Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
This is a second post from me on Heaney’s since it opened in October, but the start of the guest chef’s dinners seemed to me to be worthy of another post.
As far as I am aware Norwich is not famous for many things. Off hand I can think of Delia Smith, Alan Partridge (more a case of infamy) and Coleman’s mustard (and there we have my usual, desperate, hook for the blog title).
Due to its location far away from Cardiff (in my youth I visited it once by bus and it took 7 long, long hours from Cardiff to get there), I have no plans to visit it and this was a primary factor in me choosing my crowd funding reward in terms of supporting Tommy Heaney’s new restaurant, Heaney’s, in Cardiff.
Looking at all the stellar chefs he had put together in terms of reward dinners
my choice was based on which was the place (due to location) that I would be least likely to be able to visit in the near to medium future.
All these chefs offer food that I have very much enjoyed in the past or wish to taste in the future so it was down to which would be the hardest to get to. Norwich was the clear winner on this front. It seems I was not alone in my thought process on this point (the couple on the table next to us had applied exactly the same logic).
In addition, since seeing Richard Bainbridge (the chef patron of Benedict’s in Norwich) on the 2015 series of the Great British Menu (“GBM”)
I have been keen to try his food (but much less keen on travelling to Norwich to do so if I am honest).
I, therefore, plumped for his dinner at Heaney’s as my crowd funding reward and rather fortuitously it was the first one up on the 30th October.
I shall forgo my usual format as I have commented on the rather lovely set up at Heaney’s (all designed by them, rather than a swanky interior designer, which is very impressive I have to say) and will go straight to the food.
My only idea as to what would be on the menu was by looking at the current menus at Benedict’s (Richard Banbridge’s gaff in Norwich).
The 8 course tasting menu at Benedict’s offers up many a tantalizing prospect, with the likes of an interesting take on the 70s classic ” Duck a l’orange” using pot roasted wild mallard, orange puree and winter chanterelles and his winning dishes from the 2015 Great British Menu (“We all stand for Jerusalem” and ” Nanny Bush’s trifle”).
As it happened the menu was a mix of Heaney and Bainbridge, with the two aforementioned GBM winning Bainbridge dishes featuring
First up was Heaney’s sourdough and marmite butter.
Already a firm Heaney’s favourite, I think they have slightly toned down the marmite element from that on my initial visit. To my mind, this made it perversely (as I love marmite) better.
Next was the first of the Bainbridge dishes. Delicate, wafer thin, barley crackers were topped with pearls of salmon caviar, shallot rings and micro herbs. It came with a sherry mousse (more a dip/sauce than a mousse) which had a initial mushroomy hit, with a lovely nuttiness from the sherry then coming through.
Very moreish stuff and I was told off by Mrs. SF for using my finger to get the last vestiges out of the bowl (not wanting to waste any).
I had Heaney’s oyster on my last visit and loved them. This time the apple element was perhaps more prominent and if anything they were better this time.
These are sure to become a Heaney’s classic.
Back on to Bainbridge, with a simple sounding dish of “Gravy and mash”
A silky, impossibly smooth and perfectly seasoned, buttery mash (more a puree) sat atop an intense beef gravy (which had a viscous, close to but not quite jellified, texture)
It was all finished off by some uber crisp battered shallot rings and micro herbs.
This was comfort food to the max and, for such a seemingly simple dish, boy did it pack a flavour punch. My only issue with it was it wasn’t served in a trough for me to dive into!!!
Next up was a new Heaney dish of raw scallops (Mrs. SF was not at all convinced about this), with mushrooms (shimeji I think, but not 100% sure) and shiso. Crisp radish slices, scallions, an avocado puree and a dashi dressing all added nicely to the mix.
Lovely spankingly fresh scallops (with a gorgeous, almost satiny, texture in the mouth) brought a wave of the seaside to the palate, but the big surprise for me was the intensity of the dinky mushrooms (pity the poor commie chef tasked with cleaning those). These, with the dashi, brought a delightful umaminess to the dish. Clever stuff and sure to be a Heaney staple going forward. I love this, but Mrs. SF was less keen (preferring the sweetness bought out by caramelisation from pan frying scallops).
