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

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Sunday Supplement discounts for South Wales

The Sunday Times has today published a supplement offering  discounts on dining out in South Wales.

The supplement titled, ‘Eat Out’, gives discounts such as: 2 for 1 on mains, 50% off your food bill and 25% off food and drink.

Eat Out

Included in the South Wales section are: Browns Bar & Brasserie, Plymouth Arms Vintage Inn and Traherne Arms.

This is a really good opportunity to eat out in decent restaurants for a much reduced price.

Browns is offering 25% off food and drink.

Dining out in Cardiff is not as expensive as other areas of the UK and this new scheme from the Sunday Times makes it even cheaper.

The Sunday Times Cookery Writer, Lucas Hollweg says: “There are some very good restaurants on the Eat Out list, from local brasseries and award-winning dining pubs to country hotel dining rooms and the sort of neighbourhood gems that you’d happily visit once a week.”

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?”

 

Michelin-starred chef coming to Cardiff?

Following on from my last post about Cardiff’s lack of culinary quality, I found this piece of news, which should please restaurant fanatics in the Cardiff area.

Plan to open £9m hotel in capital has a Michelin-starred chef in its sights – Eating out – Food & Drink – Lifestyle from @walesonline.

Will this be the first Michelin-starred restaurant in Cardiff?

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

La Lupa (guest post by Matt Cornelius- Eat Out In)

La Lupa is a quaint little Italian restaurant found in the heart of Canton, Cardiff.

This restaurant may be situated in the middle of the Welsh capital city, but has every feel of wining and dining in the beautiful streets of Italia.

Upon entry you get the instant warmth of an authentic Italian-run establishment, coated by the sound of Italy’s music.

The staff are passionate and friendly and effortlessly make you feel comfortable and willing to relax.

The restaurant has an open plan kitchen, so it’s possible to see the chef work his magic. Whilst on the subject of the chef it would be rude not to mention the pride that he/she takes in the food they cook, from the presentation to the quality of taste.

Sirloin steak with generous helping of veg and wedges

Being a man who will only eat a meal if there is some form of meat accompanying it, I went for the lamb skewers to start, followed by a sirloin steak, and both were cooked to perfection and melted in my mouth. The steak was accompanied by a very generous side dish of potato wedges and vegetables.

As well as a wide selection of meat based dishes, there were plenty of other options on the menu, for all those pasta and pizza lovers.

My partner went for the simple but effective pesto pasta, each dish covers all the basics of a good tasty dish and more. They have clearly added their own, La Lupa edge that leaves a happy, satisfied taste in your mouth (thankfully not overwhelmed by garlic) and we’re looking forward to the next visit.

Classic pesto pasta

This restaurant would be perfect for any occasion, as due to the quirky layout, you have the chance to hide in a corner and enjoy a romantic night with your partner or you can move to another part of the restaurant where you can be joined by parties of friends and family.