Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
Update September 2016
Seemingly open again from 9.9.2016. Not sure on what basis, but saw reference to platters by Canna Deli being on offer.
Update – August 2016
Closing from 3rd August – hopefully only temporarily whilst look for new partner. Watch this space.
Cardiff seems to be an increasingly cutthroat market on the restaurant front. Seems a shame places like this (i.e one that serves good locally sourced food) struggle when the chains (mostly poor) survive. We are at risk of an identikit offering where we get the same as every other UK city. Support your independents is what I say.
Update – June 2016
Since the date of the original post, Amser has had a menu revamp. I could not make the event launching the new menu, so cannot comment on content or quality of the new menu as against that to which the original post relates. The word is,however that the changes made are a positive rather than negative move.
Cardiff’s old library on the Hayes has got itself another eatery (in addition to the rather fine Locke & Remedy) in the form of the cafe bar within the Yr Hen Lyfgrell (the Old Library in Welsh) complex.
It has been a while since I have lunched with the usual chaps in work. The newish kid on the block, lunch wise in Cardiff City centre, seemed the obvious place for a bit of moan (this time about how shockingly badly our pensions pots had done in the last financial year – very middle-aged – the depressing conclusion being we may as well have spent the year wiping our behinds with fivers rather than paying in to it) whilst having a feed.
Outside it is all about the glorious Victorian building that is Cardiff’s old library.
Looking at it compared to the new Central Library,
the phrase “they don’t make them like they use to” immediately springs to mind. The old one is lovely compared to the hideous carbuncle that is the new one.
Inside the building the cafe bar is upstairs and is a very light and airy, if a little spartan, space. If I was being harsh, it has a touch of the University refectory (in my day at least) about it.
There is a bar and a canteen style arrangement where the food is doled out rather than there being table services.
The concern with this sort of operation is as the food is not cooked to order it can be at risk of drying out/overcooking, whilst being kept hot.
Overall it is a nice enough space, fine for lunch but perhaps lacking a bit in atmosphere of an evening (unless packed – with the smallish bar I suspect likely to create problems if it is, although that is pure conjecture on my part).
The kitchen is headed up by Padrig Jones (previously of the sadly defunct Le Gallois and the still very much in business Fish at 85, to name but a few) so is in competent hands, in theory, and the lunch time menu (on the day in question) promised some pleasingly hearty dishes with more than a passing nod to local producers/retailers and ingredients, including cawl and John Morgan (a butcher in Cardiff’s Central Market) sausages. Veggies and vegans are covered off by the menu, as are those with a gluten intolerance, which is good to see.
Also on offer are lighter salad based dishes and platters of Welsh cold meats and Welsh cheeses.
It is, however, far from a Welsh only menu with the likes of chicken schnitzel and pork and fennel polpette (Italian meatballs) featuring on it. I have also noted that the sample menu on their website includes souvlaki and a bean, chorizo and squid stew.
There is a very decent salad bar on offer
with interesting things like orange and fennel and watermelon and feta, as well as more standard stuff in the form of potato salad etc. Nice looking bread too.
After much indecision (changing my mind a number of times, starting off going for the sausage and mash, then the chicken schnitzel, then back to the sausages before thinking the pork polpotte also needed consideration – sign of a good menu that), I went for the chicken schnitzel. Due to many visits to Vienna. I have developed a love of a good schnitzel.
This promisingly came with a Welsh twist, in the form of a stuffing of hafod cheese and Carmarthen ham , and a choice of chips or salad. I went for chips, whilst one of my fellow diners opted for the same but with salad.
The “schnitzel” (£7.95 with salad or chips) was nice and a decent sized portion, with a good crispy crumb (clearly homemade) and a nice ham and cheese filling. There were, however, a couple of issues, these being:
· it wasn’t really a schnitzel, to my mind, as it hadn’t been beaten flat (it was more a chicken “Cordon Bleu”);
· it had suffered a bit from having sat on a canteen hot plate/under a heat lamp, with the chicken itself still moist the cheese filling had, however, started to resolidify; and
· with chips rather than salad, it needed a sauce or, at the very least, a wedge of lemon to go with it.
I had chips with mine (no photo), which were ok but again these suffered a bit from having sat on a hot plate/under a heat lamp (they had gone a bit limp). The salad bar (on offer in lieu of chips) that my fellow diners decided on over chips was by far the better option (you can really load up on these if you wish and there is a very good selection).
The other dish ordered was salmon fishcakes (£7.50 with salad or chips)
This came as two substantial, nicely seasoned crisp patties with plenty of salmon and herbs in the filling. Again the salad option was by far the best one to go for with these, as with chips it would have needed a sauce (a nice looking homemade tartar sauce was available) or a decent sized wedge of lemon.
A nice touch were the non mainstream condiments on the table. The spicy brown sauce was particularly good and helped pep up my somewhat underwhelming chips.
Puds wise (or with a cup of tea or coffee) there is a tempting selection of cakes on offer.
On the drinks front, the bar is run by Cardiff stalwarts Club Ifor Bach, with a focus on Welsh beers (both draft and bottled).
The wine list is a good mix, in terms of origin, style and price. I like that there is a Vinho Verde (a great quaffing white wine) and a decent Rioja on the list. Shame no Riesling though.
It is nice to see a Welsh wine on the list in the form of an offering from White Castle Vineyard, but it would be good to also have a Welsh fizz (some great fizz now being made in Wales – I have banged on about this in the past and will continue to do so in the future) on there in addition to the French stuff and, the now seemingly ubitiquous, Prosecco.
On the non alcohol front there is a good selection of coffees and a few teas, but a seemingly quite limited list in terms of soft cold drinks. Coke, lemonade, as well as a few mixers and a couple of juices, as far as I could see. It would be nice if they could be a bit more adventurous on the soft drink front for those not on the booze (i.e. those wanting a mid-week lunch between working hours or the designated driver).
We defaulted to coke and lemonade (£1.50 for a small bottle).
Despite a couple of issues with my schnitzel and chips (I think I made the wrong choice going for chips), the food here shows much promise and I quite like the place as a lunch time venue. Decent value for money (a hearty lunch and a drink for under a tenner) and tasty food, if you choose wisely. Personally I think they should ditch the chips – not really suited to how they serve the food here. Salads as an accompaniment are the way to go here.
Would I go back? Yes for lunch, mid-week, and also for Sunday lunch which (from their twitter feed) looks a good option.
Yr Hen Lyfrgell
Email : post @yrhenlycrgell.com
Twitter : @henlyfrgell
Sun- Tues : 09.00 – 18.00
Weds – Sat: 09.00 – 23.00
Lunch served between 12:00 – 15.00.