Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
With all the (warranted) hype (including from your’s truly) regarding the rash of new places in the West of Cardiff (Heaney’s, the Heathcock and, the slightly more long in the tooth, Milkwood), it is perhaps easy to forget the old stalwarts of the Cardiff food scene who have been in situ. for years surviving both the vagaries of the economy and the ever changing food trends.
One such place is Bully’s in Pontcanna/Canton, which has been around since 1996. A restaurant in the classic French Bistro style, but with more than a nod to Le Rostbif, Bully’s has been serving the gastronomic needs of Cardiff for many a year.
Looking for a place to celebrate an anniversary landing (a little awkwardly) on a Sunday, Bully’s has the rather stellar draw of being happy for Mrs. SF and I to bring our own wine (subject to asking in advance and a corkage charge of £10). As it was a bit of a celebration (with amazingly Mrs. SF putting up with my many foibles for yet another year), being able to take a nice wine from my wine room was a pleasing bonus.
Despite my slight (cue a guffaw of disbelief at the use of slight from Mrs. SF) addiction to buying wine I have realised (a bit belatedly perhaps) that at my age I have to start slowing down on the buying – with upwards of 450 bottles in the wine room (which is pretty much full to capacity) and upping the consumption rate a bit.
A corkage charge offering like that at Bully’s, therefore, very much appeals to both the wine drinker/hoarder and miser in me.
I have reviewed this place a couple of times in the dim and distant past (always surprises me when I look back and see how long the blog has been limping along), with a look at both their a la carte offering and their ” Gourmet Evenings“.
It hasn’t changed much over the years. Perhaps some of the chairs are a little more on the eclectic side and the walls seem even more adored (cluttered) than I remember (dusting the place must be a bloody nightmare).
This time we were there for Sunday lunch and, as readers of the blog will know, I very much like a good old Sunday roast (especially when someone else is cooking it so there is no washing up). I like to think I cook a good roast, but the aftermath is akin to a tsunami washing though the kitchen. I am a very disorganised and messy cook, which tends to displease Mrs. SF somewhat.
Bully’s Sunday lunch menu is a nice blend of the traditional British Sunday lunch and French flair (with a few exotic item thrown into the mix). Very much a “Le Rostbif” menu.
Both Mrs. SF and I were in the mood for a traditional Sunday lunch so the roast sirloin was both our choices for main. Whilst we hummed and harred as to our respective starter choices, we munched on some very pleasant bread with butter that had oodles of salt in it (can’t stand unsalted butter and for me the more salt in butter the better).
After toying with the smoked duck breast, I finally decided upon the rather nice sounding crispy pork belly and black pudding number (£5.95).
What arrived was not what I was expecting, but was none the worse for it, being a large breadcrumbed rectangle.
Surrounding it were generous dots of celariac puree, apple sauce and a shallot and hazelnut dressing.
Loads of tender, well flavoured, meat, with a seam of black pudding, was encased in a crisp crumb.
The rich meat was balanced nicely by the slightly tart apple sauce and the nuttiness of a (beautifully smooth) celariac puree. The hazelnuts and shallot added a nice additional crunch and a touch of acidity. My only slight quibble was the pork was perhaps just a touch lacking in terms of the fat normally associated with belly pork. I, personally, prefer a bit more of the fat to be in the mix, with it adding both lubrication and flavour.
Still a pleasant dish and very generously proportioned for a starter. Great value at £5.95.
Mrs SF went for a Mediterranean fusion number, with a mix of classic Northern Italy (risotto and pesto) and Southern France (ratatoille).
Really well made risotto, with the classic creaminess achieved through slow extraction of the starch from the chubby grains (which here retain just a little bit of bite). The ratatoille and pesto worked very well with the base risotto and it was all topped off nicely with some peppery rocket. As with the pork belly, a nice and well sized starter – good value for the £5.95 price tag.
Out of the two starters I think the risotto was the winner.
On to the mains event, we both had the roast beef (£13.95) and a fine plate it was.
The beef was well flavoured with a nice crust on the fat. “Done” wise it was perhaps just a little over for my tastes (I would have happily had it a lot rarer, as I am quite blood thirsty when it comes to red meat), but it was pink enough to please most I suspect and I was happy enough with it as it had a good flavour.
