Upgrading from French

Once there was a bistro… mediocre at best, but upmarket for the traditional surroundings associated with the infamous Chippy Alley of Caroline Street in the centre of Cardiff. Few tears were shed at Juno HQ as Pierre met his demise during the Covid lockdowns of 2020… but, what would replace it? Summer of 2021 gave rise to a hint of refurbishment, and in recent weeks the curtain can be raised on a new Thai restaurant. Busaba emerges to taunt those who only have time for a bag of chips… the eternal staple of the street food warriors of Caroline Street (myself included on occasions of haste).

It passes the first test… the menus are not overly complicated, and certainly don’t need to be made of wipe-down plastic (a surefire sign of *********** well, fill in the blanks with your own commentary). However, step two created a problem… even though the menu had ‘starters’ and ‘mains’ as categories, the whole lot arrived in one go!

Makes for an exciting looking table, but something’s going to get cold… not least the stare from my discerning culinary companion!

Some things were definitely going to need replacing with freshly cooked dishes (and the restaurant staff duly obliged without any fuss).

Matchstick Chicken provided crispy bites of flavour without the expected fiery burn back. Yam Pak Crispy Duck salad provided a substantial leg, covering a fabulously tasty crunchy assortment of loveliness with a hint of peanut sauce. The Chicken Green Curry provided that wonderful Thai combination of coconut and lemongrass. The Tamarind Duck Breast was accompanied by that slight fiery tang originally expected from the Matchstick starter.

But, pride of place goes to that smallest of bowls (top right of the photograph). Calamari… described on the menu as their signature wok-tossed dish in ginger and green peppercorn sauce. Or, described by me as WTF… that’s the best Calamari I’ve tasted… ever!!

Until we speak again, they describe their restaurant as “Eating in balance… at Busaba you’ll find fresh authentic flavours with an innovative twist.” I say: “Bon Voyage mediocre French joint… I want more of that Calamari… NOW!”

Return to Old Favourites

At least it was the 25th! A family Christmas shape shifts as the numbers change with time. My last family Christmas meal was four years ago, when five people sat around the table, but now it’s just two, as the tragic heartfelt losses mount up.

So, for my sister and I, that at least meant we could decide to check out an old favourite Cardiff restaurant, dispense with the usual Christmas Day paraphernalia, and even dispense with celebrating in December! Neither of us can trust many restaurants not to downgrade their great menu’s by replacing them with Christmas mediocrity throughout the month of December. So, whether that applies to the Bayside Brasserie or not we don’t know. What we do know, is that the same high quality experience is there for the savouring.

Whilst the menu prompted a majority of tempting memories, the power of asking for what you want was also easily accommodated by the staff. Previously, Pork Belly was a starter but now it only appears as a main. The old adage is… if you don’t ask you don’t get; so, asking for Pork Belly as a starter was not only agreed, but met with results to exceed expectations.

Perhaps it’s the sense of getting something that wasn’t there that makes it taste even better! But, though the Crispy Squid looked tempting, this Pork Belly was all mouth-watering meat with a crispy crackling covering… and that melt-in-the-mouth feeling just simply can’t be resisted.

Two or three plates of this starter alone would easily have sent me off with that satisfied feeling of a meal well-deserved… you really don’t have to be anointed as a saint to be deserving of such riches in life! But, there were other memories to be tested and satisfied, not least the vegetarians nightmare… Fillet Steak! A food that should only be allowed by law to be served with chips and peppercorn sauce. A little foliage and extra fungi provides fancy dressing for any pernickety critic.

Who needs dessert after such a meat feast? Yes, I know… the very question puts me top of the list of many of your for a cactus emema! But, for me, those glasses of a lovely Argentinian Malbec are dessert enough… but then again a properly prepared macchiato serves to bring a great early Christmas to a gentle close.

Until we speak again, have a great Christmas… whenever, wherever, and with whoever you choose to celebrate it. After all, for me and a longstanding reader of these lyrical meanderings, a great Christmas meal has even been enjoyed on a balmy night in June (for the record… Fillet Steak was also eaten there.. in Blackheath, south-east London). So, the gift of the cow is really a gift of great memories as well.

Social Intrusion

“You come any closer with that camera and you will need more than a pair of tweezers to remove it from where I’ll put it! What do you think this is… a fashion shoot?”

“Hey ladies, I’m sure we’re okay with these pillars being 2 metres apart… but watch out for the strange dude with a camera at 4 o’clock!”

“Back off sneaking up on folks like that. By the way… does my bum look too big in this?”

Until we speak again, Juno never did do sneaking up that well…

Lost & Found

In Wales, the impact of the pandemic is once again easing, as we find ourselves topping the world table for progressing the vaccine rollout. But, what did you miss during the long winter months of lockdown restrictions?

Apologies and sympathy to those of you having to downgrade from Heinz to Own Brand baked beans. Juno’s View is that quality always trumps quantity, so Heinz for a day or two less a week would be my heartless advice!

In pursuit of that quality, it is the idea of a favourite independent restaurant re-opening that kept stirring my imagination. And, one such establishment seems to have taken the opportunity for an internal refurbishment during the months of closure…

Getting in an early booking, before the arrival of most other desperate punters, provided an opportunity to see where some of the felled rainforest ended up! Though it does make for a relaxed space for fine dining.

