Small by nature, big in flavour? SmallBAR, Cardiff. UPDATE: Closed – now Beelzebub

The smallBAR, which has taken over the unit that use to be Applejacks, is part of a seemingly growing recognition from across the bridge of the potential of the food and drink scene in Cardiff. Along with the Society Standard on Whitchurch Road, the smallBAR is an independent originating in Bristol but investing in Cardiff. Bearing in mind Bristol’s thriving food scene (which much as I hate to admit still has the drop on Cardiff’s by any measure) the more the merrier I say.

J managed to fit in lunch with me between her endless holidays (how she has so many, when we both have the same number of days annual leave, is a continuing mystery to me) and we decided that the menu (hard to find on the web have to say – we could find only a partial shot of it on Facebook) at the newly opened smallBAR warranted giving it a go.

The place

Inside it is all stripped wood and bare brick. It has a nice rustic feel, although the tables, benches and chairs at the back made me feel a bit like I was back in primary school (a long and distant memory).

J and I (who rarely agree on things relating to fashion, decor etc. – she, along with Mrs. SF, says with some justification that I am clueless on these subjects) both rather liked the look of the place.

For beer loving “hipsters” it probably looks like a positive paradise.

The food

On the food front, they have a short menu consisting of pizzas (not available at the time of our visit and not sure at all about the Thai green curry one), bread and meat (or veggie) combos and some fine sounding sides (the haggis lollipops and green chilli mac and cheese – both £3.50 – particularly draw the eye and stomach)

We hummed and harred about whether to get a mix of the sides and the meat combos , but decided (J, on yet another diet in readiness for another holiday, vetoed sharing sides if ordered ) that frugality was the way to go. On this basis, I begrudgingly agreed to order just a meat and bread combo each. 

You order and pay (upfront) at the bar and have a choice of some very nice sounding breads (these apparently change regularly). 

I went for the salt marsh lamb (£8.95) with a Herbie Hancock roll, which promised a bit of a herb bomb (sage rosemary, oregano and thyme).  I didn’t really get much of the promised herbs and in hindsight I think the rustic white would have been a better match.

The lamb was melted in the mouth tender (testament to the 6 hour cooking time) and was complimented nicely by the red wine ketchup it was laced with. The advertised leeks acted as suitably pleasing greenage, but I got none of the lavender referred to in the menu description (no bad thing to my mind as I find it often overpowers). 

I added triple cooked fries (£1 when added to a bread and meat/veggie combo – £2.95 otherwise) which were nice enough and well seasoned, but I would say mine seemed to have missed their final appointment with the fryer as they lacked the über crispness I associate with triple cooked chips. Nice, but would have been nicer if crisper.

My only other qualms were that lack of something like a dollop of coleslaw or mayo  and the price to quantity ratio. Some would say, at £8.95, the lamb roll is a bit pricey. I would argue the ingredients don’t come cheap here (salt marsh lamb is a premium product), but I do think it could be a bit bigger. I know it is called the smallBAR, but …..

J had the partridge (£9.95), which had a beautifully crisp coating and lovely succulent, subtly flavoured meat. Nicely judged bit of cooking this, as partridge can be dry and/or tough if not done right. 

It came with a punchy sriracha sauce, which was very nice but did somewhat overpower the rather delicate flavour of the partridge.

The partridge also came with toasted  bread (J choose the Alex Goode Malthouse), which was very pleasant, but how it came made the dish a little disconnected. The bread was great dipped in the sriracha, but those two elements didn’t quite marry up with the partridge. It would have benefited from some greenery or even chips rather than the bread (this would have made it a very upscale variation on  “chicken” and chips).

The drink

On the booze front it is all about the beer with a really large selection of craft beers. 

Pints are not sold, with 1/3, 1/2 and 2/3 measure on draft (a mix of keg and cask). As someone who can only drink limited volumes of beer I quite like this. Not for the faint hearted mind these beers, with some very hefty on the alcohol front (the 10.2° White Hag Black Boar will undoubtedly put hairs on your chest and probably your feet, ears and palms )

There is also a wide and varied selection of non draft beers. Really interesting stuff on the list here, including some very high-end beers. One beer I noted came in at a (holy moly how much) £14.95 (the Thornbridge – Love Among the Ruins). Have to say though the list’s reference to it being aged in red Burgundy barrels has me intrigued. Not a session beer that one perhaps as the £14.95 price tag relates, I believe, to  a 37.5cl bottle (so that is over  £16 a pint – but it did win the World Beer Cup). Fine wine is pricey, so why not fine beer.

The booze offering is completed by a few ciders, spirits (with a particularly good looking list of gins) and a short but nicely formed wine list. Anywhere that sells Trimbach wines (top stuff) gets a big thumbs up from me (as more a wine than beer drinker). All wines by the glass is also nice to see.

I regrettably had afternoon grown up stuff to do in the form of work so it was a soft drink for me. Nothing seemingly on the list in terms of non alcoholic stuff, but on having a nose at what was behind the bar I spied a bottle of rather nice looking and sounding Gingerella (£2.50 –  I think). strangely I didn’t think Cinderella, but rather Barbarella on seeing the label. Shows how my mind works!

This was a rather lovely, properly hot and spicy (so, in my defence, more Barbarella than Cinderella), ginger ale.

The verdict

I think the smallBAR is a rather nice addition to the City centre on both the booze and food front. Offering a very interesting selection of beers (and other booze) and food to soak it up. 

With this place, the Urban Tap House and Brewdogs (as well as I suspect the Hop Bunker – but not tried that place) there are plenty of options for the serious beer (rather than dull as ditch water commercial lager) drinker in the City centre these days.

Would I go back? Definitely – nice place with intriguing beers, decent wines and good food.

The details


17 Church Street, Cardff, CF10 1BG

Twitter : @SmallBarCardiff

Website: click here

Opening hours

 Mon- Sun: 12 :00 –  24:00



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