Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Welsh Wines: Ancre Hill Estates

We are drinking Welsh wines on the Food Blog. That is more of a challenge than you might think, because there are now around twenty Welsh vineyards producing a range of different wines.
Only about 1% of wine consumed in the UK is home-produced. However, climate change (milder winters and extended summers) is favouring wine production. Meanwhile, in Wales at least, local and regional produce is increasingly sought-after in restaurants and shops. Therefore, the market for Welsh wines could significantly expand in the future.

This week, we have been drinking White and Rosé wine (both 2010) from the Ancre Hill Estates vineyard, supplied by Fine Wines Direct (Penarth Road, Cardiff).

Ancre Hill Estates was the first wine to be recognized in the Wales the True Taste Awards. In 2010-2011 (Wine, Spirit and Other Alcohol category), Ancre Hill won a Gold Award for their 2009 Medium Dry White and a Bronze Award for their Rosé.

The White (11% ABV) is made using Seyval Blanc and Madeleine Angevine grapes. We found it to be dry, sharp and crisp. The taste was particularly clean, with pleasing citrus (limey) and elderflower notes. A good wine to pair with fish.

The Rosé (11% ABV, £12.79) is made from Seyval blanc and Triomphe grapes. We found it sharp and very fruity. I detected lots of strawberry. There were also floral and citrus notes. This was particularly refreshing when well-chilled. I usually consider rosé to be almost an aperitif, but this one stood up very well to mildly spicy food.

Both the White and Rosé sell for £12.79 a bottle.

Ancre Hill Estates also produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sparkling White and Sparkling Rosé wines, on a south-facing slopes in the Wye Valley just outside Monmouth. You can visit the vineyard during the summer months for lunch and tours.

The high quality of Welsh wines, such as Ancre Hill Estates, may surprise you if you've not tasted them before. Now is a good time to start checking out what the emerging wine nation of Wales has to offer.

Ancre Hill Estates
Richard and Joy Morris, Ancre Hill Vineyard, Monmouth NP25 5HS
01600 714151

Fine Wines Direct
242 Penarth Road, Cardiff CF11 8TU
029 2078 7500
Welsh wine:

Previously, on the Food Blog
Cock Hill from Bryn Ceiliog Vineyard, Vale of Glamorgan:

The Ancre Hill Estates wines reviewed here were supplied free of charge by Fine Wines Direct.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Welsh Menu Live, Swansea

The Welsh Menu Live (25-27 August 2012) is the first food festival to be staged in Swansea for many years. Swansea Market ("established 800 years") used to hold a food festival. This modern revival similarly champions local produce and independent local traders. I attended this afternoon (Sunday).

The Welsh Menu Food Theatre is located in The Dragon Hotel. Here, I saw Luke Thomas cook Welsh lamb with summer vegetable fricasse, braised lettuce and goats cheese. For the past six months Luke has been Head Chef at Sanctum on the Green in Berkshire; at 18 he's the youngest Head Chef in Britain. He passed on some useful tips. Wine Merchant N.D. John paired his food with a Martinez Lacuesta Rioja Crianza (plenty of oak, I do like a good Rioja).

A late addition to the programme proved to be my highlight of the day: Andrew Hanson (pictured) from the nearby Chelsea Café cooked poached salmon, risotto, scallops, asparagus and buerre blanc. Fish is a key feature of his restaurant's menu. There were generous portions for the audience afterwards; it tasted great. I'll definitely be cooking my salmon and scallops more delicately in the future.

The programme of chef demonstrations tomorrow (Monday) includes Bryan Williams and Anand George (from Cardiff's Purple Poppadom).

Elsewhere, the event centred on Castle Square (pictured). There was live music of a nostalgic variety (below the big screen showing the Aviva Athletics from Birmingham) and several food stalls.

