Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
As a resident of Llandaff in Cardiff, I was beyond happy when I found out that the people behind the highly acclaimed Hare and Hounds pub in Aberthin (very much a dining pub) were taking over the Heathcock Pub in Llandaff village (actually a City in itself due to its Cathedral).
Llandaff High Street seems to have taken a bit of a pummelling recently, with multiple closure of banks and other retail units (as well as the closure of the aforementioned Heathcock last year after a short-lived attempt at reopening it).
A revamped Heathcock (close to as opposed to on the High St.), operating as both a fine dining establishment and a proper (dog friendly in the bar, not the restaurant areas) pub puts a whole new spin on the merits of what is a rather beautiful little city within a city. This is especially the case when, as the crow flies, I would say the Heathcock is pretty much my local. It is certainly a very easy walk from my house (lucky me).
On the outside little has changed. They have given it a lick of paint to the exterior
and put up a rather fetching new sign showing off their game bird name.
Inside it is very different, with an entirely new, dining room in the old skittle alley (with a bakery in it, with the ability to watch the bakers work while you eat) and a second dining area in what was the lounge bar.
The bar area has also been given a bit of a make over
and is now a very nice space to pop in for a pint or a decent glass of wine (at weekends this has resulted in a slight detour being built into my dog walking route), with my dogs.
The food menu is very much a shift upmarket for Llandaff, with a focus on seasonal local Welsh ingredients.
A case of following the highly successful formula of the Hare & Hounds. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it is a mantra I very much subscribe to.
I have been in for a drink on a couple of occasions and the bar snacks are top notch
Popcorn cockle, with lavabread mayo, comes close to a perfect bar snack in my book.
Other bar snack offerings look very superior,
although there is no such thing as lamb belly in my book (it is lamb breast, always has been and always will be).
Our first formal “full on” eating visit was for Sunday lunch with a couple of fellow Llandaffian friends.
I am a big fan of Sunday lunch and view the French reference to the British as Le Rosbifs as a compliment rather than the insult (as to British food) it was originally intended to be.
The Sunday lunch menu looked very enticing, with a mix of traditional roasts (lamb and beef) and game (wild duck and rabbit), with a few more eclectic items thrown into the mix.
A fine looking menu which resulted in the nicest of dilemmas in terms of making our choices. I changed my mind a couple of times, but eventually settled on my starter and main.
Some nice looking specials were also on offer (which nearly resulted in me changing my order).
On being taken to our table, we had some nice sourdough and cheese (Hafod cheddar) topped, rosemary and sea salt focaccia. The former had a welcome chew to it and a lovely crust, whereas the latter had perhaps a tad too much of a chew (for a focaccia), but a great flavour to it. The breads came with a pleasingly tangy butter.
Oddly no side plates were provided and I am bit old fashion as to eating off the table. We therefore asked for some side plates and got some saucers (perhaps they had run out?).
For starter I went for steamed Gower mussels with cider and smoked butter (£6.40).
Not perhaps the plumpest of bivalves but they had a really good flavour. The sauce (a mix of the mussel juice, cider and smoked butter) was absolutely lovely. The smokiness of the butter really came though and worked a treat with the slight sweet and sourness of the cider and the brininess of the mussel juice (great mopped up by the sourdough). Lovely stuff and just the right size for a starter (at least for a pig like me).
One of our friends went for the chicken liver parfait (£7.40) and was very pleased with his choice. I had a try of a canapé version of this dish at the place’s pre-opening night and it (and the apple chutney it comes with) is one of the best examples of this bistro classic (it is a classic for a reason) I have had in many a long years
Decent portion size with a good ratio of bread to parfait. The latter was lovely and smooth and beautifully balanced in terms of richness when you added the slightly sharp apple chutney. This is a dish that can be a touch bland in “pub grub” land, but here it was close to a perfect parfait.
Good as the other starters were, the star of the starter show was undoubtedly the braised rabbit leg pappandelle (£8.20).
Rabbit is, to my mind at least, a very underrated meat in the UK (amazingly World wide consumption of it is in excess of 1 million tonnes – mainly our continental cousins – in the form of the French and Spanish – and the Chinese).
The rabbit was beautifully tender, with the leg meat having been shredded and mixed in with silky pappandelle (cooked just right so it had just a touch of bite), and all of it bathed in a killer broth. Crisp lardons and breadcrumbs added a nice bit of texture.
