Cooking up a storm – Uisce (Ish – ka) by Heaney’s, Pontcanna, Cardiff.

All to predictably, the loosening up of lockdown to allow for outside dining coincided with weather that would have had Noah saying ” We are gonna need a bigger boat“.

Inside dining from tomorrow – woohoo – coming none too soon with foul weather forecast to continue for weeks.

With it lashing it down, it was perhaps apt that Mrs. SF, J and I found ourselves at Uisce by Heaney’s in the Pontcanna suburb of Cardiff.

The irony of a long lunch at this place/plaice😀, whose mastery of fish cookery is probably unparalled in Cardiff, in weather only fit for fish was not lost on us.

With other places battening down the hatches and shutting up shop as Storm “Two fingers up to outdoor dining” swept in, Uisce donned its sou’wester and popped up a marque in addition to their established big top affair.

Very effective it was too (against all the odds) in keeping us dry and warm.

This clearly paid dividends as when we arrived a speculative walk up asked “Have your got a table at 3pm for 3?” and was met with a “Really sorry, but we are fully booked all day“. Bad luck for them and full smug mode immediately engaged by us, it was actually very gratifying to hear that even in the teeth of a tempest the denizen of Cardiff are happy to eat al fresco on mass. Fed up, no doubt, like me of being trapped in our houses when it comes to food and drink options.

The food

The menu operates on a small plates basis, with fish the clear focus.

We operated (rather successfully) on a basis of sharing the snack elements and choosing each a sort of main and supplementing it with (shared) veggies.

You can’t go to Heaney’s and not have the sourdough and marmite butter (£3.50) – it would be like going to Naples and passing on the pizza!!

As good as ever, the bread had a lovely chewiness to it, with a proper crust. The marmite butter has if anything been improved, with just the right amount of umami yeastiness to properly taste its presence without overpowering. It has also grown to mammoth dimensions, such that it is very much a case of adding a bit of bread to your butter. A extra slice of bread or a tad less butter would probably lead to less waste.

As tempting as it was, we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to eat the butter neat once we had exhausted the bread supply (Gourmet Gorro, on his visit, took the very sensible step of asking for more bread ) and I think with that amount of butter 3 rather than 2 slices of bread should be the norm).

Next up were a medley of oysters (Mrs SF passed on these so it was two each for J and I).

I really enjoyed the deep fried number, with a good crisp coating and the cooking giving the oysters a much more meaty feel. Nice with the refreshing pickled cucumber, I didn’t really get what the addition of the caviar brought to the table. Couldn’t really discern it, but maybe that is my lack of a discerning palate.

Whilst J was keen on the bloody Mary bivalves, I had doubts as to whether it would overpower the oyster. This fear was unrealised as the robust bloody Mary concoction still allowed for the innate taste of the briney deep you get with an unadorned oyster to shine through. Clever balance act, executed perfectly. I may just start habitually adding an oyster to my bloody Marys.

Continuing the crumbed and fried (with the snack elements) theme were a couple of cubes of lamb breast (sorry can’t call it belly, as in my book there is no such thing – much in the same way there is no such thing as beef belly)

Name pedantry (by me) aside, these had a beautifully crisp outer shell which gave way to tender strands of full on lambiness. Absolutely cracking, with a belting mint sauce (is there a better match than lamb and mint?). I could have happily eaten a trough of these.

Next up were a couple of portions of jamon croquetas, with a light crispy shell encasing a silky smooth bechamel studded with nuggets of jamon iberico

There is a, hard to describe, beguiling smell to proper jamon iberico and walking into a jamon shop in Spain that distinctive aroma always has me positively swooning. These beauties gave off that same intoxicating perfume (I would seriously buy that to dab behind the ears 😄).

With the nibbles duly dispatched, our focus moved on to the fish on the more substantial plates element of the menu

Mrs. SF and J, both went for the hake (£14), a fish I have a lot of time for, which sat is a subtly appley cider beurre noisette with cucumber atop the fish’s crispy skin. Sweet and rich, yet with nice acidity to balance it all out.

A spankingly fresh piece of fish, cooked just past transluscent with lovely big flakes and that must have crispy skin. The cooking really did justice to what was a beautiful piece of hake.

I went for the gurnard (£14), which I think is a seriously underrated fish (at least here in the UK). It has lovely pearly white firm flesh, but is a boney bugger so (as I am a cackhanded lazy sod) it is a fish I often go for in restaurants (pay then to do all the hard work).

Again a nice crisp skin (possibly just a tad over on the edges, which didn’t detract flavour wise) and nicely cooked, fully flaked, meaty, white flesh. All perfectly seasoned and singing of the sea.

The fish sat in an intense crab bisque (Mrs SF though it a touch too strong for the fish, I disagreed) and the stir fried veggies had a lovely hit of ginger to them. All in all a very satisfying dish and an early contender for fish dish of the year in my annual round up. Very reminiscent of a gurnard dish I had at the Tolcarne Inn in Newlyn last year (which was my fish dish of 2020) and just as good.

We supplemented the fish dishes with two lots of the asparagus (£8) and Jersey royals (£8).

Both fantastic dishes, with the asparagus (is there a better vegetable than the English green version, with the much loved on the Continent white variety simply not cutting the hollandaise in my book) perhaps edging the Jersey’s for me.

The charring of each verdant spear (of gastromy) gave them a real nuttiness, which was pushed into overdrive (in a good way) by the toasted hazelnuts (adding to both the flavour and a textural contrasts – smooth tarmasalata, yielding spears with enough of a bite and crunchy nuts). I sometimes think Heaney’s can go a bit OTT with the smoked cod roe, but here it worked a treat with the spears operating in a further role as the conveyance to the gob.

Whilst bested by the asparagus, the combo of waxy new potatoes and the lactic sourness of the garlic infused buttermilk was a very pleasing one. Top off nicely by a chiffonade of seaweed, it should be mandatory to mash it all together.

On to pudding and Mrs. SF made a beeline for the chocolate choux, whilst J went for the buttermilk and strawberries.

I didn’t get a look in terms of either, but both were devoured with gusto before even a thought of food theft entered my mind. I fear, even if I had been quicker, I would have got sort shrift and a spooned rap on the knuckles from both Mrs SF and J.

Both enthused over their choices, with Mrs SF particularly loving the banana miso and J the strawberry sorbet elements of their respective puds.

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so out of the two I would have probably opted for the buttermilk number. I, however, fancied the cheese.

At a not inconsiderable £12, this came with 3 cheeses (a soft, a blue and a hard one) – all in very good nick.

To accompany the cheese, there was a very good beetroot chutney and a nice quantity of quality crackers (can never understand when places are mean with the crackers).

Based on it being enough for two (or a pig like me) I thought the £12 price was actually fair enough.

The booze

I have alway like the fact that the list here has pretty much everything on offer by the glass as well as the bottle.

As it was our first proper meal out since lockdown (9 bazillion.0), we went large on the booze and ordered a bottle of red and white wine.

The Lievland (£29 – retails at £14 + so a fair mark up by UK standards), a Saffer chenin blanc, had nice white stone fruit and a touch of the tropical on the nose and apple, citrus and peaches on the palate. Well rounded and ripe, it worked very well with the fish dishes, with enough body to cope with even the robust crab bisque that gurnard came with.

The red was a big boy Cali cab sauv in the form of a Buena Vista 2016, which was loaded with ripe dark fruits (blueberry, blackcurrant and dark plums), with tobacco leaf, leather and cedar also in the mix. At £48 cheap it ain’t, but it retails at around the £22.50 mark so (as with the white) a pretty fair mark up ( for the UK).

With the diverse nature of the menu, I think it is a shame there isn’t a riesling on the list. It is such a good food wine and I would, personally, like to see both a New World and an Old World riesling on the list here.

Another thing I would like to see is vintage details. There is an increasing trend on wine list in restaurants to leave this out, but if I am spending £40 plus on a wine I really want to know what year it is. This is necessary to discern if it is a decent vintage and if it is in its drinking window. I know I can ask, but with online lists and QR codes now in vogue it is easy to add these details isn’t it?

Verdict

I really like Uisce and it made for a perfect re-introduction into the joys of eating out. Oh how I have missed that pleasure.

Well flavoured, inventive, dishes to suit all tastes and a pretty decent wine list all makes for a rather fine dining experiance and that is exactly what you get at Uisce.

A must visit place in Cardiff, but do them a favour if you book – turn up or ring and cancel rather then just no showing. Restaurants have had and continue to have it hard enough without having to put up with no shows.

Details

All the pertinant details are on the website site at:

https://heaneyscardiff.co.uk/uisce.php

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