Maria’s Greek Meze Bar Taverna

Greek cuisine has undergone a bit of a renaissance in Cardiff since the closure of earlier incumbents Hasapiko, and the Aegean Taverna, both of which had mixed reviews. Now, the Hellenic Eatery and street food regulars Meat & Greek have a strong fan base, and rightly so. Surely the addition of another entrant into the scene, although surprisingly a few doors away from Hellenic Eatery, can only be a good thing especially if it can match the other two in terms of taste and offering. Right?

The white and light blue interiors lends it a beachside café feel (good thing) although I thought the tables were a bit too closely packed in. The menu is comprehensive, with an array of meze (smaller plates) options, as well as the regulars like Souvlaki and Moussaka. We kicked things off by working through most of the meze menu.

Spanakokroketes (£5.50), spinach croquettes, had a good crispy exterior that gave way to an oozy interior speckled with spinach leaves.

Salt cod fritters, Croketes Bakaliaro (£4.90) unfortunately lacked flavor, especially the garlic dressing which was surprisingly listless.img-20180426-wa0007.jpg

A bowl of crispy calamari (£5.90) was excellent, with a perfect squidgy texture, and combined well with a creamy potent aioli.

Pan fried sizeable slabs of halloumi (£3.80) did look the part with a crisp exterior but  was a touch too tough and chewy.

Spetsofai (£6) saw a good flavoured spicy Greek sausage mixed with peppers but unfortunately, the red wine sauce was a bit too greasy.

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Pork Souvlaki (£11.5) was ace, with cubes of tender grilled pork carrying a crisp fatty lining. Accompanying chunky chips were good although lacked the crispness that one comes across quite often these days (especially of the triple cooked variety).

It was a great shout by Craig to order a tzatziki (£3.95) dip as a) it was banging; and b) the pork definitely needed a bit of sauce.
On the basis of this visit,  Maria’s was a mixed bag. I’m not sure it quite matches its competitor up the road but mind you, they had only been open for a couple of weeks. After a subsequent visit, Andy mentioned that the gyros were definitely worth ordering. There is enough choice to keep everyone interested, and on the basis of that souvlaki and calamari, this Greek independent is definitely worth a visit.

The details:

Address: Maria’s, 68 Crwys Road, Cardiff CF24 4NP

Tel: 02921 151268

Web: https://www.facebook.com/mariasmezebar

 

 

 

 

 

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Purple Poppadom – Taster Menu

If suggestions were sought for a good Indian restaurant in Cardiff, more often that not, Purple Poppadom (PP) will make the cut. By avoiding your standard curry house fare and offering an interesting take on authentic dishes, chef Anand George and his team has successfully built up a loyal fan base in Cardiff and beyond. I wasn’t too impressed with my last visit to PP over a couple of years ago when the tasting menu at the time, in my opinion, had more misses than hits. How did this visit pan out then, when we went to try another 7 course taster menu?

Three different fritters of light and airy but tad oily spinach, baycorn and potato was served up as the amuse bouche, with the spinach version being the pick of the bunch for me.

The fish course then raised the bar by several levels, with a coriander dressing sea bream carrying intense flavour accompanied by spicy prawns with a hint of tamarind. A light coconut milk sauce did well to neutralise some of the spice and complement the flavours.

Mini naan breads were ideal to mop up some of the sauce although it did dry out a bit too soon.
A trio of starters all hit the mark. A tandoor grilled chicken piece was succulent and combined well with mint chutney.

The lamb pattice was meaty and packed tightly in a crispy breadcrumb coating.

The chaat was incredible and this is great praise for someone who isn’t a big fan of chaat usually; the main reason being the creamy coconut filling in it rather than the usual tamarind flavoured water.

Chilli chicken was a slight disappointment, with the exterior of some pieces being slightly overcooked. Although the crispy kale wasn’t sour, the combination didn’t quite work for me. The mini naans were again soft and slightly flaky at first touch but then dried out pretty soon.

Tender chunks of beef with a hit of garlic and coconut was flavoursome and a truly authentic version of the dish you’d find in households in Kerala. Crunchy potatoes and sticky lentil rice worked well too and was great to mop up the sauce.

The sorbet was definitely not a looker but was pleasantly tasty and refreshing. The coconut water and Malibu concoction was the perfect palate cleanser.

A trio of desserts brought the proceedings home quite nicely.

The rose petal crème brulee was ace; if you like rose milk, then this will be right up your sleeve. The rich Belgian chocolate ganache in a crispy samosa was lip smackingly good. The only disappointment was the caramelised banana which didn’t bring anything to the party unfortunately.
The setting is fairly plain and simple, a bit too clinical if one were to be critical. Perhaps, the aim to come across as a fine dining space does take away some of the warmth and laidback atmosphere that I prefer when eating out.

Despite a couple of misses, this menu is a good example of why PP receives its plaudits. As we dined on a Travelzoo voucher which offered it at half price, it was great value for the cooking and flavours on show (although I personally think it is a tad overpriced at the normal rate of £50).

The other gripe we had was how they charged a discretionary service charge on the full price although the voucher was already paid for. Yes, good service needs to be tipped (service was fair) but to include it is almost a sly way of forcing customers to pay for something that might not necessarily be warranted at all times.

A lot of what is cooked and presented at PP is authentic and the type of flavours one would expect at Indian homes. They deliver where it matters most, i.e. flavour and quality of cooking and that’s what makes them a cut above most Indian restaurants in the city.

The details:

Address: 185a Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff CF11 9AU

Hours: Tue to Sat – 12-2pm; 5:30-11pm; Sunday 1-9pm

Tel: 02920 22 026

Web: www.purplepoppadom.com

Dusty Knuckle Pizza

Dusty Knuckle has gone from strength to strength over the last 4 years or so and regularly feature in discussions about Cardiff’s strong pizza game. Following their success as a street food vendor, they set up shop about a couple of years ago in Canton, which I finally managed to visit this week. Weather wise, we couldn’t have picked a better day to be dining al fresco in their dining space.

Our best laid plans of going for a pizza each and an additional ‘table pizza’ were scuppered by the fact that they were running low on dough. In fact, shortages was a recurring theme on the evening as a couple of pizzas and starters were off the menu too. To be fair, they did seem short staffed and probably didn’t expect a Wednesday evening to be as busy as it turned out to be.

Malfatti (£6) which was a dish of soft and melt in the mouth spinach & ricotta dumplings got us off to a good start before the main event although I found the accompanying tomato sauce a bit too acidic.

My On speck (£13) pizza was a seasonal special that had speck, creamy gorgonzola and radicchio. This was a delicious affair in terms of the toppings and the flavour. The hang was perhaps too ‘floppy’ but that then gave it a soft oozy texture.

Personally, I thought the crust was a bit too thick but was cooked to perfection and didn’t go hard or snappy on resting. 
Both the lads enjoyed their pizzas. Craig’s Nduja (£11) did look the part, especially aided by a burrata perched in the middle.

Andy was very impressed with his Prosciutto (£13), remarking that it was probably one of the best places we have taken him too!
The wood fired pizzas did look the part although though they were smaller than the ones you get at Da Mara or Café Citta.
I really liked Dusty Knuckle. Delicious pizzas and the laid back atmosphere in an al fresco setting makes it a fab dining space especially in the summer. If you need any more reasons to go, they are dog friendly too!

The details:

Address: The Printhaus, 70a Llandaff Road, Cardiff CF11 9NL

Hours: Mon, Wed-Fri: 5-11pm; Sat-Sun: 12pm-11pm. Tue:closed

Tel: 079552 12075

Web: http://www.dustyknuckle.co.uk/

Curado Bar

I must start off by admitting that this is a bit of a weird one. Weird because a lot of the focus of Curado Bar is on the drinks but on this visit, neither of us had any alcohol. Moreover, I’m not a fan of beer and so wouldn’t be the right person to comment on the choices here anyway. I absolutely loved the pintxos on offer at San Sebastian, and indeed, did wash down some of it with either white wine or Basque cider. But this review focuses solely on the food offering at the Curado.

The thought of a pintxos style bar opening in Cardiff by the Ultracomida Group did excite me a lot last year. However, the opening coincided with our trip to the Basque region and having been solely on the cuisine for about a week, I thought I’d leave it a while before a visit to Curado Bar. Turns out, ‘a while’ turned into just over a year! The place is quite big, with room at the bar where you can see the counter dishes on offer, and table style seating upstairs. There is also a generously stocked deli by the entrance.

On the food front, there is a lot of choice. Alongside cured meats and cheeses, one can choose between the bar counter items (readily available) or made to order dishes – all of which are tapas sized portions or smaller (especially the counter options).

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A generous bowl of crispy breadcrumbed puntillas(£5) with a smooth and creamy aioli dip made for a moreish start to the proceedings, although it was a tad on the salty side.

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Patatas bravas (£5) were small disc shaped with a fluffy interior but could have done with a bit more crispness and crunch to the exterior. Accompanying mojo picon sauce (a relatively hot red pepper dip) and more of the creamy aioli combined well with the potatoes.

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Chorizo, pimiento y huevo (£3.5) was among the pick of the counter items we ordered, with the pimiento, quail egg and chorizo combining well and set atop a crispy bread that had been moistened with the toppings.

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On the other hand, sobrasada iberico (£3.5) was a tad too acidic for me, but H was a fan of the slight sweetness to the soft sausage lent by the honey drizzle.

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Escalivada y queso de cabra (£3.5) was a thing of beauty, with a chewy roasted aubergine carrying a strong flavour of crumbly goats cheese in every bite. Again, the bread with it had the right snap and complemented the dish well.

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Salpicon de pulpo (£3.5) tasted refreshing with generous chewy chunks of octopus mixed in a garlic and sherry vinegar dressing.

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A tortilla (£3.5) slice was well set with soft sliced potatoes although I prefer the slightly runny variety offered at Bar 44, or the legendary Bar Nestor version. Along with it came yet another pot of the creamy aioli which in my opinion should be a standard accompaniment with any dish!

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A soft eggy slice of Galician cheesecake provided a good, and fairly light ending to the meal.

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A glass of horchata provided ample cool refreshment in the muggy weather conditions, but had a slightly powdery after taste.

We only noticed the specials board when we were at the till downstairs settling the bill which was a slight disappointment (one would expect the waiting staff to mention it) as I probably would have ordered a couple of items on there. I can see the appeal of Curado Bar; it definitely offers something very different and is ideal if you are looking for a few light and quick bites to wash your beer down with whilst in town. On the basis of this visit, it might not quite match up to some of the tapas options served further along the road at Bar 44 but is definitely worth a visit if you are looking for authentic Spanish cooking.

The details:

Address: Curado Bar, 2 Guildhall Place, CF10 1EB

Hours: Sun to Fri, 12-11pm; Fri- Sat, 12pm-12am

Web: https://curadobar.com/

Oz Urfa – The Mesopotamian Brothers

There was a sizeable controversy on social media (and rightly so) when news broke out that one of the brothers behind Oz Urfa was going to be deported as a result of which the popular City Road Turkish restaurant was forced to close down. Loyal diners can now breathe easy as the brothers’ appeal against Home Office decision was successful and they have now reopened Oz Urfa on North Road.

Housed on the former site of the North Road Café, the interior design and layout is largely similar (with tables and chairs also replacing the couple of sofa style seating that was present in the café). Unfortunately, this isn’t actually a good thing as the place appears a bit too clinical or dull with excessively bright lighting and areas that could do with a lick of paint. Having said that, it is definitely roomier than the City Road site.

The menu comprises of a lot of Turkish meze and grilled meat classics, along with some clay pot casserole specials. They also do a Turkish version of a Sunday roast which sounds very appealing.

Stand out dishes in the mixed mezze for 2 (£8) include saksuka which was a spicy mixture of crushed peppers, potatoes and aubergines in a sundried tomato and garlic sauce, and haydari, home made yogurt mixed with mint and garlic.

A generous basket of airy and lightly crusty bread topped with crushed chillies and sesame seeds was ideal to mop up the mezze.

Borek (£3), the crispy filo pastry rolls with feta cheese and parsley were suitably moreish.

But then the pacanga borek (£4) took this to the next level with a slightly larger version that was stuffed with melted cheddar cheese and sucuk (spicy sausage). If you are ordering only one, definitely go for the latter.

Siverek (£11) was a dish of mixed grill meats – chicken shish, skewered lamb and lamb chops. The marinated chicken carried excellent flavour and was suitably tender. The sliced tender lamb had an undertone of garlic that brought out a very good flavour. Although soft and juicy, the lamb chop was the slight disappointment partly due to its fairly diminutive size.

A buttery, slightly sticky mound of rice flecked with chick peas was incredible, and combined with a complimentary dish of a sundried tomato and garlic yogurt sauce, rounded off this dish perfectly.

I did have serious food envy though when I tried H’s Iskender (£12) which saw slices of succulent minced lamb wrapped in bread and mixed with a creamy sundried tomato and yogurt sauce. Some of the sauce was soaked up by the mini lamb wraps rendering them rather soft and oozing with flavour.

Service was reliably fast and attentive. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Oz Urfa. Granted that the grilled meats at times were not quite at par with ones I’ve had at Shaam Nights but the interesting take on some of the dishes (notably the Iskender) and a range of tantalising options makes this a must visit place for those who like Turkish or Lebanese cuisine.

The details:

Address: 148-150 North Road, Cardiff CF14 3BH

Hours: Sun – Tues, 10am to 10pm; Wed – Fri, 10am to 11pm

Tel: 029 2062 0912

Snails Deli

What’s not to love about a well run neighbourhood café that focuses on fresh produce, good strong coffee and a cosy atmosphere to match? For a few years, I have heard the North Cardiff massive rave about Snails Deli and how it ticks all of the aforementioned boxes. My next door neighbour is an ardent fan too. So after about a year of moving in, I finally got to check out the place; in fact, a couple of times.

I can see why it wouldn’t be hard to while away the time at Snails; the atmosphere is inviting and cosy, with an eclectic mix of chairs, sofas, long tables, and bar stool style seating. Add to that, an outdoor seating area at the back would be ideal in the British summer (when it decides to turn up).

The menu has a good selection of breakfast and lunch sandwiches, home made quiches, meats and cheese at the deli counter, and daily specials.

A cup of flat white was suitably strong with an underlying roasted flavour and a smooth velvety texture. Nailed it as far flat whites go, being as good as the version brewed up at the Early Bird Bakery.
Ham and cheese quiche (£7.95) was one of the best I’ve had. Served warm,  this was a fairly sturdy slice with a crispy crust  that was perfectly baked with no wobbly texture or strong eggy flavours to it (a common failing of most quiches IMHO).

Generous chunks of ham were spread throughout the slice.

A variety of salad was served up too rather than the limp token leaves version one tends to commonly find. The pick of the bunch was a pesto dressed pasta salad, and a grated carrot and beans offering. Although at first glance, the price might sound steep, one does get a generous portion.
On another visit, I had a pulled pork wrap which was the special for the day. This was a bit more mixed; the succulent shredded pork was crying out for a bit more spice and flavour.

It is evident why so many people are fond of Snails. In an area which is crying out for more food places, this is a very good example of a café that’s got all the basics right, and has the cooking, feel and ambience to make one feel at home.

The details:

Address: 6-8 Beulah Road, Rhiwbina, Cardiff CF14 6LX

Hours: Mon to Fri, 7 30am – 5 30pm; Sat 7 30am to 4pm. Wed pizza nights from 5 45pm to 11pm (last orders 9pm)

Web: www.snailsdeli.com

 

Da Mara – Roath

Since my previous visit to Da Mara, they have moved to the heart of Roath / Penylan, on the site opposite Claude which dare I say it, did not bode well for eateries in the past (Il Pastificio, Café Rio etc.). However, based on my last visits and the solid fanfare that Da Mara have accumulated, we can hope that the curse of this unit is a thing of the past.

Calamari (£7.50) is often my go to starter option and the version here was spot on. Flaky and lightly crispy breaded exterior covered a squidgy (but not rubbery) interior. The accompanying creamy aioli was ace too although could have done with a bit more of it to mop up the generous portion of calamari.

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The pizza is the highlight here in my opinion and is cooked out of the impressive Neapolitan wood oven that they have brought from their previous premise. My Nduja pizza (£10.95) was bursting with heat and flavour from the soft minced spicy salami and basil, with a perfect hang to each slice. The crust here is slightly airy and raised, almost giving it a pan pizza look but the base is thin and soft.

H’s salami & caprine (£10.95) was even more impressive, with the oozing goats cheese lending more softness and flavour to the pizza. In fact, this was even better than the one I had on my previous visit where they had used blobs of goats cheese; this time around, it was more evenly spread giving it uniform flavour.

The in laws loved their Crudo & Rucola (£12.95) pizzas too which definitely looked the part, with hunks of prosciutto spread across the top. In fact, they spotted the diners next to us have it and didn’t even bother reading the rest of the menu.

An aromatic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (£20) with slight hint of berries and peppery notes was the perfect complement to the pizzas.

The slight downside is that we found the pizzas a tad too salty; water was our best friend once we got home.

It was great to see the place packed to the rafters on a Monday night and rightly so; the food and service was brilliant. Da Mara is definitely the pizzeria (can I call it that?) of choice in the suburbs. In fact, you’d struggle to find many places in Cardiff that can match up to the food dished out by these folks. Go, then go again (and again…).

The details:

Address: 2 Pen-Y-Lan Road, Cardiff CF24 3PF

Hours: Mon to Sat, 12-2pm; 5 30-10pm

Tel: 02920 482222

Web: http://www.damaracardiff.co.uk/menu/

Thé Pot Bistro

Thé Pot has been one of the longer standing and well established independents in the Cathays belt (previously located on Crwys Road). They started off serving breakfast and brunches before venturing into a French bistro inspired evening menu which has been extremely popular. Although I had been here previously during the day for some ace breakfasts, it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I finally got an opportunity to come here for an evening meal.

They do a midweek deal (Tue – Thu) of 2 courses and a glass of house wine for £20.95 (more on this later). We kicked things off with some light and airy crusty white bread and terrific marinated olives (£4.95), latter having a good smack of garlic and herbs.

The country terrine was a meaty and tightly packed concoction of pork, veal and chicken wrapped in bacon. This was an excellent example of a terrine and combined beautifully with a cool apple chutney which reminded me of a refreshing piccalilli. Broad bread sticks with a good snap served as a good base to hold the terrine.

A trio of lamb saw a juicy pink rump, a tender chop and a mini shepherds pie that worked well with the accompanying wild garlic and pea puree, and red wine jus. In fact, the puree with the rump was the star of the trio, with the shepherds pie being the relative disappointment. This was served with  Boulangere potatoes that reminded me of a non-creamy version of the dauphinoise variety. Again, combined with the red wine and puree, this whole plate was fabulous.

A few others on the table went for the Ox bourguignon which got a resounding rave verdict. The blue cheese and spinach sauce that came with the pan roasted chicken breast got a special mention too.

The only slight gripe I had about my visit here is how the set priced menu isn’t really one as three out of the six main meals (non-vegetarian) have a £3/£4 supplement on them. For the quality and taste of food, I still think it is reasonably priced but the offer can be a bit misleading especially when quite a few options carry the supplement.

Now that I have got it out of the way, I’d like to reiterate that we had a fab meal at Thé Pot. It is a great option if you are looking for a quality meal in a nice quaint setting.

The details

Address: 55 Whitchurch Road, Cardiff, CF14 3JP

Hours: Tue – Sat: 9am-3pm, 6pm-10pm; Sun 10am-4pm

Tel: 02920 611204

Web: http://www.thepotcafe.co.uk/

La Trattoria Molisana

With restaurant closures unfortunately being a rather common occurrence these days, it is heartening to see a small independent like La Trattoria Molisana withstand the pressures for over a decade. When I lived in Roath, I used to frequent this place fairly often, especially after a colleague once claimed that it served the best lasagne that he’s ever had. As it turns out, I’m rather partial to a good lasagne and hence, didn’t need much convincing to test his claim. And yes, I could see where he was coming from. I remember it being an excellent version of the dish (and was so in subsequent visits). I hadn’t been back in about 4 years until last week. So, was the lasagne still as good?

