Soliciting Flavours

Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine

Dinner’s in the Dog – Lee Skeet pop up at BrewDog, Cardiff City Centre. 

The title to this post does not allude to the all to common occurrence of me being in Mrs. SF’s bad books, but rather to the perhaps surprising (at least to me) choice of BrewDog as a venue for a six course tasting menu event by a chef as highly rated as Lee Skeet.

Lee Skeet has an enviable CV as a chef, working with Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Tom Atkins in the UK and in 2 and 3 star establishments on the continent. He was also head chef at Hedone (when it got its Michelin star).

Clearly a hugely talented chef, so when I heard he was doing a pop up at BrewDogs in Cardiff (a follow up to the sell out event held by him there last year) I bought tickets for Mrs.SF and I immediately (without even seeing the menu). Not something I wanted to miss (with only 2 rolling sittings, which sold out very quickly).

Place

As I have already taken a look at BrewDog (and commented on its interior) in a much earlier post, I shall only say regarding the place that it is not somewhere where you would expect to be served up Michelin star quality food. Good beer, decent enough burgers and street style food – they have set themselves up as one of the (if not the) pop up venues of choice in Cardiff – yes, but a menu that would not look out of place in a palatial Michelin starred palace – no.

I am very much of the view that what a place looks like is truly secondary to the food, which must always come first. There is nothing worse than somewhere that aesthetically talks the talk (with chandeliers and waiting staff with a pole up their arses), but doesn’t walk the walk food wise. I, therefore, found the choice of BrewDog by a top class chef like Lee Skeet rather refreshing. It seemed to me to shout “It’s all about the food”.

So a nice enough rustic venue, but what about the all important food.

The food

The menu reflects the chef’s Cornish roots, with seafood to the fore including a rather authentic take on surf and turf in the form of “Beef & Oysters, Hot and Cold” (beef and oyster pie far pre-dating the current – and much abused –  steak and lobster ‘surf and”turf” combo, with oysters in Dickensian days being as cheap as chips and thus the food of the masses). 

 Cornish mackerel

An amuse bouché got proceedings off to a cracking start. 

Fresh as a daisy, this had a lovely charred skin with the flip side of the fish almost translucent. The charred skin and innate oiliness of the mackerel were beautifully complemented by a refreshingly sharp cucumber sauce, spiked with cider vinegar and a slice of lovely acidic green apple.

Beef & Oyster: Hot and Cold

I, perhaps unusually, tend to prefer my oysters cooked a touch rather than totally au naturel. The light cooking of the oysters here as the “hot” part  of the dish was, therefore, perfect for me. The oysters still had that essence of the sea taste to them, but the texture was a little less challenging (the cooking was very minimal mind) which meant a chew could be applied as I ate it rather than it simply sliding down the throat. 

The beef element, in the form of bone marrow, added a lovely buttery, umami, meatiness to the dish. Mrs. SF, who has a life long aversion to oysters and is not keen on bone marrow either, was totally converted by this dish. That is no mean feat, as that lady is usually not for turning. 

The second “cold” part of this course was a beautiful quenelled tartare of 50 day dry aged beef from a farm local to the chef’s St.Ives base. This was beef how it should taste and oh so rarely does. The supremely beefy flavour was supercharged by nuggets of creamy fat nestled amongst the chopped beef.

The beef  sat in a delicate warm umami rich shio kumbo dashi, which acted as a lovely seasoning to the beef.  One word sums this dish up nicely – divine

Crab spaghetti with lettuce sauce

Next up was a corker of a seafood dish with beautifully flavoured, slightly warmed, Cornish crab as the centre piece. I personally prefer crab to, its more illustrious cousin, lobster and this was top quality stuff. Cornish crab is hard to beat on the flavour front in my opinion.

It came with the previously ubiquitous, but now seemingly as “rare as hen’s teeth” courgetti (which perversely could well have been the priciest element of the dish due to the inclement weather at the time on the continent seriously affecting supplies). I am not a huge fan of the courgette, finding it a bit of a wishy-washy vegetable, but here it operated as a rather efficient vehicle for the more complex flavours in this dish. 

The lettuce velouté was a revelation. How do you get that much flavour from a humble lettuce, I wonder?  The dish was topped off with a shrimp and beurre noisette foam. Can’t say I got a great deal favour wise from the foam (and certainly not the trade mark nuttiness of a beurre noisette), but it didn’t detract from what was a fab dish.

Slow cooked monkfish, mussels and nori sauce

This dish was a substitute for the previously billed (on the website) scallop (with lapsang souchong and smoked potato) dish, the result of which I had to re-title the post from my original “The dog’s scallops?” which I had been rather pleased with (little things please little minds). The reason for this, we were told, was that the scallops provided by their supplier weren’t up to scratch so were scratched from the menu. I like that attitude a lot.

The replacement was another gorgeous ensemble of top quality ingredients cooked perfectly.

An almost impossibly white chunk of meaty monkfish was spankingly fresh and cooked à point for me. It came with some al dente tenderstem broccoli and a couple of meaty mussels. 

