I seem to have been invited to a string of Indian restaurants over the past few weeks of which I will be reviewing in turn. The first in line is Cardamom Indian Restaurant in Canton’s Victoria Park.
Having never been to Cardamom before, I was intrigued after reading the description on their website:
‘…the award-winning Indian restaurant, in the heart of Cardiff, continues to be instrumental in changing perceptions of the subcontinent’s cuisine. With its amazing service and prices there is no better that the Cardamom when it comes to Indian cuisine in Cardiff. The restaurant offers a sophisticated fine dining experience with effortlessly charming staff, discrete service and tantalising food that few can compete with.’
Reading this I got very excited. How had I overlooked this one? To top things off, it is named after one of my all-time favourite ingredients.
We visited Cardamom on a Wednesday evening which is a relatively quiet night in even the best restaurants. However, we were pleased to see that we would not be dining alone as there were four other parties already seated when we arrived. Staff were very welcoming and efficient in showing us to our seats. Before we had even looked at the menu our drinks orders were placed.
Taking in our surroundings, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The decor was a bit tired with veneer peeling off the tables and some faint curry stains. The painted walls looked as though they could have used a touch up but there were echoes of superior quality with classy spotlights and high backed chairs. The bar area was also very attractive but all in all, it just looked like it needed some TLC and didn’t scream ‘fine dining’ as described, although it was clear that it had once upon-a-time.
The menu was very substantial and offered some interesting dishes. For starters I chose an unusual Chicken and Pasta Balti and Mr V went for the Mas Biran (a fillet of fish rubbed with spicy paste and fresh dill, sizzled in mustard oil). My pasta dish worked surprisingly well. I was asked whether I would like it mild, medium or hot and I was pleased that it was hot like I had ordered. So often ‘hot’ seems to mean ‘a little above mild for the delicate Westerner’.
Although nice, my starter did seem rather out-of-place on the menu that boasts authentic dishes. As Cardamom is a more traditional establishment than a fusion restaurant it seemed like a strange addition. Mr V’s fish was very good. It was nicely cooked with a subtle flavour. Our starters came with some deliciously tasty mint and tamarind sauces which were both homemade.
For our mains we chose Lamb Anawaka (lamb tikka with ground spices, tomatoes and green peppers) and Snapper Fish Masala. The stand out dish of the night was the lamb. It was cooked beautifully and had real depth of flavour served with chunky mushrooms and peppers.
The tender snapper was well cooked but the sauce was a touch bland and very oily. The accompanying garlic naan was very good.
Presentation wise, the dishes were that of a standard Indian restaurant rather than a fine dining establishment. Our starters were on plain white plates that were adorned with colourless salad and a slice of lemon. It didn’t reflect fine dining but then again, neither did the prices which were more than reasonable. Our starters only cost £4.50 each and our mains were well priced too.
Moving onto dessert, I was pleased to see quite an extensive menu including a number of home-made dishes. We ordered a coconut samosa and a pastishapta which was a pancake filled with a coconut filling.
The desserts were definitely value for money as they were very substantial. However, the pancake filling was very dry not as sweet as I would expect a dessert to be. It came with cream but that did seem like a strange accompaniment.
All in all, we had very mixed feelings about Cardamom. It has won lots of awards and have some confident statements on their website so expectations were high and it just didn’t hit the mark. An article in the Guardian in 2005 spoke of well dressed crowds and a ‘chic eatery’ but this isn’t the impression we got. Much of the good press highlighted on their website and the awards were several years ago and it seems that Cardamom has lost its way a little.
As an Indian restaurant, it is very good but it is not what I would describe as ‘fine dining’ and this is what Cardamom claims to be. It may seem that I am being harsh but I review restaurants on what they profess to be and Cardamom claim to offer ‘a fine dining experience’. Had this not been the case and I would have awarded a green spoon for quality of food but if they are marketing themselves as fine dining, they just fall short.
My Last Mouthful was: Lamb Anawaka
Atmosphere and decor-
Quality of food-
Diversity of menu-
Value for money-
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