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

 

Michelin star musings

It seems many people are eagerly awaiting the Welsh capital’s first michelin-starred restaurant.

Purple Poppadom is the latest creation of Anand George, described by Cardiff Bites (winner of the Wales Blog awards Best Food & Drink Blog 2011 category) as “Cardiff‘s closest thing to a celebrity chef.”

Mr George is famous in Cardiff, for setting up both Mint & Mustard and Chai Street.

His latest venture has received some very positive reviews from the website Trip advisor. One review even asks whether this could be Cardiff’s first Michelin-starred restaurant?

To be honest, I can’t wait to go!

“Could Cardiff get its first Michelin star here?”

 

Is Cardiff really a “gastronomic desert?”

Cardiff has been described as a “gastronomic desert” by food critics and tourists alike. But it depends which way you look.

If you are looking for Michelin starred restaurants with extensive taster menus and a celebrity chef or two, then you will be looking for a while. But if you are more concerned about eating good food at a reasonable price, then Cardiff will impress.

Top 10 budget places to eat in Cardiff

Chai Street, one of Cardiff's quality, low-cost restaurants

It is true, Cardiff does not have the culinary expertise which other cities have. BristolBath or Edinburgh for example. But this is not to do with Cardiff’s lack of culinary ingenuity, it is simply because Cardiff is not as established as these cities when it comes to fine dining.

Councillor Timothy Davies, a member of the Scrutiny Committee for Economy and Culture in the Cardiff City council, says the lack of fine dining in Cardiff is due to the lower disposable income, in comparison to other cities. In reply to whether or not the restaurant scene in Cardiff will improve, Mr Davies subscribed to the ‘market forces will prevail’ attitude and when we experience growth in the economy, demand will rise and people’s tastes will change.

Cardiff is saturated with chain restaurants. Pizza Express and Gourmet Burger, to name a couple. Most cities fall victim to an overwhelming amount of chain restaurants, but also have a balanced proportion of fine dining establishments.

Cardiff is yet to find this gastro/chain balance.

This being said, there are quality restaurants emerging in Cardiff. The Potted Pig, for example. The restaurant opened in June 2011 and was heavily praised by Jay Rayner, in his review for the Observer.

The Potted Pig: an old bank vault

The Potted Pig is a family run restaurant, in a disused bank vault.

An inspirational location choice.
 

Lucy Bulley, the assistant manager at the Potted Pig, talked about what it was like running a fine dining restaurant in Cardiff and the problems the restaurant faces…

There is a vacuum when it comes to quality dining, in Cardiff. But this space is starting to fill, albeit at a fairly leisurely pace.

After redevelopments in Cardiff, such as the Cardiff Bay development from 1987 to 2000, the city benefited from the emerging cosmopolitan environment.

This attracted major designer shops and also laid the foundations for a more sensitive and highbrow restaurant scene. But, rather than a cluster of respected, award-worthy restaurants the redevelopment has given way to chain restaurants.

Although there are four Michelin starred restaurants in Wales, three of those restaurants being honoured with the award in 2010, none of them are in Cardiff. They are either in the eastern or northern parts of Wales.

But the restaurant scene in a city does not have to be judged by the amount of stars awarded, or the number of raving reviews they receive.

As Lucy Bulley said in the interview, there are restaurants in Cardiff, which have failed to attract publicity and are subsequently sidelined.

They do not get the coverage they perhaps deserve.

A redeeming feature of Cardiff’s restaurant landscape is the low-cost dining available. You can eat a good quality main course in Cardiff for under £10, whereas in London, Bristol or Bath, this may cost you in excess of £20 or even £30.

A member of staff at the Tourist information centre and a man who was visiting Cardiff from London, both gave their views on what Cardiff’s restaurant scene is like…

 

Cardiff is a culturally aware city. It has opera halls, theatres, three major sports stadiums, an interesting history and beautiful architecture.

But it clearly lacks the culinary credentials.

Jay Rayner described Cardiff as “a city, which even its biggest fans will admit, has rarely been spoilt for good restaurants.”

Jay Rayner’s review of the Potted Pig

There seems to be a drought in terms of good restaurants. Sure, many chain restaurants offer good food, but it’s not always about the food.

It’s also about the overall experience.

Pizza Express, for instance. The food is good, but it has a sense of monotony every time you eat there.

You eat pizza or perhaps a pasta dish but that’s about it.

A first-class dining experience is graced not just by the attractive menu, but also by its surroundings.

surroundings are all important to the dining experience

You should not have to look far in a capital city for fine dining restaurants, but if you want a fine dining experience in Cardiff, you really have to do your research.

Nevertheless, fine dining is emerging in Cardiff. It’s just a question of when it will start to impress upon the list of UK cities, which already boast a respectable fine dining résumé.

Relevant websites

Michelin Restaurant Guide

Big Cardiff

Cardiff-eating

eatoutincardiff

dineoutwales