Despite being one of the lucky ones (in good heath, a pretty secure 🤞 well paid job, which can easily – surprisingly so – be done from home) lockdown has been shit. A cage no matter how gilded is still a cage and I have sorely missed the ability to eat and drink out in restaurants and pubs.
The blog is my cackhanded/word salady/typo ridden way of paying homage to what I love in the form of eating and drinking and the fact I have been denied these things (outside of my gilded cage) may be small beer/potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but the wider picture is (with the inability, still, of the hospitality sector to open) thousand (probably 10,000s in Wales as a whole) of jobs and livelihoods are on the line.
I have huge admiration for people who put money into this risky sector and succeed usually through blood, sweat and tears. Even before the pandemic the rate of failure in the sector was uncomfortably high (up to three times higher than the average for the economy as a whole). With Covid, the sector has borne the brunt of job losses.
Whilst a sort or roadmap has been alluded to, here in Wales, with outdoor hopitality at the end of April and indoor at the end of May, their still seems to be huge confused/a lack of clarity as to ongoing funding position post the end of March and what measure will be in place on those dates.
Am I the only one perplexed by the fact that full contact services such as getting a tattoo, a full body massage, your brows (singular in my case) done etc. are now totally fine, but a pint or some food indoors in a pub/restaurant (in your bubble) is a no no for seemingly weeks min. and even outdoors not until the 26th April? Logic of this is totally lost on me, I am afraid.
Even one of the stalwarts of the South Wales restaurant scene, in the form of the Bar 44 Group, has not been immune from the impact of Covid (and the seeming demonisation of hopitality by the new puritans, who appear to believe we all go mad when we get a sniff of booze) having had to make the heartbreaking decision to close their Cowbridge restaurant. These people, however, have a never say die attitude and have come out punching with their Mercado 44 offering now going nationwide. As the saying goes when the going gets tough the tough get going and the people behind the 44 group are as tough as they come.
When the long Easter weekend hoved into view (with still no bloody chance of a meal out), something from Mercado 44 was a bit of a no brainer.
Whilst tempted by the steak and turbot meals, it being Easter, the obvious choice was a bit of lamb.
Oddly Asador 44’s leg of milk fed lamb is one of the few dishes on their menu that I haven’t had before – always nice to be able to address these sorts of abhorrent anomalies!
On top of the lamb (which came with various sauces – £25), I ordered chips and some of Asador 44’s “cooked over the coals” peppers. I also added some salchichón to nibble on.
It all case nicely portioned up and all looked rather good.
There were instructions for the lamb,but oddly none ( I double checked the box) for the potatos (chips).
The lamb had had all the hard work done, being pre cooked (confit’d) by the Asador 44 team.
All that was needed was 30 mins in a hot oven to heat it through and crisp up the skin.
The result was the leg bone just pulling away, crisp skin and “cut with a spoon” tender flesh.Whilst at first sight it looked small for two (it is from a lamb that was less 28 days old, so it was never going to be huge), it yielded a surprisingly decent amount of meat per plate.We actually had a fair bit left over, so definitely a case of looks can be deceiving size wise. It was easily enough for two.
Beautiful subtle flavour to this meat, which I really enjoyed with the full on lamb gravy, which just needed to be heated up on the hob.
Concentrated essence of lamb, liberally (there was loads of it) poured on the lamb, this was decadent stuff. My only slight quibble was it was so rich that a little went a long way and there was absolutely loads of it. My advice is use half and freeze the rest.
With the lamb there was also a punchy salsa verde,which acted as a good counterpoint to the richness of the lamb. It is (in my humble opinion) best to leave some unadorned (gravy wise) lamb for this as it would be odd with the gravy. I had it with some of the left over lamb the next day and it worked a treat.
I added chips (£5 a portion) to the order, which are advertised as oven cooked.As there were no instructions (I assume they were accidently left out), I didn’t really know what to do with them in terms of minutiae of cooking (timing, temp. etc.). As I did know from the Mercado 44 website they were oven chips I surmised it was a case of putting them in the oven at the same time and temp. as the lamb.
As it happened they needed a good 20 mins more than the lamb (allowed for rest time I suppose – due to the pre- cooking it didn’t really need it mind), with the heat cranked up for the extra.
