Soliciting Flavours

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

A touch of Frost. Park House Restaurant & Bar, Cardiff City Centre

Declaration: I didn’t have to pay for the food, which was provided free of charge (I did pay for the booze and paid a tip based on what it would have cost all in). Did this colour my review? A bit probably (well the food was free), but I have tried to be totally objective (i.e. reviewed it as I would have if I had paid in full and I wasn’t asked or even encouraged to write up my meal by the people at the Park House Restaurant & Bar) so make you own mind up.

I tend to favour a warts and all (if I don’t like something I tend to say and I do love a bit of a moan) approach when I write on this blog.

I also worry a bit about the impact on my objectivity of getting something for free and the result of this is I generally pay my way in terms of meals I blog about.

Due to this I have not written, prior to this post, a post on the blog that documents a meal that wasn’t charged by the restaurant (although my post on Asador 44 was based on soft opening prices). Feels a bit weird doing so.

Notwithstanding these misgivings, an invitation (no strings attached i.e. they made no request for me to write something about it afterwards, although I am sure they hoped I would and that it would say nice things – certainly pretty sure the invite wasn’t for my sparkling repartee) to try the food of the Chef Patron, Andrew Frost (hence the post title), at the Park House Restaurant & Bar was (if I am honest) too much of a gift horse to look in the mouth.

Mr Frost has an enviable CV with stints as sous chef (i.e. the one that does all the work) in world renown 1, 2 and 3 Michelin star restaurants including the scarely pricey La Cinq in Paris – where starters cost between €70 and €140 and mains between €95 and €180 – (Jay Rayner hated the place when he went last year, although that was post Mr. Frost leaving I believe with him being at the helm of Belle Mason by then) and Petrus in London. These are serious gourmet palaces and you don’t get to work as a chef in them unless you seriously know what you are doing.

Taking up the role of Chef Patron at the Park House Restaurant & Bar here in Cardiff is a return to the chef’s roots, with his careers having started at the St. David’s hotel as an apprentice, back when it was in the Rocco Forte portfolio.

This is clearly a man with serious ability on the food front and I am not so noble (or indeed stupid) as to turn down this sort of invite.

As a passionate oenophile, the wine list at the Park House is also a real draw. A finer list in Cardiff you will not find and I love the fact that they have a cracking selection of wines by the glass (gawd bless you Greg Lambrecht – the genius who invented the Coravin, my favourite wine gadget)

Based on Mr. Frost’s credentials, it is fair to say my expectation bar was set reasonably high, on both the food and wine front. So how did the Park House Restaurant fair as against these expectations?

The place

I have always liked the building in which the Park House Restaurant is located. A classic Victorian pile with oodles of charm both on the outside and the inside.

The old adage of ” they don’t build them like they use to” is clearly applicable here. I can’t imagine many, if any, modern buildings looking so elegant (or even still standing) in 100 plus years’ time.

Inside the opulence continues, with a imposing staircase that wouldn’t look out of place in Downton Abbey and a rather fine dining room

What it wasn’t (which I like) was stuffy. The atmosphere was nicely relaxed.

The food

I am rather partial to a tasting menu, as it allows you to experience the full gamut of the kitchen’s skills. The last one I had in Choco in Cordoba (a 17 course affair) was an absolute corker.

Here we were steered towards the 8 course number (I needed very little steering).

The menu looked to be a nice mix of classic flavours and techniques.

We toyed with the idea of ordering off the ” à la carte” menu, with the suckling pig (from the mains) and the souffle (from the puds) particularly appealing.

Despite the allure of the à la carte, there was more than enough of interest on the tasting menu so we went for that option.

A “pre amuse bouche” amuse bouche arrived first up. Very pleasing, light as a feather, cones were filled with delicately smoked fish and a cream cheese based filling, as well as umami packed nuggets of rich braised beef.

The next dish was billed as an amuse bouche, but was much more substantial in nature.

An asparagus velouté, it had that lovely freshness of new season British asparagus (the best there is in my opinion) and was studded with savoury biscuity chunks.

My only quibbles were it was quite rich and a fairly hefty portion for what was billed as an amuse bouche. An espresso cup/shot glass of this would have been plenty, with the aim (to my mind) of an amuse bouche being to wet the appetite and get the gastric juices flowing. This was close to proper starter size.

The first of the “proper” courses was a cracking number.

Two perfectly cooked plump scallops, which had a beautifully caramelized crust and a near translucent interior, were lovely and sweet.

They sat on a pea puree which could have been sweet on sweet, but balance was achieved by crispy strips of wild boar saucisson. These added a meaty saltiness to proceeding – the salty yang to the sweet ying of the scallops and peas.

A foie gras terrine was marinated in gin and encrusted with green pistachio nuts and a rhubarb compot on the side.

