Your Last Mouthful

Cardiff based food blog

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Cardamom Indian Restaurant- Once upon-a-time there was a fine dining restaurant…

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

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For more reviews of local food, competitions and news please take a look at the website- yourlastmouthful.com

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A vegetarian meal at Laguna Kitchen and Bar

Review by Mr V

Last week along with a couple of other foodies, I was very kindly invited to sample a 3 course vegetarian meal at one of my favourite restaurants, the Laguna Kitchen and Bar in the Park Plaza Hotel. The reason being was because last week was vegetarian week. Being an enthusiastic carniverous being I thought it would be interesting to dine without the delicious cooked flesh of a dead animal upon my plate – although before I left my house I did slip a cold chicken leg into my pocket… just as a comfort thing…

So first up, we had a selection of very nicely presented chefs canapes. There were small crispy potato cones, half with potato mousse, chilli and mint and the other half with chickpea puree and tomato and garnished with a small herby leaf. Being a hot summery day they seemed very apt. We also had a chilled gazpacho and a small salad comprising of samphire, Wye Valley asparagus, fresh peas and lemon served in a chicory leaf. All were very fresh and appetizing.

For the first course we had Heirloom tomato, buffalo mozzarella and avocado salad with greek basil and Elanthy extra virgin olive oil. Lovely soft and ripe green, yellow and red tomatoes were served just below room temperature which is how they should be and together with all the other elements the dish tasted very healthy and fresh.

The main course was excellent. Pea, shallot and ricotta tortelloni with baby spinach, broad beans and a pea puree. As well as being an enthusiastic meat eater, I am also an enthusiastic pea eater! The main taste of the dish was the fresh pea taste which simply made me smile. The pasta was well cooked, veg was nice and crunchy and everything worked very well together. The bright green colours also made the dish very visually appealing. Although a touch on the heavy side, overall I very much enjoyed the dish in terms of its taste, textures and appearance and didn’t feel in any way it could’ve done with a bit of chicken on the side.

For dessert we were served a flourless orange and almond cake with rosewater fruits and jersey cream. A gluten free dessert which tasted lovely.  Often gluten free products can be a little dry or dense but this was no different to any other well made cake. It was very moist and light, lots of orange running through it,  a generous helping of good quality thick Jesery cream and with the fruits along side it, it made a fresh and great way to end a meal.

Overall I was very impressed with the vegetarian meal, I wasn’t actually expecting to be so full afterwards, but full I was and all courses were very fresh and tasty proving that the vegetarian option on the menu is just as good a choice as all the others.

That evening, my wife found a chicken leg in my pocket. She thought it was strange I hadn’t eaten it…

We have a website with another review for Laguna Kitchen and Bar, click here to read it at www.yourlastmouthful.com

The Park House – A gourmet meal to impress

Guest Review by Mr V

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to the VIP/Press launch of the Park House with head chef Jon Edwards and Michelin starred consultant chef Roger Jones. Knowing the standard the Park House aspires to and the quality of the new chef and consultant chef, I was very excited about the evening ahead.

I arrived at the listed and grand building and was welcomed with a glass of sparkling – A 2008 Del Fin del Mundo Extra Brut, Patagonia, Argentina – and a lovely Vietnamese roll canapé; a small wrap filled with lobster, crevettes and spices.

After a little mingling outside in the cool evening air we were summoned in to be seated at the large banqueting table and awaited the next 8 courses with matched wine.

First up was the cured wild sewin with smoked halen mon sea salt and fresh horseradish. A delicate, soft fish that melted in the mouth, with a sharpness from the wild garlic flower, it was a very pleasant entry to the evening although I didn’t get the horseradish coming through – possibly overridden by the garlic flower, but lovely all the same. This was accompanied with a 2010 Johnny Q Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide Hills, Australia – a soft wine matching the food very well. This wine was also for the next course.

After the fish we were then served a wild garlic and Wye Valley asparagus risotto with a pea jus. This was delicious – very fresh tasting with al dente asparagus and a slight crunch in the rice. With the bright greens and the white of the risotto it was a very appealing dish to look at as well as devour. Sadly wanting to dive in with immediate effect I forgot to take a photo.

