Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
Llandaff (a suburb of Cardiff, as well as a city in its own right due to it having its own cathedral, where I live) has a quaint high street with a number of pubs, cafes and restaurants. The latest is a relatively new venture on the site that was previously occupied by the Pickled Radish.
I am not entirely sure where the Pickled Radish went wrong, but (perhaps) over ambition (menu wise) and pricing (perceived by many Llandaffian’s as a bit high – I though it was ok price wise bar from the wine, but I nearly always moan about that) seemed to be the crux of it.
Llandaff residents are, I think, a touch conservative and this is reflected in terms of the dining scene in Llandaff as against the more trendy areas of Cardiff, such as Pontcanna and Penylan.
Where Seren Diemwnt (Seren is star in Welsh – hence the post title) sits in terms of its food focus and target market is an interesting question. The menu on the one hand looks quite interesting (especially some of the “specials” on offer), but on the other hand they offer some quite traditional fair (fish and chips, burgers and steak and chips). They also have a pensioners menu (reflective perhaps of the fact that the age of the average Llandaff residents is a tad over the norm) in respect of which I do not qualify (despite what a little g#t at B&Q may have thought, a while back, when I hobbled in on crutches one Wednesday and got asked if I had a Diamond Club card – I assume he has managed to extract the crutch by now).
Mrs. SF and I, for one of our irregular date nights, choose this place on the grounds that the menu looked interesting, I like trying new places and it having the advantage of being only a short walk away and thus meant not leaving the doggies too long home alone.
I was intrigued by the place if am honest and am always looking for nice (ideally independent) places to eat out within a short walk of my house.
Inside it is pretty understated. I like simple decor so it worked for me. They do have a profusion of those pointless spider lights which offer zero illumination, meaning you require other lights on as well. Begs the question as to why bother with them, but some people must like them as they seem to be everywhere these days.
Overall, spider lights aside, nice enough.
The main menu is a slightly odd mix of ambition (dehydrated orange, beignets) and tradition (fish and chips, a burger)
The specials board (in theory) offers more on the invention side, with the likes of various pearled items.
On the starter front I can’t say I was massively enthused by either the main menu or the specials board, but after a bit of humming and harring went for the Cajun spiced pork belly (with crackling and a turnip and hazelnut puree – priced at £6.15). What arrived was nicely presented and the pork belly was cooked well so that it was yielding and tender, with a crisp top.
There were, however, a number of issues with this dish. The pork was somewhat lacking in seasoning, with little evidence of the advertised Cajun spicing. The result of this was it was a bit bland.
In addition, the crackling was “book a visit to the dentist” hard to the point of being difficult to eat (I have rather sturdy gnashers so powered through – not one perhaps for the pensioners with dentures though) and the puree was lacking a bit in terms of flavour from either the promised turnip or hazelnut. Finally, I have no idea of the purpose served by the lone slice of bread on the plate. All in all it was somewhat lacking pizzazz on the flavour front.
Mrs. SF went (from the specials board) for the chilli and lemon chicken cakes with orange pearls (£6).
Again this disappointed. There wasn’t much in the way of chilli or lemon flavour to the cakes and the orange pearls tasted of very little (it was unclear as to what they were doing on the plate). Personally I think it is better to get the basics right on the flavour front before mucking about with fancy dan stuff like spherification (did someone get a new toy for Christmas I wonder).
We moved on to the mains, somewhat dispirited. Whilst liking the sound of most of the elements of the duck dish, the passion fruit sauce didn’t particularly appeal to me. I, therefore, decided on the brisket ballantine, with sauted new potatoes, mushrooms, cava Nero (assumed on ordering to be cavolo nero – hark at me the typo king pulling someone up on a typo!!), chestnut puree and a sweet red wine jus (£15).
As with the pork belly dish, this was nicely presented and a big ole portion. The main brisket element was very tender and not at all dry (a real risk with brisket). I enjoyed this dish, although it was (for my tastes at least) a touch light on the seasoning (nowhere near as badly as the pork belly or the chicken cakes).
The vegetables were nice, particularly the cavolo nero which had been cooked so it retained a pleasing bite to it. The red wine jus had a decent flavour, but would have benefited from being reduced a tad more to concentrate that flavour and having some knobs of butter whisked in to it to thicken and gloss it up just a bit. I can’t honestly say I noticed the advertised chestnut element in the puree.
Pleasant and decent value at £15, more generous seasoning of the brisket and a jus that packed a bit more of a flavour punch would have really elevated this dish.
Mrs. SF went for the rack of Welsh lamb, despite it being (in my view) a tad ambitiously priced at £24.
The lamb was cooked an appropriate shade of pink (in line with Mrs. SF’s tastes, but she wasn’t asked how she liked it cooked so if you are not keen on pink lamb best say upfront) and the fat was properly rendered down with a crispy skin. A decent bit of lamb, with a good flavour to it, was Mrs. SF’s verdict. This, unlike the other dishes, was bang on in terms of seasoning, with a good crust of Middle Eastern spices.
