Saturday, 25 May 2013

Llanerch Vineyard

Brace yourselves my foodie friends I may well find myself running out of superlatives on this one.

Llanerch Vineyard is a small hotel and restaurant situated in the Vale of Glamorgan near the village of Hensol just off junction 34 of the M4 about twenty minutes from Cardiff.

I have to say I have been looking forward to this visit for some time and to put it mildly I was not disappointed. Set in the grounds of the vineyard the Cariad Restaurant is beautifully laid out but not over the top. Most of the tables occupy a spacious conservatory with views of the vineyard.

Enough of the place though lets get to the real reason for the visit, the food. They offer a set menu of two courses for £20 or three for £25. However you can mix and match from the a la carte menu for a small additional charge.

So to start very nice oil and balsamic with fresh bread and an amuse bouche of finely shreaded apple and pork crackling dust. I could have eaten a plate full instead of a spoonful, but hey you've got to pace yourself sometimes.

Starters look very appertising and I went for the rillette of pork with black pudding, crackling powder and watercress (£2 supplement).

Rillette of Pork

The texture of this was sublime with the softness of the shreaded pork complimented wonderfully by the black pudding.

The sneaking little addition of the a mustard and pepper sauce brought a stunning dimension to the flavour combinations.

If I were to be hyper critical I would have to say I think the crackling powder was lost, which was a shame because as I said earlier it tasted lovely.

Anyway I wont criticise this becasue I can honestly say I have not tasted a starter like it before.

Presentation was fabulous and if I had not been with friends I think there is every chance I would have run my fork straight along the plate and scooped the whole lot up in one go. Had I been my usual piggy self though I would have missed the subtlty of the dish and as I have already said the marvelous flavour and texture combinations.

My dining companions chose the soup of the day which was a vegetable consume with pistacio and poached duck egg. I was told it was very good however they had both demolished it before I had a chance to sample it for myself.

Soup de Jour
Our other companion chose the asparagus which she enjoyed just as much as the rest of us. I could have taken photographs of clean and empty plates but then one empty plate is pretty much the same as another in my book.

So on we go to the main event of the evening.

I went for the Duo of spring Welsh lamb, braised shank suet pudding & roast pink rump served with dauphinoise potatoes & a mint purée. There was an £8 supplement on this but I would have gladly paid £18. Boy can this chef cook. The lamb was just on the rare side of medium and absolutely melted in the mouth.

Duo of Welsh Lamb
Now this was the point in the evening when I really began to struggle with how best to describe the dish.

I came up with devine, delicious, superb, phenominal but in the end decided that best thing to say about it is you have simply got to go and taste it for yourself.

For those of you who have followed me on my food journey you may remember me raving about the lamb in a thrice by Annan George at the Purple Popadom.

Well if this doesn't beat that it definitely comes darn close.

The flavours were exquisite and how the chef managed to get the amount of taste into something as simple as dauphenois potatoes is simply beyond me.

The fresh mint puree was gorgeous and compimented (yes I know I've used complitmented already but I did warn you at the outset that I might struggle) the lamb wonderfully and I think I could have demolished a serving dish of the potatoes without any problem whatsoever.

I was very tempeted by the Gressingham Duck breast with textures of pineapple, Parmentier sweet potatoes & raspberry spherification and so you can imagine my greedy little eyes lighting up when one of my companions chose this for their main course.

I am not a lover of pineapple and that was the reason I did not choose this for myself but the duck was cooked perfectly and the flavour again cannot be adequately described in words, it is another one of those go try it moments.

Gressingham Duck
For those of you of the vegetable persuation (this place might convert you) my friend chose the beetroot cannelloni and declared it very nice indeed (he is a man of few words).

Beetroot Cannelloni
As some of you will be aware I am not a great lover of pudding however the ice cream and sorbet desert was tres bon. Chocolate with very generous pieces of chocolate hidden inside finished my evening perfectly.

This will not be the cheapest place you ever visit, just shy of £180 with wine for five is not too bad. However when you are eating food of this calibre the cost is not going to be the issue.

I was sorely tempted to award Llanerch Vineyard 5 T's but because I couldn't taste the crackling dust in the starter.... oh stop being so pedantic. This place is fabulous and well worth a visit. Do not take my word for it get along there yourself and I dare you to tell me I was wrong.

Happy eating.

Llanerch Vineyard
Vale of Glamorgan
CF72 8GG

01443 222716

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Blueberry Inn, Pontypridd

The Blueberry Inn in Pontypridd has recently undergone a rebranding. Sadly for me I did not find my thrill in the Blueberry Inn. It describes itself as 'a boutique hotel'.

