Llansantffraed Court

Deep in the heart of rural Monmouthshire, well in the middle of nowhere really, sits an old and weather-battered country house, with an almost glum expression as you drive up towards the main entrance. The building is in dire need of a bit of attention.

It’s clear that most of the budget at Llansantffraed Court is spent on the food – but that’s never enough. The restaurant has undergone a revival in recent months – the sous-chef from Wales’ finest, ‘The Crown at Whitebrook’, took over as head chef in a bid to transform the culinary fortunes of the place.

I was excited about the set menu that was put in front us. Choosing what to eat can be quite a laborious challenge, especially when every menu ever created tries to sell you everything on it. So I was pleased that I had only a choice of three for every course.

I started with the Pembroke crab, with cucumber and crème fraiche. The crab had a nice salty after-taste to it, softened by the cold cucumber and crème fraiche. It was presented nicely and it was colourful, but there was quite a random feel about the plate. There was some sort of pastry flopped over the top of the dish, adding very little and over-complicating what would otherwise have been a refined piece of cooking.



Moving on, I opted for the Brecon Venison, beetroot, celeriac and wild mushroom. This was more intelligent. The flavours all worked very well together and there was nothing really over-powering about any of it. The only issue I had was that the Venison was too voluminous. It soaked up too much of the rest of the plate and became a struggle towards the end.

Finishing off with a dessert simply called: vanilla, blueberry and lemon – I started thinking about what the problem was with the restaurant.


It felt as though the restaurant was dragging the rest of the place with it. A restaurant only needs two things, in essence. One: good food and two: a warming location. You take any of the world’s top 100 restaurants and each will have it’s own unique  atmosphere; generated by the location and the building.

The problem that Llansantffraed Court has is that the restaurant is clearly on the up (although the new head chef is still in the experimentation phase), and is painfully dragging the rest with it. Investing to rejuvenate a restaurant is to be applauded, but that’s only half the challenge. 

If the location or building has a glum feel to it, how can you expect diners to feel embraced. You can’t and the food alone, however good, is never enough.




Miller & Carter (Reading)


Black pearl scallops with pancetta, on a black pudding with a balsamic glaze

Chain restaurants are always the most difficult to analyse. It’s just hard to get excited about a group of restaurants that are bound by a strict menu and an abundance of corporate messages, both inside and out of the dining establishment. But to draw upon the most used cliché in the business world – this one ‘bucked the trend’.

Miller & Carter, the self-proclaimed ‘experts in steak’, has a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. The menu was unpretentious yet well-thought out. If you want honest food and a nice atmosphere, it’ll be worth paying for.

We started with the black pearl scallops, on a black pudding with pancetta and a balsamic glaze. The scallops were slightly overcooked but there was a strong flavour combination and the rich black pudding sat well with the sweet balsamic glaze. The scallops, although a good match with the pancetta, lacked a bit of flavour, which would have been forgivable if they weren’t the centrepiece of the dish.

We then opted for the fillet steak. Despite being blinded by the incredibly well-polished cutlery, the steak was excellent. It really was. When you go to a steakhouse, if the steak isn’t perfect they’ve essentially got a business that’s dead in the water.


Medium-rare 8oz fillet steak

But this was not the case. The medium-rare 8oz fillet was tender and accurately seasoned. I didn’t find myself cutting centimetres of fat away from the meat, only to leave it in a pile on the plate, so I was happy.

The only criticism of the main course was that the accompanying salad came out out far too early. The dressing had started to congeal.

The atmosphere, which is half the battle with any restaurant, was pleasant and accommodating and the service was sharp and attentive, without being obstructive and annoying.

If you’re looking for a good quality steakhouse, with a nice ambiance, then you won’t be disappointed by Miller & Carter. Although it’s a chain restaurant  – the well-cooked food, a nice atmosphere and helpful staff make it an independent dining establishment in its own right.


The Potted Pig

Cardiff has suffered from gastronomic deprivation in the past and for a city with such a rich culture, it is surprising there are very few gems in terms of credible and highbrow dining establishments.

