Redemption Steaks

Having clearly failed the honest reporting test… as my last post had been somewhat unfairly likened to culinary hate mail, by a disappointed punter who was unable to join the inaugural Black Salt adventure. There was only one possible solution to what otherwise could have become a tense Mexican Dine-Off on an ordinary Friday night in a favoured local boozer (big shout out to the Flute & Tankard!).

A reunion with culinary confusion was duly arranged with said punter, and the previously failed search for the mythical Wine List and Greek Salad amongst a sea of battered vegetables was accepted. Not least, so that the gauntlet of challenge can be retrieved from the litter-strewn pavement of Whitchurch Road.

On my approach, I did wonder if there was a cunning tactic at play… paying unemployed hospitality sector employees to pose in an open window idly chatting with interested passers-by. Could this be the new way of making places look busy and in demand?

Anyway, the time arrived when the afore mentioned gauntlet needed grasping… and before I could even raise a patronising clicked finger demanding to see the previously extinct Wine List, there it was, already laid out on the table, taunting me back into a pose of relative British consumer timidity.

The road to redemption is clearly signposted, so my next decision is delicately poised… what starter to tempt the palate? ‘Safety first’ shouldn’t be the determining factor when it comes to culinary adventures; but, sod it, that Halloumi with Chilli and Honey was just too good to be missed!

Then came the prime purpose of this visit, to see if a Greek Salad really could accompany a steak on the same table at the same time. It may sound like a simple request, but on the previous occasion we mere mortal diners had committed the cardinal sin… asking for a Greek Salad to REPLACE the signature oceans of fried batter that unquestionably accompany everything that had walked or swam in a previous incarnation. Lessons have been learned… just ask for Greek Salad alongside everything else. And lo, before our ravenous eyes, two Greek Salads duly arrived ahead of Daisy’s delights.

Only one challenge was left, in order to redeem my reputation as a serious investigator of all things Fillet. Could the true centrepiece of the visit stand alone, unimpeded by the burden of shouldering an onion ring the size and consistency of a tractor tyre? Again, there is a simple solution presenting itself in gluttonous obviousness… why have 8oz when you can have a 12oz beast of medium rare succulence? Even accompanied by a mega slice of cooked tomato, this animal has no intention of lurking in any shadows! And yes, those chips were very tasty when dipped in a pond of peppercorn sauce. [For any overseas readers, chips and oz’s are what Brexit might have been fought over, whilst still being a completely ridiculous idea!].

Until we speak again, yes… it’s a French Red Wine, a St Emilion. But in my defence, I didn’t order it! Personal redemption, it seems, comes with a price tag. ‘Black Salt II ~ The Redemption‘ was worth extending the glove of friendship, at least to resolve any unnecessary continuation of the Mexican Dine-Off. Trilogies, however, well, that’s a whole different culinary affair!

Black Salt

For all, but probably my one reader who already knows, this is the successor to the Cardiff gastronomic institution formerly known as Charleston’s… a steak house that boasted the largest steaks in the city. How much of the original has transferred from the city centre out a couple of miles to Whitchurch Road is anyone’s guess, as I never did get to visit the supposed gothic darkness that was upstairs on the infamous corner of St Mary Street and Caroline Street (aka Chippy Alley!).

The irrepressible Greek owner, Carmilla, suggested that she moved because as a proud grandmother she no longer wants the 4.00am closing times of the former eatery. So, what is in store in this out-of-town successor? The menu proves to be instantly inviting without being an overly burdensome read… always a good sign for an independent establishment, unlike many a restaurant chain I’ve long since chosen to avoid.

The lack of any wine list being offered is ominous however, and the response to the request for one was even moreso… “We have house red, white and rose…” was the initial verbal reply. The population of Cardiff is clearly more ignorant of the world of wine than I had realised, at least if this is the level of expectation that waiters have of their punters! Perhaps Whitchurch Road is a haven for world travellers who only drink lager, eat chips, and think house wine is the height of sophistication!

