I am always impressed by people who are prepared to take a calculated risk and they say you must speculate to accumulate (an adage that the risk averse lawyer in me had never really managed to get his head around). I know plenty of people who have made serious money from risky investments/ventures, I am just not one of them (don’t have the cojones if I am honest).
This brings me to Bloc, a converted public convenience in the Victoria Park area (actually part of the park itself) of Cardiff. It takes vision and not a bit of guts to take on a pretty much derelict public convenience with a view to turning it into a viable business.
I watched with interest as it was transformed into a pretty swish looking coffee shop.
Seemingly not prepared to rest on their laurels they have expanded its scope of operations to include interesting pop ups (with the likes of veggie nights from Dirt Pop Up, cheese and booze paring nights from the Cheese Pantry and Baytree Wine and even comedy nights). They have now stepped it up another notch by way of a “more refined dining” (my words not theirs) collaboration with Grady Aktins (who has been a mentor to many a chef coming out of Cardiff, including Tomas Parry of Brat who cut his culinary teeth under Aktins at La Gallois and is now very much the new wunderkind on the bloc in the UK food scene) on Friday nights.
This suggests food of a sort far more sophisticated than you usual “bog” standard (sorry, couldn’t resist) coffee shop fare is now to be had at Bloc on Friday nights.
As a converted public convenience it is a small space. No surprise that really, with the bog often referred to as the “Littlest Room”.
Inside they have, rather surprisingly (at least to me), managed to squeeze in 20 covers. There is space – park side – outside (capable of use in the summer mainly, I would surmise, and certainly not on the night of our visit) for at least three or four more table. Nice spot for a coffee or (more my style) a glass of wine.
The kitchen area is tiny,
but looks can be deceptive and I have had many a very fine meal in pintxos/tapas bars in Donostia San Sebastian, Sevilla, Logrono el al in Spain where the kitchens were too small to swing a cat (a manx one at that). Lots of prep. and organisational skills are, however, required to work effectively in such a small space.
We had prime seats for watching the chef go about his work, which I always find fascinating.
The place itself scrubbed up pretty well for the evening.
A lovely smelling fresh bouquet garni of herbs on the table, in place of a flower, was a nice touch I thought.
Oddly for a place that was previously a public convenience, you have to go outside (via the back door) to the loo.
On to the food, the menu is unsurprisingly succinct
but looked rather tantalising and seemed to cater from most tastes
First up was a sharing plate (one between two) of pickled veg and charcuterie.
Really good (Cwm Farm I believe) salami and chorizo was complimented by some delicately pickled veg. The stars of the show, however, were an excellent (not too firey) nduja and an absolutely killer wild boar pâte.
Real depth of flavour to this and when we asked the chef about the boar (he was very happy to interact), he said he had added beef dripping into the mix. Lovely stuff.
The veg. and charcuterie came with a couple of batons of ficelle bread (two more were promptly bought to the table, without us asking, on us finishing the first two).
Lovely crisp crust on these, which were perfect for conveying the boar and nduja to the gob. A strong start was the consensus of opinion of our party of four.
For mains, there was a choice of three, with our party split between the fish and the beef (no veggies amongst us).
I was in the beef camp, which was a generous portion of confit cooked beef (short rib from Oriel Jones I believe).
Really nicely flavoured bit of beef, which had been “low and slow” cooked to a nicely yielding tenderness, with a rich, glossy, jus liberally coating it.
It came with a side (shared between two) of peasant style cabbage. The cabbage still retained a nice bite to it and sat in a rather fine, tangy, cream and grain mustard sauce (must be rich peasants with that cream sauce).
This went very well with the beef, but I do feel a potato/starch element would have been a welcome addition to this dish. Some mash (potato or celeriac) would, I think, have been a real treat with the beef jus (and enabled greater mopping up at the end without deploying my finger, which Mrs. SF seriously frowns upon).
My clean plate was testimony to how much I enjoyed this dish.
Mrs. SF (and the other person making up our party of four), went for the fish meuniere, with a polonaise garnish. The later seemed to be a reconstruction from a polonaise sauce with the egg and breadcrumb in a polonaise sauce being instead in the form of a whole low temp. cooked yolk and a crouton (with the herbs and butter in the mix also). Quite clever that I thought.
The fish was monkfish, with the cut used being the cheeks (came across these last year in Cornwall at the Tolcarne Inn in Newlyn) rather than the more common tail.
The cheeks were cooked (using lashings of butter) on point, with a really pleasant meaty texture to them. The cauliflower florets (again cooked with seemingly indecent amounts of butter) had been properly caramelised, giving them a gorgeous nuttiness yet still retaining a pleasing bite.