But hold fire. Right in the centre of the city opposite the castle is a restaurant, which challenges the status quo of soul-destroying chain restaurants and sterile atmospheres.

The Potted Pig blends traditional British dishes with sophisticated continental dining in what can only be described as inspired surroundings.

You walk up to the front of the restaurant only to be greeted by a doorman who ushers you towards the staircase. This winds down into what one assumes is just a cellar, but in fact it is a disused bank vault.

The success of independent restaurants is measured not just by the food, but also by the character of the place. If you can imagine a dark and dingy cellar somewhere in France, where you pull up a couple of chairs and get stuck into a Cassoulet or a leg of lamb accompanied by well chosen red wine, then you are most of the way to understanding what the Potted Pig is all about.

Even attempting to blend French and British cuisine is a risky practice, but the Potted Pig has just about nailed it.

The four of us began with a selection of starters. Offaly good breakfast with Wayne’s homemade ketchup, Deep fried whitebait with aioli, cod cheeks and clams and the signature Potted pig with toast and pickles. This gave us a good idea of why there was so much local hype about the restaurant.

We ended up sharing most of the starters but the stand-out starter was the breakfast, which constituted a perfectly cooked poached egg sitting on a home cooked hash brown, a rasher of bacon, black pudding and Offal. A somewhat strange combination but it worked and was well presented.

"Offaly" good breakfast

The cod cheeks and clams were also exceptional. Simple dishes such as this, when cooked well, are sometimes more impressive than even the most perplexing alternative. The cod cheeks were salty and tender. The clams were impeccably fresh and could easily have just been caught and thrown straight into the pot. An excellent start to a promising meal.

For the main course I decided on the Madgetts farm roast chicken with spicy merguez sausage and bean stew. The chicken was slightly undercooked, but not as noticeable as it would have been had it not been cooked in a stew.

The sausage and chicken combination is a common feature of Spanish and French cuisine, but this version merged a popular “peasant-style” dish with Chepstow-sourced chicken, completing a wholesome and mostly flavoursome main course.

The problem with the dish was the volume. They had overdone the bean stew, which regrettably seemed to sideline the chicken and the merguez sausage should have been emphasised, as it really is a delight when it is cooked on its own.

Chepstow-sourced chicken with merguez sausage

My companions were impressed with their choice of main course. The Lamb shank with carrot and suede mash and sprout tops was a quintessentially traditional winter dish. My companion stressed the very British style to the course, the sort you would expect to find at a medieval banquet.

Another, similar dish, was the slow roast Hereford pork belly with baked carrots and greens. I was told this was delicious and not being a huge advocate of pork belly I was impressed the Potted Pig had turned a fairly mundane dish into one of justified commendation.

The Potted Pig has a very clear aim. To serve traditional food presented in a modern manner without the uncomfortable pressure of eating the food in an intimidating environment. Although the cooking may take lessons from French and Spanish cuisine, it is still essentially traditional whatever way you look at it.

The dining environment is interesting and relevant to the food. The cellar set up demonstrates class and sophistication, while also adding to the overall experience.

The only problem the Potted Pig faces is the lack of demand for fine dining in Cardiff. But with the number of excellent reviews the restaurant has received and the fact word is spreading about the quality of the food, it will only be a matter of time before people are travelling from all over to experience this traditional yet refined British cuisine.

Price: £19 (two courses per person, excluding wine, including service)

Rating: 9/10


It is always refreshing to see passion in a restaurant. The food is more enjoyable, if the staff actually care about what they are serving you.

Eat.cn falls into this category of restaurants.

Nestled in the takeaway-haven of Cardiff, on City Road, Eat.cn has a post-modern feel to it. They know what they’re talking about and the dishes seem well researched.

Merging authentic with modern

The style of food and the layout of the restaurant is one you could imagine seeing off a side street in Shanghai. The authenticity of the restaurant cannot be disputed. The emphasis is placed on sharing and a mix and match format.

With this in mind we ordered.

On advice from the waiter we ordered the Salt and Pepper Squid, which is apparently a favourite among the customers. We also ordered the shredded pork with Kimchi and the beef in Sichuan pepper and chilli sauce, accompanied by Egg-fried rice.