The star of the show here, however, was a superb mussel and nori sauce. This captured brilliantly a taste of the seaside, with the flavours reminiscent of that blast of ozone you get as a roller crashes onto the shoreline.   

Roast duck, carrots and shellfish sauce

The meat dish was a ruby red piece of duck, which nailed the tricky to achieve troika of properly rendered down fat, crispy skin and a not overcooked interior. Left to rest, so the juices were re-absorbed, it was a delightfully tasty piece of poultry. Probably the best duck dish I have tried and that includes Michelin star gaffs like Kokotxa in Donostia San Sebastian.

The duck came with a light, but intense, shellfish sauce which worked very well and some delightfully decadent carrots (batons and puree) cooked in duck fat. A lovely touch of acidity, as against the richness of the duck, was provided by some mouth puckeringly sharp pink grapefruit segments.

Cheese course (optional at £6 per head extra)

Being utter piggies Mrs. SF and I couldn’t resist the offer of an additional cheese course (especially as we had a large glass of red to finish off before the final pudding course) and what arrived was a lovely plate of Cornish cheeses (yarg, a blue and a brie). 

All were first rate, with the brie properly ripe. A lovely way to finish the glass of red we had with the duck before the dessert arrived.  

Warm chocolate mousse, orange and yoghurt

Not perhaps much of a looker this dish and I don’t know if this was the desired form or not (I suspect it had collapsed a bit), but what it was was very tasty. 

The rich, but light, mousse had an effective counterpoint in the form of the slight sourness of the yoghurt. It was topped off by bits of intense orange flavour, provided by cubes scattered over the mousse and zesty orange peel. Think a totally superior and unctuous chocolate orange. A very pleasant dish to finish off a super meal.  

The drink 

On the booze front, tasting menus are notoriously tricky to pair wine wise due to the diversity of flavours on display. As the venue is famed for the breadth of its beer offering, it would have been nice to have had a beer pairing (1\3 of a pint say) for each of the courses. I think that would have been very interesting (a stout with the beef and oyster, for instance) . Alas this was not something available on the day, although I did mention it to the lady running front of house who seemed receptive to the idea for future (see below for details) events they will be doing at BrewDog here in Cardiff.

It would have been churlish not to have at least one beer when dining in a beer orientated place like BrewDog and a number called “Bam Biere” tickled my fancy with a rather lovely dog related back story. A very nice, refreshing, beer which lived up admirably to the promising description the blurb gave it.

In the absence of a beer pairing option (and not wanting too much volume booze wise), I defaulted to my usual drink option with a good meal – wine.  As I alluded to earlier, the diversity of flavours most tasting menus deliver makes a single wine match tricky. 

The short, but nicely priced, wine list luckily offered that food wine par excellence  Gruner Veltiner from Austria. A rather nice one in the form of a 2015 Zero_G number (£21.50 here and about £11 retail – so a fair make up) which I duly ordered. 

The fresh, tangy, green fruit acidity of this wine, together with added pepperiness and a creaminess that is typical of this grape when from the somewhat obscure Wagram wine region, makes  for a very versatile food wine. Brilliant with the fish dishes here and rich enough to cope with the red meat elements.

With the rare duck breast I did, however, fancy a red. Pinot noir is the classic pairing with duck, but that option was not available here. I, therefore, settled on a large glass (each for Mrs. SF and I) of carmenere (£6.85 for a 250ml glass) from Santa Rita (a well respected Chilean winery of whom I am a big fan, especially their flagship Casa Real wine). 

Dark fruits work well with duck and this had nice rounded flavours of black cherry and cassis and just enough acidity to cope with the rich fattiness of the duck. Whilst, for me, a decent pinot noir would have been the ideal match for this dish, the carmenere worked well enough with it and there was enough left to drink with the cheese course.

The verdict 

A lovely meal from start to finish. This was absolutely top draw cooking from a hugely talented chef, who really understands how to bring out the best of the brilliant ingredients he has available on his doorstep in Cornwall. 

The service was informative and friendly, but not obtrusive, allowing for a nicely paced leisurely Sunday lunch. Just how I like it.

Price wise, the 6 (in reality 7 if you count the beef and oyster elements as 2) courses were a smidgen over £40 a head. With the extra cheese course and the booze, we paid (sans a tip) just over £130 all in. Not cheap (we did go in heavy on the booze), but certainly well worth it. I have paid a lot more for far less enjoyable meals.

Would I go back? Absolutely and the good news for Cardiff is they are repeating this pop up at BrewDog on a monthly basis from March through to July this year. 

My advice is snap up a ticket(s) while you can. They are bound to sell out sharpish. I will definitely be going to at least one, if not more.

Tickets can be bought direct from Lee Skeet’s website. Click here to take you to the page where you can buy tickets for each of the upcoming Cardiff events.

Details

Address: BrewDog,  31 Westgate Street, Cardiff, CF10 1EH

Email: leeskeet@yahoo.com

Twitter: @leeskeet

Website:  https://leeskeet.com

Instagram: @leeskeet13

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