Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Plough

'The plough' or 'A long rant about Whitchurch' or 'half-arsed' you decide.

Whitchurch is well away on its march to become the new Pontcanna. The overpaid media wankers of that area have allowed some excellent restaurants such as Bullys, The new Conway and Fish at 85 to set up shop, and now Whitchurch has decided to replicate Pontcanna’s success. Only this time the effort is far more half arsed. That solid Whitchurch stalwart  Villagio is still doing what it does best; providing simple, cheap and excellent Italian to an appreciative and loyal customer base. The Thai upstairs is often great, the only shame being that it’s on the top floor and you can’t see in as too often we’ve visited to find ourselves the only people there, and that’s always unpleasant. The village kitchen was for a long time overpriced for a local restaurant, the cooking however being very good. They’ve seen to this with some generous offers and a decent sunday lunch which now make it a good choice for a meal out with friends. I’m pleased to see that Medittaranio is presently closed, but I can only hope for good. The old Saturday lunch offer was the only thing that made eating there worthwhile was scrapped a long time ago. Then along came the Fino lounge, greeted with great excitement by myself as I enjoyed their Bristol operations so much. But alas, like so much of Whitchurch it was again half-arsed. The menus are a delight to read but too often what arrives on your plate is a disgrace. The only real success of recent is to be found at Deli-a-go go. It’s to my shame that I don’t visit enough as the food and produce is excellent, and long may it thrive.

This all leads us to Whitchurch’s newest opening (or re-opening if you like) The Plough.  Modelled on the mega-successful re-launch of The Maltsters in Llandaff. I’ve visited the Maltsters a few times before the re-fit and found an empty miserable, moribund place. The re-fit worked perfectly for a place like Llandaff and offers good pub grub with a good pub atmosphere, a Cinderella story if you like.

Brains have rightly tried to copy its success with the Plough, but have made a very half-arsed effort of it. The Plough was a strange place in some ways. It was by far the most overpriced and expensive pub in Whitchurch. The chairs were uncomfortable, the music shit and the bogs were just that, bogs. It was however the most popular and beloved place in Whitchurch to an awful lot of people. Weekends you couldn’t move in there and the place took money hand over fist, so it would seem an odd choice for Brains to change. Granted the place needed a re-fit but a complete rebranding?  This however is a food blog and since Brains have opened a half-arsed gastro pub, then it’s about the half-arsed gastro bit that I will write, and todays Sunday lunch spurred me into action.

 We visited a few weeks ago and had a very pleasant beef Sunday  lunch, the only down side to it being the boiled spuds served in place of roasted (a very, very odd choice that only harks to a  kitchen not prepared to go the whole hog) The beef was tender and piled high, the veg plentiful. Today I went for the same thing and it came with the same boiled spuds. This time though the beef was inedible, un-cutable even. The friendly manager was apologetic and returned the dish to the kitchen, but what came back was exactly the same. I hate the obvious discomfort of complaining but it is entirely necessary to allow a place to address concerns at the time, if you intend to write the sort of shit that I do on my blog. However, one complaint should be enough, along with the fact that a plate full of beef went back to the kitchen unfinished.  

Another previous experience of eating there summed up everything I mean when I say that the new Plough is a poor half-arsed attempt at taking money from the well to do folk of Whitchurch. I ordered a starter of crab cakes, that would have been very good had it not been for a cloying, treacle like sweet chilli sauce that killed off any taste of crab, and the slate it was served on made me hate the dish before I even tasted it. We eat with our eyes first and foremost and this dish had me reaching for the fork, not to eat the dish, but to gouge the eyeballs out of my face. The main had the misses forcibly removing the fork from my hand for fear we’d soon own a guide dog. A perfectly good burger was proper pub grub, but the limp and floppy chips should never have been described as fries. The dish should have read “Burger with abomination” and just to piss me off further the food came perched on a piece of driftwood, making the whole thing an ’it’s a knockout’ style task for the poor waitress to carry.

The new Conway in Pontcanna was once a local boozer to the people of that area, and some people quite rightly felt pissed off when it was turned into a gastropub. They though got in return some exceptional cooking.  We Plough regulars haven’t been so well compensated. Serving food on slate and bits of wood doesn’t make the food innovative or exciting. It shows a place trying to draw the customer’s attention away from the fact they’re being served average food.

 The local British boozer is and always has been the absolute heart and soul of the British community, and Brains in their misguided effort to make more profit have torn part of the heart and soul from Whitchurch, and in return given us a half-arsed eatery. The bar out front was once a Bustling hot bed of banter, it’s now a banal, and boring bar for the elderly and once a month drinkers. The front of the pub where you could once see hundreds of people drinking in the sun and vying for a seat on the wall to watch the world go by has been filled with uncomfortable four seater tables  that make for insular conversation a world away from the gregarious place that once existed.