Sensing my incredulity, there was an immediate response that provided a whole new slant on the notion of a wine list… “You can always lean over the bar sir, and look at the bottles we have. I think our wine list is coming next week.” Well, it’s down to the next joust between me and my elegant eating companion (no, not the one reader who knows about the Charleston history, he’s otherwise indisposed in ways that would be too delicate to detail in this context).. are we both eating something conducive to red wine, or both likely to favour the complimentary qualities of a white? In which case a lean over the bar might be worth the exhibitionist stance that would be required. Suffice to say, we didn’t agree, so a glass of house red for me and a glass of house white for her is the order of the day.

Which brings me to the food… I rake a bedraggled memory of a conversation from the back of my mind that Charleston’s was not only about large steaks, but also about ‘battered’ vegetables, and not necessarily in a good way. Anyway, the first encounter with the batter arrives in the context of a range of appetisers. The halloumi with chilli and honey is a delicately tasting delight; the scampi in garlic is not my bag, but it packs a juicy bit of flavour; then there is the calamari… the batter is fine and delicate, and just as well, because it seemed to be disguising something more cardboard in texture. Our expectation that this was probably bought from a nearby cost cutter supermarket was politely denied… “All of our seafood is freshly caught”, to which I pondered the definition of caught (still thinking this might cover purchasing an item in a supermarket).

Then it’s on to the main event… I have no option but to order the Fillet Steak, though a request to pay for a Greek Salad side instead of the threat of those battered vegetables was thwarted; seems like changes to the itemised menu are not possible. So as not to tax the skills of the kitchen staff, I decide that I will abide by the instruction that the steak comes with vegetables! Then my partner in crime decides that chips are not for her liking with the King Prawn Souvlaki, as she would also prefer a salad. No way, Hose. An offer of new potatoes instead of the chips was accepted, only to be told “Sorry we don’t have any new potatoes!”

So, after a few minutes of negotiating around the possibilities of an unfussy menu, we settle for precisely what the menu instructs us to eat. Bring on that batter. However, what I hadn’t bargained on was an onion ring that was going to give the big juicy steak a fight for its money! Don’t get me wrong, this was a very nice piece of steak (my second favourite in Cardiff currently… see the Lost & Found post for the reigning No. 1), but I didn’t expect to send out a search party to find it somewhere behind that infamous battered vegetable wall. Don’t ask me about the battered cauliflower, it was far too threatening for me to even consider disturbing, let alone consuming.

Until we speak again, Carmilla put up an irrepressible show of in-your-face niceties, with an attempt to get us married off seemingly before the meal was complete. Remember that wine list encounter at the start of this sojourn? Well, a theme seemed to be emerging when my co-conspirator in eating crimes dared to ask to see a dessert menu. “We have strawberry cheesecake or ice cream… which one do you want?” was the considered reply. Perhaps there has been a laminating supply shortage, as no reading was required before declining the offer.

Black Salt is an experience; and if you are into being battered into submission, this is a place for you. if you are into a delicate and refined eating experience, Whitchurch Road may not be the place for you. You pays your money and you takes your choice, as they say. At least you won’t leave here feeling ripped off. You will most likely leave with a warm feeling of Carmilla’s friendly personality having added to an interesting experience.

The Tastiest of Thistles

For most people a visit to Edinburgh is likely to stir up thoughts of The Royal Mile, Arthur’s Seat, Princes Street, castles, museums and palaces. Steep hills, stone steps and cobbled streets ooze history. Then there is the incessant din of those bag pipes as you stroll from one quintessential Scottish souvenir shop to the next (all selling the same range of stuff). But, enough of these time fillers, when it comes to the serious business how does Edinburgh stand up to satisfying your appetites? Savouring Auld Reekie comes with impressive surprises.

