Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Conway

The Conway
58 Conway Road
CF11 9NW
02920 224373

I've long read in envy, the newspaper reviews of what's become known as the gastropub. Places like The Harwood Arms and The Eagle have had me salivating at the possibility of combining my two great loves; the pub and good, hearty, well cooked food. Unfortunately, whilst Londoners have had the privilege of these sort of places for quite some time, we in Cardiff haven't been so lucky. Even the Americans have had them for longer, With April Bloomfield exporting the idea to New York, and to great acclaim, at The Spotted Pig and The Breslin. I managed to eat at The Breslin not long after it opened in the hope that I might finally experience the thrill of the gastropub, but although the food was fantastic, the pub part just wasn’t. So, I returned back to the U.K. with a heavy heart and to more of the same tantalising reviews, which i longingly poured over. All this, I’m glad to say, has changed slightly with the arrival of The Conway.
It's taken me quite some time to get down there to eat, but I’ve kept an eye on the place and heard talk of well cooked pub grub. This led me to hope that in The Conway I’d find my gastropub, or at least something approaching it.
 The pub feels quite nice inside, but it does suffer from the same design that plagues many pubs these days. The muted colour schemes and large leather couches. The rough worn wooden tables and miss matched chairs. The bookcases of magazines and games. It's all designed to give a relaxed, personal, natural feeling to the place, to make the customer feel like they’re at home amongst friends. The problem for me is that the opposite is true of this sort of place. You're never going to get to know the other locals at a pub like this, and the barstaff are never going to know your name and have a pint waiting on the bar for you without you asking. This is a minor complaint for me as it's not my local, and so I could also be wrong, but anyway, it's the food I’m mainly interested in.

The misses and myself popped down there to meet some friends on a Saturday afternoon and I can't tell you how happy I was when I saw the chalkboard menu. Braised ox cheek pie / pork loin, ham hock and black pudding / grey mullet and chorizo, all got my juices flowing as they caught my eye like a barmaid flashing me her tits. This was approaching my ideal menu and the choices just got better and better. Finally, after much angst-ridden deliberation I settled on a fish dish. The cod, cockles and arborio fishcake came loosely formed and was lovely and heavy and filling, surrounded by a generous pool of cream and topped with sauce gribiche and a sliver of crisp cod skin. It felt like a cosy autumnal fish dish. At £12 it was very well priced. Added to that as an extra were some of the best chips I’ve had in a long time, possibly since that trip to The Breslin, thick and crunchy with fluffy insides, the whole thing acting as the antidote to the chilly weather outside.
The misses ordered chicken thighs with mustard mash and said the chicken was lovely and moist with a crisp skin. The wholegrain mustard in the mash was plentiful, giving the dish a mild kick. Care had been taken with the presentation as well, with the bones trimmed and cleaned spotless. For £10 this was a filling and satisfying dish
A cheese platter was ordered for £6 and was plentiful with four different cheeses and plenty of crackers and biscuits. The only dish we weren't happy with was also the most expensive on the menu. The Usk valley T-bone steak at £21 was a dish that pleased and annoyed in equal measure. The meat was of excellent quality and perfectly cooked but came alone on a plate, to be joined by a separate bowl of chips, a jug of bitter unpleasant jus and a ramekin of butter. This wasn't so much a dish as a fucking Lego set, and most striking of all was the complete lack of anything green. My friend asked if they could provide something and another small bowl of mixed leaves came out with a £2.50 price tag. The whole thing just felt a bit silly and out of place with the dishes we were served and that were being served around us.
The barman did a fine job of pulling the pints then rushing back and forth to the kitchen to get our food, but the workload was too much for one human being, and an enquiry as to the names of the cheeses we had, never got answered. Then a request for mustard saw it arrive as the last of the beef was being polished off. I assume they were short staffed on this visit or else that poor barman deserves a medal and a payrise.
This was my first visit to The Conway and I can't wait to go back and sample the rest of the menu. I've mentioned some bad and some good but on the whole I found the place a great success. It's not the gastropub of my dreams as the pub side is lacking but the food I tried is amongst the best in Cardiff. I only hope that we didn't just get lucky with our orders but that the ox cheeks and the pork loin and ham hock are just as good. I'm sure they are as the kitchen seems to take a real pride in it's ingredients, and is keen to show of it's suppliers, and that's very important and all too rare in Cardiff. I’ll keep you informed if the standard slips though, as although the house prices in Pontcanna mean I’ll never be a local of The Conway, I do hope to become a regular.

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