The Dock is Brains’ grand statement in Cardiff Bay, a seven-figure refurbishment of the old Terra Nova.
Oh, I loathed Terra Nova. Hated it with an intensity bordering on the visceral. I had too many dreary nights in its overcrowded, dingy corners. And it was always where we had our work do, and the food was so damned unambitious, the venue chosen as a staging point for the dreaded Salt and the trip into town, rather than somewhere enjoyable to eat.
In short, it was kind of place which made you not only envy Captain Oates, but reckon he got off lightly.
But this? This is reinvention on a grand scale. There are reminders of The Dock’s former self, with a portrait of Captain Scott hanging on the first floor (a somewhat tenuous association, since he wasn’t on the Terra Nova when it set sail in 1910) and another of David Lloyd George. It’s a stylish space, light and airy and picked out in fashionable muted tones.
And the food?
Well, the menu is eclectic, to put it mildly; the maritime theme is central, with an imaginary voyage taking in many ports on its global progress. I’m reminded of my recent trip to The Ship Inn, Gower. The beer list is perhaps smaller than you’d expect in a place this size, but with some standouts: Sierra Nevada pale ale and Goose Island’s Honkers were the pick.
A hen’s egg is a scotch egg in silk pyjamas, the bacon-infused panko crumb a fragile coating for a deep golden yolk. The parsley mayonnaise is pleasant enough, but it’s all about that ooze.
Asian duck salad is a lovely thing. The beansprouts, leaves and scattered red chillies make this a superb light lunch, big on texture and flavour yet seeming somehow ineffably light.
