Monday, 25 May 2015

Gower Good Food Festival - Gower Heritage Centre

If you read my original review of the Mill Tea Rooms back in December 2013, you'll know I enjoy the Gower Heritage Centre in Parkmill, Gower.

A Bank Holiday. But where's the rain?

One of the reasons I make time to visit to the centre is their calendar of festivals over the year, be it food, drink or music (usually a convenient combination of all three!).

So I decided to pop down to the centre for the Gower Good Food Festival, which ran for two days over the May Bank Holiday weekend, showcasing a plethora of local food and drink producers.

Admission was £5 per adult

The centre provides a great little space for this kind of thing; big enough to fit in around 15 different stalls, but small enough to create a bustling atmosphere, all under cover so it's pretty weather resistant.

Busy little space

I won't go through everything I saw and tasted, but here are some of the highlights.

Chutneys and jams from Mamgu's Kitchen

I started by trying and buying some delicious runner bean chutney from Mamgu's Kitchen, a small Swansea based company which offered many different varieties. Aside from chutneys, the stall holder also ensured me that every one of her jams had alcohol in - sounds like my kind of breakfast condiment.

Some of the pies on show

Next came the stall of Sketty's Dilly's Kitchen, who - among several herb bushes - were showing off a good choice of handmade pies. Traditional fillings sat alongside more inventive tastes such as a chicken and chorizo pie, and an aloo gobi veggie offering, which was packed with Indian flavour. Very good, I bought one to take home for later.

Good enough to drink!

I enjoyed the chutneys from Little Black Hen, but was most intrigued by the Carmarthenshire company's fruit vinegars, especially when I found out they could be mixed into a drink. Always on the lookout for something new and odd, I tasted some of the strawberry and mint vinegar mixed with a little sparking water - fruity, but refined, and very refreshing.

A nervous Nigel contemplating some hot sauce.

Some of the other stalls at the festival were Mumbles Pate, whose rich pates were laced with generous amounts of tequila and vodka, while Halen Gwyr had samples of their Gower Sea Salt in dark chocolate to show off the flavour and versatility. 

Finally, separate from the rest of the stalls, towards the entrance of the centre, was Nervous Nigel's hot sauces, which were - as the name suggests - pretty damn hot, although still focused on flavour instead of just blind heat.

All in all a nice morning out and another successful food festival for the Gower Heritage Centre.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Crumbs Kitchen - Uplands Crescent

Happy Vegetarian Week! (if you're reading between 18-24th May 2015)

Although I'm not a traditional vegetarian, over the last year or so I've been eating much less meat and trying out more vegetarian cuisine. And I've been enjoying the variety of food and the health benefits. I still eat meat - I love a good quality burger - but just not as much these days. (I'm not one for labels, but I think this makes me a 'flexitarian').

Since eating less meat I've noticed that Swansea lacks a choice when it comes to vegetarian dining hotspots. For many years Govinda's was Swansea's only real vegetarian restaurant, but Crumbs Kitchen arrived a few years ago in the city's bustling Uplands area to offer an alternative.

Car outside is subject to change.

And it took me a while to try Crumbs - which sits just off Uplands Crescent. But last week I made the effort and I'm glad I did.

There are tables outside on the street, which is nice in the summer, not so appealing in the winter. Regardless of the dry weather I sat inside, away from the potential hazards of alfresco eating (bees, flies, dogs, odd people walking past).

Uplands: Alfresco

The first thing you notice as you walk in are the hot and cold food counters, which are full of good looking healthy options. I instantly clocked a three bean chilli and a chickpea and spinach curry, but - knowing I would be having a curry later that day (I do eat out a lot) - I decided to give their salad bowl a try.

Hot food counters entice you in

As you get more than just lettuce this seemed like a fair price. The bowl I had featured a mix of red cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, homemade coleslaw, brown rice, peanuts and more, topped with a generous portion of grated cheese. A standard bowl was about £6 while a small one was nearer £4.

The standard size salad bowl, which was about £6

I had a little food envy when I saw my dining partner's warm and cheesy omelette, but was satisfied with my choice. It was fresh, tasted good and I knew it was pretty healthy.

The mushroom omelette with a nice looking salad garnish

The cafe itself is pleasant, although not particularly cosy. It's a nice place to meet for a coffee or lunch, but perhaps not one I'd spend hours lingering in (having said that I rarely linger anywhere, so my point is invalid).