The squid was really tasty and you could see why the Eat.cn faithful enjoy it so much. It was a snack-style main course, with a delicate balance of seasoning. The squid, which is notoriously hard to cook to perfection, was chewy (as it should be) but still retained the flavour.

It was one of those dishes you would love to take home in vast amounts and just sit and pig-out in front of the TV, while you ate it.

The shredded pork with Kimchi had a fairly sour taste to it and looked a bit like a broth, but the vegetables mixed in with the pork gave the dish a degree of stability. Pork can be a hit or miss meat in Chinese cuisine, but Eat.cn has done well to promote it.

The beef in Sichuan pepper and chilli sauce was a seemingly fiery dish. The beef, which is worth mentioning, was very tender and had clearly benefited from being immersed in the Sichuan pepper and chilli sauce. There were so many spices in this dish. It would be optimistic to try and name all of them, but they worked well with the beef. It was by no means short of flavour.

Eat.cn had a very authentic feel to it. It felt like a small part of a busy Chinese city had been brought to life in Cardiff, but with a modern-twist to it.

The service was excellent. The staff were attentive and obviously pleased to be working there, which is always a reassuring element to any restaurant.

There are over 100 dishes on the menu and there are a substantial variety of dishes, to basically suit any palette.

Authentic Chinese cuisine, with a modern twist.

Price: £23.50 (3 courses between 2 people, including service)

Rating: 8/10

Purple Poppadom

Purple Poppadom is renowned Cardiff chef, Anand George’s, latest creation.

After opening in December, Purple Poppadom has excited Cardiff foodies, with its “nouvelle Indian cuisine.”

Ordinarily you would be sceptical of a place which makes such a claim, but Purple Poppadom has good reason to.

On their website they describe their style of cooking as: “traditional Indian cuisine with a modern twist” and this was clearly displayed not only in the taste of the food but also in the presentation.

My guest and I were treated to a new taster menu with wine, which the restaurant was giving a trail run to, in anticipation of Valentine’s Day.

The wines, which were all from the Bordeaux region of France, were provided by Fine Wines Direct, an independent company based in Cardiff. Before each glass we were talked through the wine and how it would accompany the various dishes.

The Bordeaux region is famed for its red wine but interestingly, the chosen wine only included one glass of red, with the rest either being white, rosé or sweet wine. This turned out to be an inspired choice and it is clear that the region offers a lot more than just red wine.

The menu consisted of six courses, with interludes in between. It was logical. We started with a plated trio of Broccoli florets accompanied by Broccoli croquette and Broccoli mousse.  The florets were excellent and made a seemingly basic vegetable very interesting. Purple Poppadom has a knack for this sort of transformation. The florets were crispy and still retained a degree of moisture in the broccoli, making it taste superb. They manage to turn a plain dish into something that looks and, ultimately tastes, spectacular. The broccoli croquette had a soft taste to it, which was set against a crispy outer layer. The mousse was fluffy and when added to the croquette and the florets, gave it a perfect finish.

This was then followed by Keralan spiced, pan seared Mackerel, with a mango salsa and a Mackerel Pakora with cumin and garlic flavoured green peas. The Mackerel was oily, which was matched, perfectly, by the cool mango salsa. Many people are sceptical of fish in Indian cuisine, but it is really worth a try. Fish, combined with interesting seasoning, is a must for anyone eating out at a good Indian restaurant. Indian cuisine, in particular, accommodates fish dishes, because of the spices it uses. They bring out the full flavour of the fish and add an edge to the overall taste. The cumin and garlic flavoured green peas combined well with the Mackerel Pakora and acted as a good accompaniment to the seared Mackerel. The Pakora looked like a simple side dish, but it became apparent that it was full of flavour and interesting spices. This completed the first section of the meal.