The beef came with a decent yorkie (nice and light, with a good rise), some exemplary roasties (crisp on the outside and fluffy in the interior) and a good gravy (nice and thick, but not overly reduced).
Veg. including some nicely crunchy savoy cabbage, plentiful carrots and tenderstem broccoli. All the veg (pots. aside) were cooked a pleasing al dente. On the condiments front, horseradish (but not mustard – has to be English with roast beef) was offered. This had nice, nasal clearing quality to it.
On to the puds, there was a short but sweet selection to suit all tastes.
I am a sucker for a good tart tatin so immediately decided on that.
Lovely buttery pastry held some soft, but still with a bit of texture, apples and great caramelisation. Atop it was a really nice tonka bean (which gave a sort of vanilla “with bells and whistles” flavour) ice cream. Just a touch more caramel would have made it perfect.
Mrs. SF’s valrhona chocolate mousse was delightfully rich and decadent, yet light.
It was nicely complimented by the flavours of toasted coconut in both flake and ice cream form. The former also provided a nice textural contrast.
All in all a very satisfying Sunday lunch.
On the booze front, as mentioned above, we bought our own bottle (with a very reasonable £10 corkage charge being applied).
With her risotto, Mrs. SF fancied something a bit lighter than the red we bought and asked if they had any sherry (a fino or a manzanilla precisely). Almost apologetically, we were told “we only have Tio Pepe”. Our response was “nothing wrong with that” – with Tio Pepe being to my mind one of the best mass produced wines around. Great as an aperitif or as a food wine.
Decent size pour – must have been well over 100ml (if a somewhat odd glass selection – dry sherry should, in my opinion, always be served in a standard white wine glass), properly chilled and nicely priced at £3 (which makes a nice change from the standard measly measure – but not price – so often provided in terms of sherry in pubs and restaurants).
The wine I bought was an old favourite of both Mrs. SF and I, with both of us being Rioja nuts, in the form of a Contino Reserva 2004 (a good vintage in Rioja).
One of our go to Rioja producers for many years has been Viñedos del Contino (part of the wider CVNE group and one of the pioneers of the single vineyard/chateau concept in Rioja) which, was until recently, under caring charge of winemaker Jesus Madrazo. I had the pleasure of meeting Jesus – lovely man who is very passionate about his wines – at a tasting (a while back) of some fabulous vintages of CVNE’s Imperial wine. Jesus is no longer at Contino (after, as I understand it, a difference of opinion as against that of the wider CVNE board in terms of operational matters at Viñedos del Contino), but he was firmly at the helm when this wine was made.
Lovely wine this, drinking at its peak I would say.
On the nose there were aromas of earthiness, leather, tobacco and vibrant red fruits wafting up from the glass. On the palate, it had spice (vanilla and a touch of star anise perhaps) and juicy red fruit in abundance with well integrated tannins and a creamy finish as it lingered. Worked a treat, with both my pork starter and the roast beef, I thought
It is now a bit tricky to get hold of the 2004 vintage of this wine, but it retails these days for around the £40 – 50 mark if you can find it. Extrapolate that to a standard restaurant mark up on retail prices (and the fact I paid £20 for it when bought it, plus £10 corkage) and I saved myself a fair bit of cash.
Bully’s does have a decent list of wines to choose from and if I had been going off the list I would have probably gone for the Quinta da Garruda Dao Reserva from Portugal (Portuguese wines are very underrated and tend to offer up good bang for your buck at the retail level).
A nice wine, if a touch pricey here (it retails at under a tenner).
Mrs. SF and I really enjoyed our meal at Bully’s. The place has not lost any of its old charm and it was pleasing to see it packed on a Sunday afternoon (as was Heaney’s – so it seems there is room for both, which is good).
Our food was very nice and the added bonus of bringing our own wine and paying corkage kept the bill down pleasingly.
For what we got, I thought the “all in” price (including an automatically added on service charge – grrrrr, not keen on this practice at all I am afraid) of a smidgen over £73 was very good value.
Would I go back? Definitely – it remains one of my favourite places to eat in Cardiff. If you are looking for a place that does good, classic, cooking, this place certainly continues to hit the bulleye.
Address : 5 Romily Crescent, Cardiff
Tel: +44(0)2920 221905
Opening hours: Wed – Sat: 12:00 –14:00 and 18.30 – 21.00; Sun: 12.00 – 15.30