At this time of year my thought go to what to do on my birthday. Oddly I seem to have had 2 years stolen, with me being somewhat surprised when I tot up the years to be two years older than I should (in my head) be!
This I think must be the Covid effect when life was effectively put on hold in most meaningful ways. As such I don’t really count those years (unless we are talking about my pension pot and paying off the mortgage – in respect of which those two stolen years have taken me just that little bit closer to accessing it/paying it off).
Rather contrary to my stolen years narrative I went to the Heathcock last year (and very good it was too) for my birthday, but this year rather fancied the look of Bully’s with a new head honcho in the kitchen.
I have always liked Bully’s, with its French focus and rather eclectic interior.
It was certainly nice to see a picture of a younger and rather dapper Gilbert Viader
whom I know via the Mystere Wine Club (always enjoy his, oft brutal, critic of many a non French wine we have tasted together) and who was the owner of Le Cassoulet (which was on this site many, many moons ago).
Back from nostalga lane, the Summer menu certainly looked interesting.
as does an al a carte offering
One thing I immediately noticed is it ain’t cheap. Pays your money and takes your choice as the saying goes, but I can see these sort of prices putting off the punters in the current inflationary times. Tricky balance for restaurants here, with the need to cover costs and make a profit, but also the need for customers to come through the door to even start that process.
We all eshewed the steaks, as I am reasonably adept at cooking one at home, and thus we defaulted to stuff on the main summer menu.
Proceedings started off with an amuse bouche of carrot and coriander soup.
Good flavour to this, with bob on seasoning. It was quite robust in size for an amuse bouche I thought and, whilst I very much enjoyed it, it was more a pre starter or starter/starter than an amuse bouche.
To formally kick off proceedings I had the smoked duck, with roquefort, apple and walnuts (£8.5)
Again a robust portion, with well smoked duck breast. The smoke was evident, but it did not take away from the innate taste of the duck itself. I enjoyed the saltiness provided by the cheese and the textural contrast and touch of bitterness from the walnut. Whilst a certain amount of greenery is welcome, here I would question its sheer abundance. The thing that looks like a cherry was the apple element, along with a pleasingly sharp yet sweet puree.
Others had the goats cheese and beetroot (£9)
and chalk stream trout (£10) numbers
Both pretty as a picture and very nice according to my fellow diners. I didn’t get a look in, but the Bloody Mary element of the chalk stream trout dish worked very well, as did the pickled walnut relish on the beetroot dish apparently. I was told both dishes were full on flavour wise, as they disappeared down the hatch before I could commit fork facilitated theft
Must admit I was slightly surprised that the duck was the cheapest of the three dishes. Doubt it is down to the price of the ingredients, so is it due to simpler processes being involved (although would that, perhaps, suggest they don’t inhouse smoke the duck 🤔)?
On to the main, I love pigeon on the proviso that it is cooked properly (i.e. properly rare). Here the menu description of roquefort, blackberry (fruits go so well with game) and a red wine reduction further enticed.
Two decent sized breasts were cooked on point, with a deep rich red interior
and a lovely irony twang to it. The red wine reduction was rich with game stock and not over reduced (hate it when it is taken too far and gets sticky and overly sweet).
The roquefort was in croquette form with a crisp exterior and a salty and tangy interior. The sweet blackberries and a gel that I can’t recall what it was (apricot?) acted as a nice sweet counterpoint to the roquefort.
Really good dish this and pigeon should definitely be on more menus. I believe it is very sustainable too, so win, win.
As the mains don’t really come with a starch or much of any veggie elements (can’t say this is a trend I am very keen on to be honest), I felt the need to add a side with the choices being quite interesting at first blush.
With the red wine reduction to mop up (and having heard tales from Gourmet Gorro and the Plate Licked Clean as to the legendary mash here) it was a no brainer to go for the mash, with gruyere and bacon (£4.50).
This was what my mash wants to be when it grows up. Smooth like a Korean boy band, loaded with enough butter to immerse said boy band, bob on seasoning and a lovely cheesy hit from the inclusion of copious amounts of gruyere. Add to that a hillock of bacon crumb (what doesn’t bacon make better) and you had stuff I would happily drown in. Death row, last request, side this!
Mrs. SF went for the poussin (£27), with a pithivier, truffle, celeriac and a chicken veloute.
Lovely dish this, with on point cooked poussin (why, as with pigeon, do we see so little of this little chicken on menus) and earthy truffle complimenting the silky celeriac puree nicely. The star of show was a stunningly good pithivier (best thing all night). Crisp, flaky, pastry and a thyme rich interior made for a very moreish little pie. Great dunked in the rich well made chicken veloute, cut with a herb oil.
