors and pretty gardens, and a popular location for weddings. The Library was the location for the chef demonstrations.

We went to see Mr G (aka George Ikamba), owner and one of the cooks at Mr G’s Soul Kitchen in Bute Street, cook his Jamaican Jerk Chicken. His restaurant specializes in Caribbean cuisine; Jerk Chicken is one of their most popular dishes. Mr G put on some Bob Marley and got down to business. His Jerk Chicken marinade contains spring onions, red onion, pimento berries (allspice), ginger, bay leaf, thyme, ground nutmeg, a red scotch bonnet chilli (with seeds), salt and pepper, juice squeezed from a lime, orange juice, dark soy sauce, vegetable oil and rum. (A recipe was given in a recent newspaper article - see link below). All the ingredients are blended, before pouring over chicken legs as a marinade. The secret here is to peel the skin back and make deep incisions into the meat, massage the marinade into the chicken, and fold the skin back into place. Mr G had some chicken that had marinaded for 24 hours, which he fried up for us. It was the spiciest and most succulent jerk chicken I’ve ever tasted. The jerk sauce can also be used on other meats, fish and vegetables.

In another chef demonstration, Mint and Mustard were showcasing one of their fish curries (we’ll catch up with Mint and Mustard in a future post). There were also wine tastings, and presentations on cider and tea.

Cream teas were being served at the castle; we had coffee with slices of cake. We also took a pleasant walk around the gardens, including the extensive kitchen garden.

There were two marquees devoted to food and drink in the large field (also the site of The Vale of Glamorgan Show later in the year), along with a range of stand-alone stalls and vans, a “Champagne marquee” with live music, and a craft fair marquee.

We bought cheese from three different stalls. From Caws Cenarth: Cennin Cenarth (made with leeks and white wine), Caws Cryf, and Golden Caws; the latter a semi-soft cheese that we will bake. Snowdonia Cheese had an interesting range of flavours, including mild cheddar with chocolate chips. The milk chocolate had a similar texture to the creamy cheese, but I remain to be convinced on this one. I bought one of my favourites from Snowdonia instead: Smoked Cheddar. Another stall was selling two very distinctive cheddars from nearby dairies in Somerset, both of which have been making cheddar for at least 100 years. Worthy Farm Mature Cheddar (Shepton Mallet) was rich and smooth, though we opted for the harder and stronger Green’s Organic Cheddar (from near Glastonbury).

Vegetarians were well served at this Food Festival. The Ethical Chef was cooking up halloumi, mushrooms and courgettes for burgers. Meanwhile, we stocked up for a couple of dinners at The Parsnipship: Thai Chickpea Cake; Glamorgan Crumble; Beetroot, Sesame Seed and Cumin Bombe; Brie, Pea, Lemon and Nettle Pasty Pie; and Roasted Butternut and Herb Polenta.

Next door to The Parsnipship was food of a very different complexion. Chipstix are a new catering van concept, whereby potatoes are cut into spirals in a special machine, spread along a stick and seasoned with one of a range of flavours from a jar, and then deep-fried. Hot, but cooling quickly, and somewhat gimmicky. The Gloucestershire-based company is looking to expand, with their Chinese-imported Caterpods™ expected to be at many festivals this summer. The company is looking for operators. They boast “huge gross profit potential,” not surprising as one medium-sized potato can be sold for up to £3 (£2.50 at this show).

There were three small breweries among the stallholders. A pint of draught Gold Beacons from Brecon Brewing slipped down nicely; a bitter for those who like their bitter bitter. Untapped and Vale of Glamorgan Brewery were also selling their bottled ales.

There was some fine-looking meat from Penlan Uchaf Gardens in Pembrokeshire, where Longhorn cattle graze. Eric Smith the butcher from Llantwit Major was selling home-made sausages in front of his distinctive grass-covered van (the grass is artificial, by the way, though the sausages are the real deal).

The full range of exhibitors can be found on the Welsh Country Fairs website. We bought some sourdough bread from Tortoise Bakery and went home to eat some bread-and-cheese.

The Food Festival calendar in South Wales is fairly crowded, but most events are in the late summer/autumn. Welsh Country Fair organizer Kim Dowdell has opted for an early summer gap in the market, while giving the non-food Country Fair elements (e.g., fashion, jewellery, wood and glass crafts, live music etc) equal billing. However, the food is definitely the main draw at this event. As we were leaving, the cars were queuing back across the bridge to get in. It looked like a big success for Fonmon Castle. With plenty of room to expand in the large field near the castle, I am sure this is an event that we’ll be seeing here again.

Selected links:

Welsh Country Fairs:

Fonmon Castle, Barry CF62 3ZN (01446 710206)

Mr G’s Soul Kitchen, 106 Bute Street, Cardiff Bay CF10 5AD (029 2132 8969):

Mr G’s Jerk Chicken recipe:

Caws Cenarth Cheese:


Brecon Brewing: