Saturday, 22 October 2016

da Mara, Cyncoed, Cardiff Italian restaurant review

One of the proudest moments of my 33 years on this planet was seeing my name in print as Wales’s regional “expert” in Where to Eat Pizza, Phaidon’s guide to the world’s best pizza, which was published earlier this year .

If I never see my name in a publication again I’ll die a happy man. Even if it means my food-based re-working of JD Salinger’s classic, Gherkin in the Rye, never sees the light of day.

One of Wales’s esteemed pizzerias which made it into the guide was Anatoni’s in Cyncoed. Their Neapolitan style wood-fired pizza oven was a thing of beauty and so were their pizzas.

However, an unfortunate coincidence meant that Anatoni’s relaunched and rebranded as da Mara in pretty much the same week as the book was released. As a result, pizza lovers from around the world arriving in Cardiff on the back of the book may well be wondering whatever happened to Anatoni’s?

Thankfully, the Anatoni's team are still very much involved in running da Mara.

They’ve also got a brand new hand built wood-fired Steffano Ferrara pizza oven which they’ve imported from Naples.

And, I’m delighted to report that their pizzas are better than ever.

As part of their relaunch, da Mara gained an alcohol license and expanded their menu to include pastas, meat and fish dishes.

Ice cold Sardinian Ichnusa lager (£3.80) and a Peroni red (£3.80) were knocked back with ease.

Linguine ai frutti di mare (£7.75) comprised of al dente pasta, tender squid, salty clams and plump cherry tomatoes in a sauce packed with garlic, chilli, parsley and tomato. It was marred slightly by shrivelled mussels and a couple of rogue pieces of broken shell in the sauce.

Something as simple as a tricolore salad (£6.95) lives or dies by the quality of its ingredients. In this case, some of them were a bit of a let down. Creamy buffalo mozzarella, crispy parma ham and basil infused olive oil were all excellent. But, tomatoes lacked flavour whilst avocado slices were disappointingly underripe.

Onto the main event, and our pizzas were both humdingers.

The leopard spotted cornicione (rim), the light base with a delicate chew, the fresh tomato sauce made with San Marzanos and the creamy mozzarella were all on the nail.

Mrs G’s was topped with potent, unctuous nduja sausage (£9.95).

My carrettiera (£11.95) was topped with Anise twanged sausage, wilted spinach and the light warmth of chilli.

My dessert was pretty average. A couple of runny cream filled profiteroles (£3.75) were enrobed in a tiramisu-like topping flavoured very lightly with hazelnut and served with a pot of cream on the side. It was all just a bit creamy.

In contrast, a couple of scoops of stracciatella and hazelnut ice cream (£3) were both beautifully smooth and had bags of flavour.

A trip to da Mara is undoubtedly worth it to try their excellent pizzas alone.

On this showing, the rest of their menu is a bit more of a mixed bag.

The Details:

Address - da Mara, 25 Clear Water Way, Lakeside, Cardiff, CF23 6DL 
Web -
Telephone - 02920 765419

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Thai Lounge, Whitchurch, Cardiff restaurant review

Located on Whitchurch’s main drag, Thai Lounge is one of the stalwarts of the Cardiff restaurant scene. It’s certainly been around longer than my blog has existed and I’ve only ever heard good things about the place. So, I thought it was about time I paid them a visit. 

Ascending the staircase into the upstairs restaurant we were faced by a buzzing dining room and a glimpse into an open kitchen emanating all kinds of lovely aromas.

A mountain range of mixed prawn crackers (£3.50) were served warm out of the fryer. They were served with a reassuringly un-gloopy sweet chilli sauce.

Ice cold Singhas were seen off in a couple of gulps. As the designated driver (again), I had to make do with one whilst Mrs G worked her way through a bevy.

To start, Khanom Jeep (£6.50) were decent but a touch bland. The quartet of steamed dumplings comprised of thin cases nestling a minced prawn and chicken filling. They were pepped no end up by dipping them in a sweet soy and garlic sauce.

Yum Nuea (£9.95), a Thai beef salad (a main on the menu but ordered as a starter), was far more impressive. Super tender steak slices combined with cucumber, spring onions, tomatoes, shallots, coriander and mint in a dressing which hummed with chilli, lime, garlic and the umami hit of fish sauce.

Mains were both ace.

A lamb Massaman curry (£10.95) saw pieces of yielding meat and soft potatoes in a deeply spiced sauce heady with peanuts and garnished with toasted cashews. It’s always my preferred option over red and green curry and this example didn’t disappoint.

Gad Pad Bai Krapraw (£9.95) meanwhile was a whopping portion of flavour-saturated minced chicken tossed through with al dente green beans in a soy and chilli-based sauce. Leaves of wilted basil which topped the dish brought welcome fragrance to proceedings.

A heaped bowl of sticky jasmine rice was plenty for two people (£3.50).

Stuffed to the gills we passed on dessert and headed out into the crisp Autumn night.

Thai Lounge is a lovely restaurant and from the Thursday evening full house, it’s clear they’ve got a loyal following. If you’re looking for good Thai comfort food then it’s well worth checking out.

The Details:

Address -  Thai Lounge, 73B Merthyr Road, Whitchurch, Cardiff CF14 1DD
Web -
Telephone - 02920 611222