Toot (Plymouth) – Review

Featuring Persian classics and an excellent vegetarian & vegan selection, this family run independent restaurant hits all the right spots.

★★★★★

The Global Financial Crisis hit Plymouth’s restaurant scene badly; before this restaurateur Edmond Davari ran several establishments in the city, predominantly around the Sutton Harbour area, including Souk, Zucca, Asia Chic and Papa Joe’s. The recession forced Edmond to shut these and focus on his catering company Main Event South West, but now he’s back and focused on his new venture, the Persian themed Toot. The establishment is small and cosy, with long pastel painted benches covered in fresh flowers, waxy candelabras and Persian calligraphy and movie posters on the wall. The result is an informal and relaxed atmosphere, presided over by the charming and affable owner himself. On a Saturday evening our group of six found the restaurant to be busy, but not rammed. This meant that Edmond had enough time to greet us personally, welcome us to his restaurant and talk us through the menu, all the while with lighthearted humorous conversation.

So, on to the food. Featuring a variety of Persian and Middle Eastern cuisine, the menu had a surprising amount of food which was accessible to vegan, vegetarian and gluten free diners. We were indecisive about what we wanted as a starter, so asked Edmond to choose a selection of six for us. We explained that as we had a vegan in our party, to make sure a reasonable amount of them were suitable for vegans. Before long we were presented with huge slate platters with a selection of delicious looking appetizers. From freshly fried falafel and chunky hummus to stuffed vine leaves and a really interesting potato and egg salad infused with gherkin and shredded chicken, we were spoiled for choice. Served with baskets of flat bread, these starters were filling on their own, but we soon realized we also had a main meal on it’s way.

Served by Edmond and his friendly and accommodating waiting staff, the mains were huge plates of freshly cooked aromatic food. Most of our group had opted for Kebabs, which were served with saffron infused rice, grilled tomato and more flat bread. The Kebab meat itself was juicy and full of flavour. I had chosen the mixed grill – one Lamb meat kebab and one saffron chicken kebab. Each was flavoured to perfection, and much like the starters was a huge portion. At this point Edmond came over and showed us the traditional way of eating the dish – adding butter and sumac to the rice, chopping the grilled tomato up and mixing it together, and then using a hunk of flatbread to scoop up the rice and meat. Being shown this way was a great touch, and contributed to Edmond’s aim of making his customers feel like they are guests in his home rather than paying clientele.

Already stuffed and barely able to finish our mains, Edmond was more than willing to box up what we couldn’t finish to take home with us. He was then able to successfully tempt us with the limited, but intriguing, selection of deserts. The trio consisted of traditional Baklava, pistachio and rose water ice cream and the bizarre yet delicious Faloodeh. This dish consisted of rice noodles soaked in rose water and chilled, over which fresh lemon juice was squeezed. While this as a concept sounds strange, it had a fascinating texture and fresh yet perfumed flavour. If you want something a bit different as a palate cleanser after a heavy meal, it hits the mark. Finished off with some traditional Persian tea, the meal left us all completely satisfied. Fresh food, fantastic service and all at a reasonable price. If you are looking for something a little different to the usual chain restaurant, Toot is highly recommended.

 

To see the full menu and to find out more about Toot, click here

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Mowgli’s (Cardiff) – Review

Situated at the top of bustling Crwys Road, this award winning Indian restaurant serves fantastic food, with friendly service. A must try for curry lovers.

★★★★★

They say you can tell a lot about the quality and reputation of a restaurant by how busy it is, so my partner and I were delighted when we entered the unassuming looking Mowgli’s on a midweek evening in January to find the place almost completely full. After waiting a few minutes for a table we were seated and given menus, and were immediately stunned by the sheer amount of choice of delicious looking dishes. Separated into Mowgli’s own specials, and “old favourites” (korma, madras, vindaloo, masala etc.), the worst part of the experience was having to narrow down what each of us wanted. Having ordered some freshly cooked popadoms and dips to munch on while we chose, we eventually decided on a curry dish each with a bhaji, rice and naan as sides. I opted for the Beef Achari Madras, cooked hot (not extra hot, I wasn’t feeling quite that brave/foolhardy), while my partner opted for one of the “old favourites” – chicken bhuna.