Next up is, I believe, the chef’s favourite – the Little Haven lobster fish finger with ketchup. Certainly a delight to look at, it was fresh lobster meat rolled into a thin piece of crispy fried bread and served with a tomato sauce. It had a nice crispy outer and soft meat in the middle making it a fun and tasty little dish. This was served a 2008 Treasures Chardonnay, Padthaway, Australia.

The next dish was a caramelised Kelmscott pork with chilli squid. A juicy square of pork and lovely, perfectly cooked squid with a gentle kick of spice. A combination I haven’t really come across before but it worked excellently. I prefer my pork belly a little more soft and ‘melt in your mouth’ but was still delicious but for me the chilli squid stole the show on that plate – an absolute delight! This was paired with a 2005 Saumur Vieilles Vignes, Langlois-Chateau, Loire, France – a wine with body and strong flavours matching up to the richness of the pork and spice of the squid – a very pleasant wine.

The next dish was in my view the best of the evening. It was a carpaccio of Roe Venison, Fois Gras, Bara Brith served with a fig chutney and a caramel from reduced 1927 PX sherry. I was already looking forward to this from the moment I read the menu. When it arrived I smiled even more as the carpaccio was about 6mm thick – two beautiful, tender pieces of rare venison that had been gently seared just around the edge. The caramel sherry and fig chutney and – unexpectedly- the bara brith were superb accompaniments, not to the mention the delicious fois gras torte. The highlight of my evening. This was all matched with a 2006 Del fin del Mundo Gran Reserva, Patagonia, Argentina – a pleasant red not overpowering the venison.

Last of the savoury dishes was an asian style shin and oxtail of highland beef and a taka dhal – ‘made by a Welshman’ – with some mint yoghurt on the side. I love my spicy food and this was good. The beef fell apart as you breathed on it and the level of spice in the very tasty dahl was just right. The mint yoghurt was a nice addition as it brought about more freshness to the dish. The wine that was paired, in my view, was the best match I’ve had with a dish. The flavours of the wine seemed to create a fluid, natural progression in flavours in the mouth – like the final chapter of a well written novel. The wine was a 2008 Treasures Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonwarra, Australia.

Now for desserts. The next course simply stated ‘Boiled Egg’. With no description I knew this was bound to be a lovely tasty little surprise. And it certainly was. Served in an egg cup it was a mango puree with crème anglais topped with a sticky sweet meringue and served with a soldier of shortbread. A delight to look at and a delight to eat.

The final course was a coconut panna cotta with Mojito sorbet. A good way to end the meal with a freshness of the sorbet – icy cold with fresh mint – and the slippery texture of the panna cotta with small pieces of mango and chilli to give a little bite to it. This was all washed down with a cocktail of Mojito itself. Chin chin!

Overall the food was excellent – stylish, tasty and making good use of high quality products. This is a fine dining establishment with building and food to match and I’m sure that the new head chef Jon and consultant chef Roger will be an invaluable addition to the venue.

For a similar gourmet tasting menu, they charge £59.00 per person plus £25.00 for matched wine with each course. If you order from the a la carte menu, the starters are £10, mains £26 and desserts £7.

For more information on menus and prices please browse the Park House Website.

Our previous  reviews can also be read on our website www.yourlastmouthful.com

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Mercure Cardiff Holland House – A four star hotel with food to match!

Review by Mr V

Last week Mrs V and I were asked to review the Hodges Restaurant of the four star hotel, Mercure Cardiff Holland House. We arrived at the clean, marble clad hotel lobby and followed signs up to the first floor where the restaurant is situated. Through the bar area and into the restaurant, the barman showed us to the tables next to the large windows where we could people watch down onto Newport Road.

The decor was quite typical of a hotel restaurant, smart, stylish with patterned carpet and low level background music but very pleasant. It was a thursday night and was very quiet but apparently it does get very busy from Friday, through the weekend, even with non-guests.

The waiter came over, introduced himself and presented us with our menus. A first class waiter who instantly made us feel comfortable and welcome as he was friendly and jovial.

First for the starters. I opted for the prawn and crayfish salad, with cucumber salsa and micro herbs (£6.00). My guilty pleasure (amongst many…) is enjoying a massive bowl of prawn cocktail so I thought I’d order it and see how they get away from the ‘it’s just a prawn cocktail‘ response. Presented very nicely with a generous amount of crayfish tails and prawns wrapped in a long slice of cucumber, it was light and fresh with nice textures. There was a touch of marie rose sauce but was seperate to the prawns and crayfish tails. With the micro herbs and cucumber salsa it was a very pleasant way to start a meal – and not a cocktail remark in sight.

Mrs V had the bubble and squeak with poached hens egg and hollandaise sauce (£5.00). The knife went in and the yolk spilled out – a moment all foodies must enjoy… The bubble and squeak had a nice outer crispness which balanced nicely with the creamy sauce and egg. Nicely presented and very tasty.

Onto the mains. I went for the pan fried calves liver served with fondant potatoes, green beans and a caramalised red onion jus (£15.00). Perfectly cooked liver – very tender, al dente green beans and well cooked potatoes. Everything went well together, the sauce was just about strong enough to stand its ground againts the strong flavour of the liver but not so much as to overpower everything else. Overall a very nice dish.

Mrs V went for the market fish of the day which was grey mullet and was served with asparagus, spring onion mashed potato and sundried tomato butter (£14.50). The fish was cooked just right, a bit of crunch on the asparagus and lovely smooth mashed potato. It was a very good dish indeed – it hit all the right notes but sadly the potato was cold. When a dish is as good as that its very disappointing to have just a small factor mar the overall result. However, it was still very enjoyable.

Lastly, the desserts. Surprisingly the waiter gave us the menus again and then stressed that we should avoid the ‘taste of raspberries’ dessert. I thought he was just having a bit of a joke with us but he really wasn’t! Apparently the menu is decided by head office somewhere far, far away and despite the chef and staff asking for it be taken off it was still there – resulting in the waiter having to say that not all the items on the menu are good. When the chef is clearly very good it’s a great shame that his voice isn’t listened to.

Anyway, I went for the peach and nectarine tarte tatin with honey mascapone and butterscotch sauce (£6.00). Nicely presented, lovely honey mascapone making a good companion to the peach and nectarine.

Mrs V went for the lemon bombe (£6.00). This was a lemon meringue, with a berry compot and a small bundle of candy floss. Nicely presented with the candyfloss sat on top and a white chocolate stick sticking out of the candyfloss, envoking memories of childhood days at the fairground. It’s ceratinly nice to have something a little bit different!

Overall, the food was good and well priced. The atmosphere was hard to judge as it was very quiet but decor was warm and inviting. and despite being on the first floor of a hotel, it was still a nice place to come in off the street to have a good meal.

My last mouthful was: The bubble and squeak

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For more reviews, foodie news, competitions and the Green Spoon Directory, please see our website at www.yourlastmouthful.com

Henry’s Cafe Bar- Great cocktails but the food didn’t hit the mark

When I was asked to review Henry’s Cafe Bar recently I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have only eaten lunch there once but it was a long time ago but I am a regular when it comes to their wonderful cocktails.

We chose to go on a Friday so that we could experience it on a busy day but we also went early so that it wasn’t so busy that the staff were rushed off their feet. We actually unwittingly picked the time that lots of diners were enjoying a pre-theatre dinner so it was really busy when we arrived but we found a free table and despite the crowds, we were served immediately by a friendly waiter. The menu looked very promising. It was much more refined than we thought it would be and we became very enthusiastic about what was to come.

At 7.15, people started to leave but they left behind many tables full of dirty dishes and glasses. Half an hour later, the tableware was cleared away but there were still crumbs and unlaid tables and a washing up bowl left on one of the tables. I can understand that everyone left together which meant there was lots of work to do in a short time but I would have thought that this would have been anticipated as it happens whenever there is something on at the theatre and that more staff would have been on hand to help.

Nevertheless, the friendly efficient waiter continued to serve and promptly took our orders. Unfortunately, our top two starters were not available so I chose Avocado with Crispy Pancetta and Spinach. Mr V chose the Shallot Tarte Tatin but that wasn’t available either so the waiter offered him a beetroot (rather than shallot) option instead which he politely accepted.