There was, however, a disproportionate amount of red cabbage on the plate and the lava bread sauce brought little of noteworthiness to the dish. The latter was, in Mrs. SF’s opinion, a component too far. Mrs. SF thought a decent red wine jus would have been better option.
This dish and the brisket showed, after the bland starters, that the kitchen can clearly cook. Personally I think they need to rein in their seeming desire to add an extra element or two (the lava bread, orange pearls and various purees being cases in point) to their dishes.
On the puds front we decided on sharing the cheese (a pricey £9.25)
A nicely runny brie style cheese and a decent blue were let down by a fairly run of the mill goats cheese and a very regulation cheddar.
In terms of the crackers there weren’t enough of them as against the amount of cheese (why are some restaurant so stingy on the cracker/ bread front with cheese?) and for £9.25 I expected crackers a bit better (Pete’s Yard or something of that ilk), than those out of a Jacob’s cracker selection box from whence these ones definitely came.
The chutney and grapes were nice, but all the sun-dried tomatoes brought to the party was leathery acidity and a bucket load of oil.
Readers will know I like a decent bottle of wine with a meal and believe that good food always benefits from good wine and vice versa. I think, therefore, any restaurant worth its salt should have at least a half decent wine list.
The wine list doesn’t have to be a tome/bible a la Rekondo in Donostia San Sebastian (125,000 plus bottles), with all that is necessary being a reasonable (don’t mind it being brief) selection of well chosen wines taking into account the nature of the food on offer. In short, a list based on just a little thoughtful sourcing.
When I got the drinks list here I assumed I had not been given the wine list and queried this. I was told there was more stuff overleaf,
but on duly turning it over I found nada extra wine wise. Mrs. SF asked me, at this point, if there was any sherry on the list! I (sighing mournfully) said she was more likely to find unicorn tears on the list than any sherry.
The good news was they had a few decent beers from local Pontcanna brewers, Pipes, for the hop heads.
For grape fans like me, however, it was lean pickings to say the least. Just three reds (only one named), four whites (again only one named – all, bar from a Welsh white, the usual suspects), a rosé and two fizzes. It was good to see Welsh wines on offer, but I was not keen on the last red from Glyndwr wines I tried (was a while back mind) and their white was not really in sync with my food choices.
This left, on the red front, a dispiriting choice of an unidentified Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. It transpired they didn’t have the Cab. Sauv. (really – a place only has three reds on its list and one is out of stock on a Friday night!) so it was reluctantly a merlot (I was sorely tempted to simply give up on the wine and default to the Pipes, but Mrs. SF is not much of a beer drinker).
The merlot we got was a bog standard supermarket number (as, I assume, the Cab. Sauv. would have been so why they didn’t have any on a Friday night is a mystery to me), which goes for a fiver in Tesco.
Not actively unpleasant, it was just dull and lacklustre The price of £15.95 represented a heavy mark up for what is a pretty average industrially produced wine selling for a fiver in your local Tesco.
Oddly the mark ups on the Glyndwr wines were quite reasonable. The red retails at £12.99 and was £18.89 on the list and the white retails at £11.99 and was (perversely) £19.57 on the list. Both oddly precise prices and seemingly the wrong way around!
Is this a conscious effort to push the Glyndwr wine or just confused pricing? Like to think the former, suspect the latter if am honest.
To me the wine offering here is all a bit lacking in thought regarding what is an important part of eating out for many people.
In a word, disappointing. The nicely pink rack of lamb, in particularly, was crying out for a quality Rioja or Ribera del Duero wine and my brisket would have paired well with a decent Aussie Shiraz or an Argentinian Malbec (or an Auxerrois – malbec by another name – from Cahor in France).
I am not sure what to make of Seren Diemwnt. The mains showed some element of promise, but the starters were a bit dull and the wine list was poor.
Personally, if you are going to charge £24 for a main course you really need to offer a half decent wine list to your punters.
The bill was £76.35 (sans a tip)
and I think it is instructive to compare this will the pretty much faultless Arbennig, where we ate a few weeks back. If you discount drinks from both bills, the total for the food at Arbennig was £67 as opposed to £60.40 at Seren Diemwnt. The difference in quality was a lot more than just over £3 a head I can tell you and I know which one Mrs. SF and I will be going back to first.
I really wanted to like Seren Diemwnt more, as it is darn convenient to where I live and who doesn’t want a really good place to eat just up the road. Maybe we caught them on a bad day? I really do hope so.
Would I go back? May be give it another go, but can’t say I am enthused at the thought (with the pants wine list really putting me off) and thus I am in no hurry to do so. It is a cut throat market out there and, in my opinion, this place will needs to up it game if it wants to compete with the likes of Arbennig.
Sadly not the shining star, I was hoping for.
Address: 48 High Street, Llandaff, Cardiff, CF5 2DZ
Tel: 029 29564646
Opening hours: Tues – Sat : 9.30 – 15.30 and 17.00 – 23.30; Sun: 12.00 – 17:00; Mon: Closed.