A nice set up for lunch – Thomas by Tom Simmonds, Pontcanna, Cardiff.

Being a tight arsed miser (Mrs. SF’s words not mine), I love a fixed price menu. I have tried and very much enjoyed those in Cardiff from the likes of  Asador 44, Heaney’s and Casanova to name but a few (really need to get around to trying the Heathcock one).

In return for a limited menu choice you (usually) get a fixed price (readers of the blog will know “a supplement” on a fixed price menu rather gets my goat). This (supplements aside) all makes it easier to budget in these trying times and get (hopefully) the punters through the door.

One place I had not (prior to this visit) tried for their fixed price lunch was Thomas by Tom Simmons. Personally, I think they can feel themselves a touch hard done by the latex lovers this year. It seems to me it is very hard to get that elusive star (Cardiff seems to be somewhat cursed on that front and before you say but what about …., Penarth isn’t Cardiff), but once you have it it seems equally hard to lose it. Strongly suggests to me that the ones to visit are those that have only just got that elusive star/extra star(s)

Anyhow back to the fixed price menu at Thomas, which is nice to see extends to Friday’s (shame I doesn’t go the full monty and include Saturdays, but heyho).  Four of us (I was a rose – a rambling one, if you are new to the blog you will get that reference by the end of your looooong read, of course – amongst three thorns😂) decided to sack off work and have a long lunch.

We visited in March,

but the menu is updated each month so this is the one for April ( you have next week to try it before the new May one kicks in).

Nice to see lamb breast, especially titled as such rather than as belly, which is such an underrated cut

The cheese croquettes, that kicked off proceeding, were golden nuggets of pure loveliness.

All too often in a (substandard) croquette the supposedly dominant flavor is a mere whisper in the background, but here they must have used copious amounts of (good quality) cheddar in the bechamel mix as they had a really punchy, earthy, tanginess to them. Good crisp coating and a nice drift of parmesan on top. Exemplary croquettes these, although I am not sure where the piccalilli came into the equation.

The second part of the snacks was some rather fine bread (expect no less with their own bakery, Ground, a couple of doors up the road) and butter. Sounds boring, but it was anything but.

Nice crisp crust to the bread, with an airy but not powder puff interior. Good chew, which I like in my bread.

The standard butter (the good stuff, with plenty of salt), took a back seat to a fabulous leek butter. Really nice, mellow (rather than astringent), alium flavour to this.

Because we were all pigs (and one of our party declined the fix price menu – they dislike fish, the weirdo, and weren’t keen on the veggie option, fair enough), we added some mushroom croquettes. As good as ever, with a lovely meaty earthiness woven into the mix. Interestingly the kitchen was somewhat more exuberant with the cheese drift on these than on the fixed price cheese ones. Pays your money and…., I suppose.

The beef tartare starter was a lovely thing. As someone who likes his beef still mooing, a steak tartare is verging on the overdone, but I do love a quality bit of raw beef.

Pretty as a picture, the beef was chopped quite chunky (which I like) and well seasoned, with its richness working very well as against the tanginess of the chopped capers and cornichons

The laverbread mayonaise was an inspired addition, giving it a rather off beat surf and turf vibe.

I also very much enjoyed the tarragon cracker, made from tapioca (I think). Tarragon works a treat with beef, think a bearnaise sauce with a steak, and this affirmed that rule.

I like the fact that what is usually a premium starter dish is on the fixed price  menu here (with no dreaded supplement attached).

One of our party had the white asparagus veloute. Personally I have never quite got the continentals (particularly the Germans) obsession with white asparagus and think green asparagus (Vale of Evesham and the Wye Valley, not the Peruvian stuff) is far superior. The UK season had just started at the time (late Feb to June, although the official start date is St. George’s day – today as it happens), so my preference would have been to go green.

As I wasn’t eating it it didn’t really matter, with the person who was rather enjoying the rich velvety texture, the delicate sweetness and counterpoint bitterness you get from white asparagus (as against the more robustly flavoured green – green sees sunlight and white does not). An exuberant herb oil was the proverbial cherry on the cake.

The only let down was a somewhat flaccid rarebit toastie.  It was deemed very much superfluous to requirements and a normal wedge of bread (i.e. the one we had at the start) would have been much more preferable.

Onto the mains, we again were split on the veggie and non veggie front, with one  going for the cauliflower and two (including me) the cod.

The latter was a lovely dish,

with “a point” cooked fish. A nicely bronzed exterior yielded into nice thick just past translucent pearly flakes, with the merest nudge of the knife.

The leek infused sauce was well made, being rich and silky smooth. Cubes of sauted potatoes added both flavour and texture (ideally could have done with a few more). Everything was seasoned bob on.

The BBQ cauliflower was also pronounced very good, with a nice nutty, charred, flavour and a touch of bitterness from the rainbow chard.

