A certain je ne sais quoi? Sopra 73,  Whitchurch, Cardiff.

One of the things you seem to rarely see opening up these days is a classic French style bistro. This dining staple of my youth seems to have fallen out of favour or should that be flavour.

New Italian, Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern, Tex Mex and, of course, Spanish places abound in Cardiff, but classic French cooking is a much rarer beast. Odd that we seem to have rather fallen out of love with the cuisine of our Gallic neighbours.

Not sure why to be honest as a good plats du jour was always, to me, a plate of joy.  I mean who can resist moules and frites or steak frites and I have always loved the likes of cassoulet, beef bourguinon and coq au vin. These are classics for good reason, as are also bouillabaisse (rouille, an absolute must) and confit de canard.

I still rather mourn the loss (many, many moons ago) of Le Gallois and Le Cassoulet, both of which provided me with many a happy meal (especially when someone else was paying). They were in their pomp when I was in my pauper period – the Uni/ pre- training contract years of a rented hovel with no central heating, thick ice on the inside of the windows in the winter, a mattress on the floor and a deck chair as pretty much the only furniture and no telly (sorely tempted to revert to the latter with the garbage they put on these days), so someone else paying was essential.

The link in terms of this place and Le Gallois (maitre d’ and chef) and the blending of classic French cuisine, with Welsh ingredients and a smattering of wider mediterranean influences (very much following the old Le Gallois model) all makes for a enticing “on paper” offering.

With my love of this sort of food, visiting Sopra 73 was a no brainer for a long overdue night out with friends.

The entrance is rather hidden away around the back of and upstairs from Pizza Villaggio. I can’t say it is the most inviting of entrances.

Inside the stairs are adorned with some  quite vivid murals

as well as some rather nice artwork “on canvas” in the restaurant itself.

Art to feed your soul, whilst you prepare to feed your face!

The food

The menu looked bang on. Full on hearty French classics, that have more than stood the test of time, being very much to the fore.

Nice it see it really busy, with it full by 8pm on the night of our visit.

On the starters, I am a sucker for a pot of  moules (£9) and whilst I tend to like to keep it simple with a standard mariniere my usual go to, the lighty curried cream and cider sauce sounded rather lovely.

Grand sized portion (note this can be upped to a main, with fries, which must be bloody huge), with lovely plump bivalves and a cream sauce that had its richness tempered by the cider, moule liquor and just a soupcon of curry spices. No grittiness, the bane of many a moule, present here thankfully.

Really enjoyed this with my only complaint being the somewhat paupacy of the advertised baguette, which seem to me to have morphed from said baguette into a sourdough boule.

In theory, it needed more bread to mop up the fab sauce, with me resorting to spooning it into my gob.  I didn’t, however, want to fill up too much and I suspect if I had asked for more bread it would have been forthcoming.

Mrs. SF had an old Le Gallois classic in the form of a roquefort souffe.

The salty twang of the cheese was clearly evident, but didn’t overpowder, with the souffle beautifully light and airy in texture. Mrs. SF also enjoyed the pear chutney and chicory slaw that came with it.

The other starter ordered was from the specials on the night (£14).

Didn’t try any of it and can’t for the life of me remember what sauce the prawns came in (how shxte am I at this 😬), but our friend very much enjoyed it.

On to the mains, I was drawn to the rather fabulous sounding lamb sharing dish, but ceded that to Mrs. SF and one of our friends (on the premise I could nick a bit when Mrs. SF wasn’t looking).

Whilst that french classic of confit duck and puy lentils certainly sounded rather fine, I hadn’t had venison (£28) for a while and who doesn’t love a good fondant potato (which are, along with chocolate fondants, the downfall of many an amateur chef – as multiple episodes of Masterchef will testify).

I made the rather foolish error of not stipulating how I would like it cooked, with me having rather blood thirsty taste in meat (I like red meat cooked to the point where a good vet could still get it up and running). With a hint of pink, rather than the ruby red core I tend to crave, this was over(cooked) for my tastes.

I probably only have myself to blame for not stipulating my preference, but to me it was a shame it wasn’t rarer and I would be surprised if this is the kitchen’s default for cooking venison loin.

The meat, however, was perfectly fine (and thus not really something you send back, particularly as I made no stipulation as to doneness), with a good gamey flavour and despite its doneness was not dry at all (always a risk with lean meats such as venison).

The port sauce was rich and glossy, with a nice hit of sweetness and the potato fondant was all I could have hoped for. Well seasoned, with a crisp outer shell and a soft buttery interior.

