Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
Bearing in mind that Cardiff is the capital of Wales, the limited number of restaurants that can be said to truly champion homegrown Welsh ingredients is perhaps surprising and a little disappointing. As for what I would regard as actual Welsh restaurants the position is even worse with the previous stalwarts, the Celtic Cauldron and the Armless Dragon, long since defuncted.
Whilst Wales is rightly famous for its lamb and of course for leeks, these are merely part of a cornucopia of fantastic ingredients available to cook with that are products of Wales.
Such ingredients include :
· Welsh beef
· Pembrokeshire potatoes
· Sewin (sea trout)
– crabs, lobsters etc (seafood in general really)
– Anglesey sea salt; and
· a myriad of cheeses (not just Caerphilly)
to name but a few.
It is, therefore, pleasing to see a new(ish) restaurant in the centre of Cardiff, in the form of Pitch bar and eatery on Mill Lane, very much trumpeting their use of locally sourced “Welsh” food and drink products.
A lunch time catch up with some mates presented an ideal opportunity to give the place a go and see how true it is to its word. The fact that it is nice and close to the office was a bonus.
It is a nice looking place. Functional rather than cosy. Shabby chic I think it is called.
We initally sat on a table with a sort of bench/pew, but even with my not insubstantial inbuilt padding it was a bit uncomfortable. We moved to an all chair table very quickly.
It consisted of burgers that champion Welsh beef and lamb (plus chicken – more on this later – and veggie “burgers”), a couple of steaks (“Welsh” rump and ribeye), three salads (including meat free ones) and a couple of Specials.
They, I am told, will be expanding the menu shortly to include a selection of small plates which will very much focus on Welsh ingredients (such as cocklesa, laverbread, various Welsh cheese etc) and their take on traditional Welsh dishes (for example, rarebits). I must admit I was a little disappointed that these were not on offer on my visit. It seemed to me that it will be in their small plate offerings that the true Welshness of the place’s food will come through, but heyho.
Whilst I love a good burger, I wanted to try something different (wanted the small plates) so I looked to the “Specials” on the menu in the form of a pork belly (assumed to be Welsh pork but unclear) dish and a cod (doubt somehow the cod was from Welsh waters, but could be wrong) loin dish.
I liked the sound of the pork dish which was stated on the menu to be “slow cooked marmalade pork belly with sautéed potatoes and fine beans”.
It was a substantial piece of well cooked and nicely flavoured meat. If anything a bit big for a week day lunch. There was a nice sweetness to the meat, no doubt assisted by the marmalade and also the presence of sultanas in the accompanying well flavoured broth. The tender meat yielded easily to just a fork.
Whilst a very satisfying dish, it was not without fault. The sautéed potatoes were a bit soggy (sitting under the meat and in the accompanying broth) and somewhat limited in number (I would have been perfectly happy with a smaller piece of meat and more pots) and the fine (I have always know them as French) beans were a bit overdone.
I like my French beans to be a vibrant green and to be cooked so they retain a bit of bite and have that certain squeakiness to them. These were a dull green and a little bit too giving in texture for my liking.
Also one of the great joys of pork belly is the crispy skin/crackling which had sadly been removed here. I always feel a bit robbed when I get given pork belly which lacks a slab of crackling.
Others had the burgers (one chicken and one beef).
The beef was very well flavoured, but it was a shame the waitress did not ask as to cooking preference. It came medium, without any hint of pink. I always like a burger to be medium rare so would have been disappointed if I had ordered it, but we should have perhaps asked
Personally I think waiting staff should with beef or lamb burgers, as they do with steaks etc., ask how the diner likes them to be cooked or explain (verbally or on the menu) why this is not possible.
The chicken burger (£9.95 including chips) was a little bit odd, consisting of a substantial skinless chicken breast in a bun. Is this really a burger at all (by the same logic, would putting a few cooked carrots in a bun make it a veggie burger) or merely a large piece of chicken in a bun? I would say the latter.
The chicken was pronounced as nice and moist, but lacking any real pizazz as it had no coating or spicing to give it more depth of flavour.
These buns looked very nice and I was told were tasty, but I am very much of the view that a burger bun should always allow you to eat the burger with your hands and enable you to take a bite of the whole shebang without disassembling it or cutting it up. Here the bun’s size and the rigidity of the foccacia (couldn’t really squeeze it down to a “get in the gob” size) didn’t really allow for this.
I nicked one off one of my mate’s plate and certainly enjoyed it. Not perhaps up there with my current favourite chip (from Manuka in Aberaeron) but definitely still a classy specimen.
On the food front, I note that they also do what look like some very nice breakfast dishes and a great looking Sunday lunch offering.
Service was pleasant and enthusiastic, if a tad on the slow side. We weren’t on a lunch hour clock, but may have been in trouble if we were.
As it was a working day we were all on the soft stuff and there was on offer a reasonable selection on this front, including various Fentimans and some nice sounding mocktails.
Welsh producer make some decent wines these days, so why no Ancre Hill Estates , Glyndwr, Llanerch, or White Castle wines on the list? Even a token Welsh fizz would be nice, say one of the multi award winning sparkling wines from Ancre Hill. They are not shy about putting pricey fizz on their list (Cristal being on it at a frankly mad £249.95 – that 5p shy of £250 makes all the difference!), so price is seemingly not an issue.
I liked Pitch bar and eatery and, particularly, its philosophy of sourcing locally and championing Welsh ingredients.
I would actually like to see them perhaps focus even more on the provenance of the ingredients used. So why not state the breed of animal used in a dish ( on the menu only the ribeye steak refers to breed in the form of Welsh Black, which begs the question what is the rump steak and the beef burger? ) and maybe even the farm it came from? Many people like to know this and I think it is a good selling point.
Yes there were a few niggles, but nothing major especially when take into account it is a relatively new independent operation.
I hope they succeed and am sure they will. At least one Welsh wine on the list thought would be nice please.
In conclusion, it is a nice place serving good food and, with the expansion of the menu to include Welsh focused small plate dishes, it will undoubtedly only get better.
Would I go back ? Yes – want to try those Welsh small plates
UPDATE – May 2015
I did return to Pitch with Mrs. SF and a friend’s family hoping to try the “small plates”, but unfortunately walked out after waiting over an hour without receiving any of the food ordered.
On the drinks front, water and apple juice were ordered for the child we had with us but never arrived. We also ordered two specific wines (rather than house wines) off the list, but these came in carafes and I was refused sight of the actual bottles despite asking several times to see them. On raising this with the management by email their explanation was that this was because the bottles were “dusty”. When I questioned this, their response was to say that as a small family business they were too busy to discuss the issues I raised any further by email !!
Must be pesky things customers, but they are a somewhat necessary “evil” in the restaurant business.
A shame, but I won’t now be going back again.
Pitch bar and eatery
3 Mill Lane,
Twitter : @pitchcardiff