My best soliciting (flavours) of 2019

On the food and drink front it has been another good year. Despite not going to my beloved Spain and, in particular, Pais Vasco (my food heaven) this year (or indeed leaving the UK at all), I have been blessed with many a good meal and bottle of wine both in Cardiff and the wider UK.

As well as an entirely UK based eating year, it has also been a starless year. I have not, for the first time in a while, eaten in any Michelin starred gaff the whole year.

Cardiff has (in my opinion) continued to grow in terms of good places to eat. The newbies last year, such as the Heathcock and Heaney’s, have establishing themselves as go to places to eat and my previous go to places like Curado Bar, Bar 44 and Asador 44 remain my favourite hang outs.

Lots of new places have opened and some have closed, but overall I think we are in credit.

So what were my food and wine highlights of the year?

Best meat dish

Whilst I have not got to Spain this year (😭), the glorious cuisine of that country has, as ever, featured heavily in my year.

There is something wonderfully satisfying about tucking into a huge hunk of red meat (sorry veggies there just is) and the Spanish asador style of cooking (caveman over fire) is cooking in one of its purest forms. With pretty much nothing added bar from salt (lots of lovely salt), it stands or falls on the quality of the meat itself.

As such it is perhaps unsurprising that my best meat dish of the year was a simple txuleton (bone in ribeye steak) at Lurra, a Basque restaurant in London.

A stunning piece of Galician Blond meat, with lots of delicious yellow fat, cooked absolutely à point for me.

Few things make me happier than tucking into a top notch bit of beef (that tastes truly beefy – regrettably much rarer than it should be) and this slab of prime beef made me very happy.

Not got around to writing up my meal at Lurra (rest of the meal was also ace), but hopefully in the New Year. In the interim my advice is go – best txuleton I have had this side of Pais Vasco. As good as both Casa Rufo and Goizeko Izarra in Bilbao.

Runner up was a lovely whole roasted grouse at the Heathcock pub in Llandaf, Cardiff.

Cracking rendition of this British classic, with all the accoutrements, cooked on the money so as to bring out the best of this fabulous game bird. I am so lucky to have the Heathcock as my local and I am already looking forward to grouse season in 2020.

Beat fish dish

Whilst I am an unrepentant carnivore, one of the joys of eating out is good fish cookery. With hard to get hold of quality base ingredients for home consumption and often tricky to get the cooking of said ingredients right, fish cookery is where a good chef can really show his/her class.

Amongst a high quality field, that master of fish cookery, Tommy Heaney excelled again this year.

His Chalk Stream trout dish,

was an absolute triumph. The fish was cooked👌and was perfectly complemented by a rich crab bisque. This is the sort of fish dish you go to restaurants for – a dish that delivers a fantastically complex flavour profile, marrying up top notch ingredients with masterful cooking.

It was part of a fantastic Antinori dinner at Heaney’s and the dish of the night from a very strong field. Perfectly paired with a La Mortella Vivia from the Antinori stable of wines.

Runner up was a masterclass in simplicity at Lurra in London.

A beautiful whole turbot cooked over a wood fire (a la Elkano) was one of those dishes that (as with the Lurra txuleton) lives and dies on the quality of the ingredients and requires precise cooking to do said ingrediants justice. Here both were absolutely nailed by the kitchen at Lurra.

Best veggie dish

As an omnivore I enjoy vegetables as much as the next person and one of the benefits of the rise of (non – preachy) vegetarianism is the emergence of really good, inventive, veggies dish on restaurant menus.

Whilst my diet tends to usually feature an element of meat or fish, I have had a number of really good standalone veggie dish this year.

The clear winner of the best veggie dish was a stunning number from Paysan (at a pop up at Wright’s Wine in Cardiff city centre).

A seemingly simple dish of roasted onion, king oyster mushroom and a red wine sauce was packed to the gills (excuse the fungi pun) with flavour. This is the kind of dish that would have me not missing meat at all, with the mushroon give it a delightfully meaty feel.

The runner up was a fantastic crispy cauliflower dish at Nook in Cardiff.

Again great flavours packed into this dish, with the use of miso (in the mayo) really lifting it. It also offered some very agreeable textural contrasts.

Interestingly both these veggie dishes were the best elements of meals that involved meat dishes.

I really think veggie cooking had made great strides over the last couple of years. In days gone by a veggie dish on a menu would have nonplussed me, but these days it is an increasingly enticing option for me on many a menu.

Best burger

I still think in the fast food stakes, the burger is king and the slight change of direction of Hoof (at Sticky Fingers) to a smashed patty has taken their burgers (and with them the burger scene in Cardiff) to the next level.

The Hoof cheese and bacon burger is a beast of a burger,

with a smashed patty of top qualify beef – jammed full of flavour, a juicy fat rich interior and lovely caramelised gnarly bits on the exterior

When a burger is good it is really good and this one was an absolute belter. Not too complex on the toppings, so the patty remains the star of the show, this was beard drippingly good stuff.

Its relative simplicity makes this the star (for me) of the Hoof stable of burgers.

A close runner up was another example of how simplicity can be hard to beat.

A superb cheese burger at the Burger Shop in Worcester,

used top quality locally source produce, including a fantastic patty. This place is well worth a detour off the M5.

Best non burger fast food

Whilst the burger seemingly holds sway as the fast food king, other stuff is coming up on the fast food rails.

The winner of this category was a drop dead gorgeous bit of fried chicken from Chicken’N’Sours in London.

The coating on this was next level awesome, with a deeply satisfying crunch. Beautifully tender and full on flavoured chicken lay under that coating, all of which made for an exceptional fried chicken dish. The richness of the pressure cooker deep fried chicken was beautifully offset by some killer pickled watermelon.

