Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Wylam Brewery at the Palace of Arts, Newcastle Sunday roast review

Wylam Brewery at the Palace of Arts in Newcastle is the most beautiful pub I’ve ever been to.

It would be worth a visit even if they only served warm pints of Stella and microwave pizzas.

Fortunately, Wylam is one of Britain’s best brewers. They knock out a cracking range of beers from the super hoppy Jakehead IPA to the lemony Hickey the Rake pale ale.

And, their hearty Sunday roasts have gained a bit of a reputation too. On the sunny Sunday we visited it was a full house. Reservations are essential. 

Wylam Brewery is located in the middle of Newcastle’s Exhibition Park in the Palace of Arts. It’s the only building that remains from the North East Exhibition of 1929, a world fair that was held to encourage local industry.

When I was growing up the building used to be a fusty tank museum. Wylam have done a beautiful job at refurbishing the place - the exposed brickwork, large windows and wood-panelling are all uber-sophisticated. And, the central function room with its domed ceiling is an absolute stunner. Mrs G and I are thinking of renewing our vows just so we can have a big shindig there. 

Drinks orders were taken at the table with a big selection of Wylam brews on tap. Mrs G kicked off with Swipe Right, an easy drinking session pale, whilst I had a Le Saissoner, a saison fragranced with a huge hit of lemon balm and rosemary.

Before the main event of the roast dinner, there are a small selection of starters on offer including cured meats and smoked salmon with chopped egg. However, as Mrs G and I had eaten a fifteen course meal the night before we thought it would be sensible to go straight onto mains.

My pork belly (£12) was a beaut. Tender of flesh, with well-rendered fat and the crispest of crackling, it was accompanied by a behemothic Yorkshire pudding, buttered cabbage and sweet carrot and turnip puree. Roast potatoes and parsnip were soft but could have been a touch crisper. 

Mrs G’s leg of lamb (£12) was also lovely. Tender and well-flavoured the only drawback was Mrs G wanted three slices instead of two.

It’s also worth mentioning the extra jug of seriously meaty, glossy gravy that was brought to the table without prompting. By the end of the meal Mrs G and I were spooning it into our mouths.

Desserts were also lovely. We paired them with a couple of sweet, fruity and hoppy imperial IPAs and double IPAs. For Mrs G a Blow Out IIPA and for me a Sticky Bud DIPA. 

A classic apple crumble (£5) with custard was inhaled by my father. Gluttony definitely runs in the family.

Mrs G and I shared a sticky toffee pudding sundae (£5). The soft, sweet sponge, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, custard and toffee sauce were all lovely. 

My brother and his wife shared the cheeseboard (£6). A quartet of lovely British cheeses were joined by pink pickles, chutney and a decent selection of crackers. 

Go to Wylam Brewery. Drink beer. Eat a roast dinner. You won’t be disappointed.

The Details:

Address - Wylam Brewery, Palace of Arts, Exhibition Park, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4PZ
Telephone - 0191 650 0651

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Humble Onion, Dinas Powys, Vale of Glamorgan restaurant review

What’s in a name?

Well not a lot really. You can get a vague impression of a restaurant from its name, from the insufferable Scoff and Banter to the classy Noble Rot. But places with shocking names can be brilliant and those that sound great can be a crushing disappointment.

The Humble Onion in Dinas Powys has a great name. It’s understated and gives the impression that its owners appreciate the most basic ingredients can be the most flavoursome. But, does the restaurant live up to its billing?

Run by a former chef from Pontcanna’s acclaimed Bully’s, the restaurant is hidden away behind The Star pub. If we didn’t know where we were going in advance then we’d have been looking for it for ages.

The Humble Onion’s concise menu reads well with its classic bistro dishes, some using understated ingredients like smoked mackerel and pig’s cheek.

Soft sourdough with treacly balsamic reduction and rapeseed oil (£4) was good but looked a bit ridiculous with its giant bowl for the oil and vinegar. 

The humble soup (£6.50) was a must order as the restaurant’s namesake dish. A stonkingly good onion soup was thick, meaty, sweet, savoury and packed with tender onion. A slice of melted comte was delicious but a bit awkward to eat as it slipped off in one go. 

Goat curd salad (£7.50) was a simple but tasty plate combining tangy and creamy curd, dressed leaves, crunchy walnuts, sweet sunblushed tomatoes and a runny boiled egg. 

A fillet steak (£27) was an absolute belter of a dish. The super tender, well-flavoured piece of beef was joined by an addictive Gentleman’s relish (i.e. a turbo-charged spiced anchovy butter), soft carrots and spinach, carrot puree and caramelised onions. 

Accompanying chips were as good as I’ve had in a very long time. Hyper crisp and fluffy there must have been some triple cooking involved.

My main was very good too. A burnished pork chop (£17.50) sat atop buttery potato puree was accompanied by sweet and delicately sour pickled red cabbage, a punchy green herb sauce and spring onions. 