Despite being busy the service of the food was quick, and it wasn’t long before our dishes arrived. It was obvious right away that this food wasn’t your typical curry-house affair. The dishes were big, but looked freshly cooked and weren’t swimming in grease. My Beef Achari Madras was filled with big hunks of slowly cooked beef. To say the meat was tender was an understatement – the meat fell apart easily on my plate, and the flavours had infused all the way through. Despite being spicy, the heat wasn’t dominating or overwhelming, and you could taste the individual flavours of kaffir pickle, curry leaves and cumin. My partner’s chicken bhuna was also full of flavour, with the chunks chicken juicy and the vegetables still holding their texture well. The pilau rice had been infused well with cardamom and cloves, and the naan was light and fluffy. Finally the onion bhaji’s (so often served dripping in oil or overly fried in Indian restaurants) were fresh and light, crumbling away perfectly and lightly spiced.

The service offered by the staff was also excellent – attentive without being overbearing and incredibly efficient, you felt like your every need was taken care of with ease. Little things, like being offered a hot wet towel both before and after the meal, or lighting a little tealight as you were seated were little touches but which made the experience feel personal. As is so often the case with Indian we ordered too much, and the staff asked if we wanted the rest boxed up to takeaway with us. Being offered, rather than having to ask for this, should be the standard response in any restaurant. Yet so many places either neglect this, or only do it grudgingly.

When looking for places to eat in the area we decided on Mowgli’s due to their many awards, including winning the South Wales Echo Best Indian Restaurant 2015, Best Restaurant South East Wales in the Asian Food Awards, and (arguably just as good a measure of quality from punters themselves) their Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence. Having eaten there ourselves, we absolutely believe they deserved those awards. Fantastically flavoured food, excellent service, and a great environment all at very reasonable prices combine to make Mowgli’s an essential place for lovers of Indian food.

To see the full menu and to find out more about Mowgli’s, click here

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Irie Shack (Cardiff) – Review

This Caribbean restaurant located in the heart of Cathays serves up delicious Jamaican food with great service, and all for student friendly prices..

★★★★☆

Situated in the middle of Cardiff’s student land on Woodville road, Irie Shack’s wooden frontage stands in stark contrast to the terraced brick houses and glass fronted shops on the rest of the street. Featuring a large restaurant area covered in Caribbean and Jamaican apparel, a covered outdoor beer garden and good size bar, Irie shack certainly looks promising. The menu offers a range of burgers, one-pot meals and jerk dishes, and features authentic Jamaican dishes like Curry Goat, Salt Fish and of course Jerk chicken.

We visited Irie Shack for an early dinner on Wednesday evening before a trip to the theatre, but were surprised for a weekday evening how busy it was. By the time we left there were very few tables free, all filled with a mix of students, families and couples. We were seated quickly and shown the menu. My partner and I are both foodies and love Turtle Bay, but we wanted to try a local independent restaurant so Irie Shack seemed like a good choice. Looking at the menu we were both struggling to decide – there were so many things we wanted to try! Eventually we settled on the Jerk Chicken Skewers and the Curry Goat, with a can of Ting (A carbonated grapefruit drink popular in the Caribbean, like a less sweet Lilt) each to wash it down with.

Our food arrived surprisingly quickly, and did not disappoint. My partners Chicken was tender and well flavoured, with a large pot of jerk dipping sauce on the side for extra zing if needed. Chicken cooked on skewers does have the tendency to be dry as the meat cooks more quickly, however these skewers were tender and juicy. My curried goat was full of  warm flavours and the goat meat was tender, falling off the bone easily. The meal was served in a pot with a sweet and crispy dumpling  and a side of rice. The rice on both of our dishes was also good. Rather than just plain white rice, it was served with a mix of beans and onions stirred through it, which gave it a much more interesting flavour. My only criticism of the dish was that there was quite a lot of bone, meaning there wasn’t huge amount of goat meat in the curry. This minor quibble aside, the food was served quickly, and was delicious.

Overall we both left Irie shack very impressed. The staff were attentive and friendly, joking with other guests or singing them happy birthday. The atmosphere was relaxed and informal, with Reggae and Caribbean music playing and music videos playing on screens throughout. There was a stage in the corner, where live music acts play at the weekend, and the venue also has a range of cocktails and drinks as well as a happy hour meaning the place is likely packed at the weekend. The price was also very competitive – they clearly know there is a huge student market, with main meals for less than a tenner. A local restaurant serving good quality food with excellent service and great value for money – well worth a look if you want something more interesting than the many pub-grub style places that litter Cathays.

 

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To see more about Irie Shack, read their menu or book a table, see their website here.

The Hidden Olive (Plymouth) – Review

This independently owned waterside eatery offers a delicious range of vegetarian dishes, while also catering for those who need meat on the menu.

