A little run of shopfronts near Barry’s Cold Knap is where you’ll find Mr Villa’s. Open since last November, it bills itself as a fish and chips restaurant and oyster bar. That doesn’t do it justice.
The tables hold old-school vinegar and salt; the broad white and blue stripes, whitewashed walls, unfinished concrete floor, open kitchen are seem familiar and low-key, informal, welcoming. After all, what’s more familiar and stoutly British than the weekday comfort food staple, the pub perennial, the British classic? But there’s more going on here.
The menu gives the game away, as does the daily specials board. There’s a meat lovers section- steak and kidney pie, free-range chicken pan-fried with rosemary and lemon, as well as 28-day hung steaks: these are not chip shop staples. But then neither are moules mariniere, scallops, hake or red mullet.
There’s another sense in which the menu is a giveaway: around the border are listed their suppliers, from Ashton’s, Snowden & Co, to Vic Hopkins Butchers. That kind of traceability is rare in this field.
Crab balls get us off to a promising start, tangles of sweet brown meat with a hint of chilli and Thai red curry spicing inside a fragile, crisp shell.
I can rarely resist laver bread. When I learned the owners, a couple in their early 70s, harvest it personally from Welsh beaches, I was sold. You only do that in your eighth decade if you love what you do- which is itself infectious- and want to feed people well. You also need to believe that it’s the best you can get your hands on.
It’s Welsh beaches on a plate, my laver bread with bacon. You’re almost there: a low sun and salt and ozone in the air seems just within reach. It’s cut through with oats, rather than being rolled in them, and is all the better for it.
The chips- proper chip shop chips with little golden scraps- have me chasing them around the bowl. They’re just what chips should be, and significantly better than others I’ve had recently in far more ‘elevated’ surroundings.
Hake is a huge steak cut from the middle of the fish, the firm flesh in a light crust of batter. It’s an impressive piece of fish, lightly done. It helps that it’s clearly spankingly fresh.
What do you want from a plate of seafood in Wales? I want plenty. I want generosity of spirit from the kitchen, mirroring the teeming bounty of our seas. I don’t want something that reeks of spreadsheets and profit margins and niggardliness. I want a celebration of our superb local seafood, and I want it all done with a light touch. It’s easily ruined, after all.
And here, with a simple white wine, garlic and shallot butter sauce, it’s done beautifully. Every component is: the fat scallops, winking mussels, petite clams, meaty prawns, a sizeable half-lobster. It is all done with a lightness of touch, a respect for the ingredients, which means this is a dish for the sybarite in all of us.
M’colleague’s main of sewin with a creamy mussel sauce was highly rated. It’s his go-to dish at any restaurant: and this ranked among the very best he has ever had.
Now, at this point our hosts wanted us to try dessert. Unable to decide, they insisted we try one of everything.
The sharp but light filling of lemon tart is a lovely thing, the crumbly butter pastry
A layered meringue- at heart, an Eton Mess reconstructed rather than its opposite- balances hazelnuts against the sweetness of the sugar.
A chocolate orange mousse could be overly rich- sickly, even: but tart little slivers of candied peel put paid to that and I finished this far too quickly. Maths has never been my thing but half seemed to become three-quarters to whole within seconds and m’colleague Rhydian from Bwyta yn y Brifddinas was left disappointed.
Poor form on my part: in my defence, it was seductively lovely stuff.
Rice pudding is one of their best sellers, apparently: the solitary spoonful I could manage was clearly a cut above your run of the mill examples.; a dense chewy chocolate brownie with ice cream saw us over the finishing line.
Mr Villa’s is clearly already a firm favourite with Barry locals: it’s full on a Tuesday evening. And based on what we ate that night, it’s easy to see why- and even to feel a tad envious. But why should they have all the fun?
I was invited to dine at Mr Villa’s; all food and drink was complimentary.
Mr Villa’s Fish & Chip Restaurant and Oyster Bar
01446 730 662
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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.