My best Soliciting (Flavours) of 2018

So yet another year whizzes past at break neck speed.

On the food and drink front it has been a good year (bit shite otherwise – glad to see the back of 2018 if truth be told). Trips to various parts of Spain provided for some amazing food experiences and the Jeroboam Club (in Bristol),

the Mystere Wine Club (in Cardiff)

and the Parkhouse Restaurant (in Cardiff),

as well as a visit to Montilla in Southern Spain,

provided some top quality wine experiences. I also now have a fab pub, in the form of the all new Heathcock in Llandaff with a very decent wine list, as my local.

Below is my usual round up of what I enjoyed most on the blog this year, with a top three for each category and a few special mentions.

Best Meat Dish

A surprisingly small category this as most of the top draw meals I have had this year entailed seafood.

Whilst a beautiful lamb neck dish

and a rabbit pappadelle dish

at the fab new Heathcock wowed, they did not quite make the top three dishes which were as follow.

In third place was a truly awesome, huge (1.4kg), hunk of prime steak (txuleton) which Mrs. SF and I shared in Bilbao at the rather fine Goizeko Izarra.

Great quality meat, full of flavour, cooked à point for me and very nicely priced at €39 a kilo. All a steak should be.

We washed it all down with a superb bottle of San Roman Toro (a mere €35 on the list – try getting it for remotely close to that price on a UK restaurant wine list).

With their steaks and the bargain wine list,

this place gives you reason alone to go to Bilbao (there are many other reasons to go mind).

Second was a fabulous lamb, anchovy and sea vegetable number at Heaney’s in Cardiff

Perfectly cooked lamb, with anchovies and sea vegetables acting as a delicious briny foil. A killer lamb jus brought these seemingly disparaging components together beautifully.

Top, however, was a glorious lamb dish (again at Heaney’s) in the form of the “We all stand for Jerusalem” from Richard Bainbridge at a guest chef event (which I took as my crowd funding reward).

One of those dishes that just wowed on all fronts. Seemingly simple it had fabulous flavours, clever use of ingredients and some lovely textural contrasts. Ticked all the sensory boxes for me, without being up its own arse.

Best fish Dish

Quite a few to choose from here, with my trips to Spain providing many a potential winning fish dish as did some fine fish dishes in the UK.

Lots of contenders including a really refreshing cerviche style dish from Bar 44 in Bristol;

a really clever cuttlefish dish from Michelin starred Choco in Corboba;

some super oysters at Heaney’s in Cardiff;

fabulous sea trout (sewin) at the Tolcarne Inn in Cornwall

and a fun clam dish (with flaming theatrics) at Mirador De Ulia in Donostia San Sebastian.

All great, but they didn’t quite make my top three.

In third place was a lovely curry cured seabream with a cucumber chutney and a horseradish sorbet from Heaney’s in Cardiff.

Glorious balance of flavour and top quality ingredients, which made me savour every mouthful. If you want top quality seafood in Cardiff then Heaney’s is the place to go.

Second was a picture perfect tuna dish that formed part of a marvellously inventive 17 course tasting menu at Choco in Cordoba in Southern Spain.

Pretty as a picture and tasting even better than it looked, it utilised a cut of tuna called parpatana” (from the top of the belly where the fin starts – a new one on me) which has the same fat content as Iberico pork.

My top dish was again from Spain (perhaps unsurprising with their love of all things fishy) and part of a rather fine tasting menu at Mirador de Ulia in Donostia San Sebastian.

Carabineros are, to me, the kings of the prawn world (all other prawns bow before this red shelled beauty and I think they have a better flavour than lobster) and here the king was given some truly regal treatment.

The head is always the best bit of a carabinero (you just have to suck the brains out) and here it had been dehydrated to a desiccated form which supercharged the flavour and enabled it to be eaten in its entirety. Stunningly good.

Best burger

I am very partial in a good burger, but haven’t eaten that many this year.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, burger wise, was the all vegan “Big Moc” at the inventive mock meat peddlers, the Greasy Vegan.

