Hooray for Heaney’s – so is this a great British menu? Heaney’s, Pontcanna, Cardiff.

This post relates to a soft opening event at which the food prices were 50% of the standard prices (booze was full price). Whilst undoubtedly paying half price for food makes me happier than paying full price, I have tried to be as impartial as possible. I wasn’t asked or even encouraged to write a review (they probably have no idea that I write this blog if truth be told). Bearing this in mind make your own mind up 🙂.

Cardiff has been abuzz with the latest restaurant opening in the form of Heaney’s, which is located in the old (and much loved by many) Arbennig unit (I miss those chips☹, but you can still get them at the Lamb and Flag in Wick 😀 and I hear tell that Heaney’s chips are rather fine).

Pre-dating, by one day, the official opening (10th October) I managed to bag Mrs. SF and I a table at the soft opening. I got in due to me being one of the people who crowd funded the place rather than the blog I believe.

I am up on there (a lot of wise people and me supported it), but shall preserve my semi secret “nobody actually gives a toss who you are” blogger identity

A man clearly with impeccable timing (somewhat of a pre- requisite for a chef), Tommy Heaney managed to coincide his new place’s opening week with his appearance as one of the finalist in the latest series of the Great British Menu (having triumphed in the Northern Ireland regional heat over much vaunted opposition including the joint chef patron, Shauna Froydenland, at the Marcus Wareing restaurant at the Berkley Hotel – which is some scalp).

Always good to have TV coverage (on the day in question he came an agonisingly close 2nd to the Marron Grass chef, Ellis Barrie, in terms of the fish course) when you are opening a new gaff.

With the Cardiff bloggeratti (Gourmet Gorro and the Plate Licked Clean et al) swooning over the merits of the Heaney’s pop up (which operated whilst the main gaff was refurbished) and my work colleagues telling me how good it was, I (as is often the case) missed the “pop up” boat. As a result, I was more than keen to try the main restaurant as soon as it opened.

So what did I think?

The place

It looks very smart on the outside and very inviting. Really draws you in I thought.

Inside the decor is quite clean and unfussy, but doesn’t have that cold feel to it of some minimalistic places.

The lick of paint (it still had, on our visit, that new paint smell), paintings and mural on the wall give it a distinct look that happily balances comfort (the chairs are super comfy) and understated chic.

The mezzanine level now contains a very stylish bar area, as well as seating, with the lower level all seating. They seem to have achieved a magic trick in terms of having more stuff in the place than when it was Arbennig, but having made the space look and feel bigger. Suppose that is what interior designers get paid for.

In summary, a very nice place for a feed, which works at both the informal and more formal dining levels. Good for both mates and dates.

The Food

The menu for the place going forward seems to be very much in line with the pop up menu with the focus on smaller (not small) plate stuff.

Thanks for letting me use this pic Emily

They have added a few quid here and there to the pop up prices (understandably, so as to reflect the higher cost of running a full on restaurant rather than a pop up), but these increases are pretty light I think. So, for example the beef tartare is £10 (up from £8 at the pop up) and the lamb and anchovy dish is £12 (up from £11 at the pop up). I understand the menu will change regularly, with the mantra being “What’s good today”, which I very much like the sound of.

I can see two people sharing 4/5 dishes from the main menu (plus a side and a pud or two)

On the soft opening night they offered up a menu which was a sort of “taster of what’s to come from Heaney’s” if you will.

It was a full on tasting menu, which was shared by the whole of the table and referred to as being priced at £40 a head. On the soft opening night, this was reduced to a very pleasing, on the wallet, £20 a head.

First up, and sure to become a Heaney’s classic, was a generous portion of very fine, light, sourdough bread (with a lovely crust and a great chew to it) and marmite butter (£3.50 on the standard menu).

Marmite divides people, as in you either love it or hate it, but I am firmly in the love camp (having first come across it, at Josh Eggleton’s Pony and Trap, a few years back). What I really like about it is that the addition of the marmite to the butter provides a lovely umami hit. Very moreish stuff, which Mrs. SF and I devoured with unseemly haste (we then regretted our pigginess at our leisure as later there were sauces aplenty to mop up). I

The next dish was smoked duck ham (£4.50 on the main menu), which consisted of slices of delicately cured and smoked duck breast. The cure and the light smoking enhanced the natural flavours of the duck rather than masked them.

Again top notch, with the balance of the cure and it’s application (too much and it gets too salty, but too little and you are left with merely raw meat) just right. I have been known to cure the odd duck breast, but need this recipe as it far surpasses my “poultry” (😁 – not a typo, plenty more to find I am sure though) efforts.

Oysters, much like marmite, tend to divide people (at its darkest into the “doesn’t kill you” and “does kill you”). I am very much in the “yes please” camp whereas Mrs. SF is in the “more sceptical as to their merits” camp (despite the fact, or perhaps because, we had them on the night of our wedding at The Three Chimneys restaurant on the Isle of Skye).