“We all stand for Jerusalem” was a “GBM” winning dish in 2015 for Richard Bainbridge and for Mrs. SF and I the dish of the night.
I have not eaten a huge amount of Jerusalem artichokes (eating too many has potentially unfortunate consequences – they make you fart), but have to say they have a great flavour (with a nutty sweetness). Here they came three ways: a whole roasted one; one with just the crisped up skin (slightly disconcertingly looking a bit like a discarded moth chysalis) and, the star of the show, a truffle infused puree. Lovely earthiness to this
The lamb loin was melt in the mouth tender and cooked a nice pink, with a proper lambiness (which is sorely and sadly lacking from a lot of lamb these days) that allowed it to hold its own against the truffle infused puree
A slow poached egg added a nice bit of rich gooeyness to the proceeding. The parsley sponge didn’t have a huge amount of flavour, but acted as an excellent vehicle for mopping up the egg and puree. Really, really good dish this.
Back to Heaney, with a turbot dish. To me this was a very nice piece of fish cooked on the bone, but mine was just a bit reluctant to remove itself from said bone. Regardless it had a lovely meaty texture and a great flavour – justifying turbot’s moniker of the king of fish.
Both the smoked buttermilk (withdill oil) and the intense crab sauce were lovely, but there was a bit too much of them as against the fish and the very nice (properly al dente) romenesco. The result was a fair whack of both being left over and nothing to mop then up with. Whilst I deployed my knife (I stopped doing so after the grating noise brought a flicker of annoyance to Mrs. SF’s eyes) and then briefly my finger (which brought a full on “do it again and you die” look) to try and get as much of it up as possible I was left with quite a bit of both on my plate. This was a crying shame as both were very good.
With the savoury stuff done it was puddings next, with first up a Bainbridge number than he took to the GBM banquet in 2015 in the form of Nanny Bush’s truffle.
A modern take on a classic, this was a rather lovely thing. The layers were well defined with cream, custard jelly and sponge all in the mix. The majority element was a well flavoured, slightly tart, Blackberry jelly (embedded within which were whole blackberries). The thing I usually baulk against in a truffle is the soggy sponge (I just don’t like the texture of a soggy sponge), but here it was just a thin base and wasn’t soggy at all. Really enjoyed this, but it was quite big (especially in comparison to the savoury courses) and I was getting quite full by this stage.
Last up was another big sized dessert, comprising of a chocolate ganache (I think?), arbequina (in oil form, which had a nice fruitiness to it), a Maldon sea salt sherbet and candied walnuts
An excellent and refreshing sorbet and really good candied walnuts offered a pleasing balance of salt and sweet. The chocolate element was very nice, but a tad too rich for my tastes at this point of a big meal.
I can see this really working as a standalone pudding (I see it is on the main menu with pear), but there was just too much of it (with it being very rich) for me as the end part of a tasting menu. I would have preferred it to have been about half the size and here to took me over the edge from nicely sated to just a bit too full.
Despite my slight misgivings as to the last dessert (other who attended the dinner loved it, so it is all a question of personal taste – kudos to Gourmet Gorro for apparently eating nigh on two of these on the night!!), this was an excellent meal blending rather seamlessly the differing styles of two very talented chefs.
Since my soft opening visit, the drinks menu has had small revamp (with a new more formal list) and now has sherries on it, with a fino, amontillado and a palo cortado (as well as a sherry vermut).
We had, as a pre meal apperitif, a glass of Xeco fino (£5 for 75ml glass), with my initial choices of a Lustau palo cortado (£4.50 – for a 75ml glass – oddly cheaper than the fino) and then a vermut (£4) being unavailable.