★★★★☆

I am a self diagnosed burger addict. It has almost become a running joke between myself and my partner that wherever we go to eat, I will always choose some sort of ridiculously decadent gourmet beef burger, smothered in cheese, various toppings and sides. I’m also a big fan of steak – see my review of Cardiff’s Steak of the Art or The Grazing Shed if you don’t believe me. I think you can judge a lot about a restaurant by how good their burger or steak is. And so I surprised everyone, including myself, when I suggested we go for dinner to The Hidden Olive, a place with a predominantly vegetarian menu.

Situated in the idyllic surroundings of Sutton Harbour, The Hidden Olive is in the perfect location to attract visitors and locals alike. We were greeted enthusiastically by a young lady who we took to be the manager, were given seats by the window and were also introduced to their newest member of staff – an adorable long haired dachshund. Apparently he was discovered on a farm having been abused, and is settling in to his new home in the restaurant, where he is very well behaved and affectionate. Settling into our seats, we were given the food, wine and gin menus – that’s right, this place dedicates a whole menu to gin. 40 of them to be precise, all with recommendations of which type of tonic and garnish to serve them with. We thought it might be a bit optimistic/unwise to try and drink our way through all 40 varieties in a single evening, so we opted to order one round and some starters while we looked at the mains menu.

The menu was small, but all sounded delicious. This made decisions difficult for the whole group. There was an excellent variety, with stone baked pizzas, vegetarian and meat burgers, kebab skewers and fish. Two of us opted for vegetarian burgers, one for the chicken burger and the other for the chicken skewer. No sooner had we ordered our mains than our starters arrived. We were sharing freshly fried whitebait with garlic aoli, olives and gooey baked Camembert with ciabatta which was served with a drizzle of delicious date and fig glaze. The starters were all excellent – the whitebait was crispy and not at all oily, the olives full of flavour with just the right kick of spice, and the Camembert baked to perfection, with the rosemary placed on top just infusing a hint of the herbs flavour to the gooey cheese.

As we awaited our mains we surveyed our surroundings. The restaurant is designed to feel modern and airy, with dark wooden flooring offsetting light painted walls. The seating is predominantly in the form of long tables and benches, with a few small tables and sofas dotted around.  The walls were covered with interesting contemporary artwork, possibly by local artists, which was also for sale. While we were admiring the art, our main course arrived. Slightly nervous that I’d made a mistake in going against my carnivorous instincts by ordering a veggie-burger, I took my first bite of the chickpea and sweetcorn patty. I immediately realised i’d made the right decision. The burger was full of flavour, the patty moist enough not to crumble apart when picked up. The chilli and tomato salsa gave the burger an uplifting warmth, while not overpowering the herbs and spices in the burger itself. The bun was a toasted ciabatta style bun which was perhaps a little dry, meaning it was difficult to bite into or cut without the burger ingredients falling out, and the double cooked chips were not as crispy as they could have been. That, however, may just be me being overly critical about burgers. Everyone else also seemed to agree about the quality of their food, with no plate left unfinished.

Throughout the meal, the manager ensured everything was satisfactory with our meal, making us feel very at home. Nothing was too much trouble for her, and she chatted away with us in depth at several points. The house dog also kept his eye on us, occasionally coming over for some attention before wandering off to another table or curling up on one of the sofas. Restaurants, with a few exceptions, seem to come and go quickly around the Barbican and Sutton Harbour. The area is very competitive, and relies on tourist trade. As someone who has recently moved back to Plymouth, having lived away for nearly five years, most of the restaurants I knew from the area have probably closed an reopened several times since I’ve been away. Some of the restaurants were very good and it’s a shame they closed, and some were so below par that it was a surprise they lasted as long as they did. In terms of quality of food and service, The Hidden Olive definitely belongs in the former category. The meal was delicious, the atmosphere relaxing and the service excellent. Long may this cafe/restaurant survive and thrive.

For more about The Hidden Olive, or to book a table visit their website here:

http://www.thehiddenolive.co.uk/

or Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/TheHiddenOlive

 

Steak of the Art Cardiff – Review

This stylish steakhouse runs the risk of being style over substance, but comes up top on both counts.

★★★★★

Ever wanted to eat in a hot air balloon? How about inside a giant Dalek? Well now you can. One of Cardiff’s latest additions to its burgeoning culinary scene, Steak of the Art manages to combine contemporary decor and interior design with simple but delicious food to deliver a modern twist on what is a classic dish – Steak and Chips.