An absolutely brilliant dish from the taste Mrs. SF gave me, with the two who ordered this definately looking smug as they ate it.
This, to me, was the Jessica rabbit of rabbit dishes. Totally alluring stuff.
On to the mains, I am a bit of a traditionalist and (as alluded to above) do like a good old fashion roast on a Sunday (so long as it is properly done – if you want a chuckle have a look @frostybutcher on Twitter and his #ratemyroast). For some reason (new cooker perhaps) I have struggled recently to get roast beef to my preferred ruby red and was therefore keen to see what the roast Welsh Angus beef (£17) here was like.
The answer is blooming lovely, with a perfectly cooked, ruby red, slab of meat. This was packed full of flavour and on point in terms of seasoning. Lovely bit of meat this.
The accompaniments were similarly top notch. A decent Yorkie, some beautifully crisp duck fat roasties, buttery hispi cabbage and a good sized sweet carrot added to the traditional roast mix and it is always nice to see a good (nasal clearing) horseradish with beef. The only very (and I mean very) slight qualm was a lack of a top up jug of gravy. The gravy itself was rich and meaty, but I could have done with just a bit more (I like to pour gravy into my Yorkie). All in all it was a very good roast, with the meat (as it should be) the star attraction.
The chicken liver parfait eater went for a bit of game in the form of wild duck (mallard – £16), which came with a delightfully crisp pastry case tart filled with braised duck leg and topped with celeriac puree.
Whilst this looks a little diminutive in size (at least compared to the other dishes), it packed a real flavour punch and got a big thumbs up from the very happy chap who ordered it. Nice to see a pub doing these sort of game birds.
Again the ladies in our party of four managed to go for the pick of the mains with a stunningly good (and massive) sharing dish (£35 for 2) of neck of lamb (it said shoulder on the menu but we were offered a choice of neck or shoulder), cooked in red wine with cavolo nero.
Sides were some buttered, crisp hispi cabbage and what were billed as dauphinouse potatoes. Not what I would call classic dauphinouse (more like a pomme Anna to me), but very nice none the less.
Absurdly good stuff this, with huge flavours backing up the mammoth portion (could easily have feed 3 plus). The lamb was butter knife tender and melt in the mouth stuff.
The low and slow cooking really brought out the flavour of the fat rich neck (a well worked part of a lamb that is flavour packed but needs the low and slow treatment to tenderise it). The red wine sauce, the iron rich cavolo nero and caramelised onions nicely ramped things up.
The accompanying mint sauce in a jug helped to cut the richness of the meat and the sauce it sat in.
Seemingly simple cooking, but perfectly executed with top quality ingredients in the form of the Tregelly farm lamb and a deft touch in the kitchen. This was a crackjacker of an autumn/winter dish.
I really like the concept of sharing on the menu (a sharing pie I spied on another table looked mightily impressive).
On to the puddings, the choice is short but oh so sweet.
My eyes were immediately drawn to the plum souffle (£8.90). Brave dish to do in a pub, with the risk of disaster high.
Here it is fair to say they totally nailed it.
The souffle had risen beautifully, rising proudly above the ramakin lip, with a slightly crisp chewy top.
Inside it was as light as a feather, with delicate fruit flavours.
An absolute triumph and one of the (if not the) best dessert I have had all year.
It was accompanied by a really good, vanilla rich, ice cream.
Three of us had the souffle, with just one of our party breaking ranks and going for the custard tart (£7.40).
This had a nice wobble to it and I was told a very good pastry (nice and thin and no soggy bottom), as well as a good hit of vanilla. Pretty much an exemplary custard tart.
They have a nice selection of beers, with some staples and others in as guest ales.
I am rather partial to Wye Valley HPA (a staple here and an easy drinking, pleasant, everyday beer) and my favourite to date of the guest ales is the Milton Pegasus (I seem to have quite conservative tastes in terms of beer – I am not keen on anything too floral). You can try before you buy in terms of a sample.
Much to my delight wine is clearly an important element of the offering here, with the wine list providing a nice selection by the glass (both in the bar and restaurant areas)
carafe and bottle for both reds
Great to see a a godello, a gruner and a proper riesling on the list. All great food wines.
It is also nice to see wines offered in magnums (ideal if there are a few of you) of both whites
Any list that has a Spatburgunder on it tends to impress me, as the German version of pinot noir is all to rarely seen over here.