The xeco (pronounced seco – Spanish for dry) is a new style sherry (which was heavy marketed in the UK this summer), which is more fruit than flor driven – it is almost a hybrid sitting between a still white wine and a traditional fino. I like my fino a bit more aged and complex than this, but I can see it acting as a good introduction to sherry and would work well in cocktails (as well as with a mixer in a She&T or a Rebujito). Not perhaps one for traditionalist who favour more flor to the fore, but something that will hopefully get people on the road to sherry’s undoubted delight.
Welcome as the sherries are on the list (I moaned about there being none on the list on my last visit), I think the pricing of the sherries is a bit off (as in a little pricey as against the 75ml measure they come in). Personally I think sherry, particularly finos and manzanillas, should be served on the basis of a similar pour size to any other white wine (i.e. 125ml).
Once we got seated at our table, it was a question of choosing a wine to go with the varying elements of the meal. On my last visit I had been intrigued by the dry Canadian riesling on the list (with my experience of Canadian wines to date mainly centring on ice wines). At a hefty £53, I had passed on my first visit to Heaney’s last time (going for the gruner veltliner – more wallet friendly at £33 – on the list) thinking the riesling perhaps a bit of an indulgence. As I had long since paid for the meal (via my crowd funding contribution) and the mark up was (on what would be a new wine for me) not too horrendous (it retails at the £21.50 mark in the UK) I thought what the heck (particularly as rieslings are such good and very versatile food wines and this well suited to a tasting menu). Also as I have yet not tried a dry Canadian riesling I decided to let my curiosity get the better of the miser in me.
Whilst this is referred to a dry, I would say it is leaning towards off dry. It had a fair bit of fruit driven sweetness, which was balanced by a refreshing acidity. This makes for a pretty good food wine and it worked well as a pair for most of the savoury items (and excelled as such with the oysters).
On the nose there was just a whiff of petrol (I know it sounds odd, but it is actually pleasant in this context and is generally viewed as a sort after aroma in rieslings), as well as lime. On the palate it had the sweetness of ripe orchard fruits and a refreshing citrus acidity as it lingered on the palate. Nice wine, if a bit pricey for what it is (at its retail price).
We had, with our desserts, a pleasant sauterne from Chateau Monteils (£3.60 for a small glass).
This wines was a lot less sweet than most sauternes that I have had in the past and was quite delicate with fresh ripe stone fruit and a touch of citrus on the palate. It worked well with the fruit jelly element of the trifle, but was overpowered by the rich flavours of the chocolate dessert. I have tried the other dessert wine on the list (an Argentinean late harvest chardonnay) and that is as, if not even more, delicate so would also have really struggled as against the chocolate dessert. Other dessert wine options are, perhaps, required with this and other sweeter desserts featuring on the standard menu.
A chocolate dessert like this one needs something more robust, with the general rule being that the dessert wine with a dessert should be the sweeter of the two. Personally I would have paired it with a Tokaji wine (which I think is one of the World’s truly great – sweet or otherwise – wines).
This one from the highly respected Chateau Disznoko
(currently available at the absolute bargain price of £11.98 at Costco) would (I think) have worked a treat with the chocolate dessert.
Cracking meal and these chef’s dinners are yet another feather in Heaney’s already very impressive cap. Richard Bainbridge brought a homely (dont get more homely than trifle and mash and gravy) flair for flavours to the proceedings and the mix of the two chef’s distinct styles worked very well.
My favourite dishes were the lamb and artichoke and mash and gravy numbers (from Richard Bainbridge and reason enough alone to visit Norwich) and the oysters (already a Heaney’s classic and I think he has tweaked them to make them even better).
Would I go back? Already a big fan of Heaney’s so obviously yes and I am liking the look of a lot of the forthcoming chef’s dinners. Have my eye very much on the Tom Brown and Michael Bremner dinners in particular.
Well worth noting that these dinners are not just operating as crowd funder rewards, with the ability also to book a limited number of tables (not taken by crowd funders) for each of the chef’s dinners.
If the Bainbridge one is anything to go by then those that do are in for a treat.
Address: 6-10 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff, CF1 9NR.
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