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.