We dined at The Admiral St David’s as guests of the hotel.
All food and drink was complementary.
All opinions tumble from what passes for my brain, and they do so independently.
Transparency is important.
And on that topic, when you’ve finished reading this review (or before, I’m easy) please have a look at this piece on that (very) important topic.
I enjoyed the new direction taken by this kitchen last time I was here. It embraced its new identity with enthusiasm, slanting the food heavily towards the Pacific Rim and coming up with some winning dishes.
So what’s changed for this new all-day menu?
Not a huge amount, it seems. Chef Martyn Watkins has designed a tinkering with a seasonal leaning, rather than an entire rebuild, though it does seem to have been cobbled together from a focus group of one: me.
Asian influences are still very much to the fore. That downright lappable laksa which impressed last time is still on the menu, though the additions are attention-grabbers in their own right. Belly pork, you say? Duck? Prawns? Mussels? Hand me my eating trousers…
A pair of barbecued scallops (£14) kicks us off, the XO sauce delivering a considerable umami broadside while managing to avoid overpowering the delicate sweetness of the seafood. The cooking is spot on, the sauce a full-bodied concoction of dried shrimp, shallots, garlic and chilli. To top it with a chicharron-style puffed pork rind might seem like gilding the lily but as a nod to the tried and tested pig’n’scallop combo it’s very welcome.
There’s some sriracha heat in the red-eye mayonnaise which dresses the prawns. The lady dining solo on the next table is tearing into these, and our server Miguel offers yet more of the mayo: a nice touch and all too rarely seen. (It’s the kind of detail which is telling. These invitation gigs are all well and good, and Miguel is irreproachable, but if everyone isn’t getting the same level of care it sets the bullshit alarm ringing.) Apparently, each batch is bolstered by a few double espressos, which makes the dish practically breakfast in my book.
They’re perky, meaty specimens. The menu has them at three for a tenner, or five for £13. Go for the latter, as there aren’t many local chances to fill your boots with one of life’s unalloyed pleasures. The flavours of the Asian salad (£8) are bright and clean: slow-cooked beef with lime and soy sauce, chilli and garlic, sriracha and fish sauce. It’s a heavy hitter for a salad.
Char siu pork (£20) has an enviable wobble under its sticky glaze. Two more of those prawns keep it company, which proves it is impossible to have too much of a good thing. Wild rice, shredded spiced vegetables, a scattering of pomegranate seeds for little bursts of sweetness: it’s a lively thing. The meat has been brined overnight, dried, spiced and then given the sous-vide treatment for eight hours. Roasted to order, glazed with (homemade) hoisin sauce, it’s impressive stuff. It is, Brad suggests, the closest thing to “porky panna cotta.”
And if that isn’t A Thing yet, then it bloody well ought to be.
The duck (£21) has been given some love. It’s a perfect pink throughout and far better than at some recent disappointments (including one Michelin stalwart). Celeriac purée and shimeji mushrooms add subtly nutty notes, but the star is that beautifully-presented meat, a perfect even pink throughout.
Desserts come courtesy of pastry chef Michael Coggan. He’s currently impressing the judges on C4’s Bake Off: The Professionals and here his talent is obvious. A dark chocolate ‘cremeux’ delivers a huge chocolate hit within its dense, glossy surface, all lightened by coconut and sharp mango: superb stuff. A custard tart brings just the right amount of wobble, the cream not too sweet but silky in all the right places.
I could have done with a touch more sharpness to the blood orange sorbet, but I am nitpicking now: it is clear that desserts are a strength here. I know I should sport my man of the people credentials and all that and make a sneering observation about some failing I spotted. After all, ‘Man enjoys being given beer and food for free’ isn’t a headline, is it? But this was a very accomplished, very impressive succession of dishes which deliver on flavour and texture in spades. (They look lovely, too, if you’re one of those epically wrongheaded people who prize the look of a dish more than its flavour.)
So. How good is it? What’s the frame of reference? Well, on this showing I’d suggest this menu moves Chef Martyn Watkins and Admiral St David right up there along the best in the city. The list of truly ‘highly recommended’ places is fairly short: this adds to it, moving alongside your Asador 44s and your Purple Poppadoms, your Bullys and Arbennigs and Park Houses. It would certainly be a shame if you overlooked it when planning to eat out, especially when you want something really good to eat: why should hotel guests and visitors to the city have all the fun? Cooking (and service) this good ensures The Admiral deserves consideration as a destination in its own right.
The Principal St David’s Hotel
Menu available: 12.30-2.00 and 5.30-10.00
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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.