My impression was that it didn't really know what it was meant to be. When you walk in you enter what can only be describeds as an ordinary pub. There is seating off to the left which is where the food is served but there is nowhere to wait to be seated.

I had booked and so made my way to the bar to be told ours was the table by the window! It was at this point that things started to get even more complicated. The menu, which we will come to later, informed you that you order at bar. Off I went just to be told someone would be over to take our order.

To be fair the waitress was quick and very efficient. She took our drinks order and left us to peruse the menu. Before the makeover Mrs T had visited with her friends from work and raved about the menu. Post makeover I can only describe it as pub grub.

Prices are resonable with light bites starting at £3.00 and sandwiches on Ciabatta from £4.50. We decided to go straight for the mains. I thought it would be nice to continue my search for the perfect steak and the sirloin at £13.95 looked good to me. Served with onion rings and a pepper sauce it sounded ideal.

Sirloin Steak

The first positive about this was hand cut fries. Take note others, this is not difficult to achieve. They were cooked well, crispy on the outside and nice and fluffy in the middle.

The steak was chargrilled and cooked really well. Just on the rare side of medium exactly how I asked for it. The building may not know what it's meant to be the chef certainly can cook a piece of beef.

The peppercorn sauce was a little light on pepper for me but that was just person taste. Accompanied by a decent enough side salad I would say it delivered what it said on the menu.

Fellow diners chose to give the sausgage and mash a go. Three pork chipolattas served on a bed of creamy mashed potato and covered in an onion gravy. Not my choice for an eveing out but they said they enjoyed and to be fair it is the type of thing they enjoy.

Sausage and Mssh
 Because we had one of the children with us Mrs Tonfoodie decided she would share a pizza (£8.95) with said small person. For me pizza is pizza however this one was well made and plenty of fresh tomato. Unfortunately the boy is more of a Pizza Hut type and so this was a little refined for his delicate palate.

Deserts were also pretty standard, the creme broulle looked good at a reasonable £4.50. Unfortunately I didn't get to try it as the will they wont they come to the table to take orders let us down and by the time we realised that no one was coming we had decided to give it a miss.

So three mains with drinks £53.00 was a little steep for pub food. However it was well cooked and the portions were of an ok size.

If it is going to be a success I think then the really they need to decide what they want to be and stick to doing one or two things well instead of trying to be a catch all.

If you like simple then by all means give it a go. For me it was lacking and while I wouldn't mind calling in for a light lunch I don't think it is somewhere I would go for that special night out.

2 T's

Contact details:

T.    01443 485 331
F:     01443 406821

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Bella Italia Cardiff

Well dear foodie after months of nothing we come to our second post in two weeks.

I have to say that when friends invited the beautiful Mrs Tonfoodie and myself to dinner at Bella Itialia in the Red Dragon Centre near Cardiff Bay I did not think I would be adding another venue to my search for the best steak in Cardiff.

Six of us arrived for a booking at 7.30pm and from the outside this venue looked very pleasant. As we entered the restaurant there was a beautifully laid table just inside the door. Very nice I thought, sadly not ours. We were shown to the back of the room where two tables had been pushed together to accomodate us, unfortunately wobbly legs (on the tables ensued).

Anyway, not being a great pizza lover and noticing that they served both rump and sirloins I decided I would give it a go. As with the previous post on steak and for the sake of objectivity I decided to go for the rump.

Rump Steak
As you can see from the photograph sadly the garnishes were a little light with the exception of the rocket which seemed to be in abundance.

Before we get onto that let me say this chef knew how to cook a steak. I asked for it medium rare and got exactly that. It was cooked to perfection and tasted delicious.

At this juncture I would also draw your attention to the red pepper and tomato salsa, this was really tasty and served as an excellent accompanyment to the steak. For me it could have been improved if it had been served warmed, but hey ho each to their own.

The button mushrooms were again a good addition to the plate though a few more would not have gone amiss.

We now get to the down side of the dish. Those of you who have read any of my previouse posts will know of my dislike of frozen fries. Well at Bella Italia we not only had to put up with the frozen variety yet again but to make matters worse there were not very many of them.

Now I am well aware that you may be thinking that if I am not keen on the frozen chipped potato a lack of them on my plate may not have been such a bad thing. Ordinarily I would have to agree with you but this took small portions to a whole new level.

In my opinion a very well cooked steak was spoilt by the poor accompanyments. Again sadly this was not the only shortcoming we found.

The pizza Mrs Tonfoodie ordered was supposed to have chicken on it. It is possible that the chicken was so fresh that it was still alive and managed to get up and run off before the bread hit the oven but somehow I think not.

