Martin Blunos leads the charge to revamp Cardiff’s dining scene!!
I have not dined out properly since the birth of my little one and so had to endure essentially 6 months of home cooking! So what better time to revitalise my tastebuds than to try out this newly opened restaurant by Crown Group led by former 2 michelin star head chef Martin Blunos? Interestingly the menu boasts small dishes not unlike the critically acclaimed Maze restaurant in Mayfair London. Prices are not cheap but yet not ridiculous in this day and age. The restaurant was only open 1 week ago and so it would be interesting to see how things fare during these early days…
The restaurant forms part of the Parc Hotel in Cardiff owned by Thistle group. Layout was clean and basic, but I was particularly fond of the lampshades that ‘cosified’ the setting for a more relaxing meal, at least in my mind.
Waiting staff were attentive and knowledged about the various different types of food items available (they would have to given the atypial ingredients listed). Our Maitre D was passionate about food which is always a plus note.
Speaking of the menu, it was a good size and had lots of variation for us to try. I love the small dish ethos as it means I can sample more tastes in one meal, and gosh was I starving! Unfortunately there were only the 2 of us and so we could only try so much… but here are my views:
Lovely warm crispy bread with room temperature butter demonstrated the skill of the kitchen immediately. Can’t believe they even went to the trouble of displaying the Crown logo on the ‘uncut’ part of the loaf, which I ended up finding more irritating than anything else, as you had to tear that part of the loaf yourself. The bread was baked flawlessly, but I can’t help but compare it to the superior rosemary bread rolls at its Celtic Manor brother. Still can’t complain since we asked for another one! 😀
Starter 1: Warm Chicken Oysters, Crispy Skin, and Watercress
Rare have I seen restaurants serve just the most prized oyster part of the chicken. At home when I eat whole roasted chicken or even just tucking in to the carcass of chicken bones I’ve used for stock I always look forward to eating the oysters found next to the chickens spine. The lovely preserved rounded pieces of tender succulent meat is virtually ‘un-overcookable’ even in the hands of the most unskilled chef! In any case it was nice to see it on the menu albeit at a rather inflated price of £5 for just 4 pieces. Presentation was great with 4 pieces of crispy skin squares on the corners of the plate surrounded by lovely green watercress leaves. The watercress puree was a fine accompaniment to the honey glazed chicken oysters which were deliciously succulent, although I would have preferred it with a little more sweet.
Starter 2: Poached Duck Egg, Savoury Choux Bun, Bearnaise
This was basically a posh Eggs Benedict, but using the much richer duck egg as well as pastry. I must say it was delicious. The light airy pastry was excellent against the stronger flavours of the egg and the whole thing was held together by a flawless Béarnaise sauce. Top choice although I’ve always had a soft spot for Benedict.
Starter 3: Swiss Pasta, Welsh Streaky, Morel Cream
This was a dish recommended by the Maitre D and wow was I impressed. I’ve never had swiss pasta before, so it was most welcoming to try the richer thicker and yet somehow still light variant on the Italian favourite. It was cooked flawlessly with a tad of bite left to it, but it was its combinations of crispy bacon, morels, and its sauce that stole the whole show. Not for a long time have the combinations of salt, cream and slight acidity given my taste buds such excitement. Couldn’t believe how the textures as well as the flavours worked so well together. This was probably the dish of the meal and I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
Starter 4: Seared Lambs Liver, Cauliflower, Hot Caper Butter
Some problems here. For starters the dish was very luke warm, and warm liver doesn’t really agree with me. Secondly it was a tad overcooked and became slightly chewy as a result. The flavours themselves weren’t bad, in particular the caper butter combined excellently. Just a pity about the careless mistakes here.
Mains 1: Fish Stew, Rouille, Croutes
I love the deep orange flavour and smell of fish stew as different tastes of seafood blend together to produce strong flavoursome base. The Rouille were also presented nicely with mushroom, tomato, and plain flavours sitting on thin toasted croutes which added crunch to the dish. The best person to comment on this was the Mrs who has spent an entire trip in Marseille eating Bouillabaisse, who told me that although the stew was flavoursome, it still lacked the punchy flavours of the fish stew masters across the channel. I found it very tasty, although perhaps a bigger portion would satisfy customers a little more given its £8 price tag.
Mains 2: Roast Quail, Satay, Straw Potatoes
Quail and peanut satay sauce is an infallible combo, and the sour green presumably apple sauce gave the dish even more lift. Shame the quail itself was slightly overdone and a tad chewy but otherwise not bad at all. The straw fries were deliciously crispy and a fine accompaniment although I question the addition of a bunch of parsley and raw sliced red onion as a wise option. This was a tough dish to judge as I couldn’t help but think of the sticks of pork skewers with whole tubs of fine peanut satay sauce they sell for peanuts (excuse the pun!) in the streets of Singapore and Malaysia being much more satisfying. Again I think they could have been more generous with the portion size given the £11 asking price! Perhaps an extra quail guys?
Side: Dripping Cooked Chips
Chips were fine but in my mind inferior to the superb ones we had at the Conway a few weeks ago.
Dessert 1: White Chocolate and Raspberry Creme Brulee served with Ginger Short Cake Biscuits (for 2 people to share)
I was just being greedy in ordering a 2 person dessert as I was getting pretty full at this point! The waiter promised the ‘best creme brulee in the city’ which wasn’t exactly difficult given the standards here in Cardiff at present, but boy this dessert did not disappoint. It’s served chilled which was unexpected. What struck me though was how thick the ‘creme’ was which was unusual but resulted in a much richer texture and taste. It was as close to a perfect creme brulee as I could remember and even the anti-brulee Mrs loved it, commenting that it wasn’t eggy like they usually are. The raspberry one was surprisingly the favourite of the 2 and definitely would order this again in future. For the first time I could even go to say they were generous in its portion size! The ginger short breads were ok but I didn’t think they added much to the experience.
Dessert 2: Chocolate and Laverbread Fondant
Good presentation here. I particularly liked the transparent thyme caramel square leaning on the chocolate fondant. The fondant itself was slightly dry although the green laverbread sauce counteracted that. I didn’t really know what to make of the inside sauce as the chocolate flavours overpowered it. I would have just preferred the classic uber-rich thick oozy chocolate sauce but perhaps that would have made it ‘too’ ordinary…. mixed feelings, but still not bad. The Mrs seemed much more keen on my brulees!
So that marked the end of the meal, and ‘full’ was an understatement. Admittedly expectations were on the high side for this place both because of the brand as well as the chef, and I’m pleased to say that I think they did remarkably well given their first week of service. There were glimpses of genius here; with reference to the swiss pasta and creme brulee, which were slightly nullified by some dishes that didn’t quite pull it off and some silly mistakes. The final bill hit the £60 mark which included a beer and tap water (free). Although at first glance the menu prices didn’t seem too steep, the bill does indeed slowly creep up. I would say that portion sizes could increase in some cases to match its price as generosity will get you a long way in this current gloomy era. I can definitely see potential here and the restaurant is not afraid to serve up some unusual flavours, but it will need more work yet if it is to be ‘the’ place to eat in Cardiff.
I will probably return in a few months to see how it improves but obviously expectations will be far higher.
Parc Hotel Cardiff
Lunch; Mon – Sun 12.00pm – 3.00pm
Dinner; Mon – Sun 5.00pm – 10.00pm