I’ve come at the wrong time, haven’t I?
It’s a bright, cold day, the light filling the room those huge windows. Lovely if you’re the kind of inveterate arsehole who insists on photographing their dinner, mind.
And yet…in my head, the default Nook look is seeing the place lit like a picture on an autumn evening or a deep winter night, the lights twinkling away and framing the dining room in the cosiest of scenes. Nook indeed. It’s one of the most distinctive sights in Cardiff food, radiating a guaranteed warmth, and it has been a good while since I last wrote about the highly rated cooking here. We had popped in recently for a couple of late night glasses of wine, after confirming my belief that the burgers next door are the best I’ve had in Wales. The menu whispered breathily to me. I was soon back.
‘You obviously struggled with that one!’ laughs my rather charming server as she clears the table halfway through my second visit. I’m sure she is intervening to stop me gouging furrows in the ceramic in an effort to salvage every last scrap and smear, because this risotto is a seductive bowl, a lusciously buttery broadside of carby heft. It smells remarkable and tastes even better, the expertly-judged rice awash with finely-minced ox heart.
It’s a bowl of deep, tangy savouriness. It feels tremendously indulgent and rich and nourishing all at once, and plugs straight into the group’s DNA with a nod to the offal-heavy menu at Dark.
I associate Nook with a plant-leaning menu. I certainly don’t think of hulking steaks. Yet here they are, the board listing Welsh aged Florentine T-bones, ranked by weight and ready to be chalked off as they are ordered. They top out at 750g- or what most people might consider a sharing size- at £6/100g.
Slow-cooked Tropea onions with straciatella avoids the pitfall of too much softness on one plate. There’s a touch of sweet, jammy consistency, but they still have some bite and snap. It’s a deft little plate, light and refreshing, with a touch of something acidic in there- yes, just like me- nicely aided and abetted by a springy foccaccia and grassy olive oil.
The hasselback potatoes are everything I wanted them to be. This is what brought me here today: crisp, garlicky, burnished and buttery, dotted with that chive mayo. It’s a simple idea, done beautifully, and a few moments of pure pleasure which will haunt you for days, but in the loveliest ways. And seeing them lured me here, so Instagram isn’t always the devil’s anus. Not always.
A bowl of mussels can be a treat, and here they’re dotted with ‘nduja. It would, of course, be easy to overwhelm the delicate charms of the shellfish with chilli: but this is nicely balanced and allows the plump flesh to shine as the heat pulls its punches. (NB If you’re sitting in the window, do try not to accidentally meet a passer-by’s eye as you slurp at the shells lasciviously. It may be awkward. Little insider tip for you there…)
It’s a striking lookimg thing, beetroots with apple. It is served at blood heat and with lightly sweet-tart pickled fruit apple. It could do with a little more of it perhaps distributed through the plate, but it plays well against the light earthiness of that beetroot and the dill gives it a Scandi feel.
A rare moment of restraint in my appetites: I pass up the chance to ravish another plate of those hasselbacks and go for the agnolotti (£10) instead. I think they call that growth or something. Capably made pasta is filled with the pear’s sweetness and the ooze of pecorino and ricotta, all coming together with toasted walnuts and crisp little sage leaves and laced with a good lick of butter. It’s yet another happy little plate in a succession of good things.
I rarely bother with desserts, but I’m anyone’s for a good tiramisu (£6). And this one is rather lovely, managing to pull off that trick of seeming light while tasting opulent and indulgent. It’s an impressive finish.
This little cluster of Victoria Park independents- it’s the official start of the Canton Food Mile, you know- has long been one of Cardiff’s most reliable places to come and eat. In the week that the owners have had to announce the closure of their nearby Dusty’s Boneyard site, and as icy winds blow through local hospitality, it’s good to tell you how reassuringly good things still are here. Go soon.
Nook, 587 Cowbridge Rd E, Cardiff CF5 1BE
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY:
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.