A game of two halves – Nook, Victoria Park, Cardiff.

I wasn’t much interested in the Wales – Scotland game the other week if am honest. I use to love international rugby, but my heart just doesn’t seem to be in it these day and haven’t been to the pub to watch it in years now. As such I was at a loose end on that Saturday afternoon/early evening as Mrs. SF was away at her mum’s. So when J suggested an early dinner at Nook I jumped at the chance.

She hadn’t been before and I was keen to try their (relatively) new menu

that includes Bistecca alla Fiorentina

and a few specials.

The menu is geared to sharing rather than your traditonal starter and main each and that is exactly what we did.

I love a chicken liver so the special, with cannolini beans and chicory (£9), was immediately ordered.

At the time I thought it a bit shy on the chicken liver front, but looking at the picture it seems there was enough of a portion for two and J must have taken more than her fair share (part of her ongoing retribution for Foccaciagate I assume). The liver I had was very nice with a good iron rich flavor and nicely cooked, so it didn’t have that awful, crumbly dry texture and bitter taste that is the curse of over cooked liver, with a touch of pinkness.

The beans acted like the good little flavour sponges they are, soaking up the sherry based cooking liquor. Nice texture to these bean, with the red chicory adding crunch and a slight earthy bitterness to proceedings. I put this very much in the good half of the meal.

The next dish was also good with roasted and raw cauliflower (£7.50).

The mix of cooked and raw cauliflower worked really well, with nice textural and flavour contrasts, and tomatoes added sweetness and acidity.  Some of the cauliflower florets were a touch overdone (verging on the burnt, I would say) but it actually provided a charry, rather than bitter burnt, flavour and as such didn’t detract from the dish.

It all sat on a really good salsa di noci (not sure why the menu refers to it as a walnut salsa di noci as salsa di noci translates to walnut sauce so the menu in effect reads “walnut walnut sauce” – probably have to say it due to E&H stormtrooper orders, as people with nut alleges are incapable of using Google translate, or it is so good they had to name it twice) which had a lovely creamy nuttiness to it. This would be dynamite with pasta (move over pesto there’s a new sheriff in town – definitely going to have a go at making this as it seems oddly tricky to buy ready made in the UK). Again this dish was very much in the good half.

When J and I saw aubergine parmigiano (£10) on the menu we both immediately said we’re ordering that. I love the molten combo of rich salty and gooey cheese layered between yielding aubergine (naught worse though than an underdone aubergine) and all covered in a rich  tomato sauce.

Can’t say what arrived at the table made my heart (melan)sing as it didn’t really look like a parmigiano melanzane to me. I was, however, prepared to wait to pass judgement until I tasted it.

My initial misgivings were regrettably bang on, as this was all a bit disappointing.

There was a distinct lack of parmesan (if it was vegetarian as advertised in the menu,

as I belatedly noticed, then presumably there can’t be any in it as parmesan is required by law to use animal rennet in the production process), the aubergines were cut too thick and lacked a baked character and there wasn’t enough of the tomato.

I am not really sure what the three cheese were (Parmesan in homeopathic quantities, mozzarella, presumably, and who knows what else?) and the white sauce in the base of the dish seem to be a fairly bog standard bechamel which wasn’t that hot, quite gelatinous in nature and distinctly uncheesy.

Whilst the cast iron skillet it came in was very hot, what was in it was less so and, if I didn’t know better, I would guess the skillet was heated and then pre cooked stuff put in it rather than it all being baked in the oven (which really would’t make any sense, unless it was meant to go back in the oven to finish off and didn’t?). Not the best this, which is a shame as a good parmigiano is a joy.  Very much in the not great half of proceedings.

Things got very much back on track with the bistecca

Lovely bit of meat this, with crisp on the outside, but buttery rich on the inside, yellow fat (full on flavour) and very nicely flavoured tender meat, with a good sear to the exterior and a juicy interior. Top quality bit of steak this, with it not being mucked about with (J and I have very different views as to the merits of sauces with steak). As a result the meat was allowed to shine, with no other distractions. Loved this and it was excellent value at £6 per 100g making our steak a very reasonable £30 for our 500g (20oz in old money) one.

My only slight quibble was we weren’t asked how we would like it cooked (we didn’t say either to be fair) and, for my bloody thirsty (slap its arse and do no more than show it the oven before putting it on the plate) tastes, it at first blush looked just a tad over. Having said that, once I tasted it that quibble disappears as it really was an excellent piece of meat

Can tell we enjoyed this

With the steak we ordered their much heralded hassleback potatoes (£7)

Whilst these were nice they lacked the crispy top I always associate with (and to my mind is the raison d’etre for) a hassleback. To me the reason for the cuts into the body of the potato is to get a really crispy top and a soft fluff interior (greater surface area innit). Without it it is just half a baked potato and I am not sure of the point of the multiple incisions in that case.  I like baked potatoes, especially with a garlic butter and chive aioli topping, but it was texturally not what I was expecting!

Nice enough, but would have been so much better with the anticipated crispy top. Did they miss their appointment for a last “crisp up” blast in the oven, I wonder?

My attempt at hasslebacks and the skin off version is definitely much crispier than the skin on one (cooked identically).

On to the puds and we, again, decided to share. First up was the “milk” panna cotta (£6 – isn’t that all panna cottas, as the name means “cooked cream”?).

This initially looked the business, until we opened it up.

I would say the gelentine sheets used hadn’t been melted properly, hence the lumpy texture. Perfectly edible, but not great aesthetically or texturally. The rhubarb stick and syrup were very nice

The kitchen was back on form,

with a text book boozy, chocolate loaded, tiramisu (£6).

The booze

I made the school boy error of forgetting to take a picture of the list (surprisingly short bearing in mind their wine wall – I assume you can pick from that should you be so inclined).

The place trumpets it’s love of “natural” wine and I honestly don’t know what that means as there is no clear definition (low intervention is probably the best you will get, but that term is so wide it is practically meaningless to my mind – I mean how low is low and where is the line drawn?). My experience, albeit limited, is some are good and some are bloody awful (can say the same for any wine to be honest). I do sometimes think slapping “natural” on a bottle of wine can be used as an excuse for just poor wine making (for which you can seemingly still charge a premium)!

As a result I am always a bit wary of natural wines, but here I didn’t need to fear as they seem to have weeded out the shxte.

The list had mainly “on tap” wine (nothing wrong with that method of storage in my view and those that turn their noses at it are just being snobs).

We started off with a glass of Arinto, a white wine from Portugal (£6.50 I think), which was very pleasant.

Nice lemony and green apple aromas, this was very refreshing on the palate

We then moved on to a full 75cl of the on tap Malbec (Argentinian of course). Was £39 I think.

Very nice with the steak this, with rich dark fruits, a distinct meatiness and a smoky finish.

The verdict

Despite a couple of duds (the aubergine parmigiano and the panna cotta) and the slightly disappointing (after the hype) hasslebacks, J and I enjoyed our meal here. The chicken liver (well the small amount I got before J scoffed them) were lovely, as was the cauliflower (despite the burnt look) and the tirimasu. The undoubted Man of the Match (in this game of two halves) was the dry aged Welsh bistecca alla fiorentina. Just a beautiful piece of meat and very well priced. Can’t asked for much more than that can you.

The positives definitely significantly outweighed the couple of negatives and it is just the sort of place I will make sure I visit more often in the future (worth it for another one of those lovely steaks alone).

The details

Address: 587 Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff, CF5 1BE.

Website: https://www.nookcardiff.co.uk/


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