Saturday, 16 October 2010

Village kitchen & bar

Village Kitchen & Bar
25 Merthyr Rd, Whitchurch, CARDIFF, South Glamorgan CF14 1DA029 2062 4000

Meal for 4 including wine and tip = £110 (with 10%off)

I first ate here not long after it opened.  Back then it was a brasserie and had the ubiquitous glass counter stocked with fish and meats that modern brasseries seem to need to justify the name.  I'm not sure why a glass cabinet has become the defining feature of the brasserie and google has been no help, so if any readers know why, then please get in touch.
The food back then was good, not blow your socks of good, but a long time later I can still remember I had the crevettes, and I can still remember being quite pleased with them.
The place seemed to receive mixed reviews at the time, the majority not being too positive, so to be on the safe side, I left it a while before returning.

On my second visit the brasserie title had been shelved along with the cabinet and it was now the kitchen and bar.  It seemed to be styling itself as a neighbourhood restaurant serving good solid dishes, which it was.  My memory again is a little vague, although I remember my girlfriend’s starter as being a pate with toasts.  I remember this, as just like in most places the bread to meat ratio was slightly scew if (Why places don’t provide enough bread to accompany the meat I just don’t know could it be due to the kitchen staff not sampling the completed dish as a diner would?).  Anyway, we asked the waitress for some more bread and she happily and promptly obliged.  I had the pork belly and although my memory fails me slightly I remember being very satisfied with the dish and pleased with the overall experience.
So why after an enjoyable meal did it take us so long to return to place a two-minute walk from our house?  Well that would be due to the ambitious prices.  It was never extortionate but it was never a destination eatery either which the pricing seemed to suggest.  It always troubled me that a place as reliant on local clientele should feel the need to charge so much for the food.  The pricing of dishes is of course the restaurants prerogative and it's not my place to dictate what should and shouldn't be charged, but it is my place to take my business elsewhere if I feel I'm being overcharged and so I did.

This though I'm pleased to tell you has changed.  Some friends of mine recently ate there on a midweek two courses for £12.95 deal and said the food was excellent.  This is what neighbourhood eating is all about.  Good food at a price where you don't mind taking the extended family for a night out.
After hearing about the great food they were served and that the prices were now more realistic I decided it was high time we returned and so booked a table for a Saturday night.
We arrived 10mins early but were seated upstairs right away.  Menus were already on the tables and the drink service was swift.  We did however have to wait almost 40mins after ordering for our starters to arrive. It wasn't the greatest inconvenience on the night as we were enjoying ourselves but a wait of that long in other circumstances is a bit much and can often start to grind.
When they did arrive I’m afraid they were a bit hit and miss.  My girlfriend’s pate was once again short on the bread, but more was brought on request. She enjoyed it, and I agree it tasted great, but I found it edged to close too watery for my liking.  Two of us ordered the squid and chorizo with tomato salsa. My companion enjoyed his but I on the other hand, ever the contrarian thought it a disaster.  The squid was over cooked and rubbery, the chorizo undercooked and rubbery, and the salsa lacked any punch.  For some reason it was served in a beefed up martini glass which I had to empty onto a plate to make eating it possible. The final starter was scallops on a cauliflower puree, which my friend enjoyed, but said the puree could have been smoother.

I may have been disappointed with the starter but this wasn't to be the case with the main.  I ummed and aghed over the steaks but luckily decided on the pork belly that I’d enjoyed so much the last time, and what a dish it was.  It seemed they'd slaughtered a pig in my honour and presented half of the beast atop some crunchy cabbage with what I assume was a honey sauce (although don't quote me on that) The dish was MASSIVE. I can tell you now I loved every single mouthful. This place understands belly and it does it well.  The crackling was crisp and plentiful, the meat moist, the fat unctuous.
My fellow diners looked on in envy. That's not to say they didn't enjoy their dishes as a duck and noodle dish I’m told tasted great, if a bit too far medium than duck should be. A chicken ballotine was too dry but when extra sauce was asked for it was provided gratis. The final dish was red mullet which my friend had never eaten before so didn't really want to make any informed comment, but felt it too was a little on the dry side.
All in all it was quite an enjoyable meal.  One gripe being the vegetables that are served in bowls to be shared by everyone. They were well cooked and plentiful but didn't match some of the food we were served.  Winter veg has no real place with a dish of duck and noodles and I feel the diner would be better served with a complete individual dish, rather than the one size fits all vegetable approach taken here.

Whilst reviewing the restaurant I'd like to take the chance to offer a little bonus review.  This time it's about something very close to my heart; the fried breakfast.
I love a good fry-up.  It’s the first dish I started cooking for myself as a teen and although I've never become the best cook, my breakfast has evolved into a thing of beauty.  The reason for this is the effort I've put into finding the best ingredients.  My sausages are the best I've tried (and I've tried many), as is the black pudding.  My white pudding is Clonakilty white pudding, the best there is.  My mushrooms don't come from a tin but are button mushrooms cooked in butter and my hash browns are frozen direct from McCains (I know, but they are fucking great hash browns)
A restaurant like the village that caters for breakfasts I feel should take the same pride as myself when serving their diners, so you can imagine my disappointment as I witnessed the breakfast they serve deteriorate before my eyes.
Over the period of three or four weeks myself and some friends visited for breakfast on quite a few occasions, maybe six or seven times, and during this time we watched in horror as the breakfast served to us got worse and worse.  The final straw came one morning when dining alone with just a newspaper for company I was served a dish better suited for the bin.  The cheap ingredients made cheaper by the cooking.  The anaemic sausages hadn't been informed of the maillard reaction, and so left me feeling colder than the mushrooms and egg, but all this was trumped by a waitress so keen to improve efficiency, she decided to stand next to me in the middle of the restaurant and shout orders to the kitchen for ten minutes, rather than walk the 10 paces to the pass and speak at normal volume.  It was at this point that I decided my money would be better spent elsewhere and I’m yet to return.
I enjoy what you might term a more high end fry-up so it's with a heavy heart that I have to report what the village breakfast has become, and I truly hope it returns to better form, but at the moment I'm in no rush to sample it again.


  1. I'm a chemistry graduate and I had never heard of the Maillard reaction. Wikipedia has now filled that gap in my education. It all seems so obvious now, but I had never really thought that browning food was caused by a specific process.
    It's a good job I abandoned any thoughts of a scientific career as soon as I graduated.

  2. Please read more about it, it's one of the key principles to good cooking. Check out Harold mcgees books and the ideas in food book for more on the scientific principles of cooking. The khamis blog is also worth a look.