WARNING. If you are hate gangster films, or meat, or terrifyingly grim puns- this post isn’t for you. No hard feelings.
Don’t say you weren’t warned, though.
You know the scene.
Mob boss Leo (the greatr Albert Finney), settled in for the night, newspaper draped over his midriff as he enjoys a late cigar, lies on his bed. Up the stairs, shiny black Oxfords tread in hushed unison. The muzzles of automatic weapons are in shot as they advance upon their unsuspecting target.
Leo, alerted by smoke from the ground floor creeping between the floorboards into his room, sits up. He eyes the heavy revolver, there on the nightstand. He swings his legs into his monogrammed slippers and puts out his cigar almost as the door bursts open. He moves with surprising speed for an older man, a man we have not yet seen called into action, and he dashes under the bed, clutching his revolver as he goes. As the two would-be assassins open fire on the bed he floors one with a shot to the shin and finishes him with another to the crown. Suddenly, the odds are evened.
The other flees: Leo seizes his Tommy-gun, drops it out of the window onto the sloping roof and follows suit. He hangs for a moment. He drops to the ground.
And as the man sent to kill him back into view, he lets fly a sustained burst of gunfire, the bullets scything through his enemy and sending him into a twitching ragdoll jig of death. Riddled by bullets, his finger locks on the trigger and his weapon continues firing in an arc that takes in his own feet and the chandeliers above, the crystal dancing as his body spasms and jerks in the hail of fire.
It’s not over yet; a black vehicle careers around the corner, the rear passenger firing at Leo. For what seems an age they trade gunfire, with his bullets seeming to miss. Theirs, of course, wouldn’t dare even scratch him. This we know, by now. He is invincibility wrought large. Eventually his target succumbs and the car lurches off the avenue and into a tree, where it bursts into flame and erupts.
As smoke plumes from the gun muzzle, Leo considers his handiwork. And that cigar? Out from the pocket of his red silk dressing gown, and back into his mouth. A small nod to himself, and it’s all over.
And all the while, Frank Patterson’s glorious version of ‘Danny Boy’ soars over the adrenaline and the violence. A song of beauty and love in the subterfuge and the carnage.
Perfect film-making. The Coens at their sublime best.
All of which has nowt to do with pies.
Except that I had the refrain ‘Oh Johnny boy, the pies, the pies are calling..’ as we walked in to Pieminister again today.
Anyway, if you think that lead-in was bad, wait til you see the puns.
Pieminister opened recently in Cardiff to excitement among locals. Their reputation has been built at festivals and a slow-but-sure expanding roster of outlets. They have fans in high places, too: I once asked a very well-regarded (and decorated) young chef where he craved eating after a long day among the quenelles and liquid nitrogen. Without missing a beat, he plumped straight for Pieminister.
The St Mary St location is spot on. The former hairdresser is now unrecognisable as such, decked out in reclaimed timber and muted greys, but bedecked with bare bulbs and low-hanging lamps to create an minimal urban feel. Mottoes and bon mots are everywhere: this is clearly a place that takes its branding and visual identity very seriously.
On to the food, then. Pork scratchings. There was never going to be any other option, really (actually, we were powerfully tempted by the scotch egg but were deterred by the promised wait. I needed feeding 15 minutes ago, not in 15 minutes’ time).The scratchings were served with a chunky apple sauce. This was unnecessarily sweet for my tastes and would benefit from a kick of something warmer, spicier- cinnamon perhaps?- although it may make a better marriage with the chilli-spiced variety. These came in breadstick-type lengths.
However, the lengths of crunchy rind were easily good enough to eat without the accompaniment- sinfully salty and crisp, with the merest suggestion of the fat under the skin and the resulting crunch ranging from ‘the people on the next tables can hear this, right?’ to ‘I hope my eardrums survive this meal’.
In short I could eat these by the barrelful.
Pies, naturally, were the main attraction. As I’ve said before- if you’re going to name your restaurant after one key product, you’d better make damn sure it stands close inspection.
The Shamrock pie, a British steak filling with Irish stout, had the richness of a long-cooked gravy and long-simmered beef. The supplied-as-standard gravy boat of the house gravy was a little insipid in comparison. The pie was well complemented by the bottle of Bristol Brewery Milk Stout (the range of beers here is well worth investigating, by the way) I was supping. (The water comes in a carafe and with a glass full of ice- a nice touch). That essential Pieminister two-pastry casing- a suet lid and a shortcrust ‘body’- gives a structure sturdy enough to eat on the go, yet light enough to set it apart from many of its rivals. It’s a clever idea and very well executed.
And if you’re groaning at that, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Mash was a little on the cold side but the side dish of macaroni and cheese was served piping hot, with a good smack of mature cheddar and those reassuring crusty bits that mean it’s known the business side of a grill.
My wife’s ‘Captain Nemo’ was a hearty cold-day concoction: various fish and seafood (prawns, fork-sized pieces of haddock and pollock…and no, I’m not going to make the Sex Pistols pun…) in a creamy sauce heavy on the parsley and subtly warmed with a mild wholegrain mustard. The mashed potato topping had that lovely hand-finished look and crispy peaks of crunch for that rustic home-kitchen appearance.
The green leaf salad was unfortunately radically underdressed: the right balance of olive oil and vinegar just wasn’t there, though my wife’s decision to mix the red cabbage coleslaw with the salad made for a far better side dish. A minor niggle, but easily rectified.
All in all, a hearty, decent value meal (we paid just over £23) in a pleasant, stylish venue. The pork scratchings were excellent, some other sides less so. The main attraction- the classic two-pastry Pieminister pie- certainly lived up to its billing. Probably not the venue for an intimate tête-à-tête, but count your blessings: the pies are an awful lot tastier than the puns. And speaking of those puns, this is what greets you as you descend the stairs…
Here’s the scene, by the way. Not the greatest quality, but pretty damn perfect otherwise.
35 St Mary St,
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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.