Any good? Of gorse it is! Gorse pop up at Ground, Pontcanna, Cardiff.

You have had the high brow (Gourmet Gorro) review of Gorse and now you can read the low (or, for those who know me, mono) brow (be honest, you knew it would be just from the post title) one from me (you lucky people). To keep you from switching off (or actually probably making you switch off) I will have more to say about wine (don’t I always) and there were some interesting tweaks to the menu post the GG review (not sure if these were as a direct or indirect result of said review, but there seemed to be a fair level of correlation).

Once I saw the menu for the Gorse’s pop up at Ground (of overnight bacon fame – just down the road from me – in Pontcanna) I was sold on going, having heard very good things about the food on offer. 

Frankly one guy in the kitchen pulling off a menu of this complexity for 20 covers is deeply impressive.

I had a front row seat in terms of the chef at work

and have to say it was captivating to watch. Cool, calm and highly efficient – oh how I wish I could work so serenely!!! A seriously well-oiled machine and how does the chef keep his work space so meticulously tidy?

The chef (Tom Waters) has a deeply impressive CV having worked in some really high end gaffs, not least Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in Bray, and the way he worked and what he produced on the night can only come from innate talent and years of experience at the coal face.

The food

First up were some top notch fishy (in a good way) amuse bouches

A spankingly fresh piece of raw seabream sat on a sea lettuce crisp (can’t recall what the white blob it sat on was, but whatever it was it was darn good), topped with a shiso leaf. The latter bought an almost medicinal (in a good way) quality to the dish.

A sea trout tartare came with a punchy, yet far from overpowering horseradish cream. It all sat on an impossibly thin pastry case, with a nasturtium leaf adding a peppery hit. Really tickled the tastebuds this.

A second round of snacks brought another triumph, elevating the humble carrot to unknown heights (at least to me).

Deeply carmelised carrot slices, on slivers of crisp pastry, had a lovely sweetness, enhanced by the addition of coffee and cardamon. All very subtle the latter two, enhancing rather than overpowering the carrot. Very clever and very satisfying stuff.

It seems bread is rather de riguer these days as a course in its own right and normally this is the sort of thing I rather rail against with a “Back in the day we used to get two loaves each with each course” rant.

When it is this good, however, I am all for it and boy was this good.

A bronzed, salted, crisp exterior gave way to a lovely soft steaming hot interior

A very generous slab (hate it when places are mingey with butter portion sizes) of matcha and nori infused butter was just the ticket to slather on this bread. After Focacciagate at the Heathcock in the summer, I joked with J as to “When did she think her bread was going to arrive?”. This was met with a steely eyed stare that threatened extreme violence (we shared)!

The first proper course was an absolute bobby dazzler.

Raw scallop had a lovely sweetness to it, which worked really well with the acidity of sliced pear and fruity heat from a generous smear of lemon (amalfi – the best lemons out there) and jalapeno (British grown, so assume the J as a must should be hideously mispronounced) Kosho (a chilli and salt ferment) sandwiched between the two. Smoked cream, herb oil and marigold leaves (I think, which brought a peppery citrus flavour) added further flavour profiles without detracting from the scallop main event.

As I have oft said, when referring to wine pairings with food, sweet and heat always work really well together and this was an inspired fish dish (which will give the SY23 scallop and turbot dishes a run for their money in my annual round up, to me a big surprise as I doubted at the time they could be challenged).

Next up was quite possibly the best veggie (yes, I know parmesan is not truly vegetarian due to the rennet requirement – I do listen @notleafy) focused dish I have had the pleasure of eating.

Strips of peppery daikon had a nice al dente texture and bathed in a buttery sauce judiciously spiked with fruity sarawak black pepper (coincidently I have been to a pepper plantation in Sarawak – Sarawak is wonderful place everyone should see once, not least for the orangutans and proboscis monkeys, just watch out for the salt water crocs, various snake’s, microlite sized mozzies and spiders bigger than your head – and interestingly they rate the white core of the pepper much higher than the black outer shell). It all sat under a positive drift of 32 month age parmesan which brought an intense nuttiness and further fruitiness to the dish.

I am an avowed meat eater, but with dishes as good as this I wouldn’t miss meat at all. Seemingly simple, but with a real complexity of flavours all working in harmony.

A monkfish dish confirmed Mr. Water’s mastery of fish cookery, with a real meatiness to a substantial slab of cooked on point Mr. Ugly (monk)fish.

Crispy turnip added texture and the walnut element a touch of nutty bitterness. The funky Vin Jaune (a Jura wine make under flor in a manner akin to sherry) in the cream sauce added further nuttiness (it rivalled the superlative sauce at Noble Rot). I am not sure a more delicate fish could have withstood the bold flavours here, but the meaty monkfish took them in its stride.

I am a big fan of venison, but due to the lack of fat content it is a tricky bugger to cook (I would, on this basis, be an absolute doddle to cook) – best left to people who know what they are doing (i.e. not me). Enter stage left, Mr. Waters who clearly knows a thing or two about cooking game and as such cooks a mean fallow deer loin.

