Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
From my home base in Llandaff, Victoria Park is a shortish walk. When I first moved to Llandaff (15 odd years ago), Vic. Park was a food desert with naught of interest for anyone but the most undiscerning of diners. It stayed that way for a long time, but has in more recently times become quite the culinary oasis.
On top of the very good pizzas at the Dough Thrower and fab burgers at Bwytiful, it has the baked goods of Pettigrew and the brilliant weekend cooking of Grady Atkin with Paysan at Bloc Coffee. The chippy ain’t bad either and Dusty Knuckle has just reopened the otherside of the railway line down the road.
Now Victoria Park is also the home of Nook, the eagerly anticipated collaboration between two couples (Ceri and John Cook and Deb and Phill Lewis) who are/have been behind some of the best and most innovative stuff food wise in Cardiff in recent years (Dusty Knuckle, Ember, Dirt, Hoof, Bite and the soon to be Warden’s House). These are serious innovators and with these lot at the helm I had very high hopes for my visit.
The promise of decent wine to buy retail (somewhat lacking in the West of Cardiff, Al Ponte aside – oh how I wish the Bottle Shop would open up somewhere down my way) or drink in and seasonal food is something that is right up my street.
A half day (with Mrs. SF away) gave me the opportunity for a bit of “me” time – and when it is just me that usually entails food and wine. Sorely needed after a 3 hour + telcon on an iphone that morning.
Nice looking set up, with an inviting frontage
and a rather novel interior, include a wall of wine,
and rather unusually wines on draft at the back (for drink in or take away, the latter using reuseable glass bottles – I assume a deposit is paid).
I sat myself in the corner by the window and the living wall (populated by succulents),
which gave me a lovely view of Victoria Park (great for people watching).
No bookings are taken so it is a case of turning up and hoping for the best.
If they are full (pretty much every night since opening it seems) they will take your number and message you when a table frees up.
The problem with that is Vic Park hasn’t (at the moment) got any good boozers to wait in (hopefully to be remedied with the arrival, in the not too distant future, of a bar run by the people behind the Raydr Tap).
The food is billed as small plates (thank the Lord they aren’t calling them tapas – for the obvious reason they aren’t, but that doesn’t stop others using the terms without any concern for that fact), with a nice mix of meat, fish and veg.
The menu seems to cater for all tastes and will change with the seasons and whatever is nice at the time.
I love this sort of philosophy where local, in season, produce is celebrated rather than the likes of asparagus (Peruvian) being used in December.
I really liked the look of the menu and (unusually for me) decided to start off with some of the non meat elements.
First up was a rather beautiful mushroom dish (£6) using enoki (a long and lanky streak of a mushroom).
Deep fried, the batter was beautifully crisp and light without a hint of greasiness. The battered behemoth all sat on a pile of miso doused runner beans.
With miso a delicate touch is required, otherwise it overpowers. Here it added a pleasing salty, tanginess, which worked very well against the exemplary batter. The sesame seeds brought nuttiness to proceeding, complimentimg the earthiness of the mushrooms.
The freshness of the beans added nicely to the mix, but there was a rogue stringy one in there (coming to the end of the season here for runner beans) which took the shine off this dish just a touch (I am very adverse to a stringy runner bean).
I followed the enoki with a corn, fermented chilli and miso dish (£4.50 – they certainly like miso here).
Really nice combinations of sweet, sour, heat and salt here. It all left a very pleasing tangy heat on the palate.
Next up was middle white sausages, wih honey and mustard (£7).
Beautifully balance dish this, with the sharpness of the ribbons of pickled cucumber and pearl onions and the slight bitterness of the radicchio working a treat as against the sweetness of the honey (itself tempered by the heat and sour of the mustard). It was all bought together by some absolutely top notch bangers.
My favourite dish of the meal.
With the sausages, I had the pressed potatoes with truffle (£3.50)
A jenga – esque tower of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside potatoes, it certainly was a robust portion size (great to share or eat solo with a meat dish if you are a pig like me). The truffle brought an element of earthiness to the dish (I didn’t get much of it on my palate if am honest, but the dish was £3.50 so I wasn’t expecting slices of pungent Alba black truffle) and the sour cream operated as a nice adjunct.
With wine still left in the bottle, I decide the best way to finish the meal was with cheese (£5.50).
Lovey tangy, creamy, blue from Lincolnshire ( Cote Hill blue), with a killer fig mostarda (what a condiment that stuff is – I would have it with everything). Lovely mix of sweet from the figs and heat from the mustard infused syrup as against the creaminess of the cheese. The treacle loaf was a doozy too – again great with the blue cheese.
Not sure where the “nuts” element in the menu description of this dish came into it?
Missed off I assume. All very nice, nonetheless.
Suitably sated, I waddled home in the sun.
Much like the rather lovely (and very cwtchy) Wright’s Wine in town, Nook focusses on natural wines.
These are wines where there is mininal intervention (both on the chemical and technology front). It is stuff that tends to polarises opinion, with fanatics on both side.