Arriving at the restaurant we were greeted by a friendly and informative hostess. She showed us to our table and offered to talk us through the menu, before telling us about the art gallery they had in one corner of the restaurant (more on this later). The menu was carnivores dream: plenty of different steaks to choose from, as well as lamb and chicken, pork schnitzel and fish dishes, all served with a choice of side salad, hand cut chips or sweet potato fries. The starters seemed to mainly consist of planks with a themed selection of bite sized anti pasti choices – either a veg, fish or meat board, or a BBQ meat sharer board were on offer.

Myself and my girlfriend opted to share the fish board as a starter, then both chose the rib eye steak, medium for myself medium well for her, and peppercorn and red wine sauces to share. To drink I opted for a pint of Tiny Rebel’s Fubar Pale Ale. Our waitress was friendly and efficient, checking back our order and setting our places in good time. For a steak house, I was really impressed by their extensive drinks menu, which contained an excellent combination of both local and international ales, beers and spirits. Inclusions such as Newport based brewery Tiny Rebel’s Fubar Pale Ale to me demonstrated this new restaurant’s dedication to showcasing good local produce where ever possible.

Then the starters arrived, and a good experience so far became an excellent one. The Fish board contained a good selections of brilliantly cooked fish dishes, from a mackerel pate on toast, and whole fried whitebait, to sardines on toast and fried squid rings, each bite sized morsel was perfectly seasoned and cooked. Even the Aoli sauce included in an artistic smear across the board tasted freshly made and delicious. Needless to say me and my girlfriend wolfed our starter down and eagerly awaited our mains.

Before long, two steaks arrived at our table, cooked perfectly to order and with a handful of huge hand cut chips. My rib eye was amazing. Tender meat, seasoned well and with a melt in your mouth texture. The meat was so soft it barely needed the steak knife to be cut. The chips were also brilliant, with fluffy crispy skin on the outside, and soft buttery insides, and the sauces were full of flavour and complemented the steaks too. I’m not usually a fan of peppercorn sauce, I find that the pepper flavour overwhelms any creaminess in an overpowering way, but in this sauce the creaminess really came through. I cannot compliment the steaks enough, even my girlfriend who is not usually a fan of steaks and so was slightly apprehensive about going to SotA said that the steak was so good it has converted her.

And so with starters and mains exceeding expectations, when the dessert menu was offered I felt compelled to have a look. Again my girlfriend and I opted to share a dish, and went for the lemon posset with passion fruit sauce. It was small, but rich. The posset was creamy, but had enough of a citrus kick to cut through it, while the passion fruit sauce was sharp and powerful;full of enough passion fruit seeds to give bursts of flavour in each mouthful.

So after an incredible meal, it was time to pay. With the whole meal for two (a starter, two mains, a dessert and a pint) coming in at just under £60 it definitely isn’t the cheapest steak in Cardiff, but for atmosphere and taste alone it has to be one of the best. It is testament to the ever expanding culinary scene in Cardiff that a place like this can flourish. Despite being a Monday night, downstairs in the restaurant was fairly busy – surely a sign that this new steak house must be doing well.

I was worried that because of SotA’s unique and quirky interior design the food would be all style and no substance, but nothing could be further from the truth. The interior design is a bit bonkers, with a patchwork of different themed booths and tables jostling for attention. The art gallery section of the restaurant may suggest a level of pretentiousness not normally associated with steakhouses (I for one think it is an interesting concept). But it all just works. The interior design may be a talking point, but the quality of the food speaks for itself.

For more information or to book a table in either their Cardiff or Bristol (the original) restaurant, visit http://www.steakoftheart.co.uk

The Grazing Shed Cardiff – Review

 

Great Gourmet Burgers – Welsh Style. 

★★★★☆

The Gourmet Burger seems to have had somewhat of a renaissance in Britain over the last couple of years. From your local gastropub (read Wetherspoons) to chains like Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) and Byron’s burgers, everyone seems to be offering up their take on the gourmet burger. So how does local independant competition The Grazing Shed face up to these?

Grazing shed is located on Barrak lane (outside the food court in St. David’s 2), and offers up a range of freshly cooked burgers using locally sourced Welsh Beef, served on freshly baked artisan bread (also welsh) and skin on crispy chips. Their menu is reasonably extensive, ranging from the John Wayne (bbq, cheddar fondue and crispy bacon) to the spicy Uncle Pedro (chorizo, avocado mash, and jalapeno infused sour cream), as well as chicken burgers and vegetarian options. You have the option of just buying the burger, or getting the meal for a couple of pounds extra – this includes the chips and a drink provided by the lovely drinks company. They are slightly different to the usual coke/lemonade offered everywhere else, and include fresh ginger beer, root beer, proper lemonade and elderflower.

