Soliciting Flavours

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

Titillation or torture of the taste buds? Grey, the Hilton hotel, Cardiff City Centre.

I have been told, not having read it or watched the movie, that 50 Shades of Grey was a bit shite (and the sequels are every bit as bad it would seem).

It appears (according to my anonymous sources – not Mrs. SF I hasten to add) that the premise promised much (to some, not really my sort of book, who perhaps swoon over a topless Poldark), but as a movie it failed to deliver even the mildest titillation and provided only “squirm in your seat” embarrassment due to a truly cringe worthy script and appalling acting, as opposed to any eroticism.

This brings me to Grey, the restaurant at the Cardiff Hilton (an externally run operation, rather than in-house by the Hilton itself). Not a particularly inspiring name (was Beige already taken I wonder), I have to say, which is based (I believe) on its proximity to Cardiff’s Greyfriars Road.

In my experience (work rather than pleasure – tend to stay in apartments for the latter) hotel restaurants (mainly those in chains) often, much like 50 Shades of Grey, flatter to deceive. The menus in such places read quite well, but are priced (shall we say) ambitiously (putting it nicely) with a “They won’t care as they are on expenses” attitude.

The food when it arrives is a pale imitation of the often verbose menu descriptions which sound interesting, but all too often turn out to have the appeal of veruca.

There are exceptions to the rule with many high end places having very swanky restaurants (think Heston’s Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in London) and there is the restaurant with rooms concept (such as the Whitebrook– must get there – to name but one of many), but particularly with the hotel chains they often seriously disappoint.

Grey does not seem to have many pretentions of granduer, with a tagline of “Simple cooking at its finest” (touch pretentious perhaps). I like simple – I can relate to it. Dishes featuring on the menu sound rather homely, with a touch of finesse. Duck and black pudding scotch eggs, faggots and peas and smoke haddock rissoto all sound like crowd pleasers (if done properly – rissoto in particularly is a horror when not done properly) to me.

I noticed that they do a weekday lunch offer of 2 courses for a tenner and, loving a seeming bargain, put it on the list of places to try.

Initially I pencilled in a lunch there with J. This was after checking first she had not been barred, as she has partaken of their bottomless prosecco (can’t think of many worse thing, with cheap as chips tasteless fizz – why not cut out the middleman and just give yourself a dose of heartburn) brunch, so I am mildly surprised they are still in business (it being questionable as to whether they would let her through the door again for fear of bankruptcy). For some reason or another we never quite got there. Despite J being a marathon runner, she is remarkably reluctant to walk any distance for lunch.

A meet up with an old work colleague and friend (who escaped under the wire a few year back) and my work wife (Rachel who has had the pleasure of working with me on and off for 25 odd years) gave me the opportunity to finally give the place a go (it being roughly equidistant from our respective offices).

The Place

On the outside it is a bit dull, dare I say gray/grey. Can’t say it really draws you in if you are not staying in the hotel.

Inside it is functional,

but pleasant enough of a lunch time. Perhaps a tad clinical for an evening meal. Rach (who likes a bit of glam – chandeliers and such like – I call it tat) thought it a bit canteen/ motorway service station (bit harsh I thought). I would say, decor wise, it needs a few less “shades of grey”.

The Food

As mentioned above, the al a carte menu has some interesting sounding stuff on it, with (pleasingly) more than a nod to local ingredients and producers (such as Trealy Farm, Cefn Mawr farm and Seven & Wye Smokery).

It has a nice feel to it of casual dining, based on good local ingredients.

Tightfisted as ever, I was there for their fixed price 2 course (£10) lunch menu, which offers a choice of 5 starters and 5 mains.

Lacking the excitement of the main menu, it still offers a decent level of choice and is probably the cheapest of the City centre fixed price 2 course lunch offerings currently available. Starters looked a little more inventive/interesting than the main course on offer.

I started off with the salt cod croquettes.

These had a nicely crisp exterior (panko I think), but were a tad heavy on the potato front in the interior and a bit lacking in flavour (oddly, as it professed to contain salt cod, it seemed if anything to be a touch underseasoned) unless dunked in the aioli. Decent enough without really wowing.

I think I would have been better off going for the asparagus and poached egg number if am honest.