For dessert, a passion fruit coulis elevated a lovely Eton mess (£6.50) made with crisp meringue and fluffy cream. 

A beautifully wobbly panna cotta (£7) was indulgently creamy and delicately fragranced with lemon. Accompanying lemon curd, raspberries and blackberry puree were bang on but a scattering of granola could have been a touch crisper. 

I really like the Humble Onion. The hearty food cooked with skill and the friendly service were both lovely. This is another good addition to the Vale’s dining scene.

The Details:

Address - The Humble Onion, Station Rd, Dinas Powys CF64 4DE
Telephone - 02920 514 900

Thursday, 6 July 2017

El Chilango, Cardiff Mexican pop-up restaurant review

I crave Mexican food during the balmy summer months - the light, fresh and citrusy flavours are a perfect pairing with an ice cold beer.

El Chilango are one of the newest additions to the Cardiff street food scene. They regularly ply their trade at Roath Market on a Saturday, Riverside Market on a Sunday and they’ve recently started doing kitchen take overs at the brilliant Small Bar in the city centre.

Ricardo the man behind El Chilango has a serious CV. He trained at one of Mexico City’s top cookery schools before spending four and a half years at Michelin-starred restaurants in Barcelona. With experience like that you know you're going to be in safe hands.

We dined al fresco at Small Bar during a recent three night stint. The menu was reassuringly compact with just four dishes. So, of course we ordered the lot.

Loaded nachos (£7) comprised of grease-free and corny home-made nachos topped with a well-balanced combination of melted cheese, tender black beans, chilli con carne, fiery jalapenos, light and citrusy guacamole and sour cream. Whilst so many plates of nachos are a heavy handed muddle of flavours, everything on this plate brought something to the party. 

Fish tacos (£7) saw golden flaky beer-battered cod on soft tortillas accompanied by smoky chipotle mayo, fresh pico de gallo (a salsa made from tomato, onion and coriander) and crisp cabbage. A squeeze of lime and a drizzle of citrusy green and fiery red salsas completed the dish. The funk of raw cabbage was the only element I wasn’t completely sold on - perhaps it would have benefited from a dressing. 

Tacos dorados (£6.50) were my pick of the meal - crisp cylindrical corn tortillas were filled with yielding shredded chicken and piled high with fresh lettuce, pico de gallo, tangy crumbled cheese and sour cream. A drizzle of the salsas and squeeze of lime added an extra dimension. 

The veggie version (£6.50) were just as good - filled with a mix of soft sweet potatoes, peppers and onions. 

We had a very good meal from El Chilango. And, it was made all the more enjoyable washed down with a killer selection of beers from Small Bar. Gorgeously tart Running Beer from Mills Brewing was my pick of the night.

We’ve also visited El Chilango for Saturday brunch at Roath Market where we had the chilaquiles verdes (£6). The homemade tortillas topped with salsa verde, fragrant refried beans, cheese, sour cream and an oozy egg were a lovely antidote to a heavy night. 

El Chilango are a refreshing addition to Cardiff’s food scene. I can’t wait to see what else Ricardo has up his sleeve.

The details:

Address - Various locations around Cardiff 
Web - (keep an eye on Twitter for their latest pop-up details) 

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Tyddyn Llan, North Wales Michelin-starred restaurant review

Old School.

That’s what Tyddyn Llan in Denbighshire is. From the Lladro sculpture collection, to the floral curtains, to the food, it’s the most traditional of Wales’s Michelin-starred restaurants.

The chef-patron is Bryan Webb, an old master of the British restaurant scene who previously ran London’s legendary Hilaire for fourteen years. He opened Tyddyn Llan in 2002 before picking up a Michelin star in 2010.

There are no foams, gels or unusual flavour combinations to be seen on the menu; just classic ingredient driven dishes cooked with French technique.

At dinner, Tyddyn Llan offer a 3 course dinner menu (£65), 6 course tasting menu (£75) and 9 course tasting menu (£90). We of course went for the 9 courser.

Canapes consisted of a lovely mini scotch egg with a sadly set yolk, a sweet caramelised red onion tart with proper flaky pastry, a cod fishcake loaded with parsley and a mini-round of smoked salmon filled with a dill-laced mousse. They were all super delicious but I’ve eaten something similar, if a lot less well executed, at many a canapé reception. 

A generous basket of white and wholemeal bread and crisp breadsticks were bang on. 

Asparagus soup kicked the meal off. It was lovely but another flavour or texture contrast would have added interest to the dish. 

A trio of first rate langoustine were served with fresh-flavoured guacamole and shavings of fennel and radish.

Foie gras and chicken liver parfait is one of Mrs G’s all time favourite dishes and this was the best example she’d ever eaten. These classics cooked faultlessly aren’t so bad after all. 

The parfait was joined by light toasted brioche and a great onion chutney.

I really enjoyed a burnished scallop that was topped with crisp pancetta crumbs and served with smooth cauliflower puree and a caper and raisin puree that had a good sweetness and sharpness.

