Much improved, but still a way to go….
I think in total I’ve been to the Gallois around 3 times before this evening. The first time was back in 2006 when I just started working and it was recommended by a friend. I remember being wowed by the then novelty “French” standards of service and the dainty presentation and impressive cooking of dishes. The then fiancée and I felt it was the best restaurant in Cardiff. However as the trend generally goes things did not improve from there and I think it was in 2007-8 that we brought the father in law to try. We were served burnt fillet steak which was raw in the middle when medium rare was asked for, and the general quality of the dishes were way below par. A return therefore was not imminent.
Until this month, where news of a new chef and glowing reviews from my work colleagues rekindled that buzz that the mention of the place used to give me. It was time to retry this old favourite but this time round I have a much improved insight into the world of good food (!).
Service hasn’t changed much. Most of the waiting staff are still from France, which pretty much means high-end attention to detail. I was particularly pleased that they were well knowledged of the ingredients of each dish especially when we had to quiz them on their suitability for pregnant women!
The interior is identical to before; a 2 level dining area with simple minimalistic furniture in a dim setting. For drinks we had a beer from France that I can’t remember the name of which tasted slightly sweet and a non-alcoholic cocktail for the soon mum-to-be boss. The wine list itself wasn’t bad and prices were fair, but I was unable to finish a whole bottle by myself so no order was made.
Right onto the food. They have certainly tried to up their game in providing plenty of freebies throughout the course of the evening (one before every course!).
A thin almost biscuit of cheese and rosemary was pretty and welcomingly crunchy, but was too cheesy for a pre-meal treat. The deep fried ball of cheese (multiple types) was also very strong but commendable in terms of the filling consistency. The minced aubergine with tomato on top was the best of the three; wonderful creamy and slightly garlicky aubergine worked well with the added zing of the tomato. Not bad at all.
Since the Mrs couldn’t eat the cheese ball we were complimented an alternative amuse bouche of a pork rillette with miniature onion rings. This was deliciously moist and the onion rings were excellently crisp.
Simply brown and white with salted butter (room temperature ;)) were served warm. They were wonderfully soft and well made but incomparable to the likes of the Crown.
Starter #1:Anjou Pigeon, Charles McLeod Black Pudding, Foie Gras Royale
Ah.. the famous pigeons of Anjou in France. I’ve wanted to try them for a long time since I’m a huge fan of pigeon breast due to its subtle gamey flavour and fantastically tender meat. This dish presented with a leg and sliced rare breast. Excellent flavours and perfectly cooked; the leg was cooked for longer to break down those tough muscle fibres, whilst the breast was simply seared to near perfection. The presence of shitake mushroom and its sauce gave this dish a slightly oriental fusion feel about it. The combination of shitake and pigeon was a little odd but surprisingly worked. It didn’t mix well with the black pudding and ?foie gras though. Being a huge fan of the fatty liver, I had never tried this white Royale version and I don’t think it tastes anywhere near as good. The black pudding was ok but out of place. Slightly disappointing then that a potentially brilliant dish was flawed by bizarre combinations.
Starter #2:Hereford Snails In Filo with Garlic Butter, Red Onion Marmalade, Rich Shallot Puree
This was disappointing. Presentation was great in the form of filos of snails topped with shallot puree seated in shallow spoons. But there was no flavour! I was really expecting a big oomph of garlic as soon as I took a bite of the filo, but it never came. Instead it was bland chewy escargot. The marmalade gave it some sweetness but this is not a dessert. The shallot puree I could not taste. At least the filo was light and crispy. All in all rather poor I think.
We were then presented with a pre-main of asparagus veloute which was refreshing despite it tasting more of chicken stock then asparagus.
Mains #1:Ross on Wye Woodland Pork, Smoked Tea Sauce, Organic Shitake, Scotch Egg, Crackling
The wife ordered this one and I took only a few mouthfuls. This was interesting and again beautifully presented. Crackling was flawlessly crunchy. The pork was in the form of belly and loin. The belly was ‘fall off fork’ tender which showed skill in slow-cookery. The loin was also very tender demonstrating good timing. It was fine quality meat, and the tea sauce gave it a welcome if unusual subtle smokiness. I was a little disappointed by the scotch egg coated in herbs. The pork mince was nice but the egg in the middle (?quail) did not have the oozing yellow yoke pouring out of it. In fact it was empty if I recall. Nevertheless a rather accomplished dish.
Mains #2: Gower Salt Marsh Lamb, Smoked Rump, Garlic Puree, Navarin
This dish really reminded me of spring. Beautiful medium cooked lamb rump surrounded by deep green broccoli and beans. I think the smokiness was too overwhelming in the rump as the lamb taste was pretty nonexistent as a result. The slow cooked lamb underneath was much better and combined well with the garlic puree at the bottom. All in all I feel that the renowned strong flavours of the salt marsh lamb were lost in the smoking process. Vegetables were cooked to perfection.
The pre-dessert of white chocolate mousse was very good. Its smooth creamy sweetness was interrupted by the sharp lemon ice that sat on top to produce a flawless contrast. Refreshing!
Dessert #1:Flourless Orange Cake, Poached Rhubarb, Rosewater Cream Anglaise
I really enjoyed this cake. It was moist, ‘gooey’ and surprisingly light. The rhubarb was not overly sour and its slight acidity was a genius mix with the orange. The whole dish was held together by the rosewater cream to produce a fine dessert. Unexpectedly one of the dishes of the evening I think.
Dessert #2: Banana Croustillant, Milk Chocolate Mousseline, Coconut Sorbet
The Mrs seemed to enjoy this. I only had a small slice of banana and chocolate sauce. I never thought you could slice banana that thin! Anyway it was soft textured and the classic banana-chocolate combination is no joke.
To my amusement we were given some madeleines at the end which was a nice touch. Texture wise they were a bit heavy, but a perfectly acceptable way to end an evening meal.
Total cost was £88.88 including service charge and drinks. Not a cheap venue by any means. It was a rather weak start that managed to pull itself together at the end. There are various almost fussy parameters that I look out for in fine-dining establishments; flawless cooking technique, odd but harmonious combinations of flavour, impeccable service etc. etc. For that reason I cannot justify that price tag given that the Crown at the Celtic Manor does not cost that much more and I believe serve superior cuisine. Don’t get me wrong, the place has much improved, but the days when I thought it was the best are long over.