Overall I will certainly head back to Crumbs sometime soon. Maybe I'll try an omelette, a slice of veggie pie, or even a cooked veggie breakfast as it all looked very good. Maybe I'll sit outside. Or maybe not.

(If you know I've missed out a vegetarian restaurant in Swansea and want to call me on it, get in touch!)

Monday, 27 April 2015

Cosmo: Revisited

When I first reviewed Cosmo in September 2012, it was still relatively new to Swansea and I was quite enthusiastic about the buffet restaurant chain.

However I went again soon after and was a little disappointed, meaning I avoided it for about two years... until last Saturday evening when I went with family for a celebratory meal.

First thing I noticed on my return to Cosmo was the way you pay for your meal has changed. I applauded their previous system of pay on the door before you eat and pay for drinks as you go. It was simple, and you knew where you stood. Now it's all done at the end, which admittedly is more like a 'real' restaurant, but I still prefer the old system.

Quieter than I expected.

The second thing that was apparent as I took my seat was the volume of people. Although there was no lack of people, it was certainly quieter than I expected for a Saturday evening. The photos in my last review showed a huge mass of people queuing to get to their table. This time we were free to walk straight in. The hype has definitely died down.

One of the reasons, I'm sad to say, could be the food. Again, referring to my previous review, I said:

"...when I spotted vats of fish fingers and mini sausages among the noodles and king prawns, I knew that Cosmo had lost some of its magic."

Originally a Pan Asian restaurant, back then Cosmo had branched out into a few simple Western foods, which lacked any creativity, skill or time from the chefs - an obvious cost cutting measure.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I grabbed a plate, went to the first row of food and saw this...

That's right, in order: scampi, criss-cross fries, hash browns and mini sausages. Further down the line...

Come on - this is supposed to be a cutting edge 'world food' restaurant, not a lunchtime at a primary school! Add in things like pasta, carvery and pizza and Cosmo have definitely become even more of a 'jack of all trades, master of none'. All a little 'meh' if you ask me.

The highlight of the trip last time round was the live cooking stations. You'll remember in my last review I posted a photo of fresh prawns and mussels sizzling away over open coals. However you can no longer have this kind of food on that station - they now do beef burgers there. Wow. I could have gone to the nearby McDonalds for a burger.

There now seems to be just one live cooking station around the other side, which still serve up fresh prawns and scallops, but the choice has really suffered.

All in all, quite disappointing food-wise.

But there are some positives. Firstly, there are one or two dishes - such as the king prawns and mixed vegetables - which I found quite tasty. But there are just not enough of these.

Also it's undoubtedly very good value for money as you can eat however much you like. I had about five small plates - including desert - but there's no limit to the amount you can put away. I also made an effort to try the Indian food section this time, which was decent - nothing compared to the quality in a dedicated curry house, but not bad compared to some of the other stuff.

Some of the food from the Indian section

The service was friendly, and overall the party I was with enjoyed the night. But I won't be rushing back to Cosmo. Chances are it'll be another two years before I go to see if anything has changed, but I fear by then it will be fish fingers and chips all round, not a delicious prawn in sight.

I will be haunted by this final image, which I took as I was leaving the restaurant: a bowl of wasabi with some cold mini sausages that had fallen off someone's plate.

... *Sigh*

Friday, 24 April 2015

The Westbourne - Brynymor Road

The Westbourne has been a longstanding feature on the corner of Brynymor Road and St Helen's Road, and since a refurb a few years back - including a bright purple colour scheme - it's become quite an eye-catching building.

Inside, it's pretty much a standard family-friendly pub. There's nothing spectacular about the setting, but it's modern, clean and comfortable, with a mix of regular pub tables and more relaxing sofas, giving the whole place that nice lounge feel.

A bright pub

But the food is what we're here to discuss! They offer an extensive menu, featuring your standard pub grub along with some more adventurous fare - veggie fish and chips for example (with beer battered halloumi cheese) and an array of pizzas.

A big fan of Mexican food, the taco salad bowl instantly caught my eye and that's what I went for. When it arrived (quite a short wait even during a busy lunchtime), I was very pleased with the size. Anytime I go for a salad there's an underlying fear that I've ordered the wrong thing, but the sight of the waitress carrying this beastly plate to my table eased those worries.

Taco salad bowl - no complaints about the portion size!

The dish comprised a bed of lettuce, tomatoes and cooked peppers, with a mound of beef chili and a little cheese, served in a crispy taco shell bowl. Very tasty and good quality, although the chili was a tad on the sloppy side, meaning the taco bowl turned soggy quite quickly.

