Wednesday, 10 June 2015

VIDEO REVIEW: The Victory - Village Hotel, SA1

It's time for another video review; the second I've done for Swansea On A Plate, following last week's visit to The Griffin.

The subject of this second review is The Victory Pub and Kitchen at Swansea's Village hotel, in the SA1 development. On the Village website the restaurant seems to be called 'The Public House' but on the exterior signs it remains 'The Victory', so that's what we'll call it for now!

This video was tricky to make as I tried to film in 4K mode, but that made editing on my computer near impossible. Really annoying, but I think I did a decent job in the end - although I had to do the voice over blind then make it fit later, so the audio quality suffers a bit.

Still, it's all a learning curve and they'll get better with time. Make sure to give the video a like and share it with your friends. Let me know what you think via Facebook or Twitter.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

B9-10 Bar - East Gate, Llanelli

You may recall a few weeks back I mentioned I would be expanding Swansea On A Plate to include a couple of eateries not technically in Swansea, but close enough to be relevant. And now is finally the time I venture further.

A couple of years ago I used to work as a reporter for the Llanelli Star. During my time there I grew fond of the people, even if I did find the general feel of the town... well, a little rough.

However, the East Gate development soon arrived to revitalise part of the town centre, offering the residents of Llanelli a taste of something special. As well as a multimillion-pound theatre and state-of-the-art cinema, a handful of good quality eateries began to appear.

Simple but modern exterior...

One of which arrived in December last year - B9-10 Bar, part-owned by Welsh rugby stars Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel. The pair already had experience in the restaurant scene, having opened the award-winning Sosban in 2011, so I was happy to be invited to their bar for the launch of the new gourmet burger menu (more on that later).

...and a simple but modern interior to match!

The bar itself is bang in the middle of the East Gate development and is an inviting, modern space, although with such an industrial feel it could come across as a little cold. Still, there's plenty to look at besides exposed steel girders, with several nods to Llanelli's proud rugby heritage in the form of nostalgic photos and memorabilia on the walls.

I mentioned I was invited to the bar for the launch of the Bendigo Salt Marsh Lamb burger menu. Now, as I said in my recent review of Crumbs Kitchen, I've been eating less meat in recent months, mainly because - let's face it - we could all do with eating less meat.

However, when I do include meat in my diet, I try to ensure it's as ethical as possible, good quality and from nearby farms. So I was glad to learn that basically every part of the burgers on the new menu is locally sourced; from the meat that comes from the salt marshes of Llanrhidian, right down to the salad, which is also grown in the area.

And the quality ingredients ensured a tasty burger - moist and meaty, with a delicate flavour that worked well with a variety of toppings. I tried a local blue cheese and bacon version, as well as a double-stacked one with a subtle garlic sauce. Nothing overpowering, with each ingredient complementing the others. The fluffy brioche bun held it all together.

A mention must be given to the pairing of the burgers with two craft beers: Bedrock Blond, produced by the Bluestone Brewering Co - a ten barrel brewery hailing from Preseli Hills of North Pembrokeshire - and the more mainstream, ultra-hoppy, and oddly-named, Dead Pony from Brew Dog.

They may look the same, but tasted very different (Dead Pony on the left)

Although for Swansea diners it's perhaps a little out of the way, it was a refreshing change for me and a trip up the A484 I'm glad I took. 

Llanelli still finds it hard to shake the 'rough and ready' stereotype, but smart bars like B9-10 are doing plenty to help bring the town into the 21st century.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

VIDEO REVIEW: The Griffin, Wind Street

When I first started Swansea On A Plate back in 2012 I was originally going to make it a video review blog. But then I realised I was a better writer than speaker so just stuck to what I knew best.

However, three years later, I decided to finally give it a go!

I had nothing better to do with my Tuesday evening and wanted an excuse to try out a new microphone I bought. And, while it was filmed on a mobile phone and making it tested my laptop to its limits, I think it's a decent first effort.

The finished review is below:

It's so much easier to write a review than film, edit, voiceover, upload and stream one - however I will happily do a few more in the coming weeks if this first one generates enough interest. 

So please let me know what you think. Give the YouTube video a like, follow me on Twitter and like this blog on Facebook

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.