Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Valentines Weekend at The Celtic Manor

Before we go any further, I feel like I should add a disclaimer. I think Valentines Day is great. We do say I love you everyday, I do get random flowers for no reason and I don't believe you need to splash the cash to be romantic. BUT I do like to have a specific day dedicated to being smushy. I like occasions. I'm the girl who plans birthdays months in advance.

Last weekend, I got completely spoilt by Mr P and was whisked down the M4 to one of my favourite places, The Celtic Manor.

We arrived about 3pm, and luckily we were able to check in early, so we ran to our room, threw on our swimsuits and headed to the pool. Naturally. After a quick dip and a lounge in the sauna and steam rooms, we reluctantly went back to our room to change for dinner. Helped by a few bubbles, of course.

Last time we stayed, we were facing the front of the hotel and the golf course. This time however, we were looking out of the back of the hotel, onto the motorway. Although not as obviously relaxing, there's still something calming about watching the lights flying past at night with the Manor all lit up, and the Welsh colours billowing in the wind.

Our dinner reservation was at Rafters, which is in the Twenty Ten Clubhouse. We've dined here before, and had a fantastic meal, so we knew we were going to be looked after.

There are two things that sometimes put me off dining out on Valentines night. More often than not, you get a tiny set menu, generally with the nicest item being a sharing item. There's nothing romantic about sharing. Get off my dinner.

And then there's the set dining times. Your reservation was for 7pm, and you're dawdling over a coffee at 9pm, and then you have to leave for the next couple to jump in your seats. Not particularly conducive to a relaxing evening either.

Rafters had none of this. The tables were all preset for the night, and there seemed to only be one sitting. There was no rushing about, no cheesy decor, and the only sharing item was a dessert, which I'll let them off because I didn't fancy it anyway.

Mr P and I both went for exactly the same thing, from start to finish. For starters, we had smoked Severn and Wye Salmon with asparagus, poached egg and hollandaise sauce. A very pretty dish, and the smoked salmon was beautiful, hiding under a sprinkling of samphire.

Next course was a roast fillet of Welsh beef, sat on a bed of buttered spinach and a wild mushroom ragout. A chunky slice of crispy pancetta sat atop a thyme potato fondant, it's smokiness pervading the dish.

The beef was easily the standout item of the whole night. I've never tasted beef so buttery soft, and the sweetness of the Madeira jus brought it all together. Completely melt in your mouth beautiful.


The night was rounded off with a dark chocolate tart, with caramelised oranges and honey and whisky ice cream. I'm not the biggest dessert fan in the world, but I do love my ice cream. And whisky of course.

Neither of us could finish it all, as the chocolate tart was very rich and decandant, but I made sure that I polished off all the velvety ice cream.

Despite the over indulgence, we were both up with the birds the next morning, and hurried down to breakfast before all the other lovebirds got up. Not only did this mean we had a chilled out breakfast and the freshest eggs, but most importantly we managed to get down to a virtually empty spa nice and early.

We stayed in the hot tub looking out at the misty morning, until our fingers turned pruney enough to leave. I dragged myself away from the spa with the promise of a walk and a game of crazy golf. My competitive side can't ignore that offer.

Safe to say, the result now stands at 2-1 to me. To be continued, no doubt.

Much rejuvinated after a weekend spent wandering about the grounds and chilling in the spa, we headed home. Thanks once again to the wonderful staff at the Celtic, with what must be one of the busiest nights of the year we still received such wonderful service, from every moment between checking in and checking out.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Smoke Haus, Cardiff

The Smoke Haus, Cardiff has opened it's second restaurant on Mary Ann Street, which is located near the Motorpoint Arena. It now occupies the space which in recent years has been both Hooters and Sports Cafe Cardiff, and still retains much of the original layout.

Mr P and I were going to a concert at the Motorpoint with my brother, and we wanted something quick, close and filling. The Smoke Haus ticked all the boxes, so in we went. I'd originally booked a table, as I had assumed the restaurant would be busy on a concert day, but there were only about 5 tables taken when we walked in, and numerous staff waiting around.

After staring wide eyed at the huge plates being brought out to diners, I decided to go for the sandwich list. I chose the pulled pork hoagie at £8.95, with an extra £1.00 for the sweet potato chips upgrade.

