Perception. It seems such a simple word. Yet, it can lead you to make judgements…even decisions. Right or wrong. It can allow you to believe a situation, or a thought to be true. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Rather thankfully for everyone though, I’m not here to delve into the depths of Psychology 101; I’ll leave that to the experts. There is however, a tenuous link to my post, which in case you were debating, is about food and one of Cardiff’s most highly anticipated restaurant openings this year.
Google “Heaneys Cardiff” and you’ll already find a wealth of critical acclaim. The launch of the pop-up back in July, announced Tommy’s arrival to the Welsh capital, and delivered a taste of what was to come. It was subsequently followed by a successful crowdfunding campaign, which saw 356 backers raise over £40K, and undeniably demonstrated the support and belief people had in the popular Chef and his new venture. It was clear…Cardiff needed, and very much wanted, this restaurant.
The Kickstarter Backers Wall
As usual I’m somewhat ‘bringing up the rear’; fellow Cardiff restaurant bloggers have practically all (b)eaten me to hunger-inducing posts. But not to be left out – after all, I can’t leave the boys to have all the fun – and following an impressive soft launch visit to experience the tasting menu, I find myself on a return visit for a spot of lunch.
The property in Romilly Crescent, which has an enviable culinary back-history in the form of Arbennig and Le Gallois, now boasts a modern, almost semi-industrial feel. It’s a refined yet casual and comfortable state of affair, with a relaxed atmosphere. The type of place where you sense that you could happily kick-back on a Saturday lunch-time/afternoon, and work your way through the cocktail menu, while interspersing the growing alcohol-induced haze with the consumption of model dishes of the finest in Welsh produce.
Regulars readers of this blog, will have noted that I have a slight aversion to sharing food, which suitably leads me to the Heaney’s concept. The ability to apportion food is a pre-requisite, more so for the Tasting Menu where you’ll encounter five or six courses requiring a working knowledge of fractions. A tip; take someone you (really) like, or that you don’t mind fighting with/stabbing with a fork, over that last delicate morsel of fish. Believe me, there are grounds for divorce written all over this menu.
Sourdough with Marmite Butter | £3.50
Having first experienced this dairy delight back in Restaurant Tommy Heaney at The Great House, even if you’re positioned firmly in the ‘Hate It’ camp, I promise that Heaney’s marmite butter will temporarily turn you. Although, I also won’t commit to you declaring undying love for the yeast extract anytime soon…I’m certainly not. But liberally apply this intensely savoury and creamy delicacy to toasted sourdough with a smoky crust, and the only words that you’ll be uttering are “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Marmite Butter” – as all other spreads pale into insignificance.
Porthilly Oyster, Yoghurt, Dill, Apple | £4 each
Jay Rayner once wrote a piece entitled “If you don’t like oysters, you’ll never be a grown-up” – describing himself as “a pedlar of experiences that will end your childhood, and smother your innocence”. Yet surely if you know that something tastes extraordinary, you’ll want to share that experience with others too. But for my 70 years young lunch companion, an oyster has never passed her lips. A long held belief…perception if you will, similar to others, that oysters have a slightly slimy, chewy texture and strange briny taste has led to this culinary injustice.
And I say injustice, because Tommy Heaney’s oysters are some of the best I have eaten. A bold statement…yes. But these delicately flavoured and succulent molluscs that again sit before me, are just that. With the saltiness balanced with sharp apple, dill oil and the refreshing cold yoghurt granita, the need for more than a sole slurp is strong in this one.
Cod, Heritage Carrot, Beef Dripping | £12
The arrival of dish one is a textbook demonstration of how to skillfully cook soft, flaky cod; a knife being an optional extra in this show. Served with a heritage carrot, and a carrot purée topped with beef dripping, it’s both visually attractive and a tasty flavour pairing. Well seasoned and with a beautifully, crispy skin – based on this and previous dining experiences, to say that Tommy Heaney and his chefs are particularly talented when it comes to cooking a faultless piece of fish, would be an understatement.
