In a previous post I noted that Cardiff does not have a single Michelin starred restaurant, and this is still true – Le Gallois comes close, with three AA rosettes – and in my opinion it should have been handed the award; it certainly fits the criteria.
We have only eaten out together once since Tristan was born last year, and that was when a large group of us went to a tacky chain restaurant, so to make our first night out together since October special I proposed that we go to Le Gallois – long rated as one of Cardiff’s best restaurants, situated in leafy Pontcanna.
So we got dressed up and headed down there, I booked early in the week and I’m glad I did – it was fully booked and we wouldn’t have got a walk-in table. The same went for Saturday, I found out as I spoke to the maître d’ – who was actually Francis Dupuy, the restaurant owner.
As we were shown to our seats, walking through the dining area revealed how exposed the restaurant is, with an airy feeling that would be a pleasure to visit on a warm summers day – the frontage having large plate glass windows to let in all available sunlight, to be absorbed by the beech hardwood floors.
I immediately asked for the wine list – knowing it would not disappoint, being a fine French restaurant – and I was not wrong. The wine cellar is expansive, featuring bottles from around the world, and of course, a whole range from all regions of France.
Wine can make or break a restaurant experience, in my opinion – so choosing wisely essential. If you choose a wine that you are not used to, for example that is too dry, that can taint your palate and skew your taste of the food that you eat.
I settled on a Bordeaux, St Julien 2004 Les Chavaliers Des Templiers a medium sweet red wine that would compliment the red meat dishes that we both had pretty much settled on even before we arrived.
We would go on to order, but not before being presented with a glass, that can only be described as a shot glass, containing a hot spinach-based liquid that was bright green, but a marvellous way to start.
To start, I had chosen Hereford snails and Misia the foie gras. I am an advocate of the consumption of snails – in the shell being my favourite way of having them served, but in this case they were presented out of the shell in a sauce, cooked to perfection – tender, but not soft.
The atmosphere in the restaurant was very relaxed; I have been to many fine dining establishments and often uptight is not the word – you daren’t put your feet in the wrong position for feeling that you’re being judged, but in this case the clientele was a mix of young and older couples, totally non-threatening, and an air of chattiness kept up so that you wouldn’t be afraid to talk at your normal volume level.
After having our starters taken away, Misia made a point of telling me how good the Foie Gras was – all the while being kept topped up with wine, we had some time to continue to chat before being served our main courses – I had particularly wanted the woodland pork belly, and Misia chose venison.
The dish that I was served consisted of a strip of pork with a delectably hardened strip of crackling left along the top and glazed with sauce, also presented with it was a creamed potato (I don’t think I could really call it mash), swede fondant and a small plop of chutney.
The pork had been cooked to perfection, after making it through the suitably crispy cracking my knife slipped through like I was cutting butter – a very good sign of what was to come.
On first taste the flavours come dashing through – oak, berries, smokey charcoal all rushing to the tongue, following that comes the texture; smooth and not chewy in the slightest – all the signs of a very well cooked piece of premium pork.
I was surprised at my liking of the swede fondant, for I usually find swede very boring and not an vegetable that’s able to hold its own, but as it was I would say it was a perfect accompaniment to the pork.
We were having a good time thus far – we’d definitely made the right choice of venue for our special night out. We were enjoying the food and each others company, and we were also being looked after very well – never devoid of a glass of wine each, our glasses being watched by hawk-like restaurant staff for the perfect time to refill. Keeping me topped up is a wise thing; if I go dry for too long then I start to get tetchy.
I like a good dessert wine, it helps to bridge the gap between main and dessert – makes it less of a big jump from savoury to sweet. Le Gallois has a good selection of dessert wines, and I went with the
Maury Solera 1928; Misia chose Muscat Nuy Wynkelder 2006. This reminds me that I need to get some dessert wines for the house, the Maury Solera was delectable, very strong – a true palate cleanser.
Suitably happy, dessert time had arrived – I’m not one for too much sweetness, unfortunately – I have more of a taste for savoury treats, so I had chosen the cheese board to finish with; not an uncommon choice, you’ll know if you’ve been in my company before. Mr Dupuy reeled off a list of cheeses to me, of which I could choose five – though my preference is to have only a few, for too many distinct tastes can distract me and I end up not enjoying the individual cheeses as much, so I just chose two – a Cornish cheese that resembled Roquefort in look and texture, which I was informed is made on a tiny farm, and that only a small amount is made each year – and the other was a soft cheese, a brie of which I unfortunately cannot remember the name. The green veined Roquefort-imposter was delightfully strong, and crumbled like chalk on the slightest touch just how I like it to, the taste of the age hitting the back of my throat, letting me know in no uncertain terms – “I’m a good cheese, and I’m here to cap off your night”. The brie helped to calm down my sensory system, complimenting the green cheese and taking away some of the residual strength left on my breath.
My board and Misia’s plate were taken away after we had signalled we had finished, which wasn’t hard to notice really – since I had devoured almost all of what was probably near a quarter kilo of cheese, along with crackers and biscuits.
We were offered tea or coffee, but declined – it was getting late, we had arrived at 8pm, and in a whirlwind of culinary delight, laid-back humourful conversation and being in such relaxed surroundings we had managed to while away three hours, and it was just after 11pm, surely one of the longer dinners that we have had, and without even noticing it – we were both surprised when we found out the time, a true sign of a good date.
Our coats were fetched, polite conversation was exchanged with Mr Dupuy about how we had enjoyed our evening – he asked what we were going on to do now, and I told him that since we were in such good spirits that we would take a walk to Chapter for a nightcap, seeing as it was a Friday night and they would be open for a while longer.
This evening was less of a meal and more an experience, how food should be done – Mr Dupuy clearly understands how to create this mix and how important it is to treat customers like royalty, and that no detail should be overlooked in the quest to make every patron feel special. Everything about Le Gallois had been well thought out, from the art on the walls to the knives and forks, lighting and especially the service – which was unlike anywhere else in Cardiff, the standards have been brought from Paris and high-society establishments in London and to lose Le Gallois is a real blow to the city. If nobody influential in the city tried to talk him out of it, then they don’t understand how to build a reputation of a good city.
Will Le Gallois be bettered? Not soon. Will other try? Yes, they already have – with The Crown Social at the Parc Hotel having opened just a few weeks after the closing of Le Gallois. Will they get the recognition that Le Gallois did? Not quickly, and not without a fight.
Bill: £152 inc. tip.
Le Gallois closed its doors for the final time seven days after our visit – on February 5th 2011.