The usual up-front disclosure, because transparency is essential. I was invited to eat at Maria’s: food and drink was complementary.. All opinions tumble from my brain independently.
Accepting free meals in return for a review isn’t always quite the idyll you might imagine.
For one thing, you might spend time talking with perfectly lovely people who are risking huge debt to chase their dream, people who are desperate for their cherished hopes to succeed. To then find their food underwhelming, can feel churlish at best, and you worry for them.
I’m happy to tell you the family behind Maria’s can rest easy, because they do what they do very well. Very well indeed.
And why bother at all unless you want to show your country’s food in a positive light?
‘Every dish on this menu is prepared fresh, in house on a daily basis. If we wouldn’t eat it ourselves, we won’t serve it to you.’ I’ll have some of that.
Maria herself, who runs this with her husband and sons, is a personable host. The menu leans heavily on the charcoal grill, and it’s here we are anticipating things will fly or fall, because how they treat meat will go a long way to deciding their success or otherwise.
The spinach and feta croquettes are light and crisp, a good curtain-raiser. The salt cod variety are nicely substantial, obviously hand-made, and heavy on the fish for a meaty finish. Many places would eke out the ingredients with a starchy filler, but that’s not the case here. The fine-spun potato purée is not so much kissed with garlic as headbutted by the stuff, which is A Good Thing.
There’s fresh-baked bread, too. All in all, the portion sizes are generous to put it mildly (and yes, we checked other tables to see we weren’t getting special treatment.) The whitebait is simply dredged in seasoned flour and fried long enough to crisp up: a squeeze of lemon and this homely, hearty stuff sings.
Squid is so often a reliable indicator as to the quality and skill of a kitchen. Here they pass the test with flying colours- it’s cut into thick, well-seasoned strips which are pretty much faultlessly tender. Simple, yes, but beautifully easy to cock up, and with a citrus mayo it’s lovely stuff.
Souvlaki continue the hot streak. Served on skewers over salad, with chips which have a chunkily satisfying hand-cut look and taste to them, (‘Sausage and gravy chips’ says Brad and he’s summed them up impeccably) the chicken is very good but the pork is superb. The marinade seems familiar- lemon juice, oregano, olive oil- but it has all known just enough flame to pick up some smoke yet remain juicy.
There are little details which mount up in favour of the kitchen. There are fresh herbs and a hearty tomato-based dressing for the shaved pork in their gyros.
The bread has that lovely chew to it; that attention to those little details says more about their love for this food than any press release guffing its usual guff.
Oh – did I mention their plans for Sunday lunch? Something about whole lamb, spit roasted..?
Maria’s won’t change your life. It will make it that tiny bit better, though. You’d be hard-pressed to spend more than about £40 here, and you’d be well fed and well looked after.
68 Crwys Rd
Sunday- Thursday 12.00-10.00
Friday and Saturday 12.00- 11.00
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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.