There is no legal definition as to what amount to “natural wine” (as far as I am aware) which leaves (shall we say) a lot of room for manoeuvre.
Some believe it is a valid push back as against the increasing homogenisation of wine and a move back to hands on wine making, whilst other think it is just an excuse to hide behind when wines are flawed/badly made (the “It’s suppose to taste like that (bloody awful), don’t you get it?” gambit).
If I am brutally honest, all I care about is whether or not the wine is well made and to my tastes (which I am always happy to have expanded – nothing wrong with “ooh that’s interesting”, as oppose to the “Jesus, what’s that smell!”). Many non natural and natural wines are to my taste and conversely many natural and non natural wines aren’t.
To me the important thing is do I (with wine it is the “I” that is the key) like it.
I am certainly not going to dismiss a good wine purely on the ground that it is non natural nor am I going to excuse a bad wine on the grounds that it is natural. Bad wine is just that, regardless of how it is made.
So on to the natural wine on offer here. The “by the glass” selection (from the taps on the wall) is interesting, with one rosé (a bobal from Utiel-Requena in Spain), 2 white (one Spanish, one English – the latter from the well respected English producer, Westhall) and 2 reds (one Spanish and one French)
Nice to see use of non mainstream grapes, such a Bobal, Airén (the latter a grape which is grown on a massive basis, mainly in Spain, with over 620,000 acres of the stuff in Spain, but which few people have heard of) and Ortega (a bit of a Frankenstein grape), as the house/on tap wines (which I believe will change regularly – have heard tell of a riesling on draft coming soon, which is music to my ears).
I do think a intermediate, carafe, size for the draft wines might be an idea.
There is no list for the “in bottle” wines of the shelves/wall, so you have to ask or (as I did) wander up and have a nose. I love browsing for wine, but lots don’t and whilst it was easy to do so on my visit I imagine it would be a bit tricky on a busy night.
That, the non mainstream nature of the wines (which I massively applaud) and a seeming lack of a list (with details of the in bottle wines) may put people off the non tap wines. That would be a great shame as there is some really interesting stuff up there.
Red wines from this grape (it is used predominately in cava and rosado wines) are quite hard to find in Spain, let alone the UK, so kudos to Nook for stocking this stuff.
Very nice drop this, with red fruits (raspberry and strawberry) and just a bit of brett (little of the farmyard/a hint of funk – a touch of which I like, but too much of it is a flaw in my view) in there.
From the colour and the characteristics on the nose and the palate you can understand why this grape is often referred to as the pinot noir of Catalonia.
I bought the bottle intending to drink a couple of glasses and then putting a cork in it to take the rest home. I enjoyed it so much (I got them to pop it in the fridge to cool it just touch) I drunk the lot. Very enjoyable stuff (not too high an ABV at 12° – which was probably just as well), which made my waddle home probably longer than it should have been.
All in all the wine offering shows serious ambition, making this place far from by the numbers wine wise.
I very much enjoyed my visit to Nook. Really interesting and enjoyable flavour combinations in terms of the food offering and a very positive ethos on the wine front (bringing some really rather interesting stuff to West Cardiff).
On food front, I really like the seasonality of the menu and the use of interesting flavours and combinations of the same.
On the wine front, it is great that Nook are stocking some really unusual stuff. As quite a lot is unusual however, I think a list would help people decide. Give them details of what is on offer and more importantly what to expect from it.
As I was enjoying my trepat, I thought perhaps a grape/wine of the week (outside of the tap stuff), with details of some of the more unusual stuff they stock, would be an idea. This could come with tasting notes and detail of what dishes to pair it with.
Just a thought, as I know (as a wine geek of the first order) what (for instance) a wine made from the trepat grape is going to be like. I suspect, though, I am in a minority on that front?
In terms of value, I was a bit of a pig and went large on the booze, which racked up the bill a tad.
Sharing and/or a more restrain approach (on both the food and the booze front than piggie me) would bring the bill down very considerable.
The sausages and pressed potatoes, with a glass of the “on tap” grenache would make for a very pleasant meal at a smidgen over £15. That is very good value in my opinion.
Alternatively you could pop in for just a bowl of olives or a plate of charcuterie. An organic sherry (Ultracomida sell a good one – not sure it meets the “natural wine” MO of this place mind ) would be nice with that sort of stuff (didn’t ask if they stocked any sherries, but doubt it)
Nice to see them open on a Monday evening. Gives a useful option on an evening when most places are closed and this is great for people who work in the catering trade (who are somewhat hard done by when it comes to eating out on their Monday day off).
Would I go back? Absolutely, planning next visit already. Great addition to the food and wine scene in my neck of the woods and to Cardiff’s as a whole.
Address: 587 Cowbridge Road East, Cardifff CF5 2HP.
Website: Click here.
Opening hours: Thurs – Sun: 10.00 – 23.00; Mon: 17.00 – 23.00: Closed: Tues- Weds.