The low temp egg erupted on cue and made for a rather fine homemade sauce.
The only slight criticism of this dish was the crouton was quite hard to cut up with the cutlery available. It was, however, very nice once Mrs. SF finally managed to break it up a bit.
There is a option on the menu to add a cheese course (£7 on top of the £20/2 course and £27/3 course price) and we thought “in for a penny in for a pound”.
I liked the fact this was provided in the French style (i.e. before dessert).
which came with some dehydrated apple and pickled celery (not had pickled celery before and would highly recommended it now I have).
A seed and nut bread (from Pettigrew Bakery– keeping it nice and local which is always good to see)
came with the cheese and was a welcome change from humdrum crackers.
Not quite sure how the pricing of the cheese course worked. It said it was £7 and we assumed that would be each (so £28 in toto). We got charged £14, which was about right for the size of the plate I thought. I would, however, have been happy if they had doubled the size (i.e. two plates) and charge us £7 each to be honest.
On to the final course, we were back to two per plate sharing, with a really good bread pudding (reminiscent of my grandma’s one – she wasn’t a stellar cook by any stretch, but she made a mean bread pudding – my memories could be rose tinted, but I always loved her bread pudding) which avoiding stogginess.
The brulee on the creme brulee was wafer thin and had that textbook crack when lightly tapped with a spoon. The interior was infused with slightly tart rhubarb, which acted as a really nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the brulee.
The final element was a couple of quenelles of whipped (to airey lightness), glossy, chocolate ganache, with poached pears and toasted hazelnuts. Really nice and not heavy (as I had feared) at all.
Coffees, all round, finished off proceedings nicely.
I had finish my cortado before I thought to take a pic.
All in all a very pleasant meal I thought.
On the booze front they have a short list of beers and wines, which are fairly priced
Whilst I perused the menu I supped a Lithic lemon, lime & sea salt sour
Nice enough, if not really very sour, citrusy or salty.
Other had the Cava (fairly priced at £3.80 a glass – I know it isn’t de riquour, but I do love a coupé)
and a Mikey Rayer ” All Dayer”.
With the food, we opted for the wine pairing (a very reasonable £8 with two courses and £12 with three).
First up with the starter was a pleasant (quite dry) Languedoc Rosé.
Quite delicate, but with enough red fruit (strawberry mainly) in the mix to hold it’s own with the starter. Nice fresh acidity to this wine, which would make it a good wine to quaff on Bloc’s park side terrace come the summer.
With the mains, the beef came with a gutsy Languedoc cabernet sauvignon (with a nice touch of spice to it and lots of dark fruit)
and the fish a Languedoc chardonnay (lots of stone fruit – peach and apricot – and some tropical fruit in the mix). Both worked well as a pair with their respective dishes.
We had a extra glass each of their house red, a pleasant (if perhaps a touch rustic) Monastrell (an extra £3.60 for a 125 ml glass) from Bodagas Castaño in the Yecla DO, with the cheese. Nice plummy notes and a touch of meatiness, this would have worked well with the beef.
With the dessert, the pairing was a very generous pour of a Beaume de Venise wine (made from Muscat grapes) from Domaine de Durban.
Not cloyingly sweet, this was more subtly honeyed with stone fruit and a hint of lychee. It worked very well with the dessert selection.
We all rather enjoyed our meal at Bloc. It is a nice spot (walkable from my house and surprisingly swish for an ex. bog) and the food and booze was very much to our collective liking.
The total bill was a smidgen over £210 for four.
Whilst by no means cheap (we did go quite large on the booze which added significantly to the bill total), I thought for the quality it was pretty good value. Service was very good and deserving of the tip given.
A really nice touch was giving us (already foil wrapped × 2) some of the onion tart (the veggie main on the menu) to take home.
Very nice it was too for lunch the next day.
There is no denying this is a bold move, but it is one I hope will reap rewards as I think it is another fine feather in Vic. Park’s increasingly diverse food cap.
Would I go back? Yes – very enjoyable evening with good food, good booze and good company. What’s not to like about that.
Address: Victoria Park, Cowbridge Road East entrance, Cardiff, CF5 1JN
Instagram: @bloccoffee and @paysan. food
Opening hours: The Grady Akins’ nights are every Friday with sittings at 19.00 and 20.00 (need to book as they don’t seem to accept walk ins on the Friday nights). Open otherwise: Mon- Sat: 08.00 – 17.00 and Sun: 09.00 – 17.00.