Beautiful looking plate, could hang that plate on a wall, with some absolutely lovely flavours. The fallow deer loin has just that right level of gaminess and was cooked and seasoned on point. The salting of the damsons seemed to turbo charge their fruitiness and gave them a invigorating tanginess, with fruit working so well with any game. There was also the smoothest of hazelnut purees and a sauce that was absolutely bob on, with just the right silky texture (hate overreduced or watery sauces) and layer upon layer of rich flavour (this is what my sauces aspire to be when they grow up). Charred onion brought sweetness and radicchio leaves a welcome and balancing touch of bitterness.

Interesting the hen of the wood mushroom that Gourmet Gorro was not fussed on was absent and I personally don’t think this dish needed anything else. To me its removal seemed to be a wise move.

Dessert was the one bum note of the evening, even though it had been given a fairly substantial tweak as against what Gourmet Gorro had expressed some reservations (not as many as me as it happens) about.

Pretty as a picture and no doubt a technical masterpiece, regrettably this was not for me.

Whilst the clementine (a gel) element was surprisingly nice (my normal reaction to clementines is “Begone back to the abyss foul demon fruit“, the mousse filled disc it sat by was (at least to my palate) pretty much devoid of flavour and had a bit of a grainy texture to it. Oddly it actually had the effect of washing away any flavour from the palate in terms of the both quite nice goats’ milk ice cream and clementine gel. As such it acted as a sort of flavour leech and I certainly didn’t get either the advertised jasmine (had assumed, based on the menu billing, it would have a prominent role) or the caraway elements.

Perhaps it was our jaded palate, but this all seemed to me and J to be a bit of a case of style over substance. I ate mine, but without any real enthusiasm, and J, who pretty much eats anything put in front of her, pushed her hardly touched plate over to me inviting me to finish it off. I declined (an almost unheard of event) said invitation.

J and I disagree about a lot of things (mainly food), which is inevitable when I am generally right and she is generally wrong about such things (I may well pay dearly for that 🤣), but we reached a rare unanimity of opinion in terms of this dessert.

The really odd thing about this dish was it was such an aberration, with everything else we had having bag loads of flavour. Perhaps it stood out like such a sore thumb because everything else was uniformly brilliant?

Proceedings got back on track (and admirably so) with a trio of petite fours

A lovely tart pate de fruits re-invigorated the palate after the dessert wash out and squares of salted caramel were rich and buttery without straying over the line into cloyiness. The clear winning of the petite four parade, however, were the butter cakes. A crisp caramelised crust and a warm interior was nicely sweet, with a blob of sharp plum on top tempering the overall sweetness of the petite fours. Coriander seeds added a really interesting citrus note.

The booze

On to the booze, there was a short wine list which has some interesting stuff on it. If I was buying off the list I think it would have been pinot all the way, with the NZ Pinot Gris and the NZ Pinot Noir. Mark ups are very reasonable, with the NZ Pinot Gris retailing at a smidgen under £20 (on the list here at £32) and the NZ pinot noir retailing at just over £21 (on the list here at £40). These are the sort of mark ups I can happily live with.

Shame they only offered wine by the glass for one white, one red and the sweetie (especially when there was a full wine pairing by the glass), as the PG would work well with pretty much all of the savory elements bar maybe the venison and a glass of PN would work very well with that in my humble opinion.

The suggested wine pairing with the menu was also pretty good at £40 and had been put together by someone who clearly knew what they were doing.

Tempting as the suggested pairing was, I had enquired in advance as to corkage (have got so much wine now, I really need to stop buying stuff and start drinking what I have). Here the corkage price was £25 for 1 bottle and then £15 for each subsequent one. We, of course, brought two so it came to £40.

For the lighter fishy and veggie elements,

J photo bombing.

I brought a Lapola, which is a rather fine Ribera Sacra wine (being a majority blend of Godello, with Albarino and Dona Blanca in the mix) from Dominio do Bibei.

Lovely wine this, with a distinct minerality, stone fruits, citrus and a touch of smokiness. Worked a treat with the non meat and non sweet elements of the meal.

On the red front, I dug out a bit of an oddity from the wine room from the not exactly stellar (in Spain) 2003 vintage in the form of a Marques de Concordia Magister MMIII Durius (bought at auction ages ago).

The benefits of having a coravin is I can always draw out a small amount to check if a wine is still OK/ready yet, always wise with a challenging vintage and/or auction (sold as seen) bought wine. Our rather charming and knowledgeably server joked as to whether I wanted taste it to check if it was OK. I conceded that ” If it is corked I am rather buggered ain’t I!”.

Slightly less enthusiastic photo bomb from J

A blend of tempranillo, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and malbec, from Arribes del Duero (right up on the Portuguese border to the west of Salamanca), this had nice meaty, leathery notes. Still a bit of fruit in the mix, but more teritary notes at its venerable age. Despite the ropey vintage it was still drinking pretty well I thought.

The verdict

This was a cracking meal (one bum course aside) and Tom Waters is a rare talent that we are very lucky to have here in Cardiff. I really hope he gets sorted with permanent premises here soon, as this is the sort of food I love to eat and a city the size of Cardiff should aspire to have many restaurants serving food of this quality. For £65 a head it was an absolute steal.

Gorse are doing pop ups at Ground in December (10th and 17th – latter sold out I believe). If there are still any tickets available my advice is snap them up pronto and if you miss out look out for other dates in 2023.

The details




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