Despite what in most respects is a pretty good list, there is (yes I know I always do) something to moan about. Inevitably (with me) it is about sherry (I think sometimes I should change the blog title to the ” Manzanilla Moaner” or something of that ilk, but I shall never stop fighting the good sherry fight).
Whilst it is good that there are two very decent sherries (both from Lustau – a well regarded, and rightly so, producer) on the list, it is disappointing to see the pours being a measly 50ml (which is a measure that hardly even wets the glass).
Sherry, particularly finos and manzanillas, should be served like a white wine, in a proper wine glass and with a proper pour (at least 100ml and in my house a 125ml pour). This also assists in turnover (with one of the perils of fino and manzanilla being it doesn’t keep long once you open it) of stock (you need to sell 15 x 50 ml pours as opposed to 6 x 125 to finish a bottle) so less risk of wastage
This sin of a small pour is regrettably compounded by the pricing. I can get a bottle of La Ina (the fino on the list here) for as little as £5.65 (albeit it online from a Spanish site that delivers to the UK or £9.50 from the Wine Society) and the 50 ml measure of that wine is on the list at a whopping £4.45. This equates to a startling per bottle price of over £66!
I am afraid the pricing is simple too much and puts me (and any sensible sherry drinker) off in terms of ordering these wines from the list (which is a crying shame). Personally, as a sherry drinker, I think these prices should be rethought as should the pours. Give me a decent pour at a reasonable price and I will finish that bottle off pronto.
Anyhow enough of my protracted sherry moan and back to what is otherwise a good list.
With my mussel starter, I went for a glass of a Spanish sauvignon blanc from Rueda (£5.75 – 125ml glass). This was more out of curiosity than anything else as Rueda’s principle grape is verdejo, which is perversely sometimes referred to as the “Spanish sauvignon blanc”. As a result an actual sauv. blanc there seems a rather odd thing to me.
Easy drinking wines this with aromas of tropical fruit and herbs, followed citrus flavours (grapefruit and lemon) on the palate. Rather nice with my mussels, but don’t expect the gooseberry punch you get from an NZ sauv. blanc. The La Ina fino would have gone very well with this dish.
With two of our party having lamb, as a Iberophile it could only be a tempranillo for our mains. A few to choose from on the list, but Mrs. SF is very partial to the Finca La Estacada number (£25.95 a bottle) they have on the list from the less well known Ucles DO (pretty much slap bang in the centre of Spain).
Nice drop this, which is good both on its own and with food. It has a touch of smokiness and dark berries on the nose and the same dark berries on the palate. The mark up is not too bad, with it retailing at around the £9.25 mark in the UK.
With the duck dish the Spatburgunder or the red burgundy on the list would be a very good choice (classic pairing duck and pinot noir) and the Margaux or the Hermitage (if you are feeling flush – I was’t) on the list
would have been very fine with the roast sirloin. In both cases, the tempranillo we ordered worked very well.
Some nice dessert wines (I am a big fan of the Royal Tokaji Late Harvest) on the list. Big pours on these (125ml), for dessert wines, which makes the 50ml sherry pours even odder.
In summary, sherry moan aside, this place offers up the sort of pub list that I have been begging for in Cardiff for years.
Most people would kill for a local pub that has good beer, great wine and other booze and fab food (be it informal bar snacks or more formal dining).
It is the stuff of dreams for me and with the Heathcock this is precisely what I have as my local. Happy doesn’t even come close.
Whilst it ain’t cheap
I think it is good value for the quality and quantity of what you get (we didn’t have 3 bottle of the red – with 3, rather than the 2 bottles we had, on the bill due to a mix up and it was sorted out to everybody’s satisfaction simply and without the need to reissue the bill).
The all new Heathcock is a fantastic addition to Cardiff’s burgeoning food scene and one I am inordinately happy to live a short walk from. It is lovely to see it given a new lease of life, with such fantastic food and drink now on offer there. They will be seeing a lot of me in the future, I can tell you.
Address: 58-60 Bridge St., Llandaff, Cardiff, CF5 2EN.
Tel: 029 2115 2290
Website: click here
Food served: Tues – Thurs: 12.00 – 14.30 and 18.00 – 21.00; Fri – Sat: 12.00 – 14.30 and 18.00 – 21.30; Sun: 12.00 – 16.00; Mon: no food (open for booze).