I also wasn’t sure what to do with the stuff in the pack (which transpired to be herb and garlic infused olive oil).I put it on the uncooked chips but then discovered (finger in the bag test) that the yellow stuff (unlabelled) in the pack belowwas pork fat which I assumed was for the chips (I then, too late, realised that the olive oil and herb mix would have been better deployed as a finish off addition). I, therefore, brushed on the pork fat, which again turned out to be a mistake.
I probably should have (at the “I can’t find any instructions” stage) DM’d them for the missing instructions, but as a man “Not lost, don’t need to ask for directions” syndrome kicked in so I ploughed on regardless.
The end result tasted nice, but I had clearly got the use of the pork fat spectacularly wrong.Fluffy on the outside they would have benefited from being crispier on the exterior (I suspect the correct use of the pork fat would have addressed this issue – a suspicious subsequently confirmed).
I then (too late) saw on Instagram a picture of these chips which were clearly much crisper than my effort and inquiring about how they did it. This lead me to finding out that the instructions were very different to what I did. (picture courtesy of @Food_A4thought)
On the basis of how far my “winging it” effort diverged from the instructions, I am frankly amazed mine were still pretty good.
Then again below is what they should have looked like (picture again courtesy of @Food_A4thought) which rather put my attempt to shame.Now those are proper crispy chips. I should have probably worked it out myself, but heyho and at least I’ll know next time.
I also added some coal roasted peppers (£7), which can be eaten cold or hot.I opted to heat them up on the hob and they added a nice smokey sweetness and acidity to the mix. Needed as the lamb and lamb gravy were very rich.
All in all I enjoyed the meal, with the lamb rightly the star of the show.As I had quite a lot of the pork fat left over, I decided to tried again at a later date (following the instructions as far as I could – I sous vide’d the chips first) and the results were infinitely better (possibly should have cut them a bit chunkier).You live and learn.
On the booze front, it had to be Spanish (my first and enduring love wine wise) and with suckling lamb (a speciality of Aranda del Duero) to my mind it had to be a Ribera del Duero wine.
Luckily I have a fair few stashed away and a dig in the wine room unearthed a 1995 (a pretty good and long living vintage in Ribera del Duero)in the form of a Valtravieso “Gran Valtravieso” Reserva.
I love an aged tempranillo and this still had loads of rich dark fruit in the mix, with added complexity of orange zest, meatiness, leather and Asian spice. Few years still left in the tank I would say (luckily I still have a couple of bottles of this left). Certainly worked a treat with the lamb.
Not cheap by any stretch (€71 retail at moment, if you can find it – Ribera wines from the 1995 vintage are becoming increasingly hard to come by these days), I managed to pick up a half case of it for £90 a few years back. Bit of a bargain I think.
A more wallet friendly option would be this rioja from Costco,which at under £8 a bottle ( in store – membership required) is an absolute steal.
I really enjoyed the Mercado 44 meal. Delivery was efficient (there is not an insubstantial courier fee which seems to be fixed regardless of distance – couldn’t seem to see a local pick up option which would be great for me if I was looking to pick up the odd bottle as otherwise the courier change bops up the price of a bottle alot) and whilst not cheap made for a very pleasant and substantial Easter dinner.
Lots of lovely stuff (booze and food) on the website ( constantly being added to) to while away the dying embers (please let this be the end of it) of lockdown – looks like we still have until the end of May at the earliest for indoor hospitality to return and under what rules I wonder? I’m betting it will be – you are only getting inside if accompanied by a Vaquita (with the latter having to show proof of address ID).
I really do hope the Welsh Government heeds the letter from the Covid-19 Tourism Taskforce (issued by the industry representatives on it) in terms of fast tracking the re-opening of the hopitality and tourism sectors. If they don’t people will, I suspect, just increasingly socialise at home (a far less regulated environment than pubs and restaurants).
For home drinking, there are some very interesting wines coming online shortly if the tweet below is anything to go by.
Some real corkers in there – the Remelluri blanco is a stunning wine (one of my favourite white wines from anywhere, let alone Spain).
As I understand it Mercado 44 will be running post lockdown so you can get your 44 Group fix wherever you are in the UK. There have been precious few postives coming out of the whole Covid shitshow, but Mercado 44 is one of them.
Orders from their online shop at: