Pandemic on the streets of Canton, pandemic on the streets of Riverside: but comfort food is here to help us through. Milkwood’s change of direction in response to 2020’s ApocaGeddon is not only admirable but has been more marked than most: so let’s celebrate one of our true beacons, because few locally have pirouetted as gracefully as this Pontcanna favourite.
In its original incarnation it was pretty much your ideal neighbourhood bistro, cosily elegant and easily one of the most accomplished kitchens in the city. A place you could love: a snug little gem of a place, polished and lovely without ever being pretentious or prissy.
The new menu is an even more relaxed experience. If you’re looking for artichoke barigoule and boudin blanc or red mullet you’ll likely be disappointed: instead, the menu now serves a succession of family-friendly crowd pleasers which reads very well and feeds you even better.
It’s quite a bready affair, a menu full of sumptuous-sounding sandwiches, of bagels and pizze supplemented by a specials board. (Don’t neglect this- good things lurk in plain view.) There’s tangy snap and crunch in the Caesar salad, and impeccably cooked calamares with a honking alioli, but I’m smitten with ox cheek fries, which are precisely as good as you wanted them to be as you read the words ‘ox cheek fries.’
There’s something deeply rewarding about the patience invested in cuts like this, cooked down and down into a rich welter of flesh, dark and juicy, dressing chips which rustle invitingly.
The same skills, the attention to detail, are very much present and correct. Anchovies on toast sounds simple enough. It probably is. The clever bit here is in the details, in the use of aged beef dripping for unmistakable background heft against the salt. Throw in the snap of the sourdough and it’s a formidable little thing- an essential order, the kind of thing you’ll recall hungrily for weeks to come.
There are two fried chicken dishes on the menu. In a city still light on the genuinely good stuff, it’s a dilemma: I don’t think a man- a greedy one, admittedly- should be forced to decide between such competing temptations. Thats the kind of thing Strasbourg is there to protect us from, damn it. It’s not something I’ve ever mastered and I doubt I’ll learn now. Besides, the words ‘too much fried chicken’ should not be part of anyone’s vocabulary.
So I had both. The Korean is scattered with the kind of sliced green chillies which don’t hold back. The bite sized pieces are impeccably crisp and shatter beneath your teeth, the tender flesh lurking just beneath. It’s very good, and the other even better.
The burger is a hefty thigh flattened out and tautly coated, slathered (the only fitting word here) with a spiced mayonnaise and packed into a potato bun. It’s light where it needs to be, generously and sloppily saucy exactly where it needs to ne, and appropriately messy overall. It’s a good job I wasn’t trying to impress my guest because it’s certainly not a ‘first date dish’. Not if you end up looking like I did anyway.
Two Cubanos go down very well indeed, the second time on gluten-free bread. A good Cubano is a lovely thing- some of you will have very fond memories of Hang Fire’s version at The Canadian- and though the difference between the breads here makes for a very different ‘feel’, it’s a brilliantly pitched combination. Roast pork, ham, cheese, the tang of mustard, the bite of pickle: it’s one of the world’s classic sandwiches and this version is something you should order soon.
All is going swimmingly until I see something arriving at another table, something I had myopically missed on the specials board: a calzone. A huge calzone filled with ragú bolognese and mozzarella. Unable to resist, I order one for takeaway/dessert. The box barely contains it. I cradle it tenderly.
Later that evening I find myself wishing I had accepted that experimental Komodo dragon DNA graft when offered, envying them their ability to eat 80% of their bodyweight in one sitting: because this is a sizeable thing, all that ragú richness cleverly downplayed slightly so it doesn’t pall before you conquer the thing. They clearly understand the importance of ooze here, the way that meat and sauce and cheese can combine to beckon you in so beguilingly.
Sweet teeth aren’t overlooked. The doughnut is, my daughter reckons, the best she has ever had, light and crammed with chocolate ganache: a burnt Basque-style cheesecake rounds things off neatly/
If this new menu has prompted a permanent change of direction from the team, time will tell. I rather think it might. But even if you were expecting something more fine-diney, something more in line with Milkwood’s enviable reputation, you’d be well advised to give this a go. You’ll be glad you did: it might be low-key dining, whether in or out, but you won’t forget this meal in a hurry. It may be a tiny way of setting your little piece of the world on its axis, but it works. And who can resist that, today?
Milkwood, 83 Pontcanna St, Cardiff CF11 9HS
Call or book online (at time of writing collection only) via (029) 2023 2226 or online at https://o-milkwood.arch2order.com/menu/milkwood
Wednesday- Saturday 5pm til 9pm
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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.