The Top ‘Ten’ tacles 2019

The Octopus Diaries Food Blog

Where to start…

As I sit here with a day remaining of 2019, awkwardly attempting to forge its highlights into some kind of discernible blog post (hmm, this is starting to sound familiar…)

One word stands out.

Thankful.  This time…thankful that 2019 is drawing to a close  This year has certainly been more challenging than expected, and as such, the blog has suffered.  However, I remain constantly grateful for everyone’s support and encouragement to continue to put finger to key.

Still onwards and upwards, and with any luck January will see the return of Krak’en Bites, along with a few random restaurant reviews dotted along the way.  Till then, here are a few of my favourites from this year…

Ynyshir Restaurant

1) Ynyshir

The problem with starting the year off on a dining high, is that every other restaurant visit thereafter, has a lot to live up to.  The 19th of January set the standard for 2019, and after that, nothing was quite able to compare.  Almost a year on, and I still struggle for words when it comes to describing Gareth Ward’s Ynyshir to others…as I’ve found, some restaurants are easier experienced than explained.

Ynyshir doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not.  It offers a menu to evoke childhood food memories, and create new adult ones.  It takes you to new heights, and brings you safely back down – and then leaves you craving more

Casamia Duck

2) Casamia, Bristol

Casamia had been at the top of my list for many years, however after experiencing Peter Sanchez-Iglesias’ dishes at his Chef’s Night with Tommy Heaney in Cardiff, it quickly became apparent that a trip to Bristol was not to be put off any longer.

Established twenty years ago, Casamia is a Michelin star restaurant in Bristol serving a multi-course, seasonal tasting menu.  And if we’re talking top fine dining experiences this year, Casamia wins hands down. Refined, innovative dishes, that were delivered through a faultless service, only topped by a wonderful conversation with Paco Sanchez-Iglesias at the end of the night. Exceptional.

Oklava Baked Aubergine

3) Oklava, London

This year saw two trips to The Big Smoke, one early in January with a touch of sky-high dining at Oblix West, and a subsequent stop-over in June for a long-awaited visit to Tom Brown’s Cornerstone in Hackney Wick, and what turned out to be one of my dining highlighs this year.

Oklava had been on my list ever since Selin Kiazim’s appreance on Great British Menu back in 2017, where it was very evident that her Turkish-Cypriot influenced dishes were out to excite and push boundaries. Oklava took Turkish-Cypriot food to the next level, and delivered flavour-packed and beautifully presented dishes including whipped feta crostini with candied pumpkin, classic Turkish pide, and Şeftali.

From the aromas of the open kitchen with countertop seating which allowed you an eagle eye view of the action, to an exceptional dish of slow cooked spiced aubergine, a return trip will be in order.  And as it turns out, I won’t need to travel quite as far next year, as Selin is set to team up with Tommy Heaney for a Chef’s Night in Cardiff on April 28th.

Menu Gordan Jones Dessert

4) Menu Gordon Jones, Bath

If Chef Gordon Jones hadn’t first grabbed my attention with his inclusion in Great British Menu this year, his restaurant’s slogan undeniably would have – “Let the Chef Surprise You”.  And yet somehow in the past seven years since opening, Menu Gordon Jones had remained off my radar…until May.

An array of flavours, textures, combinations and culinary influences awaits.  The single tasting menu changes every week.  Did I mention you have no idea what dish you will receive? You won’t even find a sample menu on the website.  Anticipation is very much the name of the game at Menu Gordon Jones.

This visit provided a memorable lunch, served by a team that were confident in their abilities both front of house, and behind the pass. However, if you prefer to know what you’re eating prior to dining, then probably give this restaurant a slighter wider berth.

Leyli Joon Pop up

5) I’m cheating with this one…

If nothing else, we’ve certainly seen some changes in the local dining scene this year.  There have been some significant losses in Cardiff, and at times it has very much felt that the city has taken two steps forward, only to take three back.  Thankfully we have recently witnessed new restaurant openings though; and this looks set to continue in early 2020.

Yet, it’s the growing trend towards pop-ups and supper clubs that has truly excited me this year, with Chefs swapping the overheads of bricks and mortar, in favour of food residencies, monthly pop-ups in different venues or one-off showcases.  As a result of this, I believe that some of the best cooking in Cardiff is now coming from outside of restaurants.

