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)