Another thing worth a mention is the jalapeno coleslaw. Reading from the menu I was under the impression that it may be a freshly made slaw with peppers mixed in - instead it was just pre-made with a few jalapenos chucked on the top. Not bad, but not great.

As I was eating my salad, my dining partner was making his way through a more calorific meatball and mozarella sub, which looked delicious. Again, no skimping on the ingredients.

So food, atmosphere and service-wise The Westbourne seemed to be ticking the right boxes. The one thing I wasn't really fussed about was the self-service beer taps (*shock*).

The famous 'beer wall'.

Innovative? Yes. A bit of a gimmick? Also yes.

I know many patrons will love this feature and I can see how it could be handy, perhaps if you want to avoid bar queues and want to feel the sheer power of pouring your own pint. However I just can't understand why everyone is so keen to serve themselves these days. 

If I'm paying a premium price for a drink (and the Westbourne are charging nearly £5 for some beers) I do not want to be serving myself a poorly poured pint; a glass mainly filled with foam (I'm a writer, not a barman).

Each to their own I guess, but it's not for me.

Self service beer and pricey drinks aside, I would happily recommend The Westbourne for a casual lunch for both choice and portion sizes that will leave you full and satisfied.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Dunvant - Dunvant Road

I've been meaning to write about The Dunvant, located on Dunvant Road (that's in Dunvant if you've not already guessed) for quite some time.

It's part of the Hungry Horse family of pub/restaurants, and while I've not been into the pub side of it, I have tried the restaurant a few times and I've always been impressed.

The restaurant is very family-orientated and good for groups with little children. Now, perhaps that's odd coming from me - an individual who would rather eat outside in the car than endure someone else's child screaming and running around.

However on this occasion I was there for my nephew's third birthday, so this time it was our table with the hyped up toddler sprinting around, always seconds away from nutting himself unconscious on a table, so I was more tolerant of noise this time. 

Firstly I want to commend The Dunvant on their ale selection. Okay, it's by no means the first place on my list when I'm after a good pint of real ale, but on my most recent visit I was happy to find a good choice of beers. On tap perhaps there wasn't too much to get excited about (in the restaurant part anyway - I didn't venture round the other side), but they did have a couple of nice bottled craft beers, including Brooklyn Lager and Brew Dog's Punk IPA.

Before I saw those two in the fridge I had already ordered a Green King IPA. I was happy to see it served in a proper glass tankard - I rarely enjoy a beer from a mug in Britain, so it was quite the novelty.

Right - the food. The choice on the menu is huge. So big, I had to postpone the waitress twice when she came to take my order. It's a pub menu, so you can expect the standard options - fish and chips, gammon, mixed grill, salads - along with a few more creative items.

Now, I've been eating a lot less meat recently, but decided to break my semi-vegetarianism and have a burger. Not just any burger, but a Mac n' Cheese Burger, whose bun comprises a deep-fried patty of breaded macaroni and cheese.

Unfortunately I was a tad disappointed with the burger. It wasn't the size, which - like all Hungry Horse portions - was very generous; or the chips, which were freshly cooked and fluffy.

It's just the meat itself was a little rubbery. Not terrible, as I still managed to get through half of it, but it wouldn't be one I'd rush to order again. Besides, I don't think my heart could handle another two of those mac n' cheese patties!

I also shared a bucket of chicken wings to start - the hot sauce wings were very tasty.

Finally, full and overall pleased with my experience, I will say that the staff in The Dunvant are some of the nicest around at the moment. From the barman to the waitress, all were polite, efficient and seemed genuinely keen to help.

It's a family pub at the end of the day, so providing you can handle occasionally loud children, you'll be rewarded with pleasant service, decent food and good value for money.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Good Week / Bad Week in Swansea (15th March 2015)

Here we have it, the first in a new series of mini reviews, allowing me to vent my feelings of joy/disdain after eating in some of Swansea's fine/not-so-fine eateries. Remember, the following is my honest opinion. Make sure to check out the Facebook page for updates.


One of the best lunches in Swansea

If you're looking for a satisfying lunch in Swansea I'll always recommend Govindas, whether you're a vegetarian or not. I visited earlier in the week and thoroughly enjoyed the Super Special again. For £6.95 you get a huge plate of freshly prepared food - two delicious subji (veggie curries), a bowl of lentil dahl, a small wholemeal poori, a pakora, a mound of rice and some chutney. Talk about good value for money - I left feeling completely satisfied (if a little sick). Well done Govindas!

