Saturday, 16 October 2010

Ffresh restaurant

Ffresh Restaurant
Wales Millennium Centre, Bute Pl, Cardiff CF10 5AL029 2063 6465

Meal for three including wine and tip = £105

The location Ffresh currently occupies has had somewhat of a troubled past with restaurants opening, failing and closing along with the tides in Cardiff bay. I wasn't even aware that Ffresh existed until I stumbled upon a review in a free Cardiff magazine. What grabbed my attention was the consultancy of Shaun Hill; the respected Michelin starred chef who now owns the walnut tree in Abergavenny. On the strength of reading this, and also that one of his dishes (I think it was a partridge pudding) was on the menu, we decided to give it a go and headed down there on a Saturday night. On reflection this was one of the best dining decisions we've ever made.
Everything about that first meal was fantastic.  Three of us ate there that first evening, and all were wowed by the intense flavour and creativity, and couldn't find a single fault with any of the dishes we ate.  Now you need to understand that this is a very rare occurrence for someone as miserable and bitter as myself who strives to find fault in everything, but as much as I tried I just couldn't. Even dessert which I generally only use to fill me up if I’m still peckish at the end of a meal brought a smile to my face. This meal was quite some time ago so I regret I can provide few details of the dishes but they really were fantastic and filling and washed down with a few bottles of beautiful Chilean Merlot, and the best was yet to come.
The bill for a meal is something that generally makes me miserable, but on this occasion left me strangely guilty. We had all just enjoyed one of the finest meals Cardiff has to offer and thanks to the deal they were running at the time (sadly no longer available) we were paying only a fraction of what it had been worth.
Only a few weeks earlier we had suffered through the worst dining experience of our lives at another Cardiff eatery and had now had the fortune to stumble across a gem.  I could sense Buddha re-apportioning karma in our favour with his chubby little hands.
We were however disheartened by the fact that we were almost the only people in a restaurant that looks like it could accommodate hundreds, and this worried us. Cardiff is not known for it's abundance of excellent restaurants, so the few that we do have, you would hope to be packed to the rafters on a Saturday night, but hopefully they make enough money from the lunch and pre-theatre crowd to stay comfortably afloat.

Our most recent trip was on a Friday night, and the same three of us who tried it the first time were back once again. In keeping with the spirit of that first meal (and because I’m skint) we decided to go for the cheapest option, which is now the pre-theatre menu.
It consists of a generous four choices at each course, and predictably all three of us wanted the same thing, but since I had to write this review I bit the bullet and ordered my second choice.
A haddock fishcake with chilli jam to start, was full of flavour with a crisp exterior but a little on the dry side as though it had sat around waiting for me a little too long. The chilli jam was sweet and complimented the cake. For my main I chose the chicken breast. This again was approaching dry but tasted so nice that I ended up nibbling at the small bone for every last morsel. It was served with the best bubble and squeak I’ve ever tasted. my mums that I grew up loving were proved piss-poor in comparison, but then she never charged me for her food so I’ll forgive her. A rich, deep gravy had me running my fingers round the bowl but the green beans that were provided were a little too al-dente, but this was a tiny complaint of an otherwise pleasing dish.
My companions won the overall meal though with a ham hock terrine and piccalilli, which tasted clean and crisp. Followed by a braised rump of lamb, the shoulder advertised not being available. The meat was rare and tender and meltingly good, causing my girlfriend to note that it was some of the best meat she'd ever tasted (which made me feel slightly insecure).
Deserts were a little disappointing, lacking the flare and inventiveness of the ones we'd tried on our first visit. A sticky toffee pudding did exactly what it said on the tin coming drenched in butterscotch sauce. The chocolate tart my girlfriend ordered came topped with a delicious vanilla-specked chantilly cream, which everyone adored.
After two bottles of that lovely Chilean Merlot we were all once again feeling very satisfied and pleased with our meal and I now just look forward to the next one.

A little side note here about the staff. It's always nice to get great service and the staff here are always incredibly friendly and attentive without being clingy and deserve a mention for being so bloody good at what they do. I'm yet to see them struggle through a full service but I like to think they do it with the same grace and courtesy as they've shown us on our many trips.

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