This was probably my least favourite dish of the meal. I like the wobble and just done texture of pan seared foie (the Basques really know how to cook it) and this was lacking here with it being in a cold pressed terrine form. I also didn’t really get the hit of botanicals from the Gwyr gin (based on the Gower) I was expecting (to subtle for my jaded taste buds perhaps).

What worked very well was the rhubarb, with it adding a nice touch of acidity to counter the richness of the terrine. Don’t get me wrong it was very nice, but just didn’t wow me.

The next dish was for me the clear “dish of the night” (J was torn between this and the venison that followed it for that accolade – as Mrs SF was working that night, dogs other than ours to look after, J was my plus one).

A very substantial (if anything too big for a tasting menu – J’s was even bigger than mine) hunk of sea bass was cooked absolutely à point for me.

A crispy skin (my photo may make it look a touch over, but it most certainly wasn’t) covered pearly white flesh which had that just gone to opaqueness to its interior. Seriously well cooked piece of fish, which flaked beautifully and was perfectly seasoned.

The cavier tortellini added a spikey brininess which I found very pleasant. The cavier and the champagne velouté bought a nice touch of decadence to this dish, whilst the al dente legumes and the crispy fish skin provided a pleasing textural contrast.

The final “main” dish was a beautifully cooked piece of venison loin (with a ruby red interior and no leakage signifying that it had been properly rested). A top quality bit of meat (nice to see it was sourced locally from Brecon) that was bested by the braised shoulder which sat by it

The cheaper cuts, which requires more cooking because they are worked muscle, are packed full of flavour and this shredded shoulder was no exception. It may not have had the visual wow factor of the loin, but flavour wise it came up trumps.

The accompaniment of roscoff onions (in a posh onion ring form) and, particularly, the very superior smoked mash (a purée with lashings of butter that wouldn’t have known a lump if it punched it in the face) were top draw.

A red wine jus had a nice level of sweetness to it, which worked well with the gamey venison and light smokiness of the mash.

Again this was a hefty portion for a tasting menu dish.

The cheese course was, thankfully, quite restrained. I assume that this was not the advertised cheese tasting plate (could be wrong), but I think we would have struggle if it had been a full on cheese board affair as J and I were approaching capacity food wise at this stage.

The cheese was light – a sort of queso fresco to my mind (probably a description that is a disservice to the cheese in question) and went very well with the honey on the side. I didn’t get the raisins though, which seemed a bit superfluous to requirements (soaking them in PX perhaps may have given them a bit of va va voom).

This dish worked rather well as a palate cleanser.

J and I were getting quite full by this point so passed on the rhubarb with Brecon gin sorbet and went straight to the intriguing (to me) fennel crème brûlée, with oats and confit lemon.

A very light and refreshing dish this. The brûlée was molecular thin (rather than the plate glass thickness I have experienced elsewhere) and the crème was just set with a lovely wobble.

The fennel (the whispy frond bits) was in candied form and as a component of a gel. Both bought a refreshing sweet anise hit to the dish, which was tempered by the sourness of the confit lemon. The oat crumb provided a nice crunch.

A nice end to the meal, although I was probably a bit too full to appreciate fully the intricacies of the clever flavour combinations at this point.

Little boxes then arrived with petit fours, but I was close to full on Mr. Creosote so passed. J said the cakey one (a canelé I think – I have no idea where she puts it, must have hollow legs!) was very nice, but even she admitted defeat at the chocolate ganache.

The drink

To me a meal is not complete without a decent glass or two of wine. Jean Anthelme Brillat – Savarin put it very eloquently when he coined the phrase ” A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine“. I prefer it to his other “A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye” (doesn’t have the same ring to it does it – maybe he had had too much of the sunshine juice at that point).

The wine list at the Park House is a thing of beauty. Whilst I love the Spanish dominated list at Asador 44, this place has to have hands down the best list on offer in Cardiff (and probably a much wider area). It has garnered many an award and rightly so as it is a belter.

Great offering of wines from all over the world liberally studded with some absolute gems. At over 200 pages it is a tome of biblical proportions, although not quite up there with Rekondo’s 125,000 plus cellar (I have instructed Mrs. SF to surreptitiously scatter my ashes in Rekondo’s cellar when I slip this mortal coil – I suspect I will go in the wheelie bin).

We started off in the bar, which has lots of interest by the glass.

We went for a rather fine rioja (£9 for a 125 ml glass) in the form of a Bodegas Sierras Cantabria Reserva (2010 – a cracking vintage in Rioja). I have visited this Bodega and the Eguren family are in my opinion some of the best wine makers in Spain. This wine is a fine example of rioja, with toasted oak and spice on the nose and a lovely plumminess on the palate, with a back note of dried herbs. Great length to it as you savour it on the palate.

Degustation/tasting menus present a quandary in terms of pairing wines. The diverse mix of delicate and robust flavours and the fact that you have seafood and red meat means one wine can struggle to cope and a pairing for each course is often the way to go. Here they offer a interesting pairing of wines for each course at £45 per head (or £65 if you choose the “Icon” pairing).