‘How do you like your eggs?’ is a very pertinent question of any culinary adventure, whatever time of the day it happens to be. But, what about your bee pollen, goji berries, pak choi and whisky sauce (but not all in the same meal)? Traditional Scottish fayre has certainly taken on an altogether more exotic flavour.

Starting the day needn’t be a boring tradition! At the Urban Angel in New Town, just around the corner from Thistle Street, the eggs might come baked with a tomato sauce accompanied by chorizo and black pudding. Just add an Acai Bowl of goji berries, bee pollen and coconut flakes, alongside your avocado on sourdough, with a freshly baked almond croissant. Just make sure you book a morning seat, because this place is deservedly popular.

So, you’ve loaded up on history and culture, or good old shopping. But, what you’re really focused on is the potential provenance of that next meal. What is it currently doing… quacking, mooing, baaing, or maybe gently gliding some slinky watery moves.

Cafe Marlayne on Thistle Street doesn’t go in for the over elaborate menu choices, but what it offers comes with a side of style. Swoon over a crispy fried egg and asparagus starter, complete with a grainy Freekah (whatever Freekah is).

Then, it’s time to offend Daffy’s sensibilities, with neatly presented duck breast, carrot and ginger puree, pak choi in sesame oil, spring onions and a hoisin glaze.

Fishers in the City, on Thistle Street (yes, there again) offers good old fashioned Scottish tradition with a modern twist. Scallops, salsify puree, and Stornoway black pudding was just begging to be eaten long before the ubiquitous photograph could be taken.

Then there was the national treasure… Loch Duart Salmon simply presented but delicately flavoured, served with new potatoes, green beans and a sauce vierge. It just called for a side of perfect chips, and Fishers duely obliged. This was my kind of Fish & Chips!

Before you start thinking Edinburgh only does British dishes, albeit in quite some style, Cafe Andaluz on George Street in New Town (parallel to Thistle Street) sets up a fine range of tapas. OK, so you need longer to read the menu than to eat the food, but each dish was presented in a way that says ‘we want you to plan your return… very soon!’. You’ll have to guess the range of dishes here, but somewhere in there lies a black pudding dish that deserves its own Michelin star.

So, what about traditional Scottish Haggis? Well, the Haggis & Whisky House on Cockburn Street in the Old Town (what, not Thistle Street in the New Town?) shows that even tradition can be tinkered with to great effect… Haggis, tatties and neeps in a whisky sauce showcases the dish in all its finery. OK, so chips aren’t the natural accompaniment, but when they’re this good, tradition can be left outside the door.

Until we speak again, all of the above delights, except the Haggis & Whisky House, were found within a 200metre walk within New Town. Why expend unnecessary energy searching for fabulous food. There is even a most fabulous coffee place on Thistle Street where the beans are often roasted while you wait, and believe me, the wait is worth it.

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.

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.

Christmas in Peckham

How do you avoid the repetition of a traditional Christmas meal? Well, we’ve previously done Cardiff in July, Blackheath in June, central London in January… but here we were, planning on having our annual Christmas meal in December of all places! Trouble is, most restaurants seem to want to ditch what they are known for, and produce their version of what everyone is doing.

I have to admit, on this occasion I was doing the travelling, so it seemed only right to delegate the venue choice to the dude living locally. “Peckham…”, he suggested. Well, the first thing to come to mind was the song lyric “Is there life in Peckham?” Turns out, there really is, and amongst other contenders, it is alive and well at…

Artusi sign

On inspecting the online menu possibilities, it seemed like we were attending the first night of a somewhat far more adventurous Christmas menu than I had seen before. But, despite getting up my resolve to go for it, redemption came in the form of having to book it in advance. We hadn’t, so we were left to their very own tradition of setting out their Italian inspired menu of the day on a blackboard near the restaurant entrance…

Chalkboard menu

A Salt Beef starter arrived with just the right blend of soft melt-in-the-mouth tender brisket and tart pickled cucumber…

Salt Beef starter

The main dish of Rigatoni Sausage Ragu came in the form of small pasta tubes with smaller pieces of sausage in a delicate balance. Why get stuffed, when you can just enjoy a satisfying blend of complementary flavours? Though it is very clear to me that had Juno been present that Sea Bream across the table would not last the time it takes for a blog post snap…

Canelloni Sausage Ragu

Until we speak again, it seems there is life in Peckham, and it comes in a very satisfyingly un-Christmas package. Artusi is for any time, not just for Christmas!