Notable mentions on this blog have included Grady Atkins’ Paysan, Dirt Pop-up, Ember and Leyli Joon.  However, I’m thrilled that moving forward we’ll be looking to raise awareness and highlight these events in the city, and throughout Wales with the growth of Find My Dine (that’s a shameless plug…by the way ha ha!).

restaurant MCR

6) restaurant MCR, Manchester

Home to Head Chef Aiden Byrne, restaurant MCR is a fine dining restaurant in Manchester’s vibrant Spinningfields, with the six and nine course tasting menus designed to showcase the finest in locally sourced produce.  As restaurant’s go, it’s an impressively spacious one- decor reflects the city’s industrial past, while an open kitchen would leave most Chef’s envious.

Our lunch included highlights of cèpe mushroom with Jerusalem artichoke and truffle, and Scottish partridge with barley and pear, although the thought of the roast chicken butter slathered on sourdough continues to leave me salivating months on.

The Beach House Oxwich Bay

7) Beach House, Oxwich Bay

The only restaurant to make a return appearance in the Top ‘Ten’ tacles this year; a third visit reaffirmed that the Beach House remains as one of my favourite restaurants, and that Chef Hywel Griffith’s cooking continues to be some of the most refined and memorable in Wales.

And as confirmed in October, it appeared that Michelin had finally agreed, as Wales gained a new star.

With magnificent coastal views and situated on the golden sands of Oxwich Bay, the Beach House is the epitome of a destination restaurant, and well worth a visit if you can get a reservation

Ondine Edinburgh

8) Ondine, Edinburgh

When it comes to dining out, you really are spoilt for choice when it comes to Edinburgh; which of course brings challenges when you’re only visiting a city once a year.  Alongside a return trip to El Cartel– which dishes out some of the best Mexican street food, and Dishoom- which, in my opinion, dishes out some of the best Keema Pau- Ondine provided the seafood option for this trip in October.

Based in the heart of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town, Ondine offers the finest seafood and shellfish from the East Coast of Scotland and beyond. With plates of salmon pâté with cider jelly and treacle bread, and mussels marinière proving to be a real treat.  Throw in the city views, the elegant Oyster Bar that sits centrally, and the modern interiors, and this is certainly one to add to the list.

Root Bristol

9) Root, Bristol

Badged as a small plates restaurant that ensures vegetables receive star billing while serving meat on the side’, Root in Bristol does exactly what it says on the tin, with the added bonus that the meat and fish courses are equally as delicious, and faultless to match.

Sitting at the heart of the popular Cargo 1, the succinct menu is truly a showcase of the best in seasonal veg.  Beetroot served with blueberries, Jerusalem artichoke accompanied with a rémoulade and potato gnocchi alongside pickled apple were a few of the eye-catchers that appealed back in March.

Bestowed with the position of 57th in the UK’s top 100 Estrella Damn National Restaurant Awards, Root was also awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin in 2018 and you can see why. Chef Rob Howell’s ethos and philosophy of producing delicious, yet simple, sustainable and affordable dishes appears more than deserving of this accolade.

The Heathcock Llandaff

10) The Heathcock, Cardiff

And finally I’ve sneaked in The Heathcock…quite frankly the most sensible thing to enter No. 10 this year! Politics aside though, as the sister pub to the highly acclaimed, Bib Gourmand pub Hare & Hounds in Aberthin, by reputation alone ‘The Heathcock’ always looked set to fly.  Yet since its opening in October 2018, it’s made its own mark in Llandaff, and now firmly established, it is proving to be a popular addition in the city within a city, both as a local pub and a restaurant.

Two visits this year proved that the excellence of the first, was not a coincidence.  Offering menus that change on a daily basis;  dishes include braised rabbit leg pappardelle, pheasant, leek and ham hock pie and roast Torgelly dry aged rib of beef.  And not forgetting their renowned soufflé, which thankfully has made the 12 mile trip to feature on this menu too.   If you haven’t been to The Heathcock, it’s well worth popping in for a quick bite after a walk in the park, or considering booking a table for your next meal out.

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