Nice as the pairings were, I decided that we would stick to one bottle and then it was a question of exploring the mightly list for a suitable candidate.

To me the obvious choice for a tasting menu containing both seafood and game would be either a riesling or a grüner veltliner. Wines made from these grapes are very versatile.

I am a big fan of grüner veltliner, which to me is a food wine par excellence. Austrian wine remains very underrepresented (and underrated) in the UK and it was nice to see a decent selection on offer here.

We plumped for a very fine grüner veltliner

which coped admirably with everything the food from the tasting menu throw at it. Lovely minerality to this wine, with citrus notes and, that GV trade mark, white pepperiness. It also had enough oomph for it not to be overawed by the venison. A very fine and versatile wine.

Wine marks ups here are not unreasonable for the UK. By way of example the 2010 Bodegas Sierra Cantabria reserva retails at around the £20 mark and is on the list here at £49 and the 2016 Loimer Gruner Veltiner on the list at £32 retails at just under £15. Regrettably not Spanish style mark ups, but pretty fair as against the norm in the UK.

There is some truly spectacular stuff on the list, with the likes of La Tache, Chateau Margaux and Penfolds Grange in there for those with deep pockets. The Domaine de La Romanee -Conti, La Tache (one of the world’s great wines) 1995 is on the list at a heart stopping £4.5k (it does retails at about £3.5k mind).

Whilst there is loads of top end stuff, prices start at a reasonable £22 for both reds and whites.

One minor quibble on the wine front. The very reliable La Gitana, a manzanilla, is sold here by the glass only in a 75ml measure. My view (expressed many a time on this blog) is that finos and manzanillas should be served in the same glass format as any other white wine (here they should have at least a 125ml option in my opinion).

Notwithstanding this very minor quibble, this place really takes wine seriously and it has a seriously good list. This makes it a must visit for any oenophiles in or passing through Cardiff.

The verdict

J and I very much enjoyed our meal at the Park House Restaurant & Bar. It takes a very classic French approach to the construction of the menu and the cooking technics applied to the dishes. There is little of what I would call edgy stuff, so don’t expect any molecular gastronomy or whacky flavour combinations ( fennel crème brûlée aside).

To be honest I quite like this classic approach. Good food doesn’t need to be mucked about with too much and experimental flavour combinations often play havoc with wines. As such I like the approach they have taken with the menus here.

The classical approach was also applied to the way dishes were presented. All on proper plates with not a slate or board in sight (bar from the pre amuse bouche, which is fair enough). That is an approach I very much like.

In terms of the pricing, if I am honest it felt a bit odd at the end of the meal to only have to shell out for the booze and a tip.

Some may think £75 a head (sans booze) is a lot and they are right it is, but this price needs to be put into perspective. You get eight pretty substantial courses (if anything too substantial) and when you think a very mediocre 3 course meal (without booze) at Jamie Oliver’s Italian can cost £40 a head then it actually starts to look very reasonable based on the quality and quantity of what is on offer here.

Not cheap I grant you but I think it represents fair value at £75. Ok I didn’t have to pay that in this instance, but I can honestly say I would be happy to do so next time I visit.

My only gripe with the food was the sheer quantity of it. All courses we had off the tasting menu were quite substantial and I was very full by the end (it was thankfully spread over a fair few hours to add digestion). Each course was, to me, close to main menu size and to eat 8 courses of that size is a push even for gluttons like J and I.

Odd criticism you may think, but J and I perhaps didn’t appreciate the final dessert as much as we should have (we actually skipped one course) due to fullness. Great food, but it may be an idea to pair down some of the portion sizes just a tad.

It will be interesting to compare this with the 4/5 course, £65, Hardwick pop up at Cornerstone in Cardiff on the 1st June (which I am going to).

On the booze front, the real draw for me is the wine. The list is quite simply superb, hands down the best in Cardiff.

Would I go back? Very good food and a stellar wine list make a return visit (with Mrs. SF) a most definite yes.

Their wine dinners look of particular interest, with an all in price including the food and wines from a top class producer (with the benefit of their wisdom regarding their wines). The next one is a Yalumba (a very fine Australian producer – their Octavius wine is awesome) wine dinner on the 16 May. Very good value I think at £79 for 7 course with the very fine wines of Yalumba and I am rather peeved that I can’t make it. Plenty more over the year though.

The “by the glass” list (and charcuterie) on offer in the wine bar will also have me coming back to this place.

The details

Address: 20 Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3DQ

Tel: 029 2022 4343

Email: enquiries@parkhouserestaurant.co.uk

Twitter: @PH_Restaurant

Instagram: @parkhouse_restaurant

Opening hours: Lunch Tues- Sat: 12.00 – 14.30; Dinner Tues – Sat: 17.00 – 23.00: Wine bar Tues – Sat: 11.00 – midnight.

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