Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
If you were being kind you could argue that the menus at Zanzibar lounge bar & kitchen are reflective of the multi culture nature of the island of Zanzibar and the resulting mix of culinary influences (Bantu, Arab, Portuguese, Indian, British and even Chinese).
A less generous view would be it lacks a sense of identity and its name is based solely on it including the word “bar”. I will leave you, the reader, to reach your own conclusions.
Whilst I don’t have children myself (would not wish to unleash that horror on the world), most of my friends do. As a result, if Mrs. SF and I meet up with such friends we often eat quite early. This is never my preference, but does have the benefit often of deals being available.
Eating early, we had hoped to take advantage of the early bird menu (save a bit of cash after the Christmas splurge) at the Zanzibar lounge bar & kitchen in the trendy Cardiff suburb of Pontcanna (£14.95 for 3 courses – available Monday to Friday at lunchtime and between 5pm – 7pm), but were told it wasn’t available as it was Christmas.
Firstly no it wasn’t Christmas, it wasn’t even December and secondly so what if it was. Fair enough have your Christmas party menu, but if you have an early bird menu, why make it unavailable over the weeks before and worse after Christmas.
I find this sort of thing more than a little irritating, especially as the early bird menu was plastered all over the wall opposite where we sat.
Right, bar humbug (Christmas rip off) moan over.
The location of Zanzibar at the top of Kings Road is a bit of a graveyard for restaurants and I have seen many come and go from this location over the year. It is not, in my humble opinion, due to the location (there is plenty of money and appetite for eating out in Pontcanna) so it must be quality (or too high a rent).
I had not heard much about Zanzibar before we went, but it seems to have survived longer than most in the location and gets plenty of good reviews on TripAdvisor.
When we arrived we were the only people in the place and it was boiling, with the aircon pumping out hot air. It was like sitting under a giant hand dryer. They turned it off on request, but the damage was done and it remained uncomfortably hot.
There is no indication as to why it is called Zanzibar inside (bar from perhaps the heat). It is an OK space and comfortable enough, but certainly nothing in it is indicative of Zanzibar.
What they offered ranged from the supposedly Caribbean and Creole to the Far East, back to good old Blighty, with a bit of Indian subcontinent and Italy thrown in for good measure. Could this be a deliberate strategy to tap into Zanzibar’s culinary diversity (one item did come with a “Zanzibar” sauce – a coconut milk and curry based sauce that could be linked to the place) or a sign of kitchen not entirely sure of what it does best?
The menus reminded me of a place called Earls that was on Llandaf High Street donkey’s years ago. I wonder if there is a connection?
I decided to play it safe and went for the 8 oz ribeye steak (£13). Others went for hake and prawns (£16), stir fried chicken (£12) and a Zanzibar (beef) burger (£10).
I asked for my steak to be done medium rare (my preference with ribeye). This in hindsight was a mistake as, in my experience, steaks are all to often overcooked and thus it is best (unless you know the place can cook one) to go one or two notches down in terms of cooking in order to get what you want (so very rare/rare to get medium rare – I would rather it is under than over) This is especially the case with a smaller size cut such as the one here.
My steak was a clear medium with little sign of pink (as was my friend’s who ordered his the same medium rare as mine). Neither of us could be bothered to send them back (with the other dishes, sides etc having arrived). Mine tasted ok, but lacked any depth of flavour.
My friend had a black pepper sauce (rather cheekily priced at an extra £2.50) with his steak (whether by design or pure luck, pepper steak is seemingly a very popular dish in Zanzibar). It was very gloppy in consistency making it not very pleasant to look at, but it tasted ok.
The menu indicated that the chips with the steaks were handcut. They looked suspiciously like cooked from frozen ones to me. They were ok, but not especially crispy on the outside or fluffy on the inside as a good chip should be. The veg (broccoli, cauliflower and carrots) was steamed and all a bit bland and lacking in seasoning. Again Ok, but just that and nothing more.
Mrs. SF’s “stir fried” chicken, consisted of strips of chicken swimming in a dark nondescript sauce (supposedly oyster). The menu description referred to cashews, but these were few and far between and there was a distinct lack of vegetables (usually an intregral part of any stir fry).
Bizarrely, it didn’t come with either rice or noodles. Instead what arrived with it were bowls of sauted potatoes and veg. (with the veg. the same steamed carrots, broccoli and cauliflower as came with the steaks).
I found this very odd indeed. OK, the description of the dish on the specials menu made no mention of rice or noodles, but whose fevered mind came up with the idea of serving up a stir fry (especially one swimming with sauce) with fried potatoes and a separate bowl of steamed veg. rather rice or noodles.
Mrs. SF. was far from impressed, especially as she had looked at the early bird menu earlier in the day and made up her mind up as to what she was going to have (with her choice of the stir fried chicken only after much hemming and hawing due to the early bird menu not being available).
This really was a rather weird dish akin to something you would cobble together at home if the cupboards were bare and you were in a rush (almost – dare I say it – something my nephew, a student, would come up with). It wasn’t horrid, but could only be described as very average and all a bit ill thought out.
To make Mrs. SF’s pill even more bitter to swallow, the accompanying sauted potatoes were a bit oily and underseasoned.
The final dishes were a hake and prawn dish (didn’t try this, but it was pronounced as nice by the person who had it)
and the Zanzibar (cheese and bacon beef) burger
Again I didn’t try the burger, but my friend’s daughter who had it seemed to like it bar from her ditching the ridiculous amount of greenery it came with.
To me the burger patty looked a bit dense (suggesting a bought in rather than homemade patty, but I could be wrong). No question was asked as to how the eater would liked it to be cooked. It came medium to well done (fine for the person eating it, as it happened).
I passed on pudding (all £4.95), but others had a sticky toffee pudding (looked and tasted like a muffin to me, but the sauce was nice)
a rum and chocolate torte (ok, but no discernible flavour of rum in it)
and a pecan and maple tart (didn’t try it, but it was pronounced to be quite nice).
On the drinks front, there is a pretty limited selections of beers. Whilst perusing the menu I had a bottle of Reverend James (one of only two proper beers available – Pipes Brewery is within spitting distance and it seems a shame not to stock their products). Others went for Peroni.
Wine wise things were better. The list, whilst limited, was not bad.
We has a perfectly serviceable Chilean cabernet sauvignon (£16.95 )
and a quite interesting rosé Vinho Verde (£17.95 ).
Service was ok, if a bit slow (especially as we were the only people in there eating).
The damage for 4 adults and one child was just under £120 (without tip, but including a 10% discount voucher I got off their website).
Whilst nothing was awful (conceptually the chicken was close though, but we should have been more diligent perhaps in our reading of the menu) and it wasn’t expensive, it was nothing more than ok. All in all a bit lacklustre.
It gets plenty of good reviews on Tripadviser, so perhaps the kitchen was suffering a collective hangover after Christmas and New Year. That doesn’t explain the rather bizarre stir fry dish, mind.
As stated earlier, the menus suggests a place that isn’t sure as to what it does best. The result, on our visit at least, was a meal based on a jack of all trades, master of none approach.
Would I go back ? In no rush to do so, am afraid.
175 Kings Road
Cardiff CF11 9DF
Tel :029 2037 2829