The starters arrived promptly. Mr V’s tarte tatin was beautifully presented but it wasn’t cooked properly. In fact the pastry was raw and he couldn’t eat it.

My avocado with crispy pancetta and spinach was better but the ‘crispy’ pancetta was actually lardons and they were anything but crispy and the dish was quite oily and greasy.

We ordered another cocktail and hoped the mains would be better. Mr V chose Spatchcocked Poussin with Garlic, Thyme & Lemon and I chose the Chicken & Prawn Jambalaya. My Jambalaya was nice. It had a healthy kick to it and it was packed full of meat making it a fair price at £11.95.

Mr V’s main wasn’t quite as described. It was supposed to come with potatoes but the waiter explained it would be served with puy lentils instead. It arrived with puy lentils in a broth with over boiled celery and carrots. The Poussin was very well cooked and fell off the bone which was good but it meant that little pieces of cartilage and bone got lost in the broth making it slightly unpleasant to eat.

Feeling disappointed, we moved onto dessert. I soon cheered up when I noticed a Blueberry Cream and Mint Tart but unfortunately, they had run out of that one so I settled for an Apple and Blackberry Crumble and Mr V had a Chocolate Brownie.

Both were well presented again. Mr V’s brownie was ok but it was a little dry.

My crumble looked nice but it tasted very average and came with a jug of tepid custard that didn’t know whether it was supposed to be hot or cold.

All in all, the food was disappointing on this occasion. It’s a real shame because for drinks Henry’s is a real favourite of mine. I used to frequent it as a student for cocktails many years ago and now it is a favourite for after work drinks or on a night out. It’s the kind of place where there is a combination of people wearing suits, jeans or even fancy dress and everyone feels at ease, there is no discrimination.

I like the decor and the staff are always friendly. Our waiter on this visit was excellent but the food just didn’t hit the mark. Henry’s call themselves a Cafe Bar but I’m not sure that this fits with what they are offering. It seems to me that they are trying to do too much and as a result they are serving confit of duck with a bottle of ketchup which just doesn’t work.

For drinks, this is a great choice but with so many other options for dinner, I think I will go elsewhere in future.

My Last Mouthful was: Chicken & Prawn Jambalaya

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A bite to eat with the Brains ladies!

A few weeks ago, I was invited to meet the marketing and PR ladies from Brains for a bite to eat in their new town centre establishment, Greenwood and Brown. I was unfortunate enough to miss the grand opening so I was pleased to get a second chance and an opportunity to sample some of the food on offer.

I was very impressed when I walked in. It was nothing like I was expecting and if I hadn’t been told it was a Brains establishment, I would never have guessed. The layout was very up market and much more like a restaurant than a pub. In fact, although you can go in for a drink, they don’t serve beer on tap, only in bottles. It is much more geared towards eating than drinking.

The Brains ladies busied themselves ordering lots of food from the menu for us to try which I am certainly not going to complain about! They were very passionate about the concept they were trying to achieve and keen to show off the menu which is currently unique to the Greenwood and Brown.

I learnt a lot about Brains in those few hours (and ate a lot!). They are really trying to make more of the food they offer. While many Brains pubs will stay geared towards drinkers, others are being used to showcase the ever expanding and improving menu that development chefs are working on. Many Brains establishments use the same menus which they are able to select dishes from but some of the more ‘foodie’ places like the Greenwood and Brown have a menu developed especially for them which I was very interested to learn.

I have to say the food was good and it is competitive. With a lunch menu at a fixed price of £7 and a general menu too ranging from £2.25 for bar snacks to £19 for a steak, there is lots to choose from. There are also daily steak specials and all ingredients are locally sourced where possible.

We tucked into sandwiches, steak, risotto, mussels, chips, pork scratchings, and olives. Just as I thought I couldn’t possibly eat any more, dessert was ordered. We had what is called a ‘dollar dessert’ which meant we had a pounds worth of each dessert usually priced at around £5 for a whole one. I think it’s a brilliant concept and we certainly got a fair amount for the money. It looked great too.