Once again rocket seemed to be the main ingredient on the pizza ad rather than ask if she would like oil as a dressing it was delivered to the table already swimming in it. This was a disappointment as she doesn't like oil!

Although our dining experience was leaving something to be desired, in the interest of fairness I must say that two of our friends ordered a burger and a chicken stew which they thrououghly enjoyed. Being a glutton though using my favourite excuse of research I did try the stew and it was very nice.

Burger Appreciation.
There was one very amusing moment when one of our friends ordered Lasagne al forno and what came to table appeared to be missing one fundamental ingredient, the beef ragou. Apparently this did not distract from the pasta and bechemel sauce being very good. The funny bit those was that said diner was was having a good moan to the rest of us about the meal when our waiter arrived to ask if everything was alright, cue a very British 'Oh yes delicious thankyou' from our friend.

As you may have gathered this has not been my greatest dining experience and as we move on to desert I am sorry to report that this is where things really did go downhill. Now to be fair one of the puds we ordered was described as 'mini', however I don't think any of use were expecting it to be quite so mini.

Mini Lemon Tart
I have added the photograph to allow you to make up your own mind as to whether you would pay £1.95 for this.

We decided to put the knife and fork in the picture to give it some perspective. They are not belonging to some giant they are standard pieces of cutlery.

Two courses with drinks came to just over £100 for six which is very reasonable and to finish on a positive note the service was of a perfectly good standard.

Price and service pushed the rating up but unfortunately I have still only felt able to give this 2.5 T's.

Atlantic Wharf Leisure Park
Hemingway Rd, Cardiff, South Glamorgan
029 2047 2009

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Celtic Manor Resort

Fellow Foodies, it's been a while but here we are almost at March 2013 and I can hardly believe this is my first post of 2013.

The Celtic Manor Resort is located just off the M4 on the edge of Newport, South Wales. Approaching from the east it is an imposing sight on the top of a hill overlooking the motorway. This may not sound the most stunning of views but really this venue is all about arriving at the main entrance portico with views of one of its golf courses.

Valet parking is available should you wish to arrive in style or alternatively you can park in the underground facility which offers direct access the the hotels main reception.

We had intended to sample the delights of afternoon tea here for my wonderful mother in laws birthday back in December but for one reason or another it ended up being postponed until February.

At the outset allow me to say, the wait was worth it!

There are currently three options to choose from which are the Resort tea, Champagne tea and a childrens option. On this occasion we chose the Resort Tea.

Resort Afternoon Tea
On arrival your waiter/waitress will introduce you to the range of teas available.

These include camomile, blackcurrent and Earl Grey plus others. The option we selected was tea for two persons and at £36 was on a par with hotels of a similar status.

The sandwiches were delicate and very tasty however for someone like myself with a more savory pallet I felt it was quite heavy on the sweet side.

Served on simple but elegant white crockery the tea stand set off the food beautifully.

The selection of sandwiches was, in my opinion, topped by a wonderful prawn with marie rose sauce served in a brioche roll.

The smoked salmon was a delight and there was coronation chicken which was nothing like the yellow stuff you may be used to.

Savory Selection
While the tea and coffee was now flowing freely we moved on to the sweet selection. Dainty but like the beautiful Jilly perfectly formed they were a veritable taste sensation. Not being a particular lover of mango I was very pleasantly surprised by the mango cup, full of flavour while not being overpowering.

Sweet Selection
The lemon meraigne tartlet was light but for my liking slightly lacking in lemon flavour. This being said don't let it put you off.

For the younger members of the family a childrens option is available at £11.95 which proved ideal for our pair.

Childrens Tea

The service is excellent and at no time did we feel rushed or pressured. The experience was completed with freshly made scone with strawberry conserve and cream.

For those looking for a little extra the Champagne Tea comes in at an eye watering £65 for two. The addtions are a selection of canape's, stawberries and cream and a glass of fiz to finish. Make your own mind up on whether you think those additions are worth the additional cost.

I decided to ask each of those present to rate the experience and while I was leaning towards 4 T's the average came out at 3.5 T's.

To sum up the best part of £100 for tea for six may seem slightly on the high side but remember as well as the food you are paying for the experience and I would challenge you to try and get the same sort of value in somewhere like London.

Contact Details

The Celtic Manor Resort
Coldra Woods
The Usk Valley
South Wales
NP18 1HQ
Tel: +44 (0)1633 413 000
Fax: +44 (0)1633 412 910
Call Toll Free - USA: 1-866-789-5779 | Canada: 1-877-354-2003