Bar 44 has become a Cardiff (and wider South Wales) institution over the years, offering an always welcome taste of my beloved Spain.
In the absence, this year, of being able to get over to Spain, the likes of Bar 44 and Asador 44 (as well as Vermut and Curado) have provided me with a taste of the place at least.
I have blogged about Bar 44 a number of times, so probably nothing really new here. They have, however, had to close due to the latest barmy set of restrictions (added to by the Christmas and beyond lockdown in Wales – as if January isn’t sh*t enough usually they have gone and extended it into December!) and I took the opportunity prior to the restriction (and the going out desert that comes with them) coming in to force of a last (for a while) lunch at the place.
It is nice to try out and write about the shiny new places that pop up, but we should never forget the grand dames that have served us so well in the past and (God willing) will continue to do so in the future.
It is places like Bar 44 that make Cardiff – independents working with passion and skill that bring fabulous food and drink to its denizens. Cardiff without places like Bar 44 is simply unthinkable.
Bar 44 has done all that has been asked of it in terms of Covid compliance. Massively reduced capacity, contact details taken, social distancing well observed
and screens separating diners – yet it seems it is never enough.
The restrictions that came in in early December must have been a real kick in the teeth for them (as, I suspect, is the next lockdown in coming on the 28th). Having spend time and money observing every rule imposed (in an ever changing “we must be seen to do something, anything” Covid driven environment) they have been forced to close for the forseeable due to said rules simply making it unviable to continue to operate and now the lockdown having come into effect. Heart breaking stuff for the owners and the staff.
On my visit, the day before the no booze and closing at 6pm restrictions (which, as far as I can tell, have had no postive effect at all – quite the contrary it would sadly seem, with them swiftly followed by a full lockdown) came in, the food and drink was as ever top notch, as was the service.
I was in there to pick up booze in the form of the places new own label manzanilla (more on that below)
and it would have been rude not to have had lunch (I, of course, booked in advance).
In terms of what I ordered from the abundance of riches on the menu, is there a better iteration anywhere of that Spanish classic patatas bravas than the one at Bar 44?
I have travelled extensively around Spain and don’t recall having one better than the Bar 44 one.
The patatas bravas here have that perfect, well seasoned, exterior crunch allied to a soft fluffy interior.Then you have a robust brava sauce (just enough, but not so as to overpower, in terms of the levels of paprika and chilli) and vampire proofing aioli.
Perfect bar food this and stuff that looks on the face of it easy to replicate at home, but is actually a right faff to make.
As it happens, the hard bits (the brava sauce and aioli) can be purchased direct from #Mercado 44 (back in play I hope after Christmas with lockdown number “lost count” on the cards) and possibly the Asador 44 pop up (more on that below), so making it at home (whilst being unable to get your Bar 44 fix of them) is just a matter of getting the potatoes right.
I love a bit of rare red meat and few places do a bit of beef better than the Bar 44 group. Here in pint size form (as against the flintstone – esque behemoths at Asador 44 – cracking review of the place recently from Tom Parker Bowles, having been shown the ropes at the place by The Plate Licked Clean) you still get flavour to the max and on point cooking
Beautiful flavour to this flat iron steak, it was actually a very decent portion, with the intense beefiness that only comes from top quality, dry aged, beef. A fresh and tangy mojo verde provided a nice counterpoint to the richness of the beef.
My final dish was one that brings together so many things I love on a single plate.
Spoon tender, cooked low and slow in PX, Duroc pork cheek – smothered in a sumptuous gravy and sat on a silky smooth celeriac puree, all topped by light celeriac crisps. Just wonderful.
Everything was perfectly seasoned, making for a joyous plate of food – this would be on my death row (for my many crimes against the English language) last meal request!!
In my haste to get the stuff in my gob I manage to drop a fork full into my crotch. Cursing my inate clumsiness, I thanked the Lord for that intervention stopping the precious cargo hitting the floor and that my day’s attire included navy blue rather than beige (which would have been fun) chinos.
On the booze front, readers will know I am an utter sherry bore – I can’t help it, I just love the stuff.
For sherry lovers, Bar 44 is the business having a great selection to suit all tastes from bone dry manzanillas and finos
to super sweeties
and everything in between.
As indicated above, Bar 44 have their own brand manzanilla (made by manzanilla specialist Bodegas Baron) by the glass and the bottle (the latter retail).
Whilst sorely tempted by the Bar 44 manzanilla, with the food ordered I wanted something a bit more robust.
One of my favourite styles of sherry is the enigmatic Palo Cortado and I decided to push the boat out and go for the Lustau Almacentisa Palo on the list.Fabulous wine this, with a beautiful golden rose tinted colour
On the nose there was a distinct woodiness (cedar) as well as leather, dried fruit and tobacco.
On the palate it more than lived up to the expectation from the nose, with an initial touch of caramel sweetness then dry nuttiness from walnuts and hazelnuts followed by touch of bitterness from dried herbs and roasted coffee beans.
A wine that did justice to the great food I had.
I am, perhaps, guilty of forgetting just how good Bar 44 is and I really should eat there more often. Everytime I eat there I am in awe as to the quality of the produce used, the inventiviness on display and the attention to detail in the execution of each dish.
It is incredible sad that they have been forced to temporarily close, but I hope (and am sure) that Owen, Tom and Natalie and the Bar 44 (and Asador 44) teams will be back bigger, bolder and better (if that is possible) once the restrictions are loosened to an extent whereby viability returns/they are actually allowed to open.
God knows when that will be mind, if the latest missives from our Lord and Masters are anything to go by!
In the interim, with #mercado last online orders deadline before Christmas having passed, you can still get #Mercado44 goodies at Asador 44. The place has (temporarily) been converted into a shop open.
The video of it on Instagram looks absolutely awesome. Open today, not sure from then am afraid.
Alternatively (or as well) why not buy vouchers for the new year. I also (in a bitter sweet way) have a feeling #Mercado 44 online will be returning at the start of 2021.
A word or two hundred (well it is me) about the Bar 44 manzanilla
Lovely wine this, with distinct green olive and briney seaside notes on the nose, followed by fresh cut apple and almonds. On the palate it is such an easy drinking number, with a big hit of almonds, followed by dried Mediterranean herbs and a twist of citrus.
Seriously gluggable stuff and a must for me over the Christmas break now the the “Morale Breaker” has kicked (our heads) in.
They say it is darkest before the dawn and it feels very dark indeed at the moment, so let’s hope (with the vaccine in play) that after the next lockdown a semblance of normality will return to shore up the embattled hospitality industry.
On that note, as this is the last post before Christmas Day, I hope you all have a Happy (try your best in the dire circumstances) Christmas.
Address: 15 – 23 Westgate Street,
Cardiff, CF10 1DD
Tel: 03333 44 40 49
Opening times: Ask Mark.