Until my meeting with the Brains ladies, I have to say, I never would have been that quick to pair Brains with good food. Many of the Brains pubs I have visited have been great for a drink but left me a little disappointed on the food front. Is this all about to change? With lots of refurbs going on, are Brains going to be able to make enough of their food to put them up there with some of the better restaurants in Cardiff. I’d certainly be more than happy to review some to find out.

What do you think? I’d be interested to know your opinions on this….

More more posts, foodie news and competitions, please visit my website- http://www.yourlastmouthful.com

Arboreal- Combining top decor with top food!

There are some really lovely places to eat in Cowbridge but I rarely get up there so I was very pleased to be invited to review Arboreal Cafe-Kitchen-Bar. The current owners only opened after a reburb in October 2011 and I have heard quite a lot about Arboreal in that short time with reviews by fellow bloggers and articles in local magazines.

We managed to park right outside and Arboreal looked very inviting through the window with groups of people sitting inside by the bar. When we got in we could see that it was very busy but we were still greeted immediately by a friendly man behind the bar who took our name and showed us to our table.

The decor was striking. It had a clean fresh feel with white walls, pale furniture, big windows and a glass ceiling at the rear of the restaurant. The walls and the ceiling in places were cladded with reclaimed wood, washed white. The walls housed some unusual decor along the same theme including shelves made from wooden pallets and the table numbers were written on pebbles.

A chat with the owner at the end of the meal revealed that the theme was based round the name. Arboreal means ‘relating to or resembling a tree’. It is a very novel idea and worked well. Until I knew this, I thought there was a beach house theme as both seemed to fit with the decor. Either way, it was very appealing and is a nice twist on the traditional rustic theme.

We took our seats right next to the open kitchen. We were so close I was tempted to reach up and get my own dinner when they called service. It was great to be so close to the smells of the kitchen and I could literally smell some of our dishes coming but perhaps we were a little too close. The restaurant is quite small but the space has been utilised well. It felt intimate but not squashed.

The menu was quite minimal but varied with only three starters but there was also a range of sharing platters which looked really good. I went for the duck rillette, winter slaw of red cabbage, apple, beetroot and raisins with crustini and Mr. V went for mussels cooked with cider, leeks and pancetta, finished with fresh herbs and cream. Both were delicious and were our favourite dishes of the night.

I had a very generous helping of rillette and the accompanying winter slaw was just gorgeous! There were a lot of flavours on my plate as even the salad dressing added more but nothing overpowered, everything complimented each other perfectly.

Duck Rillette with winter slaw

Mr. V’s mussels were equally as lovely. They were beautifully cooked and the sauce was delicious with a good depth of flavour. Mr V was very pleased that they came with the accompaniments he likes; a bowl for the shells, a bowl of water to wash his hands and some bread. Both starters were a good size and a good price at £6.65 for the mussels and £5.95 for the duck rillette.

Mr V's mussels

Even though the restaurant was full, we didn’t have to wait long for our mains. Staff were efficient and friendly and we could see the chef in action. For our mains, I went for the Braised Beef Chilli and Mr. V opted for the Coq Au Vin. There were some seriously good pizzas on the menu too which I will be sampling next time!

My chilli was lovely. I don’t usually choose chilli but I liked the idea of it being made with braised beef instead of mince and it was a great way of doing it. It was the perfect heat for me and topped off with lime and coriander sour cream and served with wild rice. The beef was tender and the favours worked well together.

Braised beef chilli

Mr. V’s hearty Coq au vin was well received. The chicken was moist and the mash was smooth and light. The plate was small but the portion was a good size. It was nicely presented without being pretentious, just as a classic should be presented. Some of the mains were a touch expensive at £15.95 each but the starters and desserts were priced very well, as were the pizzas so I’d still give a green spoon for price.

Coq au vin

Moving onto dessert, I was very excited about the trio of wild fig ice cream only to find out that ‘Wild Fig’ was a brand rather than a flavour- ops! As the ice cream was the only dessert on the menu that wasn’t home-made I opted for the vanilla cheesecake instead and Mr. V had the Chocolate and rum torte with passion fruit cream. Both were excellent! Dessert is usually my least favourite course but for me these desserts were up there with the mains.

My cheesecake was delicious accompanied by boozy raisins and toasted hazelnuts but Mr. V’s was my favourite. The chocolate and rum torte was beautifully soft and dense and the passion fruit cream complimented the bitter chocolate.