I agonised for a while over having this or the nachos...I made the wrong choice. The sweet potato chips were the best bit, a really generous portion, and still quite chunky, which I prefer much more than the skinny fries! However, the pulled pork was a bit of a let down. The sauce became very overbearing and sickly, and I ended up eating less than half. The hoagie roll it was served in was on the stale side, and the whole thing became pretty unappealing.

My brother went for the slow cooked deli brisket (£8.95), of which I didn't get a photo. Personally, I think he had the best meal! I stole a bite of the brisket which was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the toasted bloomer bread holding it together looked a lot nicer than my hoagie roll.

Mr P however had seen too many burgers on social media to let this opportunity pass him by... and opted for the donut burger, £10.95.

A burger topped with cheese, bacon and sauce, sandwiched between two donuts. Yes - two donuts. I'm not qualified to comment on this, as it doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. I tried a bite and really didn't enjoy it. However, I do happen to have a direct quote from the diner in question, stating that he "really liked it, and enjoyed the combination of sweet and salty flavours" but he did admit later that he felt like his stomach was about to explode and that he was craving some lettuce!

All in all, it was a bit hit 'n' miss. My meal wasn't the best, and I'm not a fan of the school dinner tray style of serving either. But maybe I'm just being snooty. For a quick, reasonably priced meal, with giant portion sizes The Smoke Haus does just fine. I'm not sure I'd go back personally, but I'm sure it's 'Man Vs Food' appeal will keep bringing customers through the doors.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Burger & Lobster, Cardiff

Well I'm back! Finally feeling a little more myself after the January tax return onslaught, which is always a smack in the face after the Christmas break! And I've got one more pre-Christmas foodie trip that while I was away I realised that I hadn't shared with you yet.

I'd been pretty excited since I'd heard that the remaining upstairs space of the old Habitat on the Hayes in Cardiff City Centre was to become the home of Burger and Lobster. One of my favourite pastimes is drooling over other food blogs, so I'd heard a lot about the London restaurant, and the whole idea appealed to me so much.

I am a pretty indecisive person, and unfortunately so is Mr P. This generally means a lot of menu staring at restaurants and impatient waiting staff. Here that problem is solved, there's not even a menu. Your waiter will grab your drinks and fill you in.

There's a whole lobster, there's a burger, and there's a lobster roll. And they're all £20.

The only other variation is that you can choose whether your lobster come grilled or steamed. All items come with chips, a side salad and a butter sauce.

Mr P and I both went for the lobster, steamed as recommended by our very helpful waiter.

It arrived extremely quickly, so much so that I was both impressed and a little dubious. There was no need for the hesitation, as it was fantastic! The lobster came halved, and was both meaty and light at the same time. The butter sauce was beautiful and they both went together really well. I imagine that it'd be even better with the lobster grilled, being that bit hotter. Saying that, the chips dunked in it after the lobster had all gone were pretty good too!

The hardest bits were already pre-cracked, so it wasn't to difficult to dig around and get the best bits in the claw. It's so easy, and the staff are so helpful and unpretentious that you don't have to worry about making a fool of yourself. That's what the bibs are for anyway...

Genius idea, as no matter where I am or what I'm eating, some of it invariably ends up on my person somewhere. I thought of of grabbing a couple to just take with me anywhere.

Now, here's the thing. £20 for a whole lobster, is brilliant. Especially as it was so delicious. BUT I don't think I could ever spend £20 on a burger or a lobster roll. It'd have to be something pretty special to even make me ponder it. I suppose it keeps the menu simple, and helps their profits, but it's a little too expensive for me.

Burger and Lobster is achingly cool.  There's a very glamourous bar area in the middle to wait for your tables with a cocktail or two, and a DJ playing live music as you walk in. However, eating in the evening while it was dark outside was pretty interesting. The lighting is sparse in the eating areas, and we seemed to be sat on a table for two in the middle of the room with a spotlight right above us. I felt like I was eating in that certain clothes shop where you queue outside for five hours...

Am I getting old? Maybe. But I wasn't a fan. I'd probably change my mind completely if we were in one of the cwtchy booths at the side, but I felt quite exposed where we were. The lighting also made for awful photos, which were on the sketchy side anyway as I was using the iPhone!

Would I go back? Definitely. I love lobster and think it's great that there's such an accessible place to eat it at such a fantastic price. Not sure if I'll ever fork out for that burger though. Let me know if you do, and if it's worth it!