I had a gourmet burger from the Got Beef bus: a Soprano (with chorizo, bacon, jalapeno mayo and mozzarella cheese). Some of the ingredients in their burgers (e.g., pesto, beetroot puree) seemed a bit "out there" (although fried onions and relish usually does it for me), but there was no doubting the quality of their Welsh black beef. Other "Live Street Feast" caterers offered hog roasts, a Taste of Persia, and ice cream.

The relatively small number of producers in the festival's pavilions was a little disappointing. However, there are lots of competing events and markets this weekend. The meats, seafood, cakes, cider and wines that were on offer looked good. Wales’ largest indoor market is nearby.

The Welsh Menu Live food festival marks the launch in June of the Welsh Menu Website, which promotes local and regional food and drink within Wales.

The Welsh Menu

Swansea Market / Marchnad Abertawe

Hanson at the Chelsea

Got Beef



Friday, 24 August 2012

Entrecôte Café de Paris, Cardiff Bay

The deep-fried pigs’ ears were complimentary, with some gherkins. A sophisticated take on pork scratching and with a spicy coating, but I am afraid we did not consume all these.

This was in Entrecôte, which opened earlier this summer in Mermaid Quay. There’s an impressive view of Cardiff Bay from its upper floor location. Owner Babak Arabestani has created a traditional French dining experience in his Café de Paris.

My starter (entrée) was Parisienne-style gnocchi with Mornay sauce and air dried ham. This type of gnocchi is made using choux pastry and parmesan, the resulting dough being briefly poached and then oven-baked in Mornay sauce (an egg yolk and Gruyère cheese enriched béchamel sauce). It was a rich and satisfying gratin.

Hot goats cheese crottin, ficelle bread and artichoke purée was my partner’s choice. This was an attractive construction, with the French bread shadowed by a dark olive tapenade and with a sprig of lettuce decorating the pyramid of crottin (a French goat’s cheese) and vegetable purée.

My main (plat principal) was the Slow-cooked salmon with pommes purée, buerre blanc, capers and samphire. Disappointingly, the samphire was replaced with three green beans; although it should still be in season. There could be no complaints about the fish, however, which was moist and full of intensified flavour. The creamy potato bordered on vegetable.

The Braised shoulder of lamb, Toulouse sausage and cauliflower purée, which was my partner’s choice, looked intriguing. The meat was shredded and reconstructed into a tower. It had a great flavour. There was a rich jus and some couscous. We both agreed that the noble Cauliflower does not deserve to be puréed.

Entrecôte made a pleasant and enjoyable change for us and it seems to do what it does rather well, although this style of cooking is not really our thing. We prefer our vegetables, for instance, plentiful and less processed. There is too much puréeing going on here for our taste. We have noticed this before in sophisticated French restaurant (home-style French cooking is, of course, a different matter).

With a couple of glasses of merlot and coffees our bill came to £54.78 (including the service charge).

You could seriously splash-out in Entrecôte, especially if you happen to be on an expense account (like some of our fellow diners). You can buy sevruga and ossetra caviar (£65 and £85 per 30g, respectively), for instance, with champagne to accompany (£19.50 up to £295.00 for Louis Roderer Cristal Vintage 2004).

On the other hand, if you’re on a budget, you could come here for breakfast or a lunch deal to enjoy the relaxed ambience and a taste of Paris.

Entrecôte Café de Paris, Upper Unit 9, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay CF10 5BZ


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Creating a Community Garden 3

In a couple of previous posts (links below) I outlined how to go about turning an area of wasteland into a Community Garden. In particular, our project involves taking an abandoned play area in Dinas Powys (between Nightingale Place and Sir Ivor Place) and turning it into the Dinas Powys Community Growing Area.

The project was initiated and is being steered by Elizabeth Millard, Chair of the Dinas Powys Residents’ Group, and Councillor Keith Hatton (Plaid Cymru). Rob McGhee of Creative Rural Communities (Vale of Glamorgan Council) is project-managing:  that’s him on the left in this picture of the trio photographed on the site this week.