Better (to my mind) than a real Big Mac (I am not much of a fan of McDonalds if truth be told so that is not saying that much) and a real boon for veggies and especially vegan looking for a bit of filthy food. It didn’t, however, make my top three.

In third place was the “Beefy Boy” burger at its name sake restaurant in Hereford.

A very decent burger, with a nice caramelised exterior and a medium rare (all too rare these days) interior. Did it live up to the hype – yep I think so, but not the best I have had this year.

In second place was the ” Dirty Hoof” from Hoof within Sticky Fingers Street Food in Cardiff

which along with the Hoof

are the best “burgers” (not strictly a burger as no ground meat but on that basis neither is a veggie burger, so I am giving the term a wide-ish definition) in Cardiff at the moment in my opinion.

In top spot, however, was the simple bleeding (oddly enough it wasn’t) lovely cheeseburger at Hawksmoor (Guildhall branch in this instance). Just a flavour packed stunner of a burger and one that made me “mmmmm” out loud.

The liberal insertion of nuggets of bone marrow into the patty really elevated this burger.

Not cheap by any stretch, but well worth the bucks I think.

Best pudding

I am not a massive pudding eater and tend to prefer savoury to sweet. As such, more often than not, I forego dessert for cheese (or where the option is two course go for starter and main). My list of premium puds for the year is, as a result, not that long.

The stand outs for me were as follows.

In third place, eaten at Choco in Cordoba, was a delightful lime mousse encased in a sugar work lime.

It looked the part and provided a fantastic combination of sweet and sharp. Perfect as a dessert towards the end of a 17 course feast.

In second place was a knockout dessert, at Heaney’s, consisting of a light as a feather tube of salted caramel mousse, rolled in malt and bookended by honeycomb, with a (ever so slightly sour) yoghurt ice cream.

In top spot was a triumph of a plum souffle

at my new local, the (revamped) Heathcock in Llandaff. Light as a feather, full of flavour and just fabulous to eat. Brave stuff for a pub, but perfectly executed here. Proof of a kitchen at the top of its game.

Best overall meal

A hotly contested category, between 3 tasting menu including two 1 Michelin star gaffs in Spain.

In third place, in the UK, was the tasting menu at Heaney’s in Pontcanna which provided some fantastic dishes and was full of flair and invention

Can’t deny the fact that I getting in on the soft opening night (50% off) probably coloured my opinion a tad. Cracking meal though regardless.

Second place goes to Mirador de Ulia in Donostia San Sebastian, with a meal that delivered some gorgeous dishes (including my winning fish dish)

in a beautiful location.

and some lovely (nicely priced) wines

The tasting menu at Choco in Corboba, however, trumped them all with a stunningly good 17 course affair.

Not a dud dish in there

and some truly stunning cooking of less flashy stuff such as cuttlefish and highly inventive riffs on traditional Andulacian soups.

Kisko Garcia is a genius in the kitchen and this was a truly epic meal. If you are anywhere near Corboba (beautiful city) go to this place.

A nice (inexpensive) wine list added to the pleasure.

Best wine of the year

Joining the Mystere Wine Club in Cardiff has been revelation (new members always welcome). Monthly tastings offer the ability to try some truly top class wines and to expand your wine horizons. I am also a member of the Jereboam Club in Bristol, which runs regular top quality tastings. I tend to go to each on a bi monthly basis, splitting between tastings in Cardiff and Bristol.

The last Jeroboam Club tasting in 2018 (a “bring one of your nicest own bottles of red” affair) was a fantastic experience (some absolute pearlers in the mix – interesingly no one single person bought a New World wine).

including a rather fantastic 1961 Marcarini Barolo which none of us got close to guessing the vintage (so fresh for a wine not that far off 60 years old).

A trip to the little known, but fantastic, wine region of Montilla – Moriles in Southern Spain (an easy side trip from Cordoba bought some stunning vinous delights. We should really see more of this areas wines in the UK.

My best three wines, however, were as follows.