I LOVE a good burger, and having deliberated over the menu for quite a while I opted for the John Wayne meal. We took our seats, and in less than 5 minutes our burgers arrived. This speed is not unusual – every time I have visited our food has been out in less than 10 minutes, which is impressive considering they cook the burgers fresh. The burgers are cooked medium as standard, so be warned – if you don’t like pink meat then ask for them to cook it a bit more. The first bite of your first grazing shed burger is always the best. Still hot, juicy and always perfectly seasoned, it easily beats GBK for the taste of the meat itself. In my John Wayne the BBQ cajun dressing worked perfectly with the cheddar fondue to cut through the creaminess of the cheese, and this set off the smokiness of the bacon well. I devoured my burger, and washed it down with a couple of glasses of their ginger beer.

This is unpretentious dining. Don’t expect anything over the top or unneccesary – the food is served in baskets with a basket of napkins on each bench. The small size of the restaurant means rather than tables they have long low benches for people to sit communally at, and this compliments the whole “grazing shed” idea of it – people sat down together, grazing on brilliant burgers together. the one thing I will say is that apart from one wall being  covered with old barn doors – a neat little touch – the place itself is very minimally decorated, which makes the whole place seem a bit cold and uninviting. I get that they’re going for minimalism, but white walls and grey floor can be a bit uninspiring to look at. Other than that, I can’t really fault The Grazing Shed. The staff are always chatty, the manager very personable and the whole place runs like clockwork. My only other gripe is with the price. I understand that for a good quality burger you expect to pay significantly more than for the puk of grissle you get in McDonald’s, however for one of the pricier burgers, a meal will set you back nearly £11. Yes, this does include a drink and chips, and yes they do have cheaper options including a student meal for £7.95, but even this isn’t hugely cheap.

Overall, the burger itself is one the best I’ve eaten, they have a pretty good range of options and specials (although GBK probably has a couple more interesting ones), and the staff are always friendly. Can Cardiff support another burger joint? When it’s as good as this one, definitely.

To find out more about the grazing shed and to see a menu, go to http://www.thegrazingshed.com/

Mission Burrito Cardiff Review

Great Taste, great size, shame about the temperature

★★★☆☆

Mission Burrito is located on The Friary in Cardiff City centre. For those who don’t know where that is, it’s just next to live lounge, and opposite Revolucion De Cuba. Having been inspired by the burritos they had in San Francisco, they came the UK, and opened a joint in Oxford before opening more in Bristol, Reading, Bath and Reading. They opened in Cardiff in October 2013, and since then seem to have done a pretty good business selling serve tacos, burritos and fajitas both to eat in and take away.

Having been to Mission Burrito several times before I knew what to expect, but for those who don’t here’s a quick explanation.

1) Chose your type: Taco, Burrito (small and regular now available) or Burrito Fajita

2) Chose your filling: Chipotle chicken, slow cooked pork, beef or vegetarian (peppers and onions)

3) Chose your extras: mild salsa, lettuce, sour cream (all free), plus add guacamole (+70p), and Monterey Jack cheese (+40p)

4) Chose your salsa: ranges from Salsa Verde (slightly warming) to Chipotle (oh thats got a bit of a kick) to Habanero (f**k me that’s hot).

5) Grab any extras (mexican sodas, tortilla chips etc.)

I have tried all the different meats and can tell you that the best by far is the pork. The chicken is slightly dry and under-seasoned, and the beef can be a bit tough, but the slow cooked pork is the best! Tender, succulent and full of flavour it’s my choice every time now. They are all made fresh in front of you by friendly staff who know their stuff, and advise you on how to eat them (peel the foil down bit by bit as you eat or it will collapse), because these things are beasts. I have a fairly big appetite buy I struggle to finish a whole one. They are so crammed with fillings that eating them cleanly is nearly impossible, but if you’re eating them with other Amigos, who cares?

But while the flavour is good, i’m always left disappointed by the temperature. The fajita is heated up when you order, and the meat is kept warm, but since the rest of the ingredients are kept chilled, by the time you come to eat it things have cooled down too much to really enjoy. Perhaps they should make the burrito, then blast it in the microwave for half a minute to keep the whole thing nice and warm?

At about £7.50ish each if you go for guac and cheese, these things may seem a bit pricey for what is essentially street food, but the sheer size of them makes them pretty good value for money.  I would also recommend washing your burrito down with a Mexican Soda – they have an impressive range including mango, mandarin, guava and tamarind, as well as root beer and bottles of Pacifico Lager (good stuff).

All in all, great size, good taste, but the temperature lets it down for me.

For more information about Mission Burrito and to find your nearest one, go to http://missionburrito.co.uk/