I previously reviewed the type of grants available in the Vale of Glamorgan for this type of project (they may be similar in other parts of the UK). A couple of weeks ago the project was awarded £28,000 by Tidy Towns Wales, a Welsh Assembly government initiative that funds community projects aiming to improve the quality of the environment.

Earlier this week, Emma Hancock met Rob, Elizabeth, Keith and I on the site. Emma is a Landscape Architect working within the Planning and Transportation Department of the Vale of Glamorgan Council. Among her tasks will be to look at Utility Plans (e.g., to decide on the best route to bring water pipes to the site) and to oversee the work of contractors.

A contractor - Gerald Davies - has been chosen from among those who put in estimates/bids for the work. The company has experience of similar work around the Vale.  Work can start after the bird nesting season, and the contractors are expected to be on the site by the end of October. Firstly, part of a wall will be taken down to allow vehicle access from Sir Ivor Place (the wall will be rebuilt afterwards). The rubber and concrete surfaces will then be broken up and removed, topsoil will be put down, and a security fence erected around the site.

Before the contractors start work, however, there will be an initial clearance day to cut back overgrown hedges etc. This will be held on Saturday 20 October, starting at nearby Youldon House around 10.30 am. Everyone is welcome (bring tools!); it will be an opportunity for those interesting in having a plot on the community garden to meet and find out more. Creative Rural Communities will be there with plans of the garden, which will include communal areas and individual plots. It will also be the first step in forming a Management Committee for the long-term maintenance of the community garden.

The Dinas Powys Community Garden has the backing of Community Foodie, a project under the umbrella of Creative Rural Communities and the Vale of Glamorgan Council, to identify, develop and support community food growing. Their aim is to strengthen communities by increasing the amount of food produce grown and consumed locally, to develop skills (e.g., local schools will be invited to participate in the project), to promote healthy lifestyles, and to bring people together. With a bit of luck, the Dinas Powys Community Growing Area will achieve all these things.

I will post again shortly, with a more detailed look at the plans for the site.

Previous Dinas Powys Community Garden posts:

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Festival Food: Green Man 2012

The best thing I ate at Green Man 2012 was probably the Spicy Lamb Bourek from Moorish: North African & Arabic Souk Food. It was a deep-fried filo-pastry parcel containing meat and goats cheese; served with a spicy tomato and pepper sauce, and salad (£7).

This was the tenth Green Man Festival. It has one of the most beautiful festival sites in the UK, on the Glanusk Estate in the Black Mountains of Wales.

Highly recommended are the home-made falafels served in the Chai Shop Organic tent. We shared a falafel platter (£8).

Chai Shop were again in prime spot on the top of the slope looking down to the main stage. In the nearby corner, in what seems to have become a guest spot, was Vegetarian Mexican, who did a good curry (there’s a whole family buying and sampling food here, not just me).

An interesting addition this year was Trealy Farm. They sold bread and smoked meats. I would like to see Green Man include more Farmers’ Market stalls, selling fresh fruit, breads, cheeses and meats; maybe even a Farmers’ Market area.

We have an annual trip to the Pieminister van at the Green Man. This year we bought Moo Pie! and Chicken of Aragon (made with tarragon) pies.

Our final evening meals were pretty good too. Bake and Stew in the courtyard served up an appetising Malaysian Chicken, while the ever-reliable Paella concession at the back of the main arena hit the mark with its chicken paella.

My breakfast coffee, as in previous years, was from the Community Café run as a fund-raiser by the local Cwmdu church and school (see link below); they also do good-value bacon baps.

Also enjoyed were ice creams from Shepherds of Hay-on-Wye, who use sheep’s milk in their ice creams. My choice of flavour was the coffee and hazelnut (our youngest, predictably, went for the chocolate).

My food was washed down with real ales from the bar, mainly the festival’s own brew – growler from Wye Valley Brewery) - and some Otter ale.