First up was one of the wines tasted as part of the #sherryTT event (a great event organised by Reuben from Sherrynotes) which covered (this year) anadas (vintage) sherries.

This delivered the third place wine in the form of a wine from Gonzalez Byass – a 1987 Palo Cortado – which was up there with the finest sherries and indeed white wines I have had in many a long year.

There was citrus, salted caramel and vanilla, with a touch of warm buttered toast and even buttered salted popcorn as it lingered (for an age) on the palate. Rare as hen’s teeth (and very pricey), it was a privilege to drink this immense wine.

Second was a beautiful 2005 Brunello wine from Cupano,

which was the clear winner at a top quality, Mystere Wine Club, Brunello tasting. Velvety smooth, it positively tarmac’d the tongue with rich fruity flavours. In a word opulent.

My wine of the year, however, was a hauntingly beautiful rioja (my first love wine wise) from Bodegas Muga

in the form of their Prado Enea 2001. This wine won the wine of the night at a top notch 2001 Rioja tasting at the Jeroboam Club. Easily the best wine I have tasted all year. Simple glorious – if you see it for sale buy as many as you can afford (and then add a couple more).

Best value

In third place was Asador 44, which will always be on any of my “best of” lists. On the value front, for a formal sit down down meal, their fixed price (£10 for main, £15 for two courses and £20 for three) menu cannot be beat in Cardiff to my mind.

Great steak, that really tastes of beef (should be a given but all too rarely is), fab fish and the best chips make this a winner ever time. Fantastic quality to price ratio. It remains my go to place for a decent formal lunch in Cardiff.

In second place is the brainchild of serial innovator and all round good guy Phill Lewis (man must have a time machine as he seems to be able to be in two/three places at once) and Simon Thomas in the form of the Bite Food Festival.

A great concept with all dishes charged out at only £3 a pop. The quality on this basis was astonishingly good. Cracking event on my door step and I am already looking forward to the anticipated 2019 one (hope weather is as good this year and it continues).

The winner, however, is the fantastic 1/2 price pintxos offer on Mondays at Curado Bar.

This offer provides a wide selection of North Spanish classics and for the offer price of £1.75 each, all day Mondays, it can’t be faulted. Ditch the homemade/supermarket sarnies on a Monday and head to Curado is my advice.

Best Cardiff newcomer

An honourable mention here goes to Sticky Fingers Street Food, with their place in the Brewery Quarter,

which has brought quality Street food (at very fair prices) to the city centre on a permanent basis. Stuff is constantly being added to the various vendor’s menu which means repeat visits are a must. Good as it is, it didn’t quite make my top three through

In third place is the delightfully quirky Wright’s Wine in Castle Arcade.

Lots of great (and interesting, far from run of the mill) wines to buy retail and to drink in (free corkage on their wines on Sundays) and fab food (their tonnato is to die for) to go with it. Their toasted rarebit sarnie (half eaten in pic below) and a glass of wine is great stuff for a lunch time treat.

This place is just what the city centre needed on the wine front.

In second place is Heaney’s, which opened to great fanfare after a wildly successful crowd funding exercise (showing how keen Cardiff was for Mr. Heaney to set up shop here).

The food is great and I like the all day grazing format – so you can pop in for a glass of wine (even just that) and some oysters/a plate of duck ham or go the whole hog with their tasting menu (or pretty much anything in between).

The winner, however, is the all new and frankly bloody marvellous Heathcock pub in Llandaff

It is everything I could have ever wished for from a local, with great food, a good wine list (with lots by the glass), nice beer and a dog friendly bar area. A short walk from my house, I am blessed and my dog walks now include a dip into this place every weekend (the dogs make me do it, honest Guv).

The verdict

So a bit of an epic read (I am never brief, even at the best of times), but if you have persevered until the bitter end thank you for reading the blog (and putting up with my sherry/other wine whinges and many typos) – amazingly people from over 100 countries have read it this year (seriously hope people aren’t using it to try and learn English!!).

I hope you all have a happy and prosperous New Year and here’s to a fine food and drink laden 2019.


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