As I continue re-acquainting myself with old favourites (which has seen trips to Uisce, Curado Bar, Asador 44 and the Heathcock to name but a few) in terms of eating and drinking out in Cardiff, with the semblance of freedom that the partial relaxation of the rules has so far allowed, Bar 44 was always going to be on the list.
If you had said during my last visit to Bar 44 in early December that I would next be back in again only in late June, I would have probably spat out my palo cortado (never done lightly)!! I joked then in the title “See you on the otherside (in 2025)”, but I never thought it would be an oh so long 7 months before I returned. As the post title says, it’s been a while old friend!
I am not sure of the impact of the continuing (albeit lesser) restrictions, but I strongly suspect revenues are down and cost up. As a result profit margins (always paper thin in the hospitality sector) will be being stretched (to breaking point) – even without wage inflation, staff having to constantly self isolate and the re-emergence of the fxckwitary of the highest order that is “no shows” being factored in.
In terms of the accursed “no shows“, how hard is it to call or email to cancel a booking?! I know there may in a small number of cases be exceptional circumstance where that is not possible, but the likely instances of such circumstances against the number of no show indicates to me that there is little correlation and thus the vast majority are down to plain old rudeness and/or laziness.
I have little doubt in my mind that the habitual “no showers” would be the sorts who would be the first to complain when places start to disappear! The sorts that will say “We used to be able to book 10 places and shaft 9 of them and now can only go to Weatherspoon!! Why have all the good restaurants closed – it’s a mystery?”.
Let’s hope the 19th (or whatever date it is in Wales) brings a semblance of normality to the dining table and with it the ability of hospitality to trade without constraint and sans “no show” dxckheads.
Anyhow enough of me moaning, what restaurants need to get back on an even keel is custom. This led me back into town, out with my (long suffering) work wife, Rachel – we have worked together on and off for about 28 years (at the last count and by some miracle she hasn’t killed me), and to Bar 44.
With a swanky new outdoor terrace
and Covid compliant interior (all at a cost to the business)
it certainly looks the part.
I can’t say I am a fan of the screens and hope they go with the next relaxation. Even though I was not eating alone they are rather impersonal. Despite being a antisocial bastard, who happily dines solo, I rather despair that Covid has seemingly conditioned alot of people to view any other people as biohazards to be avoided at all cost. I find that really sad.
The menu (at least since my last visit back before the wheel was invented) seems to have had a bit of a revamp (or perhaps my memory is just fading). The Bar 44 Classicos are all still there
as well as the Despensa/Pantry section
but there is now a section dedicated to seasonality (very much a Group 44 thing).
My eyes were immediately drawn to the sherry soaked payoyo (a hard tangy sheep’s milk cheese from the Sierra de Grazalema to the south west of Ronda in Andulucia) in the Despensa section of the menu (£7). It is a cheese that seems to have a natural affinity with sherry and you see it served in all the tabancos (sherry bars) in Jerez as a nibble to be washed down with whatever sherry takes your fancy (oloroso is the classic pairing, but my choice would generally be a palo cortado).
Here it is doused in its pairing partner, oloroso and what an inspired pairing it is.
Lactic sourness, salty tanginess and herbal notes as against the sticky nuttiness of the oloroso worked a treat. Lovely rosemary infused crackers elicited oohs and aahs from Rachel.
The lamb breast (sorry just can’t bring myself to call it rib or belly) came with a Cantabrian anchovy (anchovy royalty) breadcrumb crust (£8.50).
Lamb and anchovy is a classic combo for good reason and here it worked beautifully, with the umami savouriness of the anchovies really enhancing the flavour of the meat. A caper, herb and onion salad was a neat adjunct to the meat, adding freshness and acidity that cut the richness of lamb.
Loads of meat here, cooked on point, with the bones sliding away with the gentlest of teases
Big portion this, which worked well as a sharing dish between two.
Personally, I think there are few places around that do patatas bravas better than Bar 44 (here in the UK or indeed Spain, in my albeit limited experience) and therefore (at least to my mind) it is a no brainer in terms of ordering pretty much every visit.
As good as ever, this rubble of triple cooked beauties (£4.80) had that craggy, crisp, exterior and soft, fluffy, yielding interior we all crave in a potato. Perfect for dunking in the brava sauce and a punchy sherry aioli (I love that this place is even more obsessed with sherry than I am).
The sherry theme continued with some sticky sherry chicken (I saw someone on Twitter refer to this as sherryaki – quite good that and a rather apt description😀 – £6.50).
Really good dish this, with the sticky reduced sherry sauce supercharging the nuttiness of the bountiful crushed hazelnuts, which in turn complemented the thigh meat. The sherry reduction also brought a nice sweetness to the sticky coating, without being in any way cloying, which gave it an almost oriental feel.
As with the patatas bravas, Bar 44 excels at that other tapas classic in the form of the croqueta (£5.80)
These globes of loveliness had a wafer thin yet nicely crisp exterior which gave way to creamy bechamel studded with nuggets of jamon. Always a joy when done well (and a “cold hearted” horror when not) these were as good as ever.
The only dish that slightly missed the mark for me (Rachel on the other hand loved it) was the sobrasada con miel (on toast – £4).
To me the honey was a bit too dominant in the mix and somewhat masked the sobrasada (it also looked disconcertingly like the wound on J’s knee she showed me after she fell over whilst out on a run just prior to my visit here – pretty is wasn’t 🤢). I prefer my sobrasada to be a little more on the picante side and this dish lacked for me the yin of heat to the yang of sweet. As Rachel was a big fan, this is clearly a horses for courses kind of dish.
The booze selection is simply one of the best in Cardiff, with a huge variety of all thing Iberian and riffs on that theme (particularly in the cocktails) to choose from. For an Hispanophile like me it is a “Happy as a 🐖 in 💩” sort of list.
To me going to Bar 44 and not having sherry is like going to Naples and skipping on the pizze. I mean why would you?
I plumped (true to form) for a Palo Cortado (a Leanor from Gonzalez Byass – £7 for 100ml).
Lovely amber colour, with caramelised almonds on the nose and a touch of citrus (orange) and a nutty, yet fruit driven, dry finish on the palate. Dangerously easy to drink (at a whopping 20°) and perfect with the food.
As part of my sherry/vina generosos mission, I have (to a degree) converted both Mrs. SF and J (the latter only to finos and manzanillas, but I am working on her regarding the rest) and next on the hit list is Rachel who (opposite to J) likes the sweet stuff but is less enamoured with the drier styles.
With a mini heat wave at the time of our visit, an Andulucian classic in the form of a rebujito (£4.50) was the perfect introduction for Rachel in terms of the dryer stuff (i.e. finos and manzanilla).
The Bar 44 one is a mix of Manzanilla (Bar 44’s excellent own brand I believe) lemon, mint and lemonade. Perfect for a warm summer’s day, Rachel was an instant convert.
So good to have another old favourites back on the scene and having lost none of its luster in the interim.
Cardiff has such a strong Spanish restaurant and bar scene and Bar 44 was what started it all off.
As good as ever, if not better, bravo Team 44👍
Whilst my days in town are set to be less than they were pre Covid, with the office taking on a hybrid approach going forward in terms a mix of office and home working each week for the foreseeable (possibly forever), I intend to use my days in the office to take advantage (be it at lunch or in the evening) of the fabulous hospitality venues Cardiff has to offer. Gotta use them or we will end up losing them!
Address: 15-23 Westgate Street, Cardiff, CF10 1DD.