Some menus charm you slowly, don’t they? Their da takes a while to sink in when you’re browsing. Some bring something far more urgent, more carnal. The Bullys menu which had me rushing to book recently was less sweet nothings and tentatively meaningful glances across the table, than ‘Get your coat love- you’ve pulled.’
Bullys has always been somewhere which prides itself on this kind of eating- one of the few places you’d find a great steak-frites, or a slab of foie gras, for example- but this is a step up. Simply: if I ever look at a menu with duck, langoustine, croquetas, XO butter and onglet tartare, and not feel a stirring of the loins, please check my pulse. And we haven’t touched the mains yet, which offers things like pork cheek and crackling and cider jus and lamb noisette and shoulder and truffled chips and potato laced with bacon fat and tarte tatin and chocolate torte.
There’s no dining room in the city which looks anything like this, from the signature Bullys hand-sketched place mats to the vivid teal of the walls. Resistance is useless. Surrender yourself to the moment, indulge and enjoy. You get the picture.
Homemade crisps, a deep nut-brown, are spiky with pink and black pepper. Unfortunately, croquetas are off this lunchtime, which is only worth mentioning because I’m intrigued by this kitchen’s no-waste approach- they’ve done a ‘vegetable scraps’ tempura- as being true to the original spirit familiar to the Spanish home: croquetas as a way to spin out leftovers to feed a large family, rather than a repository for luxury ingredients, spider crab or lobster. It’s obviously something that matters to new Head Chef Simmie Vedi, as her work with WaterBear makes clear.
There’s pungent Roquefort and walnut with a portion of stoutly smoky duck. There are lightly torched langoustine, wallowing in a deep, gutsy bisque which will have you darting furtive glances around the room before dabbing a quick finger when the coast is clear. (This is Pontcanna, after all, cariad…)
Pork, apple, mustard are all common enough bedfellows: here, nicely sticky cheek and well-seasoned tenderloin are brought together with little polenta cake infused with a third- chorizo- and a tangy cider jus. It’s a quietly lovely plate which knows when to leave good produce speak for itself.
The lamb is, I think, even better. There’s an exemplary bit of cooking in the shoulder, which eases apart into thick satisfying strands, and a blushing noisette: all nicely seasoned and laced with a zippy herb oil, aromatic garlic and a rich lamb sauce. A dish to order again and again, this, something you’ll keep coming back to in your mind.
Chips are as good a ‘classic’ chip as I’ve had in the city. They are chips which live up to the promise of triple cooking, chips which rustle and snap and sigh, chips which come with little scraps you wouldn’t dream of neglecting.
More carby heft comes in the form of mash so rich and thick it’s probably due a plum job in the next Cabinet reshuffle. ‘Would you like another slice?’ asks my companion, as we fall for its buttery charms and the salty, smoky bite of its bacon crumb.
The team here is doing good things and there’s much to enjoy. This is a menu for people who actually enjoy eating. The spiritual opposite of people who purse their lips, joylessly trim the fat from their meat, and want to put calories on menus.
It’s always heartening to see young talent being given the space- and an owner’s trust- to stretch its legs. I’m very glad to see chef Simmie find a home to call her own, after time in some of Cardiff’s most interesting kitchens, somewhere to develop her undoubted skills. Bullys will be one to watch with interest.
5 Romilly Cres, Pontcanna, Cardiff CF11 9NP
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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.