Dessert

We had a lovely meal and I would definitely go back. Arboreal had a great atmosphere and staff made us feel welcome. For me a restaurant that can combine a laid back comfortable atmosphere with good quality, delicious food is a winner and Arboreal definitely delivered in this area.

My Last Mouthful was: The duck rillette with winter slaw

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Casa Bianca- A friendly encounter and good homemade fare.

Guest review by Mr. V

Having been very nicely asked to be a guest reviewer for Your Last Mouthful, last Thursday I met my associate Miss D and we went to Casa Bianca on City Road for a 3 course meal.

The exterior of the restaurant was clean, modern and stylish perhaps out classing the surrounding area along City Road. There were also outside tables which will be nice for the warmer weather next year.

We were greeted on entry and shown to our seats. The interior was not your typical Italian décor – but a mixture of old and modern paintings and photographs, some funky stripped walls, and a couple of dressed manikins.

Sounds a little odd but I thought it worked well and gave a quirky, more homely feel and made a pleasant change to the usual typical Mediterranean style. The lighting was just right, not too bright and not too dark and the music was at a good volume making the ambience exactly how I like it.

Sipping a cold Peroni, the friendly and accommodating waiter took our order. The meal titles were written in Italian and so I ordered the starters in my best Italian but then the main course meals seemed a little tricky so I went for listing the main ingredients in my best English. However, the keen waiter – having been impressed with my first attempts of Italian encouraged me to continue with the lingo. I think it’s always important to build up a good simple rapport with customers. It makes a big difference to the dining experience and the staff at Casa Biance were masters at this.

So, for the starters…

I opted for the Funghi Cacciatore which was mushrooms in a chilli and tomato sauce served with 2 discs of crispy polenta (not usually a fan of polenta but with the crispy outer it complemented the dish very nicely). My associate Miss D opted for the Funghi Bianchi which was mushrooms in a dolce latte sauce served with crusty bread. It was certainly a very tasty sauce and both were very nicely presented.

One thing I noted with the presentation – it was clear that there was a right way up and a wrong way up to the dish and the waiter was sure to turn the plate into the correct position for the customer. This shows in itself how much care the chef takes with the execution of his dishes.

Onto the mains. ..

I had Spaghetti Marinara and Miss D had sea bass in bread crumbs with a ginger and lemon sauce. The Spaghetti Marinara was presented very nicely, with mussels, clams, squid and prawns with tomato, garlic, chilli and parmesan. The whole dish was moist so no need for a substantial sauce. It was all very pleasant, although I would have liked to have been armed with a spoon and fork rather than a knife and fork.

Spaghetti Marinara

Miss D’s sea bass was again presented very nicely with a bit of balsamic glaze and cress artistry on the side. The fish was cooked well being meaty, soft and moist and a nice subtle sauce being able to taste both the ginger and lemon. It was accompanied with seasonal vegetables and roasted potatoes.

Sea Bass in Bread Crumbs with a Ginger and Lemon Sauce

Onto desserts…

After the appropriate amount of time to let the main course settle, the waiter came over and took us to the front of the restaurant to show us what was on offer. There were 3 desserts all personally handmade by the chef. There was an apple crumble tart, a lemon cheesecake and the all important tiramisu. I was very pleased to hear they were all homemade as so many restaurants buy in the desserts these days which I find very disappointing. The waiter sold them to us very well – especially the lemon cheesecake. I was torn. Miss D went straight in for the cheesecake, leaving me pained as that was what I was also going to order (and I don’t like to order the same). However even though they all looked good I caved and ordered the cheesecake too.

Lemon Cheesecake

Again presented very nicely with a bit of white chocolate sauce, a segment of lemon and a powdering of icing sugar, it went down a treat. I was concerned initially by the size of it thinking I’ll never finish it, but it was almost mousse like – very soft, light and smooth and finished the meal off very nicely.

Overall, it was a very pleasant experience with a good selection on the menu including meat and fish dishes – not just pasta and pizza, good varied prices from £9 to £19, excellent service and good tasting food.

My last mouthful was: The funghi Bianchi.

Service-

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