Among my music highlights this year were Van Morrison, King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Feist, Dexys, The Walkmen and Michael Kiwanuka.

My Review of Green Man 2011 (last year) for Buzz:

More Green Man Festival Food

Cymdu School:

Iechyd Da:

Goan Seafood Company:

Hall’s Dorset Smokery:

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Merrie Harrier, Llandough

The Merrie Harrier is the first pub in the Vale of Glamorgan you encounter on leaving Cardiff along the Penarth Road or from Cardiff Bay, and it’s located on one of the Vale’s busiest road junctions. It’s probably the least scenic location of all the pubs on this tour. Well, that’s the main negative - because everything else is pretty positive in this large and popular Brains pub.

There’s a huge food menu. In fact, there are two menus running at the moment: a standard Brains’ printed pub menu in conjunction with the pub’s own menu on the blackboards. The management are in the process of switching over to the latter.

On our first trip to The Merrie Harrier this year, we went for a 2-for-£10 lunch menu. I had the curry of the day (actually a choice of half-a-dozen curries of the day): chicken and coconut with half/half rice and chips. The rice and the chips were good, thought the poppadom was not the best. The rice was useful to soak up the curry, which was the opposite of dry. My partner had the lamb rosemary burger. Good-sized portions.

We returned in a group on an evening recently, to sample some of the unique dishes on the specials boards. Typical items include Peppered duck breast, with mushroom risotto cake, baby spinach and redcurrant jus (£12.95); Seared chicken breast with rice noodles and cherry tomatoes, shallots, chilli oil and rocket (£9.95); Poached salmon steak, ratatouille, new potatoes and green salad (£9.95); Smoked salmon and crab parcels, with toasted crumpets, chilli oil and balsamic reduction (£12.95).

My Braised brisket of beef, pineapple salsa, special fried rice and creamy Moroccan sauce (£9.95), promised more than it delivered. The meat was good, if a little dry. The rice and the creamy sauce not quite special or distinctive enough, leaving the tangy pineapple salsa doing all the work. Enjoyable though.

Pork loin steaks, mustard mash, fine green beans and red wine jus (£9.95) was a more successful unification of ingredients. The pub favours sauces served in white gravy boats. In this case, the jus was just the thing to bring the plate to a satisfactory conclusion.

Tuna steaks came with asparagus and avocado couscous, creamy pepper sauce and green salad (£9.95). This was the pick of the mains we ordered, with no-nonsense slabs of tuna and a successful pepper sauce combination.

There was also a chicken fajita on our table, which was not sizzling on arrival but was plentiful and apparently very good. There is a whole blackboard of vegetarian options, with some novel touches.

It’s an adventurous menu, which is good to see. The food is very much pub food, rather than restaurant food, but offers something a little different.

The Merrie Harrier prides itself on well-kept beers. There’s the usual line of Brains beers on draught. I had a pint of the Brains IPA (ABV 3.4%) on our first trip, which has only recently become available on draft, and Brains SA on our return (no Rev James though).

It might not look like an archetypal village pub, but there is a lively sense of community. There’s a dart board, occasional live music, and a pub quiz on Sundays. Large parties can be catered for because of its size, a local community club were celebrating when we were there.

An old photograph inside the pub, taken around the 1960s, shows the building before it was extended, with just a small traffic roundabout outside. Today, there’s a complicated series of traffic lights, an ill-conceived bus lane, and guaranteed tailbacks on at least one of the approaches.

The pub has a beer patio out back (and a couple of tables out front during the summer), where smokers can congregate. What a turn-around: it used to be you went outside for some fresh air from smoke-filled pubs, but nowadays pub gardens are smoky (doubly so in this case, because of the traffic fumes) and you go inside for some fresh air!

The Merrie Harrier
Penlan Road, Llandough, Vale of Glamorgan CF64 2NY
(029) 2030 3994

The Vale of Glamorgan pub tour 2012:

The Pelican in her Piety:

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