TGI Friday’s 25th Birthday

TGI Friday’s are celebrating their 25th birthday this year, and Dan from Clic and me were invited down to help them to celebrate in style.

Our top tip from the night is to seek out a bartender called “Dan” (pictured above with oranges in his hands) and get him to make you an Old Fashioned. Made of dissolved sugar with bitters then adding whiskey and a twist of citrus rind,  I have sunk many of these whiskey cocktails while on my travels, but it’s bloody typical that the best should be so close to home. Between Dan & I we attempted to try every whiskey cocktail on the menu, which did – except for one, but none could beat the Old Fashioned.

We also got to sample the new double glazed Jack Daniel’s ribs, and I would definitely say that one of my favourite dishes here has gotten better. Jack Daniel’s sauce is divine anyway, but coupled with meat that falls from the bone – it’s a definite winning match.

Fire alarms, dozens of cocktails, a chance to go behind the bar and make our own cocktails, party poppers on the hour – every hour, champagne at midnight – we were shown a good time and we soaked it up.

TGI Friday’s is at St David’s shopping centre & Newport Road in Cardiff.

Le Gallois: The final review

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.
Rating: 10/10.

Le Gallois closed its doors for the final time seven days after our visit – on February 5th 2011.

Review: Boof rotisserie & grill

I can sometimes be hypocritical in my musings, but I think that’s only human – as long as it doesn’t happen too often.
I advocate  local business over chains, especially when it comes to eating out. The food at chains is usually daudry, plain and shipped in frozen – but on this blog I have still reviewed places like Ruby Tuesday.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Ruby Tuesday – and I think it may even be an exception to the rule because it’s Cardiff branch is the only one in the UK and is run by a pair of Welsh businessmen who bought into the franchise – so technically it’s independent, right? Or at least that’s what I’ll tell myself to make me feel less like a sell-out. Their food is good though, and definitely not shipped in.

Anyway, I talk about chains but this review is not of one – but Boof is situated in the domain of the chain, inside a shopping centre. Adjoined by a chain baked potato place and a chain chocolatier, directly across from a chain coffee shop and a chain sushi restaurant, it’s firmly in the land of big business.

Boof opened at the same time as St David’s 2 – in October 2009 – and is owned by the team who ran the stylish and classy Le Gallois in Pontcanna until their decision to close down a few weeks back. Boof remained open and has appeared to be doing quite well since; the majority of tables are taken whenever I walk past – granted there are probably only about 12 tables – but still, that’s not bad for an unknown. When people go to eat at a shopping centre they stick to what they know – this is why the mall concept does well; familiarity and well known brands all under one roof.

Boof intrudes on this party and seems to be doing quite well for it. They have the mall concepts figured out too, a simple menu with familiar favourites – burgers, steaks, salads – and the service is quick too, with our food delivered to the table within a couple of minutes.

We all chose the Boof burger, with varying degrees of cheese and bacon – not being a fan of bacon I opted just to have cheese.

The first thing you notice is the cheese, in fact – you can’t even see the beef for the dairy – all melted over the patty, whitish in colour, proving that it is indeed cheese and not a single wrap slice made in a factory out of pencil sharpenings.
Once you do get to the burger however, it is different. Good different. It’s very hard to describe, I haven’t had another burger like it on my burger conquest (post coming soon!)  – it has to have been ground in a very different way, a method that I have not come across before. Here, look at it:

It’s too tightly packed, too well formed – it’s as though the beef has never been minced. Answers on a postcard please, if you think you know the method to making this type of burger.

Anyhow, once I got past the make-up of the patty I could really enjoy the food. The cheese, beef, moist lettuce and seeded bun all seemed to work together very well. The burger wasn’t too moist, but also not too dry – although I’d probably say it was closer to the dry side than not, but that’s generally fine, a little longer and it would have been overdone.
In my burger conquest post you will hear me rant about burgers that are gratuitously  large, bigger than they need to be in order to satisfy the “bigger is always better” mentality that has seeped into consumers expectations – that if the burger is not massive and popping out at the sides, and holding the bottom and top parts of the bun 10 inches apart then it isn’t a good burger. The Boof burger doesn’t suffer from this, but it fills you up and you will leave happy.

Fries, fries, fries. Fries are a real wildcard, is something I have learned on my burger conquest (post coming soon!). No two establishments have the same method around making, cooking and storing and presenting their fries (or chips), and this makes for some very interesting analysis. With Boof’s fries, the little holder is a nice touch, I think – especially with the little ketchup receptacle on the side, it saves wastage as I’m a real “big splodge, use hardly any” kind-of guy. The fries themselves were hot, straight from the fryer and crispy – just how you would expect them to be. All too many times I have been presented with soggy, nearly cold fries – and this is a real turn-off. So, Boof fries = 8/10.

Service at Boof is odd – semi-table service is the name of the game here, a waiter seats you – but refuses to take your order, you order and pay at the counter, and then the waiter who seated you brings you your food. I can kind-of see how this works to cut staffing costs, because then patrons do not have to wait to get the attention of the one waiter who is on shift to order food or drinks or to get or pay the bill – it’s all done at the counter. In fairness, the more I think about it now the less uncommon I am realising it to be – it’s  just the same as at a pub, except with somebody seating you first.
Food arrived relatively quickly, i.e. not in a second like at a Wetherspoons – which usually denotes microwaved produce, but still quickly enough for us not to think “where is our food” and the service was pleasant.
We took Tristan with us and there was a choice of highchairs – in fact, this was the first time he had ever been in a highchair so we tried two of them, the server was good enough to bring each of them to us to try.

Rating: 7/10
Bill: £21.90


Why I decided not to run a follow-up to the food hygiene ratings post

Back in February I posted regarding the Food Standards Agency website where you can see scores from local food hygiene inspections, at the time the website had minimum publicity – very few people knew it existed. After I sent a flurry of tweets about the site and some astonishing results from the local area, and then the blog post, it seemed a lot more people were in the know. WalesOnline and yourCardiff both picked up on it, giving more exposure to this website that is so important to every consumer who eats – and I’m pretty sure that’s everyone.

I made particular light of establishments that received a 0/5 rating, for by it’s nature this must mean there are some considerable failings in hygiene and public safety at these places – what else could it possibly allude to? A vendetta by council officials on mass scale? I don’t think so.

Almost immediately I was contacted directly by four of these establishments, each in their own way explaining to me that the inspections aren’t fair, they caught them on the wrong day, you get a zero for even opening the door, blah blah blah and at the time these all seemed genuine enough – but after giving it some thought I have come to this conclusion;
The rules are strict to protect public safety, if you don’t like the rules or cannot comply with them – get out of the business.
If these companies want to exonerate themselves, get up to standard and ask for a re-inspection.

In 2005 there was an outbreak of E-coli that originated from a butcher in Merthyr Tydfil – the meat was distributes to local schools and one boy, 5 year old Mason Jones died as a result.
In no circumstance would I ever, ever want to be of the worry that the food provided to me, either for me to cook at home or to be cooked for me, should have any chance of hurting me or my family.

I can empathise with small business owners, coming up to code can cost money – installing new washbasins, etc isn’t cheap, but those are the rules and they’re the rules for very good reason. A lot of people believe that car insurance is an expensive scam, but it’s the law to have it and for very good reasons.