It is that time of the year again when the excesses of Christmas have passed and we have the ginormous anti-climax that is New Year’s Eve to (not) look forward to. To me NYE is second only to Valentine’s Day in the overrated stakes and likewise best avoided. Yes I know I’m a miserable git, but I just can’t bring myself to like, let alone love, NYE and the dogs absolutely hate the fireworks (so can’t be left – meaning a meal out in not an option)!
As such this post mainly looks back at the joys of the past year on the food and drink front
Best meat dish
A bountiful category this one with meat feasts galore. Asador 44 opened in Cardiff and set the bar very high in terms of quality meat products. Superb Cinco Jotas Iberico ham and the crème de la creme of beef steaks in the form of Rubia Gallega.
This was equalled by a cracking dry aged steak (this time from an old Basque milker) at the delightfully quirky Casa Rufo in Bilbo. I can still smell and taste it now.
Aligned to a fabulous selection of wines (at rock bottom prices) this was up there with the year’s best, but not quite the tops.
Away from the beef, the new (and very impressive) Milkwood in Pontcanna provided some very classy cooking including a “to die for” duck dish.
The top accolade, however, goes to the simply sublime Taiwanese fried chicken chop at Bao in London.
With this dish, Bao elevated the humble chicken to super food stardom. A crispy, beautifully spiced, coating that can only have come from the culinary God’s encasing a succulent piece meat from a top quality bird. People often say “it tastes a bit like chicken” as a statement of blandness, but if everything tasted like Bao’s Taiwanese chicken chop then I would be a happy man.
Best fish dish
Another strong category (I really have eaten rather well this year), with the carabinero (beats lobster any day in my book) at Asador 44
and superb smoked eel dishes at Bao
and Milkwood all seriously impressing.
The winner, however, was a hake dish, which was part of a fantastic 6 course meal at Bodegon Alejandro in Donostia San Sebastian.
Hake is revered as a fish in Spain and dishes like this are testimony as to why. Cooked to perfection with a crispy skin and just past translucent, the pearly white flesh epitomises why we should eat more fish and particularly more hake (why let the Spanish have it all). Add to that a killer citrus vinigrette (more a lemon hollandaise to me) and you had my winning fish dish. Simple, but simply sensational.
Best fixed price meal
Regular readers of the blog will know I am a big fan of the fixed price menu, be it a degustation blow out or a more modest 2 course lunch.
The big hitters here were the degustation menu meals I had in my beloved Spain. Bodegon Alejandro produced a top draw meal at a very reasonable price (€46).
but the winner was Código de Barro in Cadiz.
Stunning food at a ridiculouly cheap price (€30) from their menu clasico,
especially when you add in the bargain wine pairing price of an extra €12, (no that is not one of my many typos, it really was only €12).
If you are anywhere near Cadiz (beautiful city – great food, bags of history and gorgeous beaches – highly recommended) go to this place.
The burgers at Burger Theory (Kongs)
and Luvly Grub in Cardiff impressed (with Luvly Grub offering the added bonus of super value),
London wise (still, I am afraid, streets ahead of Cardiff on the burger front) the interesting and innovative veni -moo at Mac n Wild was top draw
but the clear winner for me was the Bleecker double cheese burger.
No mucking about here, just top quality ingredients (fantastic dry aged beef) cooked absolutely à point for me. Best burger I had this year by a country mile.
Another strong category, with Luvly Grub offering fantastic value with their breakfast, burger and hotdog offering,
as did the ever reliable Classroom with their amazing lunch offer
and pretty much everywhere Mrs SF and I ate whilst on holiday in Cadiz offered bargains galore.
For sheer value for money, the Malay cusine at Woker Shaker took some beating,
but the winner for me was the fixed price lunch and early evening menu at Asador 44
which offers 1, 2 or 3 courses of fabulous food for £10, £15 or £20. Very good wines are available by the glass or bottle, if you are free from the shackles of going back to the office. Fab deal and a must if you are in Cardiff and looking for a good lunch. Great to see this offer was available the week between Christmas and the New Year to assuage my pain at being in the office.
Lots of new places opened up this year in Cardiff, with my personnel favourites including Asador 44 (for both lunch and dinner), the delightfully quirky Blue Honey Night Cafe
and the beautiful vegetarian food on offer at Mangla’s Spice of Life
Local dentist Imran Nathoo aka Kitchen Clonc also burst onto the scene, following a well deserved top 10 MasterChef finish, with a series of highly successful and down right tasty pop ups.
and the Dough Thrower brought a strong pizza offering (something Cardiff is already well blessed with, with the likes of Dusty Knuckle, De Mara et al)
The winner for me though was Milkwood in Pontcanna. The classy and inventive food on offer here was a delight and it deserves many a plaudit going forward.
