The primary aim of the Octopus Diaries has always been to celebrate, and share unique dining out experiences and dishes in the independent sector. To give a shout out to all those businesses where 9-5 doesn’t exist, and which are run by individuals and teams with a passion and insatiable desire to offer their guests a unique dining experience, value for money and quite simply, great food.
Yes, I may have misled a few individuals along the way who believed me to have an unconventional obsession with cephalopods, oh, and that I was apparently male…that came as news to me, and a few others! But overall, I very much hope I’m somewhere in the vicinity of hitting the mark.
And this month has certainly been all about celebrating uniqueness, and as I have come to realise, reads a little of the who’s who of the more recent series’ of Great British Menu – with three out of five Chefs appearing, and two achieving the ultimate goal of cooking in the final Banquet in 2017 and ’18.
If you happen to have missed the May edition of Krak’en Bites you can catch up here. But for now, I hope the June round-up provides some inspiration on where to dine out in Cardiff, Bristol, Bath and beyond.
Leyli Joon & Co ‘Welsh’ Burrata, Knafeh, Tomatoes, Samphire and Pul Biber
£45 | 5 courses
If you were looking for something different in Cardiff, then a supper club courtesy of Leyli Joon & Co is the perfect place to start. A Persian-influenced food events company, it’s headed up by Chef Leyli Homayoonfar. Born in Wales, her love for cooking stems from a childhood where food was, and still is central to her family’s life, courtesy of a Persian father and Welsh mother.
And it’s evident from the evening that it’s still very much a family affair, with everyone pitching in to make this event a success. And oh, do they succeed…
Pulling in an impressive crowd of sixty-four to The Tramshed in Cardiff, a beautifully decorated dining room, and a feast of five courses ensures that we are whisked away to the Middle East.
Imaginative dishes are bold in flavour, and demonstrate a superb understanding of spice; from crispy cocoons of melted cheese with confit tomatoes, and BBQ prawns marinated in spicy harissa; to slow braised, deep-fried Welsh lamb nuggets coated in Bahārāt spice, and the finale of a creamy white chocolate crémeux with crystallised pistachio and grapefruit gel.
This exciting Chef is certainly one to watch. My recommendation – if you spot this supper club being promoted, purchase a ticket, and I promise you will not be disappointed.
Whipped Feta Crostini, Candied Pumpkin & Chilli | £2.50 each
I have somewhat of a girl crush on Selin Kiazim. It’s partly due to a touch of curly hair envy…but primarily it’s as a result of her debut appearance on Great British Menu in 2017, where it was very evident that her Turkish-Cypriot influenced dishes were out to excite and push boundaries. Combine that with the fact that both her and Pip Lacey ended up going through to the final banquet, and it was fantastic to see two female chefs, maybe not so much “comin’ out of the kitchen”, but certainly “doin’ it for themselves”.
Naturally Oklava has been on my list ever since; although if I’m being honest I still wasn’t completely sure what to expect having not experienced much more than the usual breads, köfte, kebabs and baklava. As it turns out, the easy-going Oklava takes Turkish-Cypriot food to the next level, delivering flavour-packed and beautifully presented dishes including whipped feta crostini with candied pumpkin, classic Turkish pide filled with beef, caramelised onion, Kapya peppers and Tulum cheese – a traditional Turkish goats cheese, and Şeftali – a Cypriot kebab with red onion salad.
My only disappointment on this occasion – my lunch-time visit is all too brief. From the aromas of the open kitchen with countertop seating allowing you an eagle eye view of the action, to an exceptional dish of slow cooked spiced aubergine, which in a food trip to London, turns out to be the highlight of the weekend; a return trip will surely be in order soon.
Pollock, Curry Sauce and Crispy Potatoes | £17
With an impressive culinary CV, and following his appearances on Great British Menu in 2017 and again in ’18, when he successfully made it to the final banquet; it was apparent that Chef Tom Brown looked set to make his own mark on the industry and a name for himself, when he opened his first restaurant in April 2018.
Named after the Chef’s favourite Arctic Monkey’s song, Cornerstone has received much critical acclaim over the past 12 months. This Includes being awarded the third spot in the recent 2019 Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards, beating off stiff competition from a plethora of UK Michelin starred establishments.
As you would imagine from a Chef who spent six years under the wing of Chef Nathan Outlaw, the menu focuses on seafood; it’s a pescatarian’s playground. If you don’t like fish, Cornerstone is not the restaurant for you. Dishes of salmon pastrami, mackerel pâté with treacle bread, and pollock with curry sauce showcase this Chef’s abilities, albeit on this occasion the signature crab crumpet, recently altered to be topped with Welsh rarebit, falls short and slightly disappoints on flavour.
I enjoyed Cornerstone, it offered a near faultless dining experience. Did I fall in love with the restaurant, and more importantly is a return visit on the cards? No…and I will explain why. Because for all of this restaurant’s credentials and recent accolades, in a small community in Cardiff, there is another restaurant that offers a similar concept. A restaurant where I personally believe the Chef achieves a comparable, and in the case of some dishes – elevated level of cooking.
By all means, go…experience Cornerstone, and enjoy – then come home and take pleasure in the fact that we have Heaney’s on our doorstep.
Chorizo Yorkshire Pudding from the Spanish Sunday Roast Lunch Platter | £38 for 2 people
The brainchild of Owen, Tom and Natalie Morgan, the inaugural Bar 44 was established seventeen years ago in Cowbridge. Three further premises have since followed in Wales including Asador 44, prior to the announcement in early 2018 that the group would be expanding across the bridge to Bristol.
Located in the heart of Clifton Village, on first impressions it’s plain for all to see that a significant amount of time and investment has been put into the redesign of Bar 44, Bristol. Previously a bank, the building has been thoughtfully renovated into a vibrant, family friendly restaurant space, reflective of the modern Spanish dishes on offer. And while this month’s visit is less about the traditional seasonal tapas, the plates of 35-day dry aged sirloin of Hereford beef, chorizo Yorkshire pudding, jamón fat roast bravas potatoes, truffled Manchego cauliflower cheese, hispi cabbage with jamón butter, and caramelised heritage carrots certainly live up to Bar 44’s exacting standards.
If you’re looking for something a little different, the platter is well worth checking out; and quite frankly nothing prepares you for the sheer size and smokiness of that pud. Accompanied with a couple of glasses of Palo Cortado, the roast from Bar 44 makes for a superb Sunday lunch alternative, although the obligatory afternoon nap will still be required afterwards.
Cornish line caught couch’s bream, Sicilian aubergine, Bombay mash, Isle of Wight tomato and lobster butter |
6 courses – £55 lunch tasting menu
- If like me, and you take the decision for a leisurely walk to this restaurant from Bath city centre, but your fitness regime equates to that of a sloth – hit that Uber app. Thank me later.
- If you are someone who prefers to choose what they eat, or has a dislike of certain ingredients, it’s probably best to give Menu Gordon Jones a wider berth.
- If you like surprises, don’t mind what dish arrives in front of you, and enjoy being at the mercy of a Chef’s imagination, come closer my friend – you’re in for a treat.
If Chef Gordon Jones hadn’t first grabbed my attention with his inclusion in Great British Menu this year, his restaurant’s marketing slogan undeniably would have – “Let the Chef Surprise You”. And yet somehow in the past seven years, Menu Gordon Jones has remained off my radar…until now.
An array of flavours, textures, combinations and culinary influences awaits. The menu changes every week. Did I mention you have no idea what dish you will receive? Anticipation is very much the name of the game at Menu Gordon Jones. And on that bombshell, I’ll leave you to read the full blog post here – COMING SOON.