Firstly Happy New Year – hope you are not nursing too much of a monster hangover.
Well 2016 was a funny old year wasn’t it – who’d have thought a vote for Brexit (the result of which is that I am now an Irish registered lawyer) and Trump as President elect, England going unbeaten in the rugby (including trouncing the Ozzies not once not twice but four times on the bounce – how I enjoyed each and every one of those England wins after the disaster that was the 2015 World Cup) and Bristol RFC finally getting promoted (had given up on that ever happening, but will they stay up – certainly looking a bit rosier after Boxing Day win over fellow strugglers Worcester?).
Oh to have had those 4 (plus Leicester City as champions – will they be relegated this time around?)) as a cumulator bet (would be writing this from a house overlooking La Concha in Donostia – San Sebastian if I had).
It was a year in which too many legends slipped their mortal coil, including Mohammad Ali, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Alan Richman (is it just me who was massively rooting for Hans Gruber at the end of Die Hard- oh how I wish Hans had simply blown away John Maclane), AA Gill, Gene Wilder, Carrie Fisher and the incomparable David Bowie (the voice of my generation). Have ordered the 250 tonnes of cotton wool to wrap up the likes of George R.R. Martin (please finish that bloody book in 2017- as I refuse to get ahead of them on HBO), Mick Jagger and Nick Cave in 2017.
On the food and drink front (as documented on the blog) it has been a rather good year and I have enjoyed many a good meal and glass of something nice both in and outside of Cardiff.
Below are some of my favourites (and one dud) from the blog in 2016
I love a bargain (having become – well according to Mrs. SF – a bit of a tightwad in my old age) and on this front two meals in Cardiff stood out – a lunch at the Classroom and dinner at Sen BBQ. Outside of Cardiff, pretty much everything I ate and drunk during trips to Porto
was stunningly good value for money.
Sen BBQ provided a mountain of grilled meat for a ridiculous cheap price, with the added bonus of no corkage BYO
but the clear winner on the value front was the simply brilliant £9.95/£14.95 2/3 course lunch menu at the Classroom.
Great food at an unbelievably good price. Has to be the best value meal (based on a price to quality ratio) in Cardiff. If you’ve not been my advice and Jay Rayner’s (I know which one you will take more notice of for the very obvious reason that he actually knows what he is talking about) is go.
My mother complains that this blog is dominated by burgers. An unfair charge as, whilst I love a good burger, over the course of 2016 only 5 posts related to burger joints.
In 2016 the London joints remain head and shoulder above what I have eaten burger wise in Cardiff (not alot to be fair), with their excellent provenance and willingness to cook a burger to my preferred medium rare. Time & Beef in Cardiff delivered a good burger,
but add ons made it a bit pricey (even in comparison to the London joints) and it falls down for me by only cooking their burgers medium or well done.
After all the hype, Shake Shack was to me a damp (and very pricey) squib (more on that below). I have yet to try Burger Theory at the recently opened Kongs in Cardiff City centre, but have high hopes based on early reports.
Cracking burger, cooked medium rare (as requested), which ticked pretty much all the boxes for me.
Cardiff is now blessed with a myriad of good pizza places (Cafe Citta, Da Mara, the Real Italian Pizza Co., Locke & Remedy and Casabrisella to name but a few and many of which I did not get around to visiting in 2016 – to be remedied in 2017).
In terms of my favourites this year, a very honourable mention goes to the Early Bird Bakery (Mrs. SF’s favourite pizza of the year) for their Apprentice showcase pizzas
but the winner for me (by a thin crust) was a purple sweet potato number from Dusty Knuckle. Great base, with an outer crispness and a chewy interior, interesting (rather than wacky) and tasty toppings, all eaten in a courtyard with oodles of rustic charm (and dog friendly to boot).
Best Meat Dish
Whilst I mightly enjoyed a beautiful slow cooked pork neck dish in Porto,
and a stunningly steak in Jerez
my winner in this category was a rack of amazingly good St.Louis ribs from Hangfire Southern Kitchen.
The pièce de la résistance of a fab fest in Barry, these were cooked to perfection with a beautiful spicey bark and a tender, smoke kissed, meaty interior that fell away from the bone with the slightest tease.
In a word, fantastic.
Best fish dish
An exemplary piece of John Dory at the Classroom
and a fab soup at Fish at 85
provided stiff opposition, but the award in this category was netted by a fantastic brill dish at Kota in Porthleven, Cornwall.