The Kardomah
My very first Swansea On A Plate review was on The Kardomah - probably the longest standing cafe in central Swansea. I'd not been there for a while so I decided to pop in on a miserable Tuesday lunchtime to shelter from the rain. Sticking with what I know I had a very satisfying cheeseburger and chips (not as healthy as Govindas perhaps), in a warm and friendly atmosphere. The Kardomah remains a solid cafe, which rarely puts a foot wrong.


A poor week for the usually decent Woodman

The Woodman
I've always said I have a love/hate relationship with The Woodman and I'm sad to say that my most recent visit (Saturday night) was definitely a huge dislike. There was no problem with the bustling atmosphere or the drinks, and the service was fine (not spectacular, but nothing worth a complaint). The food however... Let's just say it was incredibly ordinary. The starters (in particular the Stilton mushrooms) were very meanly portioned for the price. The main courses were slightly better, but lacking the usual quality - especially the sweet potato fries, which were thin, limp and lukewarm. And finally I had to send the cheese board back to the kitchen as it was more of a 'cracker and grape board', with very little cheese for the £5.99 I was about to pay. I can't put my finger on why the food was so unsatisfactory this week, but it certainly wasn't worth the money. Come one Woodman, you're better than that.

Opium Den (Sketty)
As a Sketty resident I occasionally use the Opium Den for Cantonese takeaway and the food is usually very good - definitely the best of its kind in Sketty. However the service has been really abrupt lately, almost like I'm doing them a favour in ordering food from them. And for that reason alone, I won't be rushing back.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Vietnam - Uplands Crescent

I'm not sure how long Vietnam restaurant has been in the Uplands, but it must be about twenty years now, at least!

The last time I went in there (perhaps three years ago) it looked extremely tired and dated, but the food was pretty good. So when I heard it had changed hands a few months back - and had also enjoyed a bit of a facelift - I returned to see what was new.

Not the most inviting of exteriors, but it gets better!

In the heart of the hipster paradise that is the Uplands, it's refreshing to see a restaurant that doesn't feel it has to match the 'trendy', shabby-chic design of its neighbours. Instead - even after the refurb - it's still looking like... well, like it doesn't care that much. It's had some new wallpaper and still looks incredibly 1980s, but this works. There's nothing pretentious about it and that's an instant hit with me.

A... unique design.

Before we get onto the food, I'll mention that it's a 'bring your own booze' place, which will happily uncork your wine and open your beer without any extra charge or fuss. There is also an array of soft-drinks available to buy. I didn't actually know they had a BYOB policy (before the change of management it was fully licensed), but a quick trip to a nearby off-licence sorted that problem out.

A photo to illustrate how popular the little place is.

So onto the food, which is naturally Vietnamese, albeit with a twist of Cantonese these days (which works well as the new chef is Chinese). This means you can get a classic sweet and sour dish next to your more exotic Bun Mang Vit (a bamboo, duck and noodle soup).

On the night I visited I was part of a table of six. We all ordered a dish each and shared the full meal, so it's hard to say exactly what I ate but it was all high quality and very tasty (if a little garlicky).

The Bun Ga Xao Xa, I believe.

I definitely had some of the Bun Ga Xao Xa (stir fried chicken and lemongrass with vermicelli noodles) which was intensely flavoured and very satisfying. I tried some sweet and sour tofu, which was perhaps a little gloopy, but nice enough for a sample.

The highlight: incredible spring rolls!

However, the highlight for me was the Vietnamese spring rolls, which seemed to be freshly made and stuffed full of delicious minced pork, carrot and glass noodles, served with an aromatic dipping sauce. I literally had about ten pieces - wonderful.

Sweet and sour tofu

The bill for six of us (with some food left over) was about £72, which is good value, boosted by the fact that we didn't have to fork out for expensive drinks.

Only a few negatives, one being the glass tables - they may look nice, but if you put anything hard down on it with anything more than a feather touch it will make an ungodly clanging sound. Another minor quibble is the 'cash only' aspect which can be inconvenient these days (although there are cash points opposite).

I must say that the staff were very friendly too, and negotiated the small and crowded space with ease and efficiency.

In all Vietnam is a great restaurant when you fancy a change from the standard Indian/Chinese cuisine of which there is so much in Swansea, and some of the other restaurants that focus too much on style and not enough on the food.

Thuong thuc!


Meanwhile, if you're looking for a freelance writer in Swansea for help with social media or advertising for your business, get in touch!