Soliciting Flavours

Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine

Water’s the name, wine and so much more is the game – Uisce by Heaneys, Pontcanna, Cardiff. UPDATED: July 2019

Uisce (pronounced Ish-ka) is the new venture from Tommy Heaney, badged as a wine and coffee bar. As Uisce means water in Gaelic and it being a wine bar (a sorely needed addition to the drinks scene in the East of Cardiff) the title seemed rather obvious.

Sitting next to its bigger brother, Heaneys, the intention is to offer virtually all day dining starting with breakfast, coffee and juices in the morning, moving on to rustic comfort food, snacks and charcuterie to pair with wine in the afternoon and evening. This sounds exactly the sort of place I have been begging to see in my neck of the wood for years.

They do cocktails too apparently, but if I am honest these are of limited interest to me. They do float other people’s boats, however, so for those interested here is the list

I can’t say much more about it as haven’t tried any, but it looks to be classic rather than poncified cocktails on offer.

The first day of it formally opening happily coincided with a couple of days off work so I popped in to see how the seemingly “perfect fit” for me (bar from the cocktails) shaped up.

The place

They have done a very nice job on the fit out, with a very nice bar area

and a mix of table with chairs and stools to perch on. It ain’t very big, but it is very pleasant space to sip on a glass of wine and tuck into some nibbles.

I was in early on the evening of their opening day and was one of the first people in (I was close to waiting at the door for them to open), but it soon filled up.

I grabbed a stool near the bar and was treated to a bit of imprompted product development by Tommy Heaney and one of his brigade (crumpets I believe for the lunch menu – look bloody hard to make was my conclusion).

The food

On the night of my first visit the menu was a mix of snacks, oysters, charcuterie, cheese and a couple of sweet items. Very nice looking selection I thought, which made making a choice very tricky (in the best possible way).

After a fair bit of indecision I plumped for an old favourite in the form of boqerones ( £4.50 – recommended by the well informed front of house with the wine I started off with).

Beautifully silver slivers of briny loveliness,

with a delicate marinade, firm white flesh and a good dousing of quality olive oil.

This dish can often be off balance with too much salt and/or vinegar, meaning you lose the taste of the fish, but here they were spot on. An excellent start I thought.

I then moved on to the charcuterie, which had some intriguing items on it including the “Kick in the head” (£4), which I assumed this was some sort of head cheese. This was confirmed as “sort of” by Mr. Heaney who told me it was from various part of the pig’s head, including the jowls, and it packed a bit of a punch.

He wasn’t wrong, with there being a real peppery hit as the wafer thin slices dissolved into umami loveliness in the mouth. Fabulous use of a very underrated part of the bountiful animal that is the pig and commendably made in house. So good it made me more than happy to pay to get a kick in the head 😁.

Next up was a take on that Spanish classic lomo, in the form of their “Hoghton loin”. Cheap lomo can have an unpleasant plastic texture, but the curing process and base ingredient here was top notch.

Really nice stuff and up there with some of the best lomo I have had in Spain.

Whilst jamon serrano/iberico (the latter on the menu here) is the undisputed king of cured meats in Spain (I would argue the top iberico stuff is the best cured meat anywhere in the world – cue some very unhappy Italians), I tend to prefer top quality cecina (air dried smoked beef) to all but the top jamon iberico. I, therefore, wasn’t going to pass up the chance to try this on the menu – especially as it entailed use of Galician beef.

An absolute steal at £4, this was heavenly. Ruby red, with a firm texture and a delicate smokiness (too much smoke can ruin cecina) it oozed beefiness

Absolutely fantastic stuff and if you only order one thing here make it the cecina (would be mad to stop at just that mind).

I finished off my journey through the evening menu with a plate of manchego (£4). Proper aged stuff this, with a really good nutty flavour and just a hint of caramel.

The accompaniments kept up the stellar standard, with a cracking onion and fig compote, quality crackers and (what looked like) picos du pan.

If I am honest I could have totally blitzed the menu that night, but I was on the clock so had to call it a day.

A second visit in the same week (with Mrs. SF this time) bought more delights.