The dining space is quite simple, light and airy with wooden supporting beams and a dark wood effect to the ceiling. The menu comprises of all the classics you’d expect on an Italian restaurant menu here in the UK plus a few interesting dishes; blackened halibut being an example which I did try on a previous visit and was very good.

Plum and juicy tiger prawns were swimming in seriously garlicky butter. There was no holding back here in terms of the garlic but it worked well with the prawns.

Buffalo mozzarella salad saw soft slabs of creamy mozzarella with juicy tomatoes although accompanying lettuce was rather limp.

Needless to say, both of us ordered the lasagne. A generous slab of layered pasta and mince was surrounded by piping hot sauce.

The meat to pasta ratio was perfect, and the level of béchamel sauce was ideal; enough to give it a rich creamy texture but stopped at the point of being too sickly. The pasta sheets had a decent bite to it too.
Online reviews have been mixed but every visit of mine has only encountered a pleasant dining experience. It could also be because I tend to order the same thing in most visits. A quick glance around showed that most diners went for the pasta or meat and fish dishes on the menu which probably indicate that this is their forte rather than pizzas (available on the menu).

It is no surprise that La Trattoria Molisana has been going strong for so many years. If it is fairly simple but delicious food that you are after, you can’t go wrong with a visit here.

The details:

Address: Unit 11, The Globe Centre, Albany Road, Cardiff CF24 3PE

Hours: Tue to Sun: 12-2pm; 6-11pm

Tel: 0292047 1562

The Hare & Hounds, Aberthin

When done well, there are few settings better than having dinner at a local pub. And if it is one that has a key focus on food based on what produce they can get their hands on, you are usually onto a winner. For this reason, I have been wanting to visit The Hare and Hounds for over a year now and finally used a birthday meal as an excuse to head over for some grub.

Low lit rustic and cosy interiors, it seemed like a perfect setting on a cold winter night for a meal. Speaking of low lighting, I blame this for the pretty poor photos in this post (not that I need an excuse for my general shoddy camera skills).

Whilst waiting for our starters, we munched on some outstanding sourdough bread made on site. There was a plain salted version, and a brilliant one with butter, red onion, hafod cheese, rosemary and thyme. I could have eaten a loaf of this in one sitting.

Shredded crab (£8.2) on a wedge of malt sourdough toast was fresh and delicate; the soft meat combined well with the crunchy bread.

Pigs cheek (£7.9) was succulent but not too fatty and was mixed with very good crackling and slices of apple. The portion was just right too as get this wrong and you’d probably need a lie down.

A plate of hafod cheese biscuits flavoured with onion puree and chives was incredibly moreish. I wish they sold this in takeaway packets!

The main event took things up a notch further. We opted for the braised venison shoulder (£38 for 2) sharer. This had a rich flavour with strong undertones of the red wine, with the succulent meat falling off the bone with the slightest prodding by a fork.

Accompanying slices of dauphonise potatoes were soft but not too creamy and complemented the game flavours quite well.
The meal was washed down with a fairly full bodied glass of Gran Reserva Tinto which worked well with the meat.

Our biggest regret of the night was being too full to be able to order any dessert. We had decided on what we were going to have at the start but sadly, the venison did beat us. Oh well, it only means a repeat visit to sort this out.

We had a cracking meal at The Hare and Hounds. It is clear that a lot of thought goes into their menus and cooking. If you live in Cardiff, the short trek out to Aberthin is definitely worth it.

The details:

Address: Hare and Hounds, Maendy Road, Aberthin CF71 7LG

Hours: Wed to Sat: 12 – 2 30pm, 6 – 9pm; Sun 12 – 3pm

Web:     https://hareandhoundsaberthin.com/