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!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Nishimura - Brynymor Road

Due to the launch of my book last month, it's been a while since I managed to: a) eat somewhere different and b) write about it.

But fret not, for this week I've been able to enjoy a meal at one of the newer restaurants in Swansea, called Nishimura on Brynymor Road.


Nishimura is a Japanese restaurant (if you had not already guessed from the name). It's one of only two I know of in the city - the other being Wasabi, in the Uplands. From the external photo you can see it's a pretty small place, with room for about twenty or so diners.

Unfortunately I couldn't take a great photo of the inside due to where I was sitting, so if you can imagine the photo below doubled and you have the approximate size of the place.

Clean and modern, but very intimate.

Small doesn't mean bad, although it does mean intimate. This is fine to an extent, but you will, at some stage, be sitting next to and sharing table space with strangers, so you'll have to keep the conversation relatively clean and inoffensive (if you weren't already planning to).

When you open the menu you'll be presented with an extensive list of Japanese delights including sushi, sashimi, noodles and rice dishes.

With two of us eating I decided to go for a selection of dishes to share - a plate of yaki soba (noodles with mixed vegetables and chicken - a Japanese chow mein), tempura prawn maki, spicy tuna maki and some gyoza (deep-fried dumplings).

Spicy tuna maki.

The yaki soba... with a kick!

Warm and squidgy - lovely.

Actually, looking back at my review of Wasabi restaurant and I realise I ordered EXACTLY the same choices! Talk about predictable...

Still, every item was of a good quality. The yaki soba was actually pretty spicy - not sure if this is just Nishimura's style, but it certainly had a bit of a kick. The sushi pieces was all freshly made and I enjoyed the tempura prawns still being warm, which is definitely a sign of being made fresh.

A final note is the service speed. As I've mentioned before, the food in Japanese restaurants always seems to arrive too quickly. Great if you are rushing off somewhere or popping there on your lunch break, not so good if you are looking for a nice evening out. We were in there at 7pm and by 7.40 I had paid the bill.

Of course this is just efficiency at its highest, and I'm sure I could have lingered longer but I could hear a pint of beer calling me in a nearby pub.

In all, I found Nishimura to be a very good addition to the growing number of small eastern restaurants cropping up in the Brynmill area. Gochisōsama deshita!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Short message...

Hi everyone,

Sorry we've had a month or so without a new review. It's been a busy time with my recent book launch, and if I've been eating out it's been in the same old places! But I promise I will be back with some new reviews very soon.

In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for places you'd like to see reviewed on Swansea On A Plate (including revisits) just get in touch via the contact form or message me on Twitter or Facebook.

See you soon!

Chris
 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Govinda's: Revisited

I released my original review of Govinda's on Cradock Street almost two years ago (in October 2012) and since then a few changes have occurred with the vegetarian restaurant, which inspired me to write a short update.

Firstly, if you are in any way observant you may notice the new sign and fresh paint job, which is much nicer than the old terracotta colour. That's about it for the exterior.


Inside they have modified the layout a little, primarily taking away the old buffet-style service areas and replacing it with some tables and chairs. Unfortunately this means there is no longer an all-you-can-eat lunchtime special - instead there are the standard 'made to order' dishes.

The new interior
Still, even with no all-you-can-eat offer, I would wholeheartedly recommend the 'Special', which is a single plated dish comprising pretty much everything that used to be available on the buffet line.

This includes two freshly prepared subji - one a kind of curry with mixed garden vegetables, while the second was a tangy tomato, aubergine and chickpea affair, which was lovely. This is served with a generous bowl of lentil dahl, a small wholemeal chapati and some white rice.

The bread is covering the second curry, but I promise it is there!

Very filling, pretty tasty and, I assume, much healthier for you than a greasy burger. The price has increased by £2 over the last two years, meaning you'll be paying £6.95 for the Special, but this is well worth your money for a very satisfying lunch.

Finally, being the only diners in there at the time, there wasn't much in the way of atmosphere. However, if you are after a little peace and quiet in the heart of Swansea it'll be the perfect place for you! 


Monday, 1 September 2014

The Bayside Grill Restaurant - Marriott Hotel, Marina

Despite never staying there (mainly because I live in the city), I found I had been to Swansea's Marriott hotel several times - usually for a wedding party or occasionally for a coffee in their bar - but never eaten in their restaurant.

Until now.


Tucked away towards the back of the hotel, The Bayside Grill Restaurant always looks very welcoming; casual and relaxed with a hint of elegance about it. The dining area is modern and bright while the large windows offer views out onto parts of the Marina, with the looming Meridian Tower dominating the near skyline.

Light and spacious - a pleasant environment to enjoy lunch

But enough about the views and onto the food!

For lunch we could order from a set menu with the price fixed at £7.95 for a main course, with an additional £3 for a starter and another three for a desert. Greedy by nature, I went for all three courses.

The chicken and chorizo croquettes were my choice to start and I'm pleased to say that they were perfect. A flavourful and meaty filling, which comprised chunks of chicken and sausage with an almost cheesy tasting mash, was shelled in by a crunchy coating of fried breadcrumbs, served with a tangy red pepper salsa. I could have eaten about ten of these! (Seriously).

