Saturday, 21 April 2018

Maria's Greek Meze Bar Taverna, Cardiff restaurant review


For a city the size of Cardiff, it’s perhaps surprising that we don’t have a Chinatown or Little Italy.

When I was growing up in Newcastle, every major family celebration was marked by a Chinese banquet on Stowell Street.

And, when I lived in Vauxhall in South London, I spent many a night drinking Sagres and eating bitoque in Little Portugal.

So, perhaps there’s an argument for renaming the half mile stretch between the bottom of Whitchurch Road and middle of Crwys Road as Little Greece? I’m kidding of course, but it’s on this small stretch of street that all 3 of Cardiff’s Greek restaurants can be found.

Maria’s Meze Greek Bar and Taverna is the most recent addition, having only opened a couple of weeks ago.

It’s very much a family affair with the restaurant named after mum Maria and one son running front of house and the other heading up the kitchen.

The restaurant has a charming holiday vibe with its white and pastel blue walls, black and white photographs and nautical trinkets.

 
The menu is broadly divided into three sections - meze, grills and traditional dishes. At lunchtime, offers include 3 meze for £12 or 2 traditional dishes for £15. 


Bottles of Fix (£3) and Mythos (£2.80) were both seriously refreshing and easy drinking. One sip and I was transported to happy times in Crete. 

 
We kicked off with a hoard of meze.

Highlights included tiropitakia (£4.90), crispy little filo pastry parcels filled with a creamy and salty ooze of feta. 

 
Spanakokroketes (£5.50) reminded me of jalapeno poppers in a very good way. The trio of golden crumbed croquettes were filled with melty feta cheese and leaves of wilted spinach and served with a fragrant lemon and dill yoghurt dip. 


A small Greek Salad (£3.90) was a lovely example - perky tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and peppers were joined by big cubes of creamy feta, briny kalamata olives and a drizzle of olive oil and scatter of oregano. 

 
A big block of grilled halloumi (£3.80) had an enjoyable golden crust but it was a little firm in texture instead of soft and melty. 

 
Freshly baked bread rolls were pleasingly crisp with a warm and soft interior. 

 
A soft-textured mix of potato and courgettes (£4.90) was formed into golden fritters and served with a butternut squash puree whose sweetness was tempered by creamy tahini. 

 
Mains were both lovely.

Mrs G waxed lyrical about a big slab of moussaka (£10.50) that combined meaty beef and lamb ragu, uber-tender pieces of potato and aubergine and a good layer of golden-capped bechamel. The whole dish had a lovely background warmth of cinnamon. 

 
Pork souvlaki (£11.50) saw a duo of herby and tender meat skewers joined by crisp and fluffy thick cut chips. The only issue was that it was crying out for a bit of lubrication - a big dollop of tzatziki wouldn’t have gone a miss. 

 
So, I ordered a plate of the stuff - the tangy cucumber and yoghurt dip (£3.95) combined a big wallop of garlic and the freshness of mint. 

 
Onto dessert, and a cheesecake (£4.90) was a big success. A crunchy walnut and biscuit base was topped with light, creamy, lemony and honey twanged Greek yoghurt.


A galaktobouriko (£4.90) saw a rich set custard wrapped in filo pastry and drizzled with sweet syrup. Whilst I was reassured that it’s authentic for the pastry in this dish to not be crisp, I think the pud would have benefited from a bit more textural contrast. 


We had a really tasty meal at Maria’s. This family run independent has bags of character and serves lovely moussaka to boot.

Disclosure - I was invited to Maria's, all food and drink was complimentary.

The Details:

Address - Maria's Greek Meze Bar Taverna, 68 Crwys Road, Cardiff CF24 4NP
Web - https://www.facebook.com/mariasmezebar/
Telephone - 029 2115 1268

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Fox and Hounds Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan pub review 2018

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan

It’s been a couple of years since my last visit to the Fox and Hounds in Llancarfan.

In the interim, this pretty little village pub in the Vale of Glamorgan has been taken over by husband and wife team, Jim Dobson (head chef) and Rhiannon Dobson (front of house) and given a bit of a facelift. Impressively, they also picked up a Cardiff Life Award a couple of weeks ago for best gastropub.

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
 
Their menu is a real doozy - packed with the kind of things that I like to eat, including confit rabbit and ham hock terrine and specials like pork, black pudding and sage scotch egg. 

 
Thankfully, the mother-in-law was dining with us so were able to give more of the menu a run for its money.

Great hunks of soft white bread were served with creamy Netherend Farm butter (£2.50).

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan

A generous pile of sweet white Brixham crab meat (£7) was enrobed in light and creamy herb creme fraiche and heaped on toasted sourdough. A couple of swirls brown crab mayonnaise provided a welcome shellfish whallop. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
 
A golden crumbed fishcake (£7) wasn’t too dense and its headline ingredients of salt cod and spring onion balanced well. A shaved radish and asparagus salad with a punchy lemon and caper dressing was so much more than the usual half arsed scattering of undressed rocket leaves. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
 
Finally, a salad of sweet and earthy baked heritage carrots (£6) were joined by creamy homemade ricotta, quinoa and a herby hazelnut pesto. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan

For mains, Mrs G and I both went for pub classics that were elevated with aplomb. 