Fresh asparagus with a savoury dice of St George’s mushroom and a crispy egg was lovely. There was just a lot of asparagus in proportion to the other elements on the plate.

A tender, crisp-skinned fillet of hake was accompanied by samphire and a butter sauce with and without the savoury hit of laverbread. I had this dish years ago when Webb did a guest chef night at Wales Millennium Centre. I loved it then and loved it this time too. 

For main course there was a choice of two dishes. Both were faultless pieces of cooking. A stellar piece of duck came with an offal rich duck faggot, a stack of confit potato flecked with even more duck, a dollop of uber buttery potato puree, wilted greens and a classy cider and apple sauce. It’s also worth noting the portion size for a tasting menu. Whopping.

My pair of lamb cutlets were also perfection. Served with a round of unctuous lamb shoulder, a couple of compellingly punchy deep-fried garlic cloves and finely diced vegetables, it was a great dish. 

A pot of super cheesy and buttery potato gratin was the icing on the cake. 

Mrs G admitted defeat at this point so I valiantly plowed on.

A cheese selection was a who’s who of the best of British supplied by Neal’s Yard. It included mega Stichelton, Brie-like Baron Bigod and nutty Hafod, amongst others. 

They were served with a bountiful bowl of interesting crackers and a lovely fig and almond torta. 

Desserts were also both great (you have a choice of four). A flawless fragrant pistachio creme brulee was topped with a scoop of the smoothest of vanilla ice creams. 

Cherry soup comprised of a bowl of sweet poached cherries in a light cherry broth with the gentle warmth of booze. It was finished off with a scoop of gorgeous cinnamon ice cream. 

Dinner at Tyddyn Llan was lovely. However, a couple of the dishes lacked edge and the pace of the friendly service dropped off at times.

I’d recommend a visit if you like your fine dining classical and generously portioned. If you’re looking for whizzes and bangs and innovative flavour combinations, this isn’t the place.

The Details:

Address - Tyddyn Llan, Llandrillo, nr. Corwen, Denbighshire, North Wales LL21 0ST
Telephone - 01490 440264

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Marram Grass, Anglesey restaurant review

Located in a former rabbit breeding shed on a rural caravan park in Anglesey, the Marram Grass isn't exactly where you’d expect to find one of Wales’s most acclaimed restaurants.

Chef Owner Ellis Barrie is currently representing the North West in the Great British Menu where he’s been one of this year’s standout contestants due to both his cooking ability and jokey personality.

By coincidence (we booked last September), we visited on the night of Ellis’s end of week judging episode. Apparently the TV was on in the kitchen so I’m sure the team would have been in a celebratory mood as Ellis successfully progressed to finals week.

The funky homespun vibe of the dining room is complimented nicely by a young and friendly serving team and a menu of well-priced dishes with interesting twists.

An amuse bouche of light and airy roasted red pepper espuma was both sweet and savoury. Cubes of rice wine vinegar jelly counterbalanced the sweetness.

A pair of oysters rockefeller (£3 each) saw plump molluscs topped with sourdough breadcrumbs and butter with a massive hit of garlic, parsley and lemon.

Rounds of tangy and creamy goats cheese mousse (£7.50) were coated in a herb crumb and joined by wild garlic puree, a super addictive pistachio puree, pine nuts, mixed seeds, sweet honey and tender asparagus. There was a lot going on in the dish but everything balanced very well. The only minor quibble was that the mousse was a touch on the heavy side.

A whopping bowl of potted crab was of an excellent dollopable consistency. It was packed with brown crab meat and seasoned well with shallot and herbs. A sweet crab claw was a delightful extra treat. Soft bread and a tasty yet somewhat unnecessary block of olive butter completed the dish.

Crisp-skinned and flaky salt cod (£17.50) was served with golden shallots, fresh kale, lightly pickled mussels and a gorgeously buttery sauce fragranced with dill. A clutch of fresh mussels on the side were nice and plump but a bit gritty.

My main was a cornucopia of porky delights (£17.50). Some of the best flavoured, tenderest, crisp-skinned pork I’ve ever had was served with an ace meat sauce, quaver-like crackling, wilted greens and a heroically good walnut puree. An additional bonus of pressed pork shoulder was flavoursome but a touch dry. It was topped with lovely shavings of tart rhubarb and soft butter beans.

A first-rate lemon tart (£7.50) that was crisp of pastry, golden of top and sharp of filling was joined by light Italian meringue, a perfectly smooth lemon sorbet and potent lemon gel.

My dessert was an absolute knockout (£7.50). Sweet and slightly tart confit rhubarb was accompanied by creamy yet tangy yoghurt panna cotta, sweet rhubarb puree and pate de fruit and crunchy honeycomb ice cream and pieces.

The Marram Grass is a restaurant of interesting flavour combinations, skilful technique, generous portions and a relaxed atmosphere. I very highly recommend it.

The Details:

Address - The Marram Grass,White Lodge, Newborough, Anglesey LL61 6RS
Web -
Telephone - 01248 440 077