The best starter in the history of starters!

The main course would always have trouble following such a fantastic starter, but it did well in satisfying me. I had the Parma ham stuffed chicken supreme, with truffle scented mash and a broccoli purée.

The chicken was moist and tasty, although the chunks of ham stuffed inside were a little fatty. The mash was lovely and lightly scented with pungent truffle oil. I could have done with a bigger scoop of the broccoli purée if I'm being honest, but the dish as a whole was filling enough.

Chicken main, with great mash!

I was pretty full following the first two courses, but who is going to turn down a desert for £3? The only crying shame was that they had nothing chocolatey to choose from! I'm not sure if chocolate is no longer in fashion, but no-one ever said no to a little chocolate cake.

Regardless, I ordered the strawberry rice pudding and mint tart with home-made cinnamon ice cream. While it was nothing spectacular, I can't complain - the strawberries were fresh and the pudding stodgy (in a good way), while the ice cream was a refreshing way to end a very good meal.

A pretty solid desert

Kudos must go to our waiter. Even though the restaurant was very quiet when we were there, the service was very attentive and polite throughout.

With good attention to detail, tantalising choices (apart from a chocolate option), good quality and a decent price, I'll definitely be heading back to The Bayside Grill Restaurant again - and hopefully very soon!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Swansea Beer Festival 2014 - Brangywn Hall

With a slight hangover after heading to the annual Swansea Bay Beer and Cider Festival at the Brangywn Hall last night, I've decided to share a few of my bleary thoughts before I go and find something to eat, preferably with piles of melted cheese.

For those unfamiliar with the festival - you pay £10 for entry (which includes a branded glass, programme and £5 worth of starter tokens), then can choose from well over 100 different beers and ciders which are available from bars that line the grand hall.


I had earmarked a few beers that I wanted to try, but I decided to pick a random one to start the night and ended up with a glass of Indian Summer from Cheshire-based brewers Tatton. Not a bad start - quite tasty with a dry finish, but nothing spectacular.

With a big interest in American craft ales I decided to focus my attention on that style of beer for most of the night. The Deliverance APA from Llantrisant brewers Hop Craft was my next choice and it was amazing! Very flavourful and hoppy, and I instantly knew it would take some beating.


Next was a glass of Infinity from Blue Monkey (Brecon) - a lovely, fruity-tasting pale ale, again brewed with American hops for a flavour which was very 'different' (or so I noted in my programme). Then came a good Swansea classic in the Oystermouth Stout from the Mumbles Brewery, brewed with real oysters! There's no fishy taste thankfully and any hint of the sea is very subtle.

Myself and some friends enjoying the atmosphere (and the beer, of course)

By this stage I was getting quite merry and loud, but - as far as the little ticks I scrawled on my programme indicate - I tried Nelson's Eye (a very drinkable ale from Denbighshire brewery Heavy Industry), Frisco (a Californian style craft ale from Welsh beer brewing giants Brains), some Independence (another US style craft ale, this time from the Bristol Beer Factory) and finished with La Tene (from Celt Experience, Caerphilly). This last one was the weakest in strength (3.3%) but didn't skimp on the flavour.

No wonder I have a bit of a hangover today...

Overall, the beer festival was another success. It seems to be growing in popularity every year! I was so enthused (and pissed) that I finally became a member of CAMRA and had a free copy of their Good Beer Guide as my welcome gift. Roll on 2015!

My beer guide, application form, programme and glass.


Friday, 1 August 2014

Varsity - Wind Street

Whereas many of Swansea's bars come and go, there are a few that stand the test of time. One of these is a Wind Street staple which, happily for me, doubles up as a good eatery in addition to its primary function as a late-night drinking establishment.


Varsity, the British student-focused pub chain, sits in a grand neoclassical building - once upon a time a bank - at the top of Wind Street. And despite being home to hundreds of revellers on the weekends, the atmosphere on a Monday lunchtime wasn't dingy in the slightest.

It's quite a cavernous room, but it's bright and there's no lingering smell of stale beer. In fact - apart from a few sticky patches on the floor - it's quite a pleasant environment in which to eat, helped by staff who were efficient and polite when it came to service.


They used to offer a massive menu full of 'big eats', which has now been toned down a little, although there's still plenty of pub grub to choose from, including sandwiches, burgers, wraps, pastas and 'things with chips'.

This time I went for the safe choice of a Southern-fried chicken burger and curly fries (an optional upgrade), along with a glass of Coke (they do serve plenty of beer but it was a Monday lunchtime after all...).

My satisfying chicken burger.

The food has always been pretty solid in Varsity and this visit was no different. The chicken was hot, moist and had enough of that peppery southern-fried taste, while the brioche bun was robust, if a tiny bit dry. The chips were equally as appealing, with a portion size that satisfies any lunchtime belly.

My dining partner had a Mexican chicken wrap of sorts. I'm not sure what the exact name of it was, but I was assured that it was very enjoyable, served with chips and a small salad garnish.

The Mexican wrap (of sorts)

So in all, I deem Varsity well worth a visit. It's nothing spectacular, but when you're paying around £8 for a tasty and filling lunchtime meal with a drink, there can't be too many complaints.