Review: Moksh, Cardiff

Spherification

Spherification

If you are an Indian restaurant with pretensions of fine dining, please learn this lesson first: portion sizes should be smaller on tasting menus. When a full sized curry with a complete portion of rice and naan rocks up after I’ve already eaten 3 amuse bouches and 4 starters, I just know I’m going to be spending the rest of the day in an uncomfortable, bloated, semi-insensible heap.

Moksh has been down in the middle of Cardiff’s smart dockland area for a few years now, and the dining room is looking very tired. Though I’m told they’re in the process of moving so it’ll be interesting to see the upgrade. Having come all this way, we went for the tasting menu. Ordered a couple of cocktails while we waited – they were inelegant and over-sweet.

Street(lamp) food

Street(lamp) food

First amuse was a big ruby red spherification filled with a gentle cranberry and star anise yogurt. It was a bit surreal to have the chef explain to us that “we use chemicals here, to enhance the presentation and flavour”. Please, for your own sake, don’t say chemicals! We know how molecular gastronomy works, we’re cool. But I don’t think most diners are very comfortable associating the word “chemicals” with food. : )

The stand-out amuse bouche was a lentil soup. It had a fantastic clean, hot, green spiced flavour. But this was a whole bowl of soup. Not an amuse bouche. There was also one knock-out starter: a prawn with lemon moilee, a south Indian seafood sauce with a slick, rich, tangy flavour that I could have eaten a bucket of. My main course was probably the best laal maas I’ve had, with an earthy hot sauce of a rich burgundy colour over chunks of slow-cooked lamb and good rice. Maureen’s crispy battered tilapia with a tangy Goan curry was also excellent.

Laal maas - great

Laal maas – great

But most of the other amuse bouches and starters were just hey-ho. Huge chunk of dry tandoori chicken breast smothered in a flavoursome green yogurt paste. Typical street food dish of vada and chickpeas that could have been had at the dozen or so Indian street food places in Cardiff. Poppadoms with an admittedly bright mint dip. Puddings – which we tried really hard to shove into some remaining gaps – were not impressive. Macaroon with sweet hummus was pleasant, date meringue just sticky, pistachio mousse way too subtle to be worth eating, curry ice cream was at least flavourful although the flavour chosen was staunchly yellow curry powder.

Don’t get me started on the gimmicks. Chef Gomes has got hold of the idea that innovative fine dining = gimmicks. The street food dish had a teeny-tiny street lamp attached. Clove-scented dry ice appeared twice. The tandoori came in a glass jar filled with eye-watering hickory smoke. The lamb chop came with candy floss. “Why candy floss?” “It’s gastronomic.” : )

There were three excellent dishes at Moksh; the lentil soup, the moilee and the main curries. I think if you treat Moksh as a top-notch curry house and order any two dishes that don’t sound very experimental, you could well be onto a real winner; there’s a deft touch here with authentic Indian cooking. But the attempt to elevate into tasting menu territory isn’t working at all, it’s all gimmick and no thought. I waddled out with very mixed feelings.

Dessert in the smoke

Dessert in the smoke

Review: Ynyshir, The Pass Bench, Machynllyth

Nettles

Nettles

I raved about Ynyshir last March after our first visit. And I kept raving about it, in spite of all the lovely meals I’ve had since, so much so that Maureen became heartily sick of me and booked a table there for my birthday this year to shut me up.

This is no minor undertaking, for Ynyshir is truly in the back of beyond, the west coast of Wales, 4.5 hours drive from London. And while the west coast of Wales is undoubtably beautiful, it’s not a tourist draw like the Isle of Skye or the Cornish peninsula. So Ynyshir absolutely has to be a destination restaurant. People have to drag themselves across the Cambrian mountains for no other reason than to want to sample Gareth Ward’s cooking. Take it from me, that’s ample reason!

Char sui perfection

Char sui perfection

There’s no doubt chef Ward is after a 2nd Michelin star; there are so many 1 Star destinations in popular and convenient parts of the UK, it’s absolutely gonna take a 2nd star to persuade people to come this far! Especially mid-week. Of course you, the reader of this most select blog, are already in on the secret and must surely have started planning your trip?

I’ll tell you what I like about Ynyshir. The flavours are unabashed and powerful, but not harsh. The plates are always beautiful, but uncluttered and unfussy. Every mouthful of meat roars with careful provenance and very, very careful storage and treatment. There is a passionate belief in the value of what you can find in the fields, hedges, pastures and shores of the UK. And there is innovation and experiment evident in all of it. I have never, ever had a better prawn. Or a better piece of char sui. Or a better dessert made entirely of nettles. Or… you get the idea!

Our next dish being prepped

Our next dish being prepped

So I might as well spend the rest of the blog telling you about the Pass Bench experience, which is what every raving foodie should be trying and book. This is a hearty wooden bench for two, draped with woolly black sheepskins, right in the middle of the kitchen. Off to your left chef Ward is looking after the flame-kissing grill close enough that he could lean over and pass you a spoon if you were missing one. Certainly close enough for a chat. You get to see everything, and hear every single instruction and call. It’s mildly bizarre to have one of the chefs collect your empty plates and then, having done nothing more than turn around, call out “Pass bench cleared!” and take them to the hatch into the scullery.

Bloody amazing prawn

Bloody amazing prawn

Gareth’s team are a lovely bunch. The chefs do a lot of front of house. This is on-trend, of course; we’ve had dishes brought to us by chefs at Noma and elsewhere. But apparently it happened very naturally at Ynyshir, as they were struggling to find anyone who wanted to do silver-service front of house and live in a quiet corner of west Wales!