I was slightly worried that the granita (yoghurt I think), apple and dill (oil) would mask the natural briney/iodine flavour of the oysters (with me generally preferring my oysters ” au naturel”).

I needn’t have worried, with the sharpness of the apple and the anise and fresh herbiness of the dill, as well as the slight tang of the granita, actually complimenting the brininess of the meaty, plump, bivalves underneath.

So good, it brought a beaming smile to Mrs. SF’s face. This dish may well have turned her into an oyster lover.

Next up was both mine and Mrs SF’s dish of the night.

Pretty as a picture, it was at first sight a potential confusion of flavours which would require a very skilled hand to marry.

Here the lightly curry cured seabream (spankingly fresh) was in no way overrawed by a fresh (rather than nasel cleansing) horseradish sorbet and a rather fine cucumber chutney (with chilli and mustard seeds). Sweetness and texture came from pomegranate seeds and some plumped up sultanas had absorbed the curry flavours.

Really clever cooking this, with some wonderfully delicate touches on the favouring front which led to a harmonious rather than “cats fighting in a bag” concoction. An equivalent dish (monkfish last time I looked) is £11 on the main menu.

The beef tartare (is it tartar or tartare?) was both mine and Mrs SF’s least favourite dish of the night.

The component parts, individually, were very good, with top quality beef (in small cubes, which I prefer in a tartare, rather than minced), earthy beetroot and a umami rich mushroom consume. I, however, thought the mushroom element somewhat overpowered the beef. If I am ordering beef tartare, I want the predominant taste to be that of the beef and, at least to my jaded palate, that wasn’t the case here.

I also wasn’t keen on the kelp element, which was a bit oily and limp for my tastes. Not sure quite what it added if I am honest. Don’t get me wrong it was nice, but suffered in comparison to the dishes around it and I was much more enamoured by the tartare dish I had at Mirador d’ Ulia in Donostia San Sebastian back in June.

The next two courses were fish and (if the Great British Menu is any thing to go by) it is fair to say that Mr. Heaney is a dab hand at cooking a bit of fish.

A light and crispy batter encased a beautifully cooked bit of, that somewhat unfashionable fish (not sure why), pollock (£11 on the main menu).

Great flake to this fish, which was cooked à point in its batter parcel.

The buttermilk tartar was an interesting rift on a traditional tartar sauce, which retained the trademark piquency but tempered it with a light dairy sourness and a squeeze of lime. The chard added a nice bit of iron rich greenery.

My only slight quibble was that the quite loose tartar sauce gave the fish a bit of a soggy, batter, bottom.

The second fish dish was a hefty bit of cod with a perfectly crisp skin. This came with potted brown shrimp, crisp apples, salty samphire, a caramelised slice of cauliflower (the cooking of which had really bought out its nuttiness) and a rather good buerre noisette. On the side was a perfectly seasoned and impossibly smooth cauliflower puree. It must have taken so much work to get it that smooth.

The all important fish was cooked absolutely spot on.

This dish and the other two fish dishes show Heaney truly is a master at cooking fish. Nearest equivalent on the current main menu is £12

The last savoury dish was a gorgeous bit of lamb. It was cooked a blushing pink, yet was butter knife tender. Packed full of flavour, it came with a crisp skin (some nice spicing on it) and with the fat properly rendered down. It also had the added bonus of a pleasant lick of smoke to it.

It came with marinated anchovy fillets and a lovely anchovy cream. The saltiness of anchovy is a classic accompaniment for lamb and here it worked a treat. Sea vegetables, including samphire, added a nice textural variation and work very well (flavour wise) with the lamb (think how good salt marsh lamb is). It was finished off with and brought together by a glossy and really good lamb jus. This dish (£12 on the main menu) ran the seabream close for the best dish of the day.

The desserts kept up the quality. First we were presented with a rather upmarket apple crumble and meadowsweet (clever Celtic touch this, with it being one of three herbs held sacred by Celtic druids) custard.

Nice and light, with the sharpness of the fruit being complimented by the gentle sweetness of the custard concoction. Some very pleasing textural contrasts with the crunch of the nuts and the smoothness of the custard. Looking at £7 for similar on the main menu

If the first dessert was good, the second was absolutely dynamite.

A light as a feather tube of salted caramel mousse was rolled in malt and bookended by honeycomb. The honeycomb had been taken to the point where there was just (and I mean just) a hint of bitter to temper the tooth aching sweetness honeycomb usually has. A second or so further and it would have been ruined, but they got it just right here.

An ever so slightly lactic sour (yoghurt) ice cream acted as a nice balancing element. Great dessert (£7 on the main menu).

Overall this was a great tasting menu, full of lovely stuff and not really a duff dish in there. I did, of course, have my clear favourites and it is good to see these (or variations of them) on the main menu.