This is exactly the sort of restaurant Cardiff needs.
I am not really much of a pudding person, but this year I had some truly lovely desserts.
Asadors 44’s desserts, as with everything they did, excelled and I loved their deep fried rice pudding and fig number
The torrija de nata at Código de Barra in Cádiz was the best of this classic Spanish dessert I have had ( and I have had many) to date.
Milkwood’s cherry and chocolate number had Mr. SF in raptures (and would probably get her vote as best dessert)
and Bao’s cute as a button (and tasty as hell) Horlicks ice cream bao also wowed
The winner, however, for me was the amazing flavour and texture sensation that was the Bob Limón at Bar Zeruko in Donostia San Sebastián
Required to be eaten in a strict order it was a work of genius melding sweet, sour and bitter as well as varying textures together. Lovely to look at and fantastic to eat – just brilliant. I am back in Donostia in June and this will be on the list of things to try again (it is a long list).
Best breakfast/ brunch
Rather lovely newcomers the Potting Shed in Llandaff
and Caffi Sio, down the bay,
both impressed on this front, but Dusty Knuckle did it again with an awesome breakfast/brunch offering at their Canton base.
Regrettably this brunch offering is not on at the moment, but (as I understand it) hopefully it is being relaunched again in the Summer (fingers crossed).
I must get to Early Bird for their breakfast/brunch in 2018
Best wine list
I love wine and to be the whole package a restaurant has (to my mind) to have a quality list. Doesn’t need to be a massive tome, just some well chosen and interesting wines that go with the food on offer.
Asador 44 has a great list chosen by their stellar sommelier, Fergus Muirhead, with some really interesting stuff from all over my favourite wine country in the form of Spain.
Nice section of stuff by the glass and carafe as well as the bottle, which I like.
Both Bar 44
and Curado Bar
continued to feed, admirably, my growing sherry addiction.
In Spain, both Casa Rufo
and Bodegon Alejandro
really delivered on both the quality and price front. Fab wines at (compared to the UK) bargain prices.
The winner for me, however, was the fantastic list of oddball and natural wines on offer at Wright’s Food Emporium. Some really interesting stuff from tiny producers that both delighted and (in some cases) challenged, with very fair mark ups.
It is great that the staff know their onions wine wise and are more than capable of assisting with choices to go with the fab food on offer.
Not many places in UK where you will get to see a welschriesling on the list.
The added bonus here is these wines have been available to buy via their pop up in Castle Arcade and will be served with charcuterie (fingers crossed) in a wine bar at the same location come February.
Best of the best
Close competition this with Milkwood coming in a shade behind in second and the delightful Blue Honey Night Cafe and Wright’s Food Emporium also sharing the podium, but the winner has to be Asador 44.
It ticked all the boxes for me, with a cracking selection of stuff off the parrilla ranging from mighty, dry aged, steaks to whole turbots and legs of milk fed lamb. Add to that a lovely wine list (mainly from Spain, put together with skill and care by sommelier Fergus Muirhead), fabulous cheeses and their fantastic fixed price lunch/early evening offer and you have a heady mix.
My go to place for a good lunch or a celebration meal in Cardiff
Cracking year on the food and booze front, with some fabulous additions to the food scene and old favourites (such as Bar 44 and Dusty Knuckle) continuing to bring a smile to my face, as I stuffed it full of their lovely food.
Cardiff is definitely on the up on the food front and wine front and I also enjoyed rich pickings on my travels outside of Cardiff.
Few thing I am excited about for next year:
- Wright’s Wine in Castle Arcade (currently a pop up wine and beer shop, with loads of wine, beer and food related goodies) is set to open (in Feb) as a wine bar selling their great selection of natural wines, cheese and charcuterie. Fabulous news;
- The seemingly distinct possibility of Stephen Terry opening up a place in Cardiff which will seriously up the ante;
- A food and wine trip to Cordoba, Montilla Morales (#theotherplace producing wines akin to, but not to be confused with, sherry and my top tip as an area to buy wines from in 2018) and Malaga; and
- A pintxos and Michelin star dining trip to Donostia San Sebastián and Bilbao.
- May see if can squeeze in a trip to one of Madrid, Lisbon or Vienna.
So, in conclusion, I hope you have enjoyed reading (typos and all) the blog as much as I have eating and drinking for it this year and here’s to a food and wine filled 2018.