One of the things I have really missed since lockdown started in 54 bc (back when Julius Ceasar first invaded Britain – slight exaggeration, but sometimes it feels that long to me) has been visiting my local, the Heathcock.
Come Saturdays (pre – Covid 19) I had a rather nice ritual of a post dog walk pint and something to eat at this place and it never failed to put a smile on my face.
The doggies loved it too, positively dragging me in (honest guv),
as they knew a trip to the Heathcock meant a treat bonanza (to keep them well behaved whilst I ate)!!
With the restrictions slowly but surely easing, the Heathcock (especially as Bar 44, Asador 44 and Curado Bar are yet to re-open) was always going to be my first port of call for a drink and a bite to eat with their rather fine beer garden really coming into its own.
They have been very productive during lockdown, with the beer garden looking great. They have made a nice space into a really lovely space.
Eager to get booked in I rang (seems so odd to have to book even for just a drink, but needs must) at the first opportunity to make a reservation for 12.30 (post dog walk) on the first Saturday after they reopened.
Table duly booked for Mrs. SF, J and I, I then had the whole week to frett over the weather (although at this stage of 2020 a Category 5 hurricane would have had me clinging to a table in the Heathcock garden whilst trying to drink a pint and eat the menu).
We were in luck in terms of the weather – less so for those that evening as the heavens duly opened. The vagaries of the British summer are going to make this eating out “out” malaky a bit Russian roulette I fear.
So (eventually as always) to the food, the menu has been understandably pared back to suit the new norm (at least for the timing being).
All looked rather lovely and J and I exchanged many a Whatsapp message salavating as to what we were going to have.
Whilst sorely tempted by the steak pie and chips special (I was out voted by J and Mrs. SF – democracy, sometimes, sucks – and suffered food envy each time said pie shimmied past on route to other tables),
we decided to road test the Garden Menu – with small plates looking ideal to share between the three of us.
First up J & I decided that an oyster each would be a good way to start proceedings (Mrs. SF declined, not being a huge oyster fan)
Lovely plump, fresh ozoney, numbers, with the heat of the fermented chilli soothed by the cucumber and fresh mint (latter worked really well with the oysters, which pleasantly surprised me).
Next up were some cracking arancini
Crisp baubles of joy, these were absolutely on the money, with a silky interior of yielding rice, rich tomato and sharp hafod cheese.
This all sat on a intense tomato sauce (I got told off for finishing it off with the finger – Mrs. SF and J ganging up on me), with metallic basil adding nicely to the mix of what was a fabulous dish.
Next up was a plate to tempura battered courgettes. I am not a massive advocate of the courgette (can be a bit bland in the wrong hands i.e. mine), but here the beautifully light and crisp batter encased batons of non mushy courgette made for a very moorish snack.
The fresh sweetness of the peas and broad beans complimented a really good romesco sauce. The extra touch of the creaminess of the inhouse made ricotta provided the preverbial cherry on top of the cake.
Mrs. SF went solo with what is regarded by many as the Heathcock’s signature dish of braised wild rabbit pappadalle.
This is just an fabulous dish, comfort food to the max, with oodles of flavour and beautiful textural contrasts. Pasta at its silky (al dente) best, bathing in a luscious sauce with fresh peas, tender well flavoured rabbit and a pleasing crunch from golden breadcrumbs.
J and I opted at this juncture for the mackerel.
Lovely scorched skin and rich, oily, flesh was complemented by a refreshing white cabbage and brown shrimp salad, together with a rather addictive oyster mayo. Really good dish this that J and I demolished in no time.
Next up we decided to share (between the 3 of us) 2 portions of the hanger steak/onglet (fully flavoured cut from the belly of the beast).
Cooked on point, the beef had a good crust and a ruby red core.
Add to this some flavour packed heritage tomatoes, crisp yet chewy sourdough croutons and a robust green sauce and we had ourselves a stunner of a dish.
At this point we had pretty much consumed the Garden Menu and thought “What the hell, let’s go the whole hog and order the last item on it!”
This was a rather interesting variation on “surf and turf”, with squid and bresola.
I really liked the aniseed rich fennel and dill as against the seafood and the saltiness of the samphire. Nice textural contrasts here too. Mrs. SF and J were less keen – I am a sucker for tentacles, but its the suckers that tend to put off (it seems) both Mrs. SF and J (who are scarily of like mind, especially when it comes to taking the piss out of me!).
Here the squid were tiny so no biggie re the suckers (for Mrs.SF and J),
although is is fair to say I had the lion’s share of this dish. The glossamer thin home cured breasola that sat atop it all was also rather good
Whilst not on the menu (other than as part and parcel of the pie combo), they were happy to acquiesce to our request for a bowl of chips.
Sooo good, with lovely crisp, gnarly, exterior and a soft fluffy interior. Everything a good chip should be, these are what my chips want to be when they grow up.
The wine list is on display outside
with a decent mix of styles (bit Old World heavy perhaps, with just one new World number from Argentina) and price points. It looks different to the pre lockdown list, which suggests to me they may have changed wine supplier. I did rather like the old list, which had some interesting stuff on it, but perhaps this one it is just limited for the interim before stuff properly gets back to normal?
With the diversity of dishes we had I would have probably gone for the Grüner Veltliner (a wine that is great for this grazing style of eating). It was, however, £40 a pop and the ladies fancied a red.
With Mrs. SF and J, the default is generally rioja (I have taught them well) and that’s what we had.
Nice easy drinking number this, if a touch uncomplicated, which went particularly well with the hanger steak.
Beer is also available and I had a pint of Jemima’s Pitchfork – which went down rather too easily as my first drink in a pub since March!! Didn’t touch the sides, if am honest.
It was so nice to go back to my local – akin to meeting a long lost friend after many moons and finding that despite the time apart it is like you saw them yesterday and you yabber all night long.
It is a lovely space and the food is a good as ever. Still dog friendly too, which is a huge bonus for me.
They seemed to be doing a roaring trade and the Track and Trace details were no biggie. Social distancing was managed well and you don’t feel (as I had feared) like some sort of pariah (being a lawyer I am use to that mind). The masking up of the staff is a bit odd, but I am sure we will get use to it, and in reality for the moment it is a necessary evil.
Being able to drink and eat in my local feels like real progress and represents an important step on the long road back to normality.
Looking foward to getting back inside to my old spot by the side of the bar.
Couple more things, if you can, tip generously (every little helps in these trying times for those employed in the hospitality industry) and if you book turn up or ring to cancel (margins were wafer thin before Covid 19 and no shows now more than ever could be the final nail in the coffin for many businesses in the sector).
Address: 56-58 Bridge Street, Llandaff, Cardiff, CF5 2EN
Tel: 029 2115 2290