Fresh as a daisy and cooked to perfection. I should really eat more fish and dishes like this make me wonder why I don’t.
A hard fought category, with multiple entries from Porto, truly the city of the sarnie, in the form of the francesinha, the terlyene, suckling pig rolls and the bifana.
Bar 44’s bocadillos menu (eat in or take away) was packed with top notch ingredients and, as ever with that place, impressed.
The winner, however, for me was the cheesy delights sandwiched between griddled bread delivered up by Mr. Croquewich.
Quality ingredients paired in inventive ways, this is what great sarnies are all about. Fantastic to see they have a permanent spot at Riverside Market.
Trips to Porto and Jerez provided the highlights on the booze front.
In Porto Mrs. SF and I drunk fantastic still wines (Portuguese wine is so underrated and still very good value – my advice is snap it up whilst it still is)
as well as glorious Ports.
In Jerez, we worked our way around the lovely tabancos, where sherry is a religion and ludicrously cheap. It was fabulous to see young and old all drinking sherry in these place.
The booze highlight of the year was a visit to Bodega Mons Urium.
Fantastic sherry and truly lovely people. Mrs. SF and I spent a marvellous, laughter filled, afternoon of good wine, good food and good company at this place. In my book afternoons don’t get much better.
Thank you to Helen Highley of Sherry Boutique and Owen Morgan of Bar 44 for introducing me to Mons Urium wines and ultimately the fantastic people that make it and to Rocio and Alonso of Bodegas Mons Urium for making our trip to Jerez one I shall always cherish.
If you drink only one sherry in 2017, my advice is make it a Mons Urium one.
It is sold at Bar 44 in Cardiff by the bottle and by the glass
and by Sherry Boutique on the internet.
A surprisingly thin on the ground category here as I can only recall this year having one meal (at least recorded on the blog) that truly disappointed and that was at the much anticipated first Shake Shack in the UK outside of London..
Over here and overpriced, Shake Shack was hugely underwhelming. Whilst the burgers are OK (certainly nothing to rave about though to my mind), my big issue was the price charged for what you get.
Compared to my favourite burger of the year (see earlier) this place was a rip off. Miniscule burgers for mega prices, with no ability to have them cooked to your preference, is not my cup of tea at all and judging by the lack of diners everytime I walk past it of a lunch time it seems Cardiff agrees. It has been in St. Davids 2 shopping centre for a year now. I do wonder if it will still be there come the end 2017. I suspect a very low rent (bet they bagged a great deal on the rent, which is somewhat ironic) and whopping margins on what they do sell means probably yes.
I know Shake Shack devotees are legion, but I just don’t get it. To me it was a bit (actual alot) of a con.
Best of the Best
So what was the best of the best. I think on balance it has to be the Classroom. Super food at amazingly good prices (for lunch at least). Can’t really ask for more can you. Also had my work’s departmental Christmas do there and the food was great and an absolute steal (if I had been paying) at £18.95 for 3 courses. Work’s Christmas party, quality and value are not words that often go together, but the Classroom nailed it.
What I am looking forward to in 2017
Working my way through the rather wonderful wine list at the recently opened Curado Bar and the opening of the Spanish style Asador “Asador 44“, the latest venture from the people behind Bar 44. The latter’s promise of top quality chuleton/txuleton and fabulous Spanish red wine to match has me drooling in anticipation. Can’t wait for it to open in the Spring (in what is\was Greenwood & Brown on Quay Street) to complete Cardiff’s Barrio (a more fitting description than yet another “Quarter” I think).
The kitchen take over of Brewdogs (22nd Jan.) by much aclaimed chef Lee Skeet also holds huge promise (very pleased to have got in early and bagged a couple of tickets for that)..
On the booze front, I am looking forward to a vertical tasting of CVNE Imperial wines being run by the Jeroboam Club (as there are sure to be some fab vintages of a wine which ages tremendously well in my experiance) and having the ability to sample a wide selection of stuff from my wine room (without pulling a cork) using my Christmas present from Mrs. SF, in the form of a Coravin.
A seriously cool bit of kit.
Trips to Cadiz, Sevilla, Bilbao and a return (after not going in 2016) to my beloved Donostia – San Sebastian in 2017 also promise some fabulous eating and drinking.
So here’s to more good eating and drinking (and less people dying) in 2017.