While sipping the remains of our glass of Château Marges Graves Blanc- a white wine which was probably my favourite wine of the entire meal, out came the next course. Chicken Lollypop accompanied by a chicken roulade and a chicken liver masala. The liver was exceptional. It had obviously been prepared in such a way that combined the rich taste of chicken liver with the spices that accompanied it. The Fennel Naan that came with the liver masala, proved to be a useful and effective tool for scooping up the liver masala. It was almost like a pâté dish and the Naan acted as a more exciting substitute for your basic slice of bread.

Despite its novel appeal, the Chicken Lollipop was tender and infused well, with a variety of Indian spices. The roulade was well prepared and combined with both the Chicken Lollipop and the liver masala presented a really well-rounded course.

The ‘Jewels of Venison’ were next to follow. This consisted of ground venison skewers cooked in tandoor, venison Chapli kebab and Venison cooked in rice and spices. The Chapli kebab was spicy, but still retained the taste, which was a constant feature throughout the meal. I have tried chicken and lamb skewers, but never venison. They really did highlight that venison is a wonderful meat, when cooked well. It benefited from the Indian style of cooking, again bringing out a variety of different flavours.

Another interlude passed. The desert was a white chocolate mousse, a warm chocolate fondant, with strawberry chocolate and served with a glass of sweet wine (the Château des Mailles St Croix du Mont). The warm chocolate fondant was cooked in its own little pot and was essentially a crispy layer of chocolate sponge, which covered a softer layer of gooey chocolate. The white chocolate mousse partnered the strawberry chocolate, which was a whole strawberry dipped in milk chocolate, in fondue fashion.  A nice way to end the meal.

The meal was well structured. It was a logical, step-by-step process, which offered a range of different dishes and without doubt, a range of different flavours. My guest even said, at the end of the meal: “That was the best curry I have ever had.” An ultimate compliment to the restaurant.

The atmosphere was pleasant and relaxed.  The service was good and the staff introduced every course with a clear explanation of what the plate consisted of.

The food was cooked well and well thought out. It was not a random array of fish here and venison there, it felt as though Anand George and his team had really made the effort to get it right.

Price: £45 per person (including matching wines)

Rating: 9/10

St. John Bar and Restaurant

This is one half of a special comparative piece I am doing between one of London’s more established gastronomic restaurants (St. John) and one of Cardiff‘s most recent editions to its less established restaurant portfolio (The Potted Pig).

St John Bar and restaurant, founded by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver in 1994, has a distinct feel of a butcher’s to it.

The walls were all white, with little decoration, apart from a few coat hooks. The lights resembled the kind you would get in an industrial slaughterhouse.

It felt as though I was eating from a meat-production line.

We ordered a selection of four starters (between three of us), which included: Widgeon Legs, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Rabbit Offal and Braised Squid.

The Widgeon (a small duck) was rich and gamey. The Broccoli, by chance, complemented the more powerful tastes of the Widgeon legs and the Rabbit Offal (the cooked organs of a rabbit).

The squid was a nice addition, as a comfort dish.

A glance at the menu

While deciding which mains to have, we attempted to understand the seemingly straight forward decor, or indeed the lack of it.

We came to the conclusion that they had tried, with success, to recreate the atmosphere of a butcher’s.

The chef was in full view, preparing, or rather butchering, the meat.

Two of us, myself included, ordered the Smoked Herring, Bacon and Mash, while the other ordered the Lop Chop, Turnip and Trotter.

The Herring was also quite rich and oily. This was not a problem, I had clearly chosen a first and second course, aimed at a more resilient stomach!

Nevertheless, it was tasty and despite it’s rich taste, was not overly filling.

At some risk of over-indulgence, I ordered the Steamed Treacle Pudding.

This was merely average, but then when has a butcher’s ever claimed to make a perfect treacle pudding?

St. John boasts a Michelin star and with obvious justification. The experience and the aura of the restaurant, is what you would expect from such an establishment.

The modest building, St. John is located in, resembles that of a local butcher’s- a theme that is consistent throughout the dining experience.

Your local butcher?


St John will no doubt prove to be a fierce contestant against The Potted Pig, which I will be reviewing in just over a weeks time.

With a similar menu and, perhaps more trivially, a very similar logo The Potted Pig has a lot to compete with.



Rating: 8/10