Others had the chicken liver pâte.

A very decent size portion, the pâte (smooth, rather than coarse, in texture making it look a tad supermarket) was nicely flavoured. It came with pretty boring toast (not enough of it – why oh why are places stingy with bread when it comes to pâte – and it looked like a standard slice) and a not half bad caramelised onion relish (which had a pleasing hit of ginger to it). Whilst the croquetas promised much, the seemingly rather staid sounding pâte delivered more on the flavour front.

On to the mains, I toyed with the idea of both the pizza and the cod fish fingers. After a bit of indecision (not unusual for me) I went for the beef tortellini

This was nice enough with a good flavour to the filling and a decent enough portion size, but was not without issues.

The pasta was a touch on the thick side and it needed a sauce of some variety. Whilst the tomatoes added a drop of liquid and there were splashes of olive oil (not a bad one at that), with the lack of liquid and the slight over thickness of the pasta, it was all just a touch on the dry side. A light sauce would have really pepped it up in my opinion

My only other slight criticism was whilst there was olive oil on the plate none seemed to have found it way on to the abundance of rocket that sat atop the tortellini. Rocket without dressing is pretty boring rabbit food if you ask me.

Notwithstanding the slight issues, as one part of a two part £10 set price lunch I though it not bad value. Few tweaks and it would be very nice.

The other dish ordered by my fellow diners was the cod fish finger and chips.

I would call them gougons rather than fingers, but bar from the name these were pronounced as very nice with a light crisp batter encasing good quality flakey white fish (which had not been overcooked).

The chips it came with were nicely crisp on the outside with a fluffy interior. This made up for the crime of serving them in a mini fryer basket (“What is wrong with just putting them on the plate?” is my automatic response to seeing stuff like this). The other accompaniments were a rather good (if oddly pale) tartar sauce, with a liberal dose of capers, and mushy peas (Rachel, heinously in my book, declined these rather than giving them to me).

The mushy peas were gratifyingly proper marrow fat ones (as should be the case for any and all dishes named mushy peas), but needed a few liberal grinds of pepper and a good sluicing of vinegar to pep them up .

All in all, though, this fish dish was very well received.

Pudding were offered, but declined.

They did sound quite nice, but the office beckoned.

The Drink

It being a work day lunch we were all on the soft drinks. Whilst the offering was limited,

the flavoured waters (this term did them a disservice in my opinion and aren’t most, if not all, soft drinks in effect flavoured water as water is invariably the principle component) were quite pleasant. My lime, ginger and lemongrass number was pleasingly tart.

Just a shame they came in jam jars (albeit with handles) rather than proper glasses and (for shame) with plastic straws (non plastic straws should really be the order of the day as if Mcdonalds can replace them surely this place can).

Despite the working day soft drink diktat, I can never resist a peak at a place’s wine list.

On the reds, there is a reasonable selection with some stuff of interest

including an Israeli number (they are making increasingly good wine these days) from the Judean Hills on it. Mark ups are OK at the top end (the Israeli number retails for £28 and is £53 on the list), but start to get a bit steeper lower down. A big bonus wine wise is they do free corkage on Monday and Tuesday nights (will have to try that), which I think is a great idea to boost numbers on traditional slow days (and saves you a bomb if you bring something decent)

The Verdict

The bill for 3 of us came to a very reasonable (for what we got) £44.00 (including the irritating automatically “I dare you not to” added discretionary tip)

Here I suspect the rationale is that most people eating there are doing so on business so will claim back the cost of the meal. Regardless of the reasons I don’t like it one little bit.

Niggles aside, I thought for what we got this was pretty good. Whilst the likes of Asador 44, the Potted Pig and the Classroom beat it for quality, its pricing is very attractive for what you get.

Would I go back? Yes – it offers decent food at a very nice price. Surroundings could be a little less gray, but who am I to criticise appearance (being far from an oil painting/style icon).

The Details

Address: Hilton Hotel, Kingsway, Cardiff, CF10 3HH

Tel: 029 2064 6400

Email: grey@hilton.com

Website: Click here

Twitter: @GREYcardiff

Instagram: @greycardiff

Opening hours: Mon – Fri : 8.00 – 22.00 and Sat – Sun: 11.00 – 22.00.

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