Proper ham (£12) - I do like my slices a bit thicker - was served with a golden oozy fried duck egg and stonkingly good triple cooked chips with oodles of crunch and fluff. A sweet and mustardy pineapple pickle was a clever riff on the much maligned accompaniment to ham #TeamHamAndPineapple. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
 
Beer battered haddock (£14) was a fine example - the golden battered flaky fish was served with more of those lovely chips. Mrs G and I both thought the pea puree was meaty tasting (a bonus in our books) whilst tartare sauce was packed with herbs and capers. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
 
The mother-in-law loved her main. Rosy pink rump of lamb (£18) was served with smooth broccoli and potato purees, broccoli pieces and a vivid salsa verde. A finger of crispy shredded lamb breast was packed with flavour but sadly a little on the dry side. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
 
Desserts were both crackers.

A crisp-crusted slice of tart (£6) was filled with a tangy and aromatic passion fruit custard with a bruleed sugar top. A scoop of chocolate ice cream and caramelised hazelnut crumb completed the plate. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
 
Warm and moist pistachio sponge (£6) was accompanied by soft and sweet poached rhubarb, fragrant and not too sweet rhubarb sorbet and a pool of super-smooth vanilla-flecked custard. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
 
We had a delicious meal at The Fox and Hounds in Llancarfan. It’s great to see that this lovely pub with its accomplished cooking is in very safe new hands.

The Details:

Address - The Fox & Hounds, Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan CF62 3AD
Web - http://www.fandhllancarfan.co.uk/
Telephone - 01446 781287

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Pi Shop, Bristol pizza restaurant review


Pi Shop is the sister establishment to the bloody brilliant Michelin-starred restaurants Paco Tapas and Casamia.

Located in Bristol’s General Hospital redevelopment, this wood-fired pizza restaurant has a bright and minimalist interior.

 
All of the wow-factor comes from a handsome copper pizza oven that dominates the kitchen.

A post shared by Gourmet Gorro (@gourmetgorro) on

The menu is brief, including just a handful of starters, 10 pizzas, two sides and one dessert. Whilst most pizzas cost around £14, the margherita (£8.50) and marinara (£6.50) provide cheaper options. 

 
There’s a good selection of local beers with Lost + Grounded, Arbor and Left Handed Giant all putting in an appearance. I drank a delightfully hoppy and easy drinking Left Handed Giant Pale (£6.50). 

 
Both the wood-fired pizzas we ate were enjoyably thin-based with a good crunch and chew. The crust was nicely raised but I thought it was a bit dense and doughy compared to the finest I’ve had.

My tuscan sausage pizza (£14) was a belter - it was topped with a luxurious combination of uber-porky fennel-twanged sausage meat, tender potato slices, oozy mozzarella, savoury parmesan shavings, sweet onion pieces and a golden runny egg yolk. 

 
Mrs G’s ’nduja pizza (£16) was equally lovely. The spreadable spicy sausage and generous dollops of cold and creamy burrata balanced beautifully. The supporting cast comprised of the crunch of pine nuts, peppery rocket, sweet peppers and a light tomato sauce. 

 
A side salad of fresh local leaves (£3) was coated in a dressing that lacked a bit of oomph. 

 
If you’ve only got one dessert on your menu then it better be good. Pi Shop’s soft serve sundae (£3.50) is ace. A swirl of light and milky ice cream combined with a berry-packed, slightly tart forest fruit compote and sprinkles of dark chocolate and crisp almonds. 

 
We really enjoyed Pi Shop. It’s cool, the service is slick and the pizzas are really tasty.

*Update - 10 April 2018* - I've just spotted that my review is already antiquated before I've even posted it. Today, Pi Shop introduced a new cooking style for their pizzas - they now bake their marinara, margherita and white base pizzas before adding the toppings when they come out of the oven. They've also introduced a new pricier menu with the marinara costing £10 and margherita £12.

The Details:

Address - Pi Shop, The General, Lower Guinea Street, Bristol BS1 6FU
Web - http://www.thepishop.co.uk/
Telephone - 0117 925 6872

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Madhav, Riverside, Cardiff Indian cafe review


Located in the Riverside area of Cardiff, Madhav is a family run vegetarian Indian street food cafe and supermarket.

Whilst their decor is basic, the menu is packed with cheap as chips dishes such as masala dosa (£4.75), onion bhajis (£2.50) and vegetable biryani (£4.99).


Madhav has high profile fans too as Shauna from Hang Fire named it as one of her favourite places to eat.

Riding solo before a trip to the cinema, I ordered more than I should have done (all in the name of research, of course).


A cup of masala chai (£2) was deliciously spicy and creamy. 


Complimentary poppadoms were fresh as can be but perhaps suffered slightly as a result because they were still a touch oily.   