Mrs. SF added triple cooked chips to this (£5),
which were suitably crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.
Personally think my home made ones are better,
but I am undoubtedly bias (much to my surprise Mrs. SF, easily my harshest critic, actually agreed with me on this point).
The other dish ordered was pork belly (£26), with cavelo nero, apricot and a dijon butter sauce.
Two hefty slabs of spoon tender and well flavoured pork belly (with a good fat cap) were complimented nicely by iron rich cavelo nero and an apricot gel. The dijon butter sauce was luxuriantly rich, yet had a pleasing tang to it.
On to the puds,
as I had some wine left I decided to go for cheese. Decent selection and as no one was willing to share the selection plate I went for just two (£8 in total), in the form of black sheep and golden cenarth.
Both is very good nick, ripeness wise, they also had interesting individual accompaniments. A good earthy beetroot medley for the black sheep and an even better membrello (quince) and sea salt cracker one for the golden cenarth
Others had the tarte tartin,
which had good caramelisation to the apple, a light crisp puff pastry base (pastry did look a tad insipid colouration wise) and a rather fine vanilla ice cream.
A final dish was vanilla ice cream with slick of extra virgin olive oil on top.
Good combo this, with the olive oil bringing a aromatic savouriness to the sweet ice cream and a crumb adding texture.
Bully’s operates a pretty decent corkage policy, with a £15 charge per bottle.
As it was my birthday, we decided to take a magnum from the wine room.
This was in the form of a lovely aged gran reserva rioja (bought direct from the winery – Vina Real in Rioja Alavesa – on a trip to Rioja nigh on 10 years ago).
Great wine this, with a nose full of vanilla, strawberry fruit and a touch of meatiness to it. On the palate there was red fruit (strawberry) and plenty of vanilla, with a silky mouth feel from soft tannins. This wine was as fresh as a daisy, with a pleasing level of refreshing acidity. Still plenty of life left in this 21 year old, if any of you out there have this wine stashed away. Potentially still on the upward curve I would say.
I didn’t really look at the wine list as we had brought our own, but did fancy an aperitif prior to tackling the magnum.
This lead me to one of (possibly – so hope is a typo) the most egregious wine mark ups I have come across in my many years, with a 25ml (yes you read that right 25ml, I did a massive double take and in my shock forgot to take a corroborating photo) pour of Tio Pepe fino on at £3 (second massive double take). Based on my rudimentary maths that equates to £90 a bottle and with Tio Pepe easily capable of being purchased retail for as little as £10 that is an £80 mark up (over retail let alone wholesale).
Personally think it is pointless to have this on list at that price as you would be mad to pay that for a 25ml dribble or more than the retail bottle price (of £10) for a mere 100ml pour (£12). As they are unlikely to sell any, it is just a waste to put it on the list and I cannot for the life of me understand the logic of this pricing.
I really, really hope it was a typo or I need new glasses. Now if it were 125ml for £3 that is something I could seriously go for.
There are cocktails (of course there are)
and the ladies fancied some fizz
Kir Royales (£10) were duly ordered
and these were pronounced to be very nice, although the purist in me rather riled against the use of Italian rather than French fizz (bearing in mind the drink’s French origins).
The other two of us (including me) had a beer (about £5.50 I think)
which I rather enjoyed. Nice fruity traditional IPA, not trying to be too fancy, this.
As they overheard it was my birthday they brought out a complimentary cocktail (one not yet on the list).
Readers of the blog will know I am not much of a cocktail drinker, but this was gratifyingly sour with passion fruit to the fore. As such I quite enjoyed it (especially as it was free).
We had a very good meal at Bully’s, with not a dud amongst the dishes we ordered. My only real qualm is the pricing. With the need for sides for each main dish to provide for a carb/veggie/beef up the portion size, they all came in at north of £30 a pop and in these increasingly trying times that seem quite alot to me.
The bill came to over £270 (with tip), with us bringing our own wine. I suspect if we had bought wine in house the bill would probably have been north of £350 (so £87.50+ a head). That is birthday treat rather than fancy going out next week fare for the likes of me.
It was very quiet, bar from us, on the Thursday night of our visit and it can’t be due to the quality of the food (which is very good), so was it because people are starting to shy away from paying these sort of prices? I know restaurants have to cover costs and make a profit, but I wonder how many people are going to be able to afford these sort of prices going forward and without punters a restaurant won’t cover its cost no matter how much it charges. I don’t envy restaurant owners now and in the medium term, with the ongoing squeeze on disposable income. Some innovation may be required I feel in terms of pricing etc.
Would I go back? Yes as the food is very good, but it is very much in my high days and holidays rather than every day price range.
Address: 5 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff CF 11 9NP.