The beauty of the main menu is you can effectively make your own tasting menu.

The Drink

As mentioned above, they have a rather nice bar area and cocktails seem to be a forte. I am not much of a cocktail drinker, so I immediately gravitated to the wine list.

It is nice to see a bit of thought has gone into this. The nature of the dishes (smaller plates) lends itself to wines by the glass and on this front the list has a decent selection (including some high end Corovin – my favourite wine gadget and such a good tool for restaurants – ones).

They have, gratifyingly, not just defaulted to a by the numbers list and there are some interesting wines on there, including a torrentes from Argentina, a dry riesling from Canada and a NZ malbec. I also always like to see Portuguese wines (both red and white here), which offer great quality to value ratios generally, and a Barbara d’Asti (great food wine) on a list.

It is to be applauded that the most expensive wine on the list (£145) is not one of the usual suspects (a claret or a burgundy), but rather a less well know wine from Puglia in the form of the Castel del Monte Aglianico DOC ” Bocca do Lupi”, Tormaresca

The mark up is not so good on this wine though, with it retailing (if the 2014) at around £45 I believe. On this basis, the £145 price tag for it on the list is a bit steep. The Conti’Ugo, Tenuta Guado al Tasso is £40 retail and a much more reasonable (mark up wise) £95 on the list.

Other wine moans (I always have some) are:

  • I think vintage details should be provided, especially if you are charging £50 plus for wines (prices of wines can vary sharply, particularly at the top end, between differing vintages, as can quality with some wines needing bottle time to smooth out their edges, and I like to see full details of any wine as I am perusing a wine list);
  • Where are the sherries (they clearly know about sherry as it features in at least one of their cocktails, but they are such good food wines and ideally suited for the smaller plate mix and match offering here, so why none on the wine list); and
  • It would be nice to have seen at least one Welsh fizz on the list.

Despite these points, it is still a decent list to my mind.

Whilst we were perusing the menu and awaiting our table we supped on a glass each of a very pleasing wine from Dao in Portugal called Prunas (£5.30/£7.20 depending on glass size and £28 a bottle – £11.98 retail). Nice dark forest fruits on the nose and raspberry and anise, with a touch of vanilla, on the palate. Very pleasant, easy drink, stuff.

With the rather eclectic flavours of the various dishes on the tasting menu, a single wine as a viable pair for all is tricky (hence my pleasure at the number of wines by the glass they offer), but the tasting menu wine par excellence for me is a gruner veltliner and here we went for a bottle of the Zero G from Wagram in Austria (£33 on the list – £13.99 retail). Gruners are great paired with seafood and spice and also have enough oomph and weight to cope with meatier dishes.

This wine had typical gruner characteristics, with crisp green orchard fruits and a finish of white pepper spice. It worked very well with the the majority of the dishes we had.

With the tartare and lamb dishes we had saved a bit of our Prunus which was a good pair, although the anchovies did challenge it a bit.

With the desserts, we had a glass each of an Argentinean late harvest chardonnay from Bodegas Norton (£2.90 for a small glass). Not overly sweet, it had nice floral notes on the nose and peach and honey on the palate. It worked well with both desserts.

Bar from some at the very top end, mark ups are not bad by UK standards (would still probably horrify a Spaniard, but that is the case for pretty much every restaurant wine list in the UK I have come across).

I love the fact that someone has clearly sat down and had a good think about the nature of the food offering and how wines could compliment it (doesn’t happen half as much as it should in restaurants).

The verdict

A cracking addition to the Cardiff food scene. With this place and the likes of Milkwood, the just reopened (as a dining pub run by the acclaimed Hare and Hounds people) Heathcock in Llandaff, Bully’s and La Cuina, West Cardiff has a very vibrant restaurant scene.

What Heaney’s offers is really top class cooking, with a lot of flair and invention, and a wine list that is not merely an afterthought (as is too often the case, but please gets some sherries on it).

Service was very good and deserving of a tip (we based this on an appropriate percentage of the full rather than discounted price).

The bill with the discount came to £88 (of which £48 was booze) – if you apply the full price it would have been £128. For the quality and quantity of what we got (with a fair bit of booze), the full price represents very good value in my opinion.

Would I go back? Oh god yes – back there on the 30th October for the Richard Bainbridge dinner (my reward for my crowd funding pledge) and can see it being a regular haunt.

With that hair and his flair in the kitchen, it is definately a case of “rock on” Tommy.

The details

Address: 6-10 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff, CF1 9NR.

Tel: 029 2034 1264

Email: info@heaneyscardiff.co.uk

Website: Click here

Twitter: @cardiffheaneys

Instagram: @heaneyscardiff

Opening hours: Tues – Thurs: 11.30 – 23.00; Fri -Sat: 11.30 – 00.00; Sun: 11.30 – 23.00.



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