A trio of samosas (£2.50) were bang on - the golden pastry triangles were filled with a warming spiced potato and pea mix (I’m sure they might have been some cinnamon in there). A minty yoghurt raitha was lovely spooned all over them. 

 
A thali (£6.99), Madhav’s speciality, was a kaleidoscope of lovely things and a bargain to boot.

A pot of mixed vegetable curry was bathed in a deep flavoured almost meaty gravy; tender Bombay potatoes were twanged with chilli and curry leaf; a thin dhal was heady with mustard seed; a hyper crisp spring roll contained spicy potato and vegetable mash; aubergine, pea and onion curry was packed with perfectly tender veggies; chilli and lime pickle spiced up the show; and super soft chapatis and fluffy rice provided welcome bulk.

A crisp and sticky jalebi was enjoyable but a bit too one dimensionally sweet for my taste. 


A bowl of bhel puri (£2.50) saw light puffed rice, onions, tomatoes, bombay mix, potatoes and fragrant coriander coated in a tangy tamarind sauce. It was deliciously crisp and light when it first arrived but it rapidly become soggy. To be fair though, I really shouldn’t have ordered this much food. 

 
I had a lovely and cracking value thali from Madav. If you want some tasty Indian street food then get down there.

The Details:

Address - Madhav, 59 Lower Cathedral Rd, Cardiff CF11 6LW
Telephone - 029 2037 2947

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Hills, Brecon burger restaurant review


Sandwiched between a caravan park and a bus depot on the outskirts of Brecon, Hills isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find one of Wales’s best burgers.

Named after the Hills family who own the gaff, it’s apt because of the restaurant’s fantastic views of the snow-capped Brecon Beacons.

 
Having opened in April 2017, it took Hills less than a year to become a finalist in the 2018 National Burger Awards. Their Juan Hilario burger, topped with chorizo, manchego, confit onions and pimento ketchup, didn’t win but I’m impressed.

And, with local suppliers including Alex Gooch bakery, Paddy Sweeney butchers and Llanfaes Dairy ice cream, all the signs are in place that Hills will be worth the one hour drive from Cardiff.

The restaurant is a cavernous space that could accommodate a legion of burger munchers. 

 
A half pint of Tiny Rebel Cwtch red ale (£1.75) was a delight, as always. 


Whilst Hills’ menu offers ten different classic, monthly special and vegetarian burgers as well as hot dogs and steaks, they also have a build your own burger option with eclectic toppings including sauerkraut, creamed corn, black pudding and halloumi. 


I opted for the double bacon cheeseburger (£14), which unbeknownst to me was a quadruple cheeseburger as they come with two patties as standard.

It was a towering juicy delight. 


Four super-pink and super-juicy coarse ground patties were sandwiched with oozy American cheese, melty Monterey Jack and richness balancing burger sauce. The simple combination of flavours was damn tasty.

The Alex Gooch demi-brioche roll is one of my favourite burger buns for a reason. Sturdy and soft it held together under the weight of all the beef.

Looking back at my photos I suspect the bacon was missing. However, I was too lost in a meat trance to even notice. 


Morg highly rated his even more ridiculously proportioned double cheeseburger with pulled pork and mushrooms (£15). He set to work with a knife and fork. 


Rhys “the bottomless pit” loved his cheeseburger (£15) with pulled pork, runny fried egg and side of buttermilk fried chicken. 


Sides were good but not quite at the same level as the burgers.

Crisp fries (£2.50) were served with a light dusting of rosemary salt. 

 
Salt cod fritters (£5.50) were coated in a beautifully crisp crumb but the headline ingredient was a little recessive compared to the chopped parsley which was flecked through the potato-based filling. 

 
A quartet of meatballs (£6) were top drawer - juicy, perfectly seasoned, not too dense and coated in a fresh tomato sauce and a good grating of parmesan. 

 
Hush puppies were the most average of the sides (£5) as they lacked crispness and were oily. However, it’s hard to knock the pile of melted cheese and bacon that sat on top. 

 
Desserts were both excellent.

A sticky toffee pudding (£5) wasn’t of the traditional variety but the large piece of light, moist and nutty sponge was joined by a liberal amount of lovely toffee sauce and a scoop of creamy Llanfaes Dairy vanilla ice cream.


An ice cream cookie sandwich (£5) kicked ass too. A trio of crunchy and chewy chocolate chip biscuits were sandwiched with plenty more of that lovely ice cream. 


We had a superb burger at Hills and there’s no doubt it’s one of the best I’ve had in Wales. A brisk walk up Pen y Fan followed by a cheeseburger would be an awesome way to spend a Saturday.

Whilst the monster burgers we constructed weren’t cheap, next time I’ll order the more reasonably priced single cheeseburger (£9.50). I’ll also be able to eat it without dislocating my jaw.

The Details:

Address - HILLS, Bishops Meadow, Hay Road, Brecon LD3 9SW
Telephone - 01874 611714