This was always a place for a limited menu of high quality local produce. So, would a re-vamped menu trouble any prior expectations?

Not wishing to overload the meat feast… a starter of asparagus and poached egg, with avocado, cherry vine tomatoes and hollandaise sauce offered an instant reminder that I’m not at ‘chez Juno’s View‘ at this point. Here, presentation combines with a delicate assault on the taste buds. Not for me, the fleeting thought of eating out of the carton/bag or whether to use a cheap porcelain plate!

Then there is the whole reason for dreaming and wishing… that poor Daisy has been grazing the ranch for months with no chance to provide a pleasurable outcome for others… Yes, the Fillet Steak experience! OK, so I cooked a couple of good quality ones at home over Christmas. But this is what getting out of bed on a rainy Tuesday morning in May is all about…

Just add some buttered greens, triple cooked chips and pink peppercorn sauce, and the picture is complete…

Until we speak again… what, you thought I’d share more of my steak with you? I’m too busy sipping the accompanying smooth Argentinian Malbec. Enjoy your Own Brand whatevers.

5 past midnight

It’s Christmas Day in the lower part of St Mary Street in Cardiff. In the land of raucous bars and nightclubs it’s time to get the party started…

Until we speak again, welcome to the celebrations… 2020-style! Have a cool yule!

Nadolig Llawen 2020

It’s three days to Christmas, and all in Cardiff will be frantically hitting the high street in a last minute flurry of over-commercialised action. So, let’s venture forth with great trepidation, and take on the challenge of negotiating a path through the maddening hordes of shoppers. But hang on, what’s happened to The Hayes? Always a place to provide a sight of festive elegance, but now seems a little deserted…

Let’s try the Christmas Market… always a good place for a warming festive scene (when it’s not being dismantled early, that is!!)…

Maybe the pubs and clubs are doing a roaring trade as an alternative to the worries of what to buy… but then, I forgot, they have already been consigned to memories of a cultural history!

Perhaps everyone is gathering in front of the Castle for a special pre-Christmas event? Or, maybe not…

Okay, at least Queen Street as the main shopping thoroughfare can be depended upon for accommodating the masses… Wow, my kind of shopping!!

Until we speak again, it seems I can only wish you a Merry Covid! Perhaps in years to come we will all look back on this experience and say… WTF???

Second bite

Sometimes it takes a second visit in order to truly satisfy those expectations… wherever they may originally have come from. Take I Giardini di Sorrento for example…

Great reviews and a sight of a sumptuous swordfish main dish on the website, and I’m salivating at the prospect of my first visit. However, combine such raised expectations with a visit to a Cardiff based independent family-run Italian restaurant in the company of a fine food critic, who just happened to be returning from Venice 24 hours earlier, and the recipe for success could be quite a challenge!

Fortunately, a light and delicately fried calamari starter primes the taste buds nicely, and those potentially unachievable expectations begin to dissolve into the tender seafood chewiness, spiked with the sharpness of squeezed lemon…

Then comes the tinge of disappointment, as it seems the swordfish has gone awol off the menu tonight, taking a break to allow some poor sea bass to put in a shift! Thoughts turn to a Plan B, and though my choice of salmon pistachio penne was only slightly overly salty, for my guest the risotto principe was quite a few furlongs behind in the race with its Venice counterpart of a few nights earlier.

We leave sated, but with a sense of disappointment; the important lesson being one of tempering expectations before a first visit… just taste the moment. So many awards and great reviews can’t all be misplaced… cue a re-visit, and a chance to soak up the authenticity of a lunchtime capriciossa pizza

It might be Cardiff, but could we really be dining elsewhere?

And even a visit to the restroom involves an additional reminder we could be absorbing Mediterranean vibes…

Until we speak again, there is a question about whether our tastes on the night have anything to do with the overall quality of what is on offer. Should we allow particular expectations to determine our experience in the moment? Well, yes we should… but don’t let that block further adventures into culinary discovery.

Art of the night walker

Going down the docks after dark just doesn’t seem to hold the same threat as it used to!

An autumn blend of colourful speculation, cultural reflection and historic reminiscence can provide a soothing balm for the mental health.

Even some of the more bizarre architectural oddities can assume a new persona… Cardiff Noir anyone!?

Until we speak again, a gentle nighttime stroll may even occasionally illuminate some of life’s mystery’s… like whether pedestrians and cyclists will ever see eye-to-eye.

Strategic advice

Anybody seen anything resembling a strategy floating around? Particularly amidst the clear-as-mud-mess our Tory incompetents revel in serving up on a daily basis?

Our witless Government misinformation trumpets like to spout lies and nonsense to the gullible masses about how they are confidently in control.

But, take a closer look at the detail clouded by the confused messages…

Is that the truth of stark reality we can sense hoving into sight? Surely even those previously blind to the shenanigans of our ‘Liar-in-Chief‘ at Number 10 might benefit from some closer scrutiny of what is before them?!

Until we speak again, my strategic advice is to keep your eye on the prize!

Rude awakening

Leave me alone… I’m trying to make sense of this pandemic thing.

Perhaps gravity will come to my rescue!

Until we speak again, trust me… swanning about is the only way to cope with this restricted way of being!