How things change.
It’s not just the this is on the site of the former Goldburger, which was just about the only place in Cardiff you could get a root beer once upon a long ago. (Clearly, no one has told them that a recent by-law stipulates that every local opening must now feature exposed brick and hanging lightbulbs. It’s the law).
No, it’s the sight of locals enjoying Spanish food when even the mention of garlic used to make them recoil, Nosferatu speared by a sunbeam. Thirty years ago, you’d have had more chance of spotting Lord Lucan riding Shergar down Queen Street than you would of easily getting some decent chorizo or jamón in the city. And as for sobrassada- wossat, luv?
So this eagerly awaited new opening from the people behind the rather lovely Ultracomida (Aberystrwyth/Narberth) is big news. It’s a rather beautiful refurbishment this place has undergone- dark wood, burnished steel, high teal banquettes- and the highest praise I can offer is that it does at times put me in mind of my grandfather’s restaurants and bars in Valladolid.
Its proximity to Bar 44 has caused many a raised eyebrow, but the atmosphere here is a little more casual, more ‘drop in for a beer and a couple of snacks’ than a full meal out.
You can, of course, order enough to constitute a meal. Which, surprisingly, we did.
You’ll be greeted with a fistful of menus. They’re not the easiest to understand, perhaps, but Don’t Panic: they’re simply divided into relevant sections, meat and fish, para picar and so on, with wine and beer lists to tempt you into an extended lunch.
While you wait for your food to arrive- and even when it’s throbbingly busy, it won’t be long- have a nose around the deli section. It’s enviably stocked with tinned and cured goods, and there’s no excuse for running short of turrón at Christmas now.
An excellent Spanish beer list is headed by their house lager (very good it is, too) and Er Boquerón, the Valencian sea-water beer which is reputedly hangover-free.
The morcialla and chistorra I had my eye on weren’t available; you’ll save yourself bother if you just amble up to the pincho counter and ask what’s available, and they are more than happy to discuss serving suggestions with you.
A warm tortilla is very good. Trust me, I grew up on this stuff, and the creaminess of the potato is capably done here. The accompanying alioli is pungent at first, as it should be, but eases away to leave a rounder, milder flavour. It reappears with several other dishes, which can only be A Good Thing.
A cluster of large, meaty prawns (Gambas al ajillo) is messy work, but is the only right way to tackle them. I’m with the man who said, if you don’t suck the heads dry, you’re dead to me. They come dripping in garlic butter (though not, oddly, lemon, though this is remedied on our second visit).
Cecina- air dried beef -tops roasted peppers and goats’ cheese and is one of the pinchos ready that day; It’s a lot of flavour in a small handful of food, a good indicator of where this kitchen is heading.
A dish of boquerones go heavy on the lemon and garlic with a fruity, herby olive oil which brings it all together very tidily. Chipirones- tiny deep fried squid- come with more of that alioli, which can only be a good thing. Scratch that- it’s A Very Good Thing.
Pork scratchings are a treat, light and with a hint of that famously creamy Ibérico fat and ideal for picking over with a cold beer as you decide what to order.
The house lager Curado is very decent, too, and worth a try: their Toro is aged in sherry casks and has a distinctive tang as a result.
The Sobrassada, served on toast, is a dollop of fatty warming spice, cut through with a touch of honey sweetness on a cold day: that it falls short of the frankly stunning version at La Cuina (which adds goat cheese) is no real dishonour at all.
Secreto Ibérico fillet is served medium, perfumed with thyme and charred padrón peppers. It’s something to be savoured, something to be lingered over. I tend to prefer this cut even pinker, as served at Bar 44 or José, but it’s an uncommon enough find locally to put quibbles aside.
A warning is in order- prices can be fairly robust and your bill can creep up on you with some stealth. It’s easy to end up with a more substantial bill than you might expect; I ended up spending £41 for lunch alone. That said, I am a man of substantial appetites.
So the inevitable question, since people love a binary face-off. Are you Got Beef or Grazing Shed? Purple Poppadom or Mint & Mustard? Bar 44 or Curado?
Curado is less formal, more a drop-in bar in the true sense, less of a dinner destination perhaps, but will certainly have its fans. If you held a gun to my head I’d go for the longer-established Bar 44, whose commitment to excellence has set the local standard for some time now. But it’s a good problem to have. Cardiff has two tempting Spanish-influenced venues already, with Bar 44’s imminent asador completing a strong trio. And who would have anticipated that?
2 Guildhall Place,
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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.