Best Soliciting (Flavours) of 2020? – Part 1, the food files

2020 has been a year like no other, with the hospitality industry seemingly doing some very heavy lifting (pretty unfairly in my opinion) in terms of the economic devastation wrought by Covid 19.

Lockdowns in name and in all but name have closed large swathes of the hospitality industry for much of the year and regrettably it seems 2021 (at least to start with) will be no different.

Notwithstanding the ongoing Covid 19 shitshow, it had been awe inspiring to see how many in the industry have adapted to the grim position they have been placed in (through no fault of their own). As the saying goes “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and that have never been truer in 2020 for the independents in the hospitality sector in Wales. How nimble on their feet these people are is a wonder to behold.

So to my customary round up of the best stuff I have eaten (my best booze of the year will be next week’s post – otherwise this post would have been even more War and Peace than usual) in this weirdest of weird years. No foreign trips (how I have missed Spain) this year, but plenty of good food (predominately local) and drink to wash it down with has been (despite Covid) had this year.

Best meat dish

I am a big meat eater and love quality meat that tastes of something (rather than tasteless supermarket crap). A small plus side of Covid does seem to have been the resurgence of the local  butcher, if how busy Martin Player, Oriel Jones, K Blackmore & Sons and JT Morgan etc. have been. 

In terms of meat dishes I have had, I think the ones that lived long enough  in the memory to get a mention include Grady Atkins’ Chef Vous cracking beef dish for my birthday,

a lovely lamb dish at Thomas by Tom Simmons?

a Duroc pork cheek at Bar 44

and a (perhaps not for the faint hearted) suckling pig (the crackling was amazing – paper thin – and the meat so tender) at Asador 44.

The meat dish of the year for me, however, was beautifully piece of Presa Iberico pork I had, again, at Asador 44.

Cooked beautifully rare,

this was just piggy perfection for me.

We are so lucky to have Asador 44 in the city centre – a view food critic Tom Parker Bowles entirely buys into.

Best fish dish

I have had some cracking fish dishes in Cardiff, including mussels cooked over open flame

and percedes (goose barnacles)

at Asador 44, as well as Rockefeller style mussels at the Heathcock

The standout fish dish for me, however, was a stunning piece of gurnard (such an underrated and underused fish here in the UK – actually that goes for most fish) in a crab bisque at the Tolecarne Inn in Newlyn.

Part of a wider meal crammed full of seafood delights

this was just an outstanding piece of seafood cooking taking advantage of super fresh produce landed a stone’s throw away from the place.

With produce like this, it makes me wonder why us Brits don’t eat way more seafood. Mrs. SF and I are certainly doing our best, including a wonderful two weeks in Padstow and St. Ives gorging on the stuff.

Best bargain

Asador 44’s lunch menu continues to offer fabulous value and the new kid on the block, Pasture, also have a fine, good value, lunch menu

To me, however, the bargain of the year was the cheese and charcuterie board at Vermut (Curado Bar’s baby brethern)

Fabulous selection of top quality Spanish cheeses and charcuterie, complimented by some rather fine condiments.

Ridiculously good value for a mere £10, it is easily enough for two and great washed down with their excellent selection of booze.

Best Burger

I was very impressed with the burger at Pasture

and equally by the make at home “Double Bacon Butter Burger” kit from the Burger and Beyond kit (more on that in a post in the new year probably, now we are back in lockdown).

The best burger I had, however, was the frankly fabulous mutton burger from Ansh – newly installed by Victoria Park in Cardiff.

The no nonsense approach, relying on the nice gameness of Oriel Jones’ mutton, made for a superlative burger. Cooked on point, a nice medium rare, there was such a depth of flavour to the patties making this up there with the very best burgers I have had since starting the blog (and there have been a few).

Best takeaway (non burger)

I am not a massive takeaway eater, but due to Covid I have probably eaten more this year than in the last 5 years combined and I have had some great ones from the likes of Salkaara, Keralan Karavan, Mira, Milkwood, Taste of Persia, the Heathcock, Oasis, West Pizza

and (the everything they do is good) Leyli Joon and Co. Bab Haus taco and tortillo kit 

to name, but a few.

The best, however, was definitely the superlative ribs from Kapow.

So much meat on these whoppers and it definitely wasn’t a case of quality being sacrificed for quantity.  Good sides too and an increasingly interesting roster of rubs, made this the must have takeaway this year and probably the first one on my mind for 2021 (with takeaways the only thing on the menu at the start of next year).

Best new opening

It is fair to say that 2020 has not been the greatest of time to open a new hospitality venture and I certainly haven’t got around to visiting many in the short window of opportunity afforded us between full on and semi  – lockdowns.

I have yet to venture to the hugely promising Goodsheds (including James Sommerin’s The Shed of which Gourmet Gorro speaks very highly) and that will be on my list for next year (as will Rocket & Rye in Cowbridge and Ansh’s opening as a sit down affair in Victoria Park).

I was very enamoured with Thomas by Tom Simmons, which is a great little place with fab food, 

including the best mac “n” cheese I think I have ever had.

Pasture has a heady mix (for me) of great meat, interesting sides and a very decent and reasonable priced wine list (do a very fair corkage offer too).

My winner, however, is Vermut (again) – a just great little hole in the wall bar that ticks so many boxes for me.

Fabulous selection of sherries, Montilla – Moriles wines and vermuts,

with great nibbles, including superlative canned fish, charcuterie and cheese.

Place takes me take back to the lovely hole in the wall bars in Sevilla and Cadiz.

Absolutely cracking bar, with the only downside being it makes me long for Spain even more.

Best heat at home

Both the Mr, Croquewich’s

and Little Kitchen CF3’s

cook at home offerings also bought a well sated smile to my face, as did Heaney’s

and Clever Chefs’ cook/reheat at home Sunday lunch offers.

The winner, however, on the basis of a heady combination of ease of instruction, enjoyment of cooking and a fab end result, as well as the sheer flavour bomb it provided, has to be Leyli Joon & Co’s fabulous Persian feast.

I was rather proud of the end result,

even though I don’t think I followed the recipe 100%, which was absolutely delicious.

Most missed during lockdowns

I have missed many a place this year, but the one that really cut me to the quick not being able to visit during the various lockdowns was my local, the Heathcock.

I always enjoy the food from this place, be it a jumbo pie,

chockablock full of meat

amazing small plates,

or breakfast.

You name the meal and the Heathcock has got you covered.

I really, really miss my Saturday  sojourns there with the dogs.

It along with Asador 44, will be top of my list one when we are released from our gilded cages once more.

Most enjoyable meal

Amongst a host of great meals, my  meal of the year was an absolute  corker of a bespoke affair put together and delivered to my door (on my birthday) by Grady Atkins and his Chef Vous offering.

Boy can this man cook and he knows exactly what I like.

It made for a memorable birthday, even though we were pretty much under house arrest at the time.

and that dessert,

just wow.


Despite the very odd/f’ffing awful year that has been 2020, I have been blessed with excellent food and drink, including deliveries from the likes of Curado Bar#Mercado 44, Viader Vintners, Ty Caws, Ty Melin, Ashtons Fishmongers, Pops’n’Hops, the Bottle Shop and Mumbles Fine wines, to name but a few.

All great local business that have provided an invaluable service and who deserve our ongoing support.

So a big thank you to all who have feed and watered me so well this year and to those who have read the blog.

Let’s hope 2021 brings a bit more cheer.

Best of the booze (2020 – drove me to it) should be next week’s post.


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