A hazelnut romesco worked very well with the cauli, bringing sweetness, acidity and a touch of piquancy.

Good veggie dish this and far from the second class/afterthought dish that veggie options so often can be.

I would say the portion sizes are a touch on the diminutive size and as a result we added various sides

Crispy layered garlic spuds delivered admirably on the crunch, but were a touch lacking on the advertised garlic front. Puree potato was indulgent, with copious amount of butter in the mix. For me, however, it was just a touch overworked. Nice French beans (I was told I was an arse – by my fellow diners – for moaning that for £5 I expected them to be topped and tailed), but again these were lacking in much/any of certain advertised elements (almonds and confit shallots).

Personally I love Thomas’ Mac and cheese, with its pleasing textural contrasts and full on flavour. I know many people diss mac and cheese, but to me it can be glorious comfort food. The person who ordered it was, however, not that enamoured with the raw mushroom component and as a result ceded the whole thing to me (I was devastated 😁).

On to puds and whisky is something I have never really warmed to,

so it was the chocolate mousse (three of us made the same decision).

Nice light mousse, with good cocoa content and a vibrant mint ice cream (mint works so well with cocoa). The streusel added a nice crunch.

One of our party didn’t fancy the mint ice cream so substituted it for a raspberry (I think) one. Seems it tasted nice, but I was told (being sweet and innocent, I didn’t get it 🙄, but it seems woman can be as purile as men) that it did look alarmingly anatomical!

On the booze front, I do find the list here a little disappointing as against the quality of the food. It’s OK, but it is the sort of list that I hum and haw over as to what to choose for the wrong reasons (i.e. nothing on there really floats my boat, rather than ooh I’m spoilt for choice here).

Two went for the Marques de Caceres Excellens white (£25 and retails for just under £11, so a pretty good mark up by UK standards) which, despite my love of white rioja in general (maybe I have been spoilt drinking the likes of Tondonia, Ygay and Remelluri blancos), I find pretty bland so that was a hard pass in terms of sharing that.

J wanted red so it was a case of going solo or steering her in the gamay/pinot noir direction bearing in mind our main course choice.

My initial choice of a German pinot noir/ spatburgunder was off the menu so we settled for a substitute French pinot noir from Languedoc – Rousillion.

Quite light with cherry, raspberry and touch of smoke, this had just enough oomph to cope with the beef tartare without overwhelming the cod.  Price wise I think it was £32 (not 100% sure). OK if so, as it retails at about £12 ( if it was £42, the price of the German PN on the list – which retails at £11.25 at the moment – the mark up would have been a tad leery to my mind).

With dessert I saw they had an ice cider on the list, which is unusual to see and something I am rather partial to.

The icing process concentrates the sugars and you get a quite intense toffee apple flavour, with more than a touch of cider funk. Sweet, yet with a backnote of tartness.

I rather enjoyed this (can’t remember the price – £10?), whereas the rest of our dining party all tried it and hated it (the philistines).

The only thing I balked at was the glass, which was something you would expect in your great aunt’s very, very rarely opened drink cabinet used for the Cypriot fortified wine, masquerading as sherry, she opened back in 1974.

The verdict

Before I get to the nice conclusion, I did very much enjoyed this lunch, I am going to have a moan (well it is me).

I don’t see the point of having optional extras like caviar and truffle to add (at no little expense) to dishes on a fixed price or indeed al a carte menu. To me it should either be part and parcel of the dish or it shouldn’t. The cod didn’t in anyway need a blob of caviar and if it did it should have been in the dish anyway from the start. Smacks of unnecessary up selling, which if taken up would seriously up the ante price wise. Kind of thing you order if showing off. I just find it all a bit unnecessary.

In a restaurant somewhere I suspect the point has already been reached of “Would you like to add truffle, to your otherwise overly small £24 portion of truffle, for an extra £12?”.

Despite me being a little non plussed at the offer (it was a very gentle bit of upselling) of caviar and/or truffle “extras” (I do wonder if this is a sop to the tyre people, if so it didn’t work), I really enjoyed my set lunch here.

It ain’t the cheapest set lunch in Cardiff, by any stretch of the imagination, as talking £40 (sans booze) if you add a side and I think you probably need to. It is, however, top quality and worth the money to my mind.

It is certainly a much cheaper option than the al a carte, which one of our party went for (the non fish eating weirdo – happy to eat a prawn, which looks like an alien, but baulks at a fillet of cod🤷‍♀️),

with that coming in at well over twice the price of the set lunch.

As such the set lunch is a more affordable way to enjoy what is one of the best places (in my humble opinion) to eat out in Cardiff at the moment.

The details

Address: 3 – 5 Pontcanna Street, Pontcanna, Cardiff, CF11 9HQ

Website: https://thomas-pontcanna.co.uk/


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