Honeyed parnips were not overly sweet and the caulflower puree, if a bit underpowered on the nutty cauli. flavour front, was silky smooth in texture.

Nice to see a place that doesn’t charge extra for accompanying veggies, as opposed to that oft seen “if Ryanair ran a restaurant” position these days. Here the all in price was very welcome and the veg. very abundant in nature to boot.

Beef cheek (a special – £28) was cooked on point and choc a bloc full of beefy (it is always a surprise to me how often beef taste of bugger all, but not here) flavour,

with a lovely and generous portion of well seasoned, buttery, lump free mash and tenderstem with a pleasing level of retained bite. Good sauce (sherry in it, I believe and which I suspect was an oloroso, which makes everything better) too.

The star of the show, however, was the lamb sharing dish (£50 for two). This instantly had me suffering major food envy, with Mrs. SF going into full on smug mode.

Very generous portion (for two), with loads of lamb that was fall apart tender but not in anyway mushy. Cooked absolutely on the money and exuding unadulterated essence of lambiness, this was a triumph.

Veggies were bob on too, with those in the pot having absorbed the cooking liquor, the mash suitably buttery and silky smooth in texture and the greenery verdant and al dente.

All of this was tee’d off nicely by a rather invigorating mint sauce (a much underrated condiment in my book) that cut through all the richness.

Early front runner for my meat dish of the year this. A cracking sharing dish, sitting up there with La Cuina’s lamb shoulder.

On to puds, there was an interesting selection with something to suit all tastes. Cheeseboard at a mere £8 seemed a bit of a bargain, although number of cheeses on it or the identity of them was not stipulated.

Tempting as the cheese was, I am a sucker for mouth puckering sour. The lemon and passionfruit posset, therefore, looked just the ticket for me.

Despite the cream base this had a really refreshing lemony tanginess to it, enhanced by the perfumed pearls of passionfruit.

Broken up shortbread and the passionfruit seeds added textural contrast to the silky posset.

Other desserts ordered included a quality creme brulee, with a good caramelised lid (nice biccy too)

and a nougat glace.

The latter was a good mix of textures and flavours, with the sweetness tempered by a sharp raspberry coulis.

The Drinks

The list is a pretty good mix, which ticked  a fair few of my wine boxes.  Riesling ✔️, Gruner Veltliner ✔️, white Rioja ✔️.

It would be nice if there was a better selection by the glass and some sherries, but you can’t have everything and I was happy enough.

On the whites, as three of us were going for seafood for our starters we decided on, that seafood wine par excellence, Picpoul de Pinet (a white, in an expanse of reds, hailing from the Languedoc)

Love a good picpoul and this was a nice example, with apple and citrus notes on the nose and stone fruits and a crisp minerality on the palate. Very refreshing wine this, which was perfect for the Summer- esque temperatures (long since forgotten) we had the week of our visit to Sopra.

Price wise it retails at about tenner so the £27 list price isn’t too hideous by UK standards.

On to the reds, I had spied a Stephanie Ogier (super producer) Cote Du Rhone on the list. Alas this was “out of stock“, with the replacement (below) being a wine I had not had before. Always a bit of a disappointment when you see a wine you know you like on a list and then find it is not available, but heyho.

This was perfectly nice (£31 on list and retails at just under £12) though, with nice layered red fruits and a bit more acidity than most CdRs I have come across.

It worked pretty well with the rich mains we had, but I suspect I would still have preferred the Ogier if given the choice.

The verdict

Sopra 73 offers a heady blend of full on flavours and robust portions. Shame about the venison, but as a whole it was a very enjoyable meal.  It serves up exactly the sort of food I tend to enjoy.

Add to that a decent wine list, with enought to interest me (substitutions aside), and this is the sort of place that is right up my street.

At £252 (for four of us all in, inc tip) it certainly ain’t cheap, but is it worth it? I think so.

Would I go back? Yes, absolutely – Sopra 73 is a great addition to the North Cardiff and wider Cardiff food scene.

The details

Address:  73B Merthyr Road, Whitchurch, Cardiff, CF 14 1DD

Website: https://www.sopra73.com/

Not much on it at time of writing, so there is also a Facebook page with bit more info:

https://m.facebook.com/Sopra73Cardiff/

2 comments

  1. “A rented hovel with no central heating, thick ice on the inside of the windows in the winter, a mattress on the floor and a deck chair as pretty much the only furniture and no telly “ … but we thought we were really sophisticated at the time
    !

    Like

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