Raw Scallops, Mushroom, Seaweed, Avocado | £14
Plates arrive at a leisurely pace, and a second dish of raw scallops swimming in a salty mushroom dashi with roe emulsion, radish and avocado, is frankly one of those courses that you’ll be craving and ‘raving’ about for a few days following. It’s one to savour in as many mouthfuls as you can manage. And while the appearance of a spoon proves elusive for the remaining broth (apparently wanting to stick my face in, is frowned upon); the triple-cooked chips that arrive shortly afterwards (so good – I didn’t even manage a photo before devouring), allow for the inadvertent creation of a dish, to rival anything you can locate down Chippy Lane at 1am on a Match day.
BBQ Welsh Lamb, Anchovy, Sea Vegetables | £12
Our final sharing plate features in the current tasting menu – which having previously experienced on the opening night, I can already confirm is a firm favourite. Today’s example of the dish is as good, if not better, than I remember. A tender and smoky blushing fillet of barbecued lamb is accompanied with anchovies rich in brine and a glossy, meaty jus. A faultless dish; add in an array of sea vegetables including samphire and purslane, and an anchovy purée topped with crispy kale, and you have one exceptional and memorable flavour experience.
Salted Caramel, Malt, Yoghurt, Honeycomb | £7
With room for pud, and the chance to choose from three, our final course is a sweet treat of a malted, salted caramel roll. Plated with sugary honeycomb pieces, the yoghurt ice cream that accompanies, succeeds in providing a refreshing contrast.
- An attentive front of house team, who are knowledgeable and well versed in the dishes being delivered.
- With a menu that is updated on a daily basis, dishes change dependent upon the produce that has arrived into the restaurant that morning.
- The addition of Heaney’s to the restaurant scene in Cardiff has been one of the most anticipated and exciting prospects this year. It’s fair to say that Tommy Heaney is a gifted chef who has an excellent understanding of flavours and ingredients, resulting in simple, honest and innovative dishes.
- Ten chef’s nights were announced as part of the Kickstarter campaign, which will see Tommy Heaney collaborating in the kitchen with the likes of Chef’s Richard Bainbridge, Matt Worswick, Tom Brown and Ellis Barrie. To whet your appetite, these were the tasting menu dishes from the Peter Sanchez-Iglesias night this week. If you missed out, limited tables are released closer to the dates, and I would highly recommend making that reservation.
Looking back at my introduction to Tommy Heaney’s food earlier this year at The Great House, I’m glad to see that while some things evidently do change…some things do not. Again, I would define this venture as a wonderful dining experience in welcoming and relaxed surroundings, that truly reflects some of the best in Welsh cooking.
Yet at the risk of sounding like a Great British Menu veteran chef feedback session (will it be a however, or a but?) – as I raised initially, I believe that ‘perception’ is going to play a far bigger role in the success of this restaurant than in, perhaps, any other in Cardiff. And I don’t just mean whether you’re going to develop a taste for marmite, or willing to risk braving an oyster for the first time in your life.
As I sit here, I rightly or wrongly form an opinion. I know I won’t be the only one. It’s an interesting menu concept. But at upwards of £11 per main dish, I can imagine that it could be considered that price relative to portion size is edging on the expensive side for Cardiff. Albeit that I would undoubtedly throw in the quality vs quantity argument at this point. Perhaps the ‘perception’ of added value in the dining experience would assist in this. A brief, personal explanation of the concept, and a course delivered by the Chef himself?
On this occasion, I actually enjoy the sharing element – it is fun; yet I find it quite an intimate experience, which I am not sure would work as well for a more formal visit, or if you were two individuals with larger appetites. The dishes also arrive from the kitchen, as and when they are ready; so if you haven’t finished one main dish, another can appear. Personally, I feel dishes of this quality demand respect. And I would prefer to appreciate the flavours and ingredients of each, one at a time and to their own merit..
Based on my lunch bill for the above dishes, the tasting menu is good value for money; however at £80 for two people, for some reason I still struggle with the idea that I have to share the majority of the 10 courses. And having experienced the second of the Chef’s Night this week, I would personally pay more for a tasting menu, and to have my own plates of food placed in front of me.
Is Cardiff ready for this type of dining experience? Time will tell. But based on this visit, I continue to stand by the concluding comment from my last review – “I can safely say this Chef is going places.”
Tuesday-Thursday | 11.30am – 11pm
Friday-Saturday | 11.30am – 12pm
Sunday | 11.30am – 11pm
Address | 6-10 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff, CF11 9NR
Web | www.heaneyscardiff.co.uk