Perhaps it’s the tucked-away location on Kings Road, but La Cuina is very much one of those ‘if you know, you know’ places: it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Founder Montserrat Prat has made nothing less than a cosy little Catalan-influenced nook in Pontcanna, one which does what it does consistently well. An obvious choice for a last supper of 2020, in other words.
I wrote about this place in 2014, so there have been changes. What was part deli, part restaurant is now given over to as many tables as can be safely accommodated. That makes sense. You’re not limited to tapas: you can do the starter and main thing if you like, with 15 and 5 respectively: the star of which, a sharing-size shoulder of Pyrenean mountain lamb scented with rosemary- is already in the sights for my next visit.
We stay with the smaller dishes. There’s plenty here to excite, plenty to intrigue. Smaller, though not small: portions lean far more towards ración than mere tapa size.
I’ll always head for anything goaty. Kid croquetas (£6.50) are inevitable. La masa (literally, the ‘dough’)- the mixture- has clearly been cooked out patiently so it arrives delicate and creamy, the choice of meat a novel, subtle and underused twist on the usual jamón. I make a mental note to order the vegan cep-stuffed variety next time.
The classic Catalan pa amb tomàquet (£3.50) is lightly dressed, the pulped tomato tangy and brightly acidic with oil and a hit of garlic. Less is more.
Unfortunately, though very much drawn to it, I was forbidden from ordering the rabbit, as my guest keeps two as pets, and apparently it’s not done to eat Flopsy or Simba. That old joke about the butcher’s shop window sign when Watership Down was released- ‘You’ve seen the film- now eat the cast!’- doesn’t go down as well as I’d hoped, either.
There was no keeping me from the standout, though: if anything is guaranteed to get my attention on a menu, melting octopus (£12.50) will take some beating. See it, have to have it. And this is a real treat: the slow-cooked flesh sits happily in that sweet spot where delicate and meaty meet, and the pea puree and hummus, given warmth by smoked paprika, .
Patates braves (£6.50) are a novel take on the staple. These are no deep fried (triple-cooked if you’re lucky, or at Bar 44, which amounts to the same thing) cubes, but a labour-intensive creamed potato encased in a breadcrumbed shell, so they ooze after that first light crunch and before the burst of spice from the sauce hits. It’s all rather lovely.
The winter salad (£7.50) is a jumble- walnuts, crisp toast, the thick mess of sticky-rich sweetness of the onions, snappy salad, the tartness of the goat’s cheese- and another hefty serving. It’s practically a meal in itself.
There’s cua de bou (ox tail) too, but not the hearty Cordoba rabo de toro stew so popular over Spain. Instead of a hearty, rustic braise so perfect for cold weather, you find little cannelloni (£8) stuffed with that long slow tangle. Those rich, dark, sticky juices oozing into the silky bechamel, the delicate pasta: it’s gorgeous stuff, a dish which has nagged at me in every good way ever since.
This was my last meal out of 2020 before the bunkers beckoned, and I’m rather glad it was here. I’ll be back very soon, and this time I’ll be ordering the rabbit. You can still order collection (details below): do. And think about spreading the word, too. Why not?
La Cuina, 11 King’s Rd, Pontcanna, Cardiff CF11 9BZ
To order takeaway meals, Thursday – Saturday 5-7.30pm: firstname.lastname@example.org
NB order before 2pm if possible, or call in the afternoon on 02920190265
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