Asador 44 is the newest outpost in the Bar 44 empire. Taking over the old Greenwood and Brown building, mere yards from the Westgate Street branch, this is now an elegantly appointed space which, in true Bar 44 style, is careful with its details.
The focal point of the whole shebang is their parilla grill, separated from diners by engraved glass.
Asador 44 is also a place where the phrase ‘fat old cow’ is used with something approaching reverence.
Obviously, there’s prime Welsh beef on the menu: but the headline here is that fat old cow. The popularity of old meat from Galician milking herds as the beef-lover’s steak of choice has been recent but unmistakable. Unlike British beef- slaughtered at a young age, thanks to legislation- these cattle have lived a long life, sometimes up to seventeen years. That time manifests itself in highly-prized meat with a distinctive marbling and long-lasting flavour. ‘Legs’, if you will.
Kicking off with a couple of gin and tonics- a drink the Spanish do better than anyone- is a perfect way to start before head sommelier Fergus Muirhead arrives. He’s an engaging and well-informed guide; I end up with a rounded Castilian Tempranillo, while my wife’s Monastrell is a sharper glassful, slightly harder going but worth persevering with.
From the small but carefully selected menu, we start with seafood.
The Carabinero is not cheap- £16 each- and this famed red prawn is clearly priced as a luxury item. File under: occasional indulgence. A squeeze of the head is the key here- as owner Owen observes, the resultant ooze is practically an instant bisque with its evocative whack of the sea for the tender flesh.
My wife’s main is a lovely thing, the squash picking up a good char from the bars of the parilla before being filled with beetroot, chard, hazelnuts and sharp daubs of goats’ curd. It’s a tried and tested combination which is elevated by the smokiness of the grill and the earthy beetroot purée.
It’s an excellent dish, a vivid burst of colour and flavour.
But an Asador is always going to be about meat. The cabinets to the side of the room display ready-cut steaks and ageing slabs of both Welsh beef and the meaty Grail, Galician Blonde, dry aged 45 days minimum and from a 10 year old animal.
It’s sold in sharing portions by weight, and at £80 per kilo it’s not cheap. That does compare very favourably with the British beef served at Hawksmoor or Bristol’s rather special The Ox, however.
We went for 1.1kg of Rubia Gallega. It emerges removed from the bone and sliced onto a large serving platter. It looks an absolute treat: it has been cooked the Spanish way, generously flecked with sea salt and over charcoal, so it has formed a crust on the outside while remaining rare in the middle.
It’s a barnstormer.
The charred fat, the ruby red of the thick slices, the deep, lasting tang of the meat itself: all beautifully rendered. That telltale aged fat is a luscious thing: anyone asking for this stuff to be trimmed off deserves to be locked in a basement somewhere with Clean Bandit on eternal repeat.
Beef of this quality is a rare thing indeed, let alone in Cardiff, and deserves to have you take your time and truly savour a remarkable ingredient.
That steak was meant to be a sharing portion, and to be fair they did double-check I knew that. At usual prices that would be fine, but this was a 50% off ‘soft launch’, so forgive me my wanton and rampant gluttony.
Chips are exemplary, exactly what you’d want them to be if you were writing a letter to Carbohydrate Santa- a bowl full of crunch and snap without losing that inner fluffiness.
The escalivada is a touch cold for my liking. It’s an anytime anywhere kind of dish, but I’d have liked it more if it was warm. That’s about as critical as this is going to get, though. Any kitchen which can knock out their bone marrow and rioja sauce is going to generate an awful lot of good will. Initially I felt the portion size was a little niggardly; but it was so glossy and rich that a little went a long way and it lasted until the end of the meat.
Some reading this may balk at the prices I’ve quoted. Asador 44 is not cheap, and neither should it be: these are premium ingredients. Comparing this to a mass-market operation such as Miller & Carter is hopelessly misleading.
The lunchtime (12-3) deal is keenly priced: a 40-day aged Welsh picanha (rump cap), with fries and salad, for a tenner. Or the fish of the day. Or mackerel with endive and capers. Or the squash and beetroot we previously had, for £9: all very accessible, all from the parilla. When we return for lunch it’s steak all round, and with the same excellent service and another beautifully-done piece of beef it’s hugely enjoyable, without ever feeling as though we are ‘slumming it’ with the bargain option. I’d struggle to name a more attractive local lunch at this price. A scaled-down children’s serving is similarly impressive: there’s no patronising young diners here with the contents of freezer bags.
Desserts don’t disappoint: a cheesecake is lasciviously creamy and balanced with tart fruit, while the chocolate option teams a nutty brownie with a bold smear of beetroot. It’s an unusual but successful combination.
There will be some who balk at ordering a £100 steak, even for sharing between two. That essentially comes down to your perception of what this sought-after meat is ‘worth’: for the sake of perspective, it’s worth pointing out the same cut at Basque beef specialists Sagardi will set you back £35 more per kilo, bringing what I had to a whopping £132. (Hell, barbecued goat will cost you £10 a kilo more at Neil Rankin’s Temper.)
But for a special occasion- or for someone with an expense account and clients to entertain- this is a winner: right now, still basking in that meaty afterglow, it’s hard to see why you’d go anywhere else. You get to eat exceptional steak, exceptionally well cooked, as a far more affordable treat.
At lunch I’m with P, who usually eats out in London, so isn’t easy to impress in Cardiff.
His comment? “If we had this at home, they’d be queuing out the door.”
Owen and Tom have done it yet again. If there’s a more intoxicating restaurant opening in Cardiff this year, I’ll be surprised.
Delighted. But surprised.
Open Tues – Sat, 12 Noon – 3PM & 6PM – 10PM
Open Sun, 12 Noon – 3PM
Closed Mon & Tues
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.