In summary, Brains have made a complete balls up of the once mighty Plough. When they threw out the old furniture they threw out the one thing that made the Plough special and that was the people that drank there. The only thing that for me personally would make up for that loss, is three Michelin starred food and not the average pub grub that the place now serves. It must be obvious to you by now that this is a very personal review as I’ve lost a treasured place in my life, but speaking objectively about the place as a restaurant I have to say that it just doesn’t come up to standard. The food doesn’t in any way deserve the prices that are charged, and were this not so personal a place I would never have written about it. My blog is intended entirely to inform the reader of places they must visit, or must avoid; the plough is neither of these. Eat here if you must but for the money I’d take the short walk to Villagio or pop into Deli-a-go go for a scotch egg.

Anyway, writing this has been for me a cathartic experience, but for anyone reading this who is looking for a place to eat in Whitchurch I offer this advice. If you want Italian then visit Villagio. If you want Indian then head straight to Kafe-la, but if you want pub grub then flag down a taxi and head to the new Conway.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Park House Club

Park House Club
20 Park place
Cf10 3DQ
02920 224343

The approach to this grand old building is a daunting one. Two giant closed wooden doors aren’t the most welcome of greetings to this former private members club. The lady who opened the doors and greeted us by name before we even knocked was however incredibly welcoming. A trait that was present amongst all the staff. Coats were taken and we were led through to the bar for some excellent value prosecco, and a great canapĂ© of sesame coated duck rilette with a tiny quail’s egg perched on top. It didn’t make for elegant eating as the runny yolk squirted everywhere, but who cares, it tasted great.

Time passes slowly in this old manner house. Nothing is rushed, and our half seven booking became eight thirty before our starters arrived. This was after a stunning amuse of Jerusalem artichoke soup with crab. The misses and I had opted for the taster menu at £55. A far better deal than the A la carte option, as this place isn’t cheap.  Starters are all around the £10 mark and mains up in the £20’s. Quite keen pricing for Cardiff, so you’d expect the cooking to be top notch. Luckily for us it mostly was.  I’d asked to change my starter from a risotto to the snails, but the misses hadn’t so we got to taste an extra dish. The snails were plentiful and cooked long enough to be almost al dente, just like the conchiglie “shells” they were served with, a tasty little joke from the chef. The misses risotto was flawless, topped with slow cooked egg and mushrooms.
Next up was for us the only failure of the evening, the fish course. Miso marinated white fish (we were told it was cod, but I’m still unsure) was too much for the Ichthyophobic misses, but also for me, served with a flabby wet skin and a cloyingly thick larver sauce. A slice of beetroot did nothing to lighten the dish and both plates went back unfinished. I’ve eaten Grady Atkins food before at the now extinct Le Galloise, and the only dish that sticks in my memory from way back then was also a fish dish.  Again “white fish” was served but that time it was accompanied by a sake jelly. I ordered it because I’d never tasted a warm jelly before. It turned out that it wasn’t a warm jelly at all as it had half melted on the warm plate, and left the fish a soggy disappointing mess. Never mind, the chef more than made up for that disappointment with our next course.
Main of Richard Vaughan middle white pork is quite possibly the best dish you’ll find in Cardiff at the moment. Two cuts, one providing a thick layer of melting fat, the other a firmer slice from elsewhere in the pig, served with a glasslike shard of crackling, a dense slice of suet, and most interestingly a smear of melted cheese. The cheese shouldn’t be there, but is of just the right proportion to add a sharpness to the pork, without the annoying sweetness that an apple usually provides.
A cheese course came next which we enjoyed over a chat with the, (and I apologise for the hyperbole but it’s necessary here) exceptional, delightful, credit to the restaurant not to mention the whole catering industry, hostess. I think her name is carolyna? And she does the restaurant proud, with the time she devoted to ourselves and the rest of the customers. In fact, all the staff here deserve to be applauded, from the poor girl sentenced to sit by the front door and greet us, to the waiters and maitre d’. The exceptional service is perfectly suited to the beautiful, grand setting, and the two do each other justice.
Dessert of what was essentially a rhubarb and custard sweet in ice cream form, with what I assume was a sherry soaked honeycomb is just a hazy memory after we’d polished off a lovely bottle of well-priced red.( If you’re visiting it’s the Carignan Vielles Vignes, Alain Grignon, a steal at £21) but the perfect ending to an excellent meal. Grady Atkins is the closest us Cardiff folk have to a cleb’ chef. His welcome return to the city is to be applauded, and I wish him and the staff at the Park House every success. They’ve done well to open the doors to us proles, and in return they deserve our patronage. The A la carte menu, as I’ve said is prohibitively expensive to most of us, but the three course for £19 lunch is a bargain. I urge you to visit, and hope you enjoy it as much as we did.