You’re in for five very entertaining hours of the very best cooking in the UK, for a princely £150 a head (£130 in the main restaurant). It is good value. No, it really is. Five hours. Nineteen courses. Right in the kitchen. The bedrooms are also very lovely. Snowdonia is on your doorstep. We walked up Cader Idris the next day. 18 months after my first visit, I’m still waiting for another dining experience that comes close. Given that Ynyshir was even better this time around, the bar just gets higher.

Up Cader Idris

Up Cader Idris

Review: Root, Bristol

View from Root

View from Root

We’re seriously contemplating getting a flat overlooking the floating harbour in Bristol. Just nosing around the Cargo complex of re-skinned shipping containers it feels like we could have a great bite to eat at a different place every night for two weeks and still not run out of options. Today we had lunch at Root, Josh Eggleton’s newest place, and the view from the terrace doesn’t get much better.

It’s British small plate cooking, a real mixture but definitely nothing more than a nod towards the Mediterranean. There’s a short drink list, but the blazing July day absolutely demanded an Aperol Spritz. We picked a half-dozen dishes and they came pretty promptly…

Leek rarebit

Leek rarebit

Beetroot with hazelnut was good, a generous helping with a light pickling and some fruity blackberry notes. Couldn’t really work out where the promised “seaweed” element was, and at heart this really wanted to be a side dish rather than a main event.

The leek and rarebit was a massively tasty success. Softly sweet leeks, smothered in a nicely yeasty rarebit made with strong cheddar, topped with wafer-fine pastry and a scatter of dukkah.

Onglet tartare

Onglet tartare


Neat single piece of fried chicken in a perfect crisp/light batter. The gooseberry chutney worked well, sweet and sharp. Another dish I enjoyed was a smokey aubergine goo topped with char-grilled aubergine and bits of feta and dates. Finally, a very good bit of onglet tartare with a mountain of salty game chips on top. The tartare was well-mixed, unctuous, with plenty enough capers to balance the flavour.

This was a good lunch in pleasant surroundings. At around £21 for 3 plates it feels like fair value. I’d definitely make Root a common haunt if I lived down on Bristol’s floating harbour, although to be fair I’d probably try the other dozen options first, just in case there’s something even better…

Beetroot@Root

Beetroot@Root

Review: Kuch, Bristol

Kuch

Kuch

Kuch is yet another smashing place to eat in Bristol’s Cotham Hill area. I’ve reviewed Bellita and Pasta Loco too, and I’m wondering what the next culinary smash hit to open here will be. Kuch is straight-up, generous, flavour-packed Persian cooking. The interior has been decked out in a modern and colourful style that emulates Comptoir Libanais but with a tad less kitsch.

Just stopping for lunch we mix a couple of small plates with one main dish from the barbecue. Chargrilled sardine fillets are beauties, more meat than bones (always a good sign). “Kashk bazanjon” is a dish of gooey and smoky aubergine, with lentils and walnuts to give an earthy balance, and scattered over with a heap of crispy fried onion and garlic. The lovely scorched flatbread is perfect for scooping this up.

Aubergines

Aubergines

The main we pick is hand-pulled lamb shoulder with a glaze of cinnamon and date molasses. This is exactly as brilliant as it sounds. The cinnamon plays nicely with the well-flavoured lamb, just as the sweet glaze plays nicely with the seared edges of the meat. The whole plate is rounded out with broad bean and dill rice, a whippy-soft hummus, fresh salad and harrisa.

We didn’t explore puds (stuffed!) but you’d be looking at £22 if you turned this into a traditional three course meal. It’s great value for an absolute bucketload of middle eastern flavours.

Sardines

Sardines

Review: Pasta Loco, Bristol

Bugatini pasta

Bugatini pasta

They’re turning them away in droves at Pasta Loco, and you’ve got more chance of finding Heinz Spaghetti Hoops on the menu than you have of getting a table on a Saturday evening! Determined to find out what all the fuss is about, we found a lunchtime excuse for a visit.

Pasta Loco is tiny and spartan. It’s a nice, relaxed place for a meal but don’t be expecting white tablecloths and comfy upholstery. It’s the food that’s going to make you feel at home. Well, and the service. They’re a friendly bunch.

Maureen’s starter is an antipasti of long green peppers, thick white goat curd, sweetly vinegary barley with a little belt of harissa. It’s a magic combo, fresh and tasty with a bunch of contrasting textures. My starter is centred on three beautiful little slices of cold seared beef, on top of a silky-sexy sauce gribiche, with texture from tiny little sweet onion rings and a parmesan crisp. That beef on top of that sauce was definitely an x-rated pleasure. Phew.

Beef stack

Beef stack

Fortunately my main course was so beautifully soothing that I calmed right down. I’ll admit, I’m no expert on pastas. For those of you that also aren’t: bucatini is like thick spaghetti but with a hole all the way down the middle. This one was green with spinach and muddled up in a creamy truffle sauce along with girolle mushrooms and garlic scapes – which turns out to be short, sweet sections of garlic stalk. The pasta itself was as perfectly cooked as I am qualified to judge!

Maureen’s pasta was tortellini of rabbit ragu. And let me tell you that bunny was superb. Doused well in sage butter, along with some tender charred veggies. But the bunny! Soft, deep in flavour, just a tiny bit of bite left.

In true Italian style, there was no failure in the pud department. My coconut and cherry frangipane filled in all the holes just beautifully, and Maureen got a plate of beautifully kept Gorgonzola dolce perfectly partnered by a spiky-sweet little pumpkin relish.

At £26 for three courses, you’d be just delighted to have Pasta Loco as your neighbourhood Italian. That they’re booked out sooooo far in advance shows just how far they’re elevating pasta above “good neighbourhood Italian” levels! You know what they really need to do? Open another branch. In Cheltenham, please.

Gorgonzola

Gorgonzola

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