Artusi entrance

No Kurds were harmed

Under the cover of darkness St Mary Street had clearly succumbed to a Turkish incursion…

Outside view at night

Lezzet Turkish Kitchen is an interesting addition to Cardiff’s independent restaurants, for those of us who don’t feel the need to prop up the plethora of eat-by-numbers restaurant chains that litter the high streets of our towns and cities.

Oven

The familiar starter of Stuffed vine leaves came with an interesting mildly spiced twist…

Stuffed Vine Leaves

But it was the Seafood Kebab including swordfish, salmon and king prawns that melted away any possible resistance…

Seafood Kebab

Until we speak again, Turkey rightfully gets universal condemnation for its recent assault on Syria-based Kurdish forces; but the actions of megalomaniac dictators should bear no reflection on the many friendly and gastronomically creative Turkish people. But, in the interests of balance, I should really visit a restaurant offering Kurdish cuisine sometime soon.

Gone Fishing!

Whatever your level of budget or taste you can bet New Orleans is going to come up with something that will add to your lifetime gastronomic mind map. My relationship to fish is generally one of appreciating their grace and beauty rather than their taste; but there is a small range of the critters that had just better watch out when I am around!

When the company is right for a spot of the fine dining I recently found that there is no better place in the French Quarter than GW Fins (aptly named for a seafood joint).

Okay, maybe I did cheat a bit with a Crispy Belly Pork & Watermelon appetiser; but you would to if you had the chance! In any case, my companions were diving straight into the pond after the Fried Snapper Belly (complete with fin)…

Fried Snapper Belly and Crispy Pork Belly

However, it didn’t take me long to cross swords with the finest tasting Blackened Swordfish with Fried Shrimp, whilst viewing my companions Spearfished Cobia across the table.

Spearfished Cobia and Swordfish dishes

And, just for variety, there was also an example of the house speciality Scalibut

Scalibut

Until we speak again, feel free to suggest further gastronomic challenges you would like me to take on your behalf… there is no end to the level of personal sacrifice I am prepared top make on your behalf. In the meantime check out GW Fins menu and wine list for salivation (definitely not salvation) purposes…

 

 

Deja Vu

Coming back to New Orleans again is one thing, but the irresistible pull of brunch at the Palace Cafe on Canal Street comes down to one thing. It’s not the neatly tailored waiting staff, or even the delicate combination of dark wood panelling, white linen tablecloths and shiny floor coverings. It’s not the coffee; far better can be found with a little bit of intrepid searching.

No, it simply comes down to their signature dish… a savoury take on a sweet idea, topped off with a creole muniere sauce of just enough spice. Yes, for my regular reader, I’m once again introducing you to the Crabmeat Cheesecake that is every bit as good to the taste as it is stunning on the eye…

Until we speak again, this cat is simply going to continue suffering in order to bring you these magic morsels!

Going French in the Quarter

Liberte, Equalite, Fraternite… who cares when you are on vacation looking for a fine brunch without a heart attack inducing smothering of eggs and cheese? Well ladies, at least here you get your own entrance…

Croissant D’Or Patisserie on Ursulines is a must for anyone in the French Quarter of New Orleans looking for a small piece of France… American style (i.e. by not needing to go to France!… or even anywhere outside of America!).

The Brioche French Toast is to die for… well, perhaps not something so dramatic… so add the fruit bowl if you need a life support…

Until we speak again, there are better ways to go, apparently; but in Nou Awlings, who cares, as long as you’re indulging in what life has to offer…