The runner up spot is a shared one with the fabulous dogs at Franks in Cardiff Market

and the equally wonderful Korean fried chicken bab from Leyli Joon and co. (at Sticky Fingers).

Best pudding

I use to say I wasn’t a pudding man (preferring savoury to sweet), but as I age my tooth seems to be sweetening and I now love a good dessert.

The standout dessert this year was a drop dead gorgeous souffle from Wilsons in Bristol.

Look at the rise on this beauty

Perfectly executed with great flavour, yet light as a feather and with enough structure to hold a “berry” good sorbet.

Runner up was a rather fine number at Heaney’s (at the Antinori dinner),

Beautifully crisp pastry and an intriguing combo of caramelised banana, calamasi, hazelnuts and chocolate. Not something I would have ordered off a menu if I was given a choice, I am very glad I got to try it. I am now a big fan of calamasi.

Best value

I love a bargain and there are plenty of food bargains to be had in Cardiff these days (if you are canny) – with the like of Asador 44’s set price lunch menu, Curado’s pintxos Monday and Wright’s wine no corkage Sunday.

My best bargain (by miles) this year was, however, in Bristol at the frankly fantastic Wilsons. This bargain was in the form of their £10 (with a glass of wine) set lunch menu.

This gloriously good food and a glass of nice wine for a tenner is just mindblowingly good value. The mutton shoulder dish, with charred (lemon oil glazed) lettuce, aubergine puree and a tea infused sauce alone was worth the £10 price tag and some.

Runner up is the £5 corkage – any bottle size – Monday at Asador 44 which allows you to take a bottle of your own wine to enjoy with Asador 44’s great food.

My advice is fill your boots and take a goodie. Both the Louro Godello and the Penedes Sot Lefriec 1999 I took on my first visit were fantastic paired with the excellent food here. With this offer, the fix price lunch and the fabulous al a carte menus – Asador 44 remains my go to place in to eat out in Cardiff.

Best new opening

This year saw many new openings, but the highlight for me was the return of Cardiff food legend Grady Atkins.

Cooking out of a tiny kitchen at Bloc Coffee in Victoria Park, Paysan is knocking out fabulous dinner


and small plates options

at the weekend.

Classic French food executed by a master of his trade. A case of welcome back chef, how we have missed you.

The runner up (just across the road from Paysan and part of a food renaissance in Victoria Park) is Nook,

which has brought a mix of natural wines and innovative (seasonal) small plates covering all bases (meat, fish and veggies). Cracking little place and a leisurely stroll from my gaff – so lucky me.

Best overall meal

I love a good meal and am always happy with my own company (I find myself totally charming and quite captivating 🙄).

As such a little “me time” at the Little French in Bristol was my best overall meal of the year.

Classic french cooking, with fantastic ingredients, robust portions and a fine wine list made for a wonderfully long and self indulgent lunch. This meal made me very happy and those are the best kind.

Runner up was a fantastic Persian feast pop at from Leyli Joon & Co. at Little Man Coffee.

Just glorious eating – boy can that lady cook. The more I taste her food the more I want more, more, more of it. My advice is give to her gaff at Sticky Fingers a go and if you see one of her pop ups advertised book a ticket for it immediately.

Best wine

There are some wines that are beyond description and the Marques de Murrietta Ygay Blanco 1986 is one of them.

Drunk at a Marques de Murrieta masterclass in London, it was a truly sublime wine that simply made me sigh contentedly, wonder how the hell someone could made something so profoundly beautiful and thank the Lord I got the chance to taste it.

Nectar of the Gods stuff and the best wine I tasted this year and for many a year before that (and I have drunk a lot of good wines this year). Worth every penny of the £400 plus a bottle price tag it comes in at, I wish I had the bucks to buy a case and see how it ages (immortal stuff I reckon). A piece of wine history and an utter privilege to drink.

Coming in joint second was a Dominus 2004 (the star of a blind tasting of 16 seriously good wines at the Jeroboam Club – a killer Cali wine)

and a Sot Lefreic 1999 (the star of a eastern Mediterranean and hinterland of Spain tasting at the Jeroboam Club I did).

Both stunning wines (very happy that I still have most of a case of the Sot Lefriec 1999 left – less happy that I can’t afford a case of the Ygay blanco or the Dominus).

I would also mention the “Sentada sobre la bestia” (a Valencian garagiesta wine sourced from Curado Bar/Ultracomida) as my best value (£15.95) wine of the year. For sheer bang for your buck this is a fantastic wine.

Surprise of the year wine wise was a gorgeous skin fermented South Africa Semillion from Thorne & Daughter.

Star of the show (for me) at a very high quality Semillion tasting in Bristol, it was one of those “wow, this is really different in a very good way” wines.

The verdict

Fantastic year of food and wine, with lots of new stuff and old favourites continuing to excel.

To all the people who have fed and watered me over the course of 2019 and those who have read the blog and put up with the many typos – cheers and I hope you all have a happy and prosperous New Year.

So what am I looking forward to in 2020:

  • the opening of a Vermut, Sherry and Montilla Moriles bar (by the people behind Curado Bar);
  • the opening of the Warden House (from the Dusty Knuckle people);
  • trying the Asador 44 burger;
  • Tom Simmons opening a restaurant on the Cameo Club site in Pontcanna
  • the opening of Pasture (J raves about the one in Bristol) in Cardiff; and
  • more fabulous tasting at the Jeroboam Club and Mystere Wine Club.

In terms of the last one, there is the promise of some fantastic tastings coming up at both the Jeroboam Club

and the Mystere Wine club.

Pretty stellar line ups, I am sure you will all agree. New member always welcome at both.