Piping hot croquetas (£5)

had a crisp exterior and a silky smooth bechamel interior, liberally studded with nuggets of smoked duck.

These were up there with the best I have had in the UK and Spain.

Equally as good, if not better, was the Mother’s Ruin (£4),

An inhouse made salami with gin botanicals in the mix, you could really taste the crisp, clean, component flavours of gin in it. This, whilst very distinct, didn’t overpower the meat. A really clever bit of curing this.

XO oysters (£4 each) were a genius mix of surf and turf,

with the seaside salinity of the oysters and meaty umaniness of the XO butter they bathed in.

Again a really clever mix of contrasting flavours that worked a treat.

The final dish we tried was an intriguing salmon pastrami (£5)

Lovely delicately cured salmon with a peppery rim made for a nice change from your standard smoked salmon/gravalax. This paired rather well with the Argentinian grüner veltliner on the list.

On the food front the one thing, perhaps, missing was bread.

I understand that it is an off menu item currently (so they will provide toasted sourdough with olive oil, if you ask for bread, but it doesn’t feature on the actual menu). Based on the first week and demand for it, it seems more than likely (so I was told) it will be formally placed on the menu. A good move, if that is the case, I think.

Breakfast is also very good, with a nice choice

and excellent quality on offer.

It made for an excellent mid dog walk pit stop (it is dog friendly both inside and outside).

The drink

The wine list is very interesting, with wines from grapes or regions (or a combination of the same) that you don’t see on most (admittedly) “by the numbers” lists and no prosecco (thank the Lord).

So, for example, there is a grüner veltliner (an Austrian staple and great food wine) from (unusually) Argentina, a garnacha from the very “on trend” Sierra de Gredos in Spain (a place I led a very interesting tasting on for the Mystere Wine Club earlier in the year), a narince (name of the grape) from Turkey and a Spätburgunder (Pinot noir) from the Rheingau in Germany.

Germany is a place rightly famed for its white wines, but is making some very classy reds as was ably demonstrate by a tasting I attended recently in Bristol, with the Jeroboam Club.

It is great, therefore, to have a Germany red on the list – would be nice to see a St. Laurent, Zweigelt and a Blaüfrankisch/limburger on there at some point in the future and some of Germany’s fabulous whites too.

Back to the current list at Uicse, it looks likes some real thought had gone into it so as to bring stuff rarely seen in Cardiff. This is an approach I heartily applaud.

I started off with a glass of the narince (which means delicately in Turkish, with it being a very thin skinned grape) Diren 2017 (£4.80/125ml, £6.80/175ml and £26/bottle – it retails at around a tenner, so a fair make up).

This wine from central Turkey (Anatolia) made for a nice, easy drinking, start to the evening. Not overly complex or challenging, it had pleasant citrus (orange rather than lemon or lime) aromas and on the palate more orange, with a touch of quince.

It went down very well as a 18.30 “kick off the evening” wine and was a good foil for the boqerones.

Next up was the “La Transicion 2017”, a garnacha (£4.90/125ml, £7.10/?175ml and £27/bottle) from the Sierra de Gredos, a not insubstantial mountain range to the West of Madrid. It is wine region that is still little known in Spain let alone the UK, but is being talked about as one of the next big things wine wise.

Quite distinct than the garnacha wines (like priorat) from Spain’s Mediterranean coast, this had red berry and a touch of the floral on the nose and ripe red fruits and a pleasing freshness on the palate.

Fair price for this, as it retails at around the £10 mark.

It worked rather well with the spiciness of the “Kick in the head” and pure porkiness of the “Houghton loin”.

The final wine I tried was the big hitting Buena Vista 2014, a cabernet sauvignon from Californa (£8.20/125ml, £12.20/175ml and £48/bottle).

Gorgeous rich wine this, with oddles of dark rich fruit (blueberries and black cherry), with a touch of spice (vanilla), graphite and cedar. It is a 15° wine, but doesn’t feel it at all and was a very smooth. A real pleasure to drink.

Lovely wine that went very well with the cecina and manchego. I thought this nicely priced, as it retails at over £25 a bottle I believe.

On a second visit, Mrs SF and I tried a very good vinho verde, an Argentinian grüner veltliner (nice, but not quite as expressive as Austrian ones I have had) and a Tuscan syrah (lovely notes of black olive).

All very good and fairly priced.

A really pleasing wine list, with unusual grapes or more well known grapes from unusual areas and quality across the board.

🚨 Warning – sherry moan ahead 🚨

I did have one slight quibble with the list and invariably it relates to sherry.

Old misery guts is off again over the sherry – surprise, surprise – I hear you all groan!!!.

This slight quibble (and it is really just me whinging as per usual about sherry) is the pours are 75ml rather than 100ml or 125 ml. Great that they do sherry, but personally I think (bar perhaps from the real sticky stuff i.e. PX) it should be served on the same basis as any other white wine in terms of the pour size and (very important this to me) the glass used to serve it in.

I raised this with the front of house and they (with some justified) said I could always order two to make it a 150ml pour.

The rationale for the 75ml is, it seems, to encourage new sherry drinkers which is a very laudable aim. I, however, think the best way to do that is to have them see people drinking it.

This (to my mind at least) requires persuading “old lag” sherry drinkers like me to buy the stuff (and then tell the people sitting next to us how good the sherry is). I am loathed if I am honest, however, to pay £8 for a 150ml pour of Tio Pepe when I can get a bottle for a little as £6.50 retail, plus delivery (if I go via the internet with Vinissimus) or £8 if I pick it up in one of the supermarkets when on offer.

Up the size of the pour to 100ml (at least) and even better sell (at a fair price in line with the very reasonable mark ups on the rest of the list) some 37.5ml bottles, so it is visible to other patrons, and I will drink alot of sherry here and tell people how good it is. An increase to a 100ml pour is something (based on a Twitter exchange) that they are certainly prepared to consider.

Notwithstanding my usual sherry moan, this is a good list and one I shall thoroughly enjoy working my way through.

UPDATE

On a further visit I noted (pleasingly) that the list has been updated so sherries come in 100ml pours and a manzanilla in a half bottle

I celebrated this with a rather nice glass (in a proper glass too) of amontillado.

They will, I understand, be introducing specials and wines of the week, which is a great idea in terms of mixing it up. We all have our old favourite/stand by wines, but I love trying new stuff. I would always urge people to give something they haven’t tried before a go and the list here provides a perfect opportunity to do so.

In terms of breakfast, what to drink? A Basque chap once told me Txakoli was a breakfast wine and I honestly don’t think he was joking, but we settled for the juices on offer

Squeezed to order apple, orange and passionfruit and a carrot, orange and ginger juices

provided really fresh, well balanced, flavours.

Not tried the coffees as yet, but judging by the rest of the stuff I am sure it will be top notch.

The verdict

I really like Uisce. It is exactly what I have been waiting for in my neck of the woods for years. A proper wine bar with an excellent and innovative list, which is fairly priced. Seriously, what’s not to like about that!

If you add the seriously good charcuterie and the wider food they do, you have a killer offering in my view.

I also think for the quality it is good value.

Bill from the first visit

Would I go back? Dear Lord yes – presses pretty much all my food and wine buttons. Been three times already (in the first week of them opening) and will most certainly be back many more times

I am looking forward to trying their lunch offering

which sound very good indeed.

I mean who doesn’t drool over the thought of Welsh lamb, crumpet, salsa verde”, “salt beef reuben bagel”, or “lobster roll, pickled mustard, apple” for lunch?!

It seems Cardiff has already enthusatically embraced the place, as it was packed to the gills by 19.00 on their first Friday night and at 10.30 am on the following Saturday morning.

The details

Address: 4 Romilly Crescent, Cardiff, CF11 9NR.

Website: click here

Twitter: @Uisceh

Instagram: @uiscebyheaneys

Opening hours:

Tues – Thurs : 09.00 – 16.00 and 18.30 – 23.00; Fri – Sat: 09 00 – 16.00 and 18 30 – 00.00; Sun: 10.00 – 14.00; Mon: Closed

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