Old Orleans in Cardiff Bay has never been a place I would have said to go to if someone asked me for restaurant suggestions. The last time I went there I still had long hair and my parents paid for my meal. From what I remember, the food was not up to much and I hadn’t felt an urge to go back since. This was 7 years ago.
The company that own the Old Orleans brand, Punch Taverns, selected 6 of their outlets and have rebrand them under a new moniker, West Coast Grill & Bar, changing the fayre on offer from deep South fiery cajun dishes to Californian style ribs and burgers.
Firstly, I’m pretty sure, and correct me if I’m wrong, that ribs and burgers aren’t especially Californian. I’d say they were more mid-Western, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, South Dakota, Ohio – that kind-of area; but, I suppose how do you decorate a restaurant to look like Sioux Falls, South Dakota? So I guess we’ll agree to disagree on this one.
The refurbishment has been done adequately, the smouldering red colours replaced with sea blue and the New Orleans style Bourbon Street signs and decorations have surfboards in their place.
We were invited to the re-launch night, a “soft launch”, so no fireworks, prowling CEOs or any of that malarchy – just a night for invited guests and the occasional walk-in, so the staff could get used to the new menu. @MisiaKuczys, @DanielGrosvenor and @CardiffBites came along with me.
The good thing about this being a re-launch is that the staff are all the same, so we wouldn’t have to deal with a whole bunch of waitstaff on their first day tripping over each other and bringing us potatoes instead of pork and margheritas instead of martinis.
The new menu is a big one and I can see why the kitchen staff would need a while to get to grips with it, with no less than 34 items available as a main course it took us a while to decide and had to ask our server to come back, twice.
Once we finally had a handle on the menu, starters were ordered in the form of two of the biggest sharers – there were 6 of us after-all. This platter, the simply named “West Coast Platter” had pretty much every starter on it – so this helped for me to sample everything so I could be fair in my review.
In true American style the prawns were dubbed “shrimp”, but surely they must be prawns since it would take a lot of effort and a hell of a lot of food miles to source and import shrimp to the United Kingdom, especially since we have an abundance of their larger brothers.
The two huge oblong plates also had on them small ribs, chicken wings, tortilla chips, corn, onion rings and sweet potato fries.
One of the first things I noticed were that the onion rings were clearly bagged and frozen, quickly deep-fried on site. TGI Friday’s have absolutely awesome onion rings – I don’t know their method, but however they do it they make them taste as though they have been prepared from scratch. The rings here were disappointing, even for the frozen kind.
On the plus side, I love sweet potatoes, who doesn’t? So having them cut into gourmet style fries, thick and crispy, was an absolute delight. They were cooked well and could have been sliced freshly? I have no reason to doubt that they were.
After our epic menu reading session, where I could have mistaken our group for a book club, we had all ordered main courses and now they started making their way to the table. I had made a joke with our server that since we were eating for gratis that I should order the most expensive thing on the menu, and she duly pointed out the “The bigger rib gig”. It’s description “Share the stickiness for even better value; an extra large portion of the big rib gig, it’s a real belt strainer ideal for sharing”. I’m not a big eater, I like to eat “nouveau” – small portions of awesome flavourful food; but this is what the West Coast Grill & Bar is supposed to be modelled on – good ribs and wings – so what better way to get a taste of it all than to have them all on one big plate?
It was a monstrosity, 3 different cuts – pulled pork, a rack of ribs, and pork hammers with corn, fries and coleslaw. Not knowing where to start, I went for my favourite piece of the pig, the ribs. The meat fell from the bone easily, as good rib meat should. The texture of the meat was smooth and succulent – no problems here, this is good quality meat. The barbecue sauce that almost all of the pork on the plate was covered in however wasn’t the greatest. Quite salty to taste and a way too sticky, as if it had congealed. Covering 2 out of 3 types of meat, this really put the good cuts of pork in a bad light; like making parsley sauce with old milk and pouring it all over nice, fresh turbot.
The pulled pork had an entirely different barbecue sauce applied to it; darker in colour and thicker in texture, but thicker as if it had been aged or a bourbon had been used to thicken it, not like the other stuff which seemed it had become thicker through being left in a bottle with no cap in a fridge for days.
Yes, this was an entirely different specimen of marinade – fruity and smooth, topping off some of the best pulled pork I have had in a long while. It literally fell apart with my fork lightly jabbing at it. Moist and succulent, it had all the flavours of the flame grill ingrained in it and the sauce covering it just topped everything off – this single piece of meat, in my opinion, saved the whole dish.
The fries that we all had on the side became a topic of conversation between the members of the group, both over the table and after the visit – yes, this is how bad they were. The West Coast Grill & Bar need to source new fries immediately. They might as well have not been there, and quite how you suck all flavour out of potatoes like they have managed to do, I have no idea. You put them in your mouth and you could have been eating anything, it was a blank canvas, they tasted of absolutely nothing. I can’t even say anything more than that; they weren’t greasy or oily, they weren’t too thick, thin or potatoey, they weren’t dry, they weren’t cold, they weren’t hot, they weren’t salty, they were actually nothing. I have never tasted anything like this before, and this was resounded around the table. Making fries is both an art and a science, one that many companies invest thousands of hours to get right – if you’re going to be putting them on the side of every dish, they need to stand up to the challenge; these do not.
After managing to finish almost everything on my plate, despite the drawbacks of the one kind of marinade (I hasten to add that while it wasn’t the greatest, it was certainly edible, and the meat was worth salvaging), it was time for the third course, dessert.
Even though I have a relatively small frame and only weigh about 10st, sometimes I can manage to put away quite a lot – not often, but I have my moments, so I went with the apple pie – a dessert you cannot get wrong, and I was right, it was great, heated to the right temperature and not overdone – it went down a treat.
The other thing that this restaurant seems to be focusing on is their cocktail menu – there was an array of good looking “fun & fruity” cocktails like “jelly baby” and “tutti frutti”, Unfortunately I’m not a “fun” cocktail drinker – I’m completely buttoned down, my favourite being a whiskey cocktail, the Old Fashioned. @DanielGrosvenor did try a milkshake, the “chocolate banoffee” – he finished it all and didn’t complain, so I assume it was good – I’m sure you’ll hear about it in his review.
Service all night was great, our server was very attentive, friendly and welcoming – giving us as much time as needed to decide; but not overbearing – making sure that we were always with drinks.
The food was mostly phoned in, better than pub food, but you’d think that as a restaurant they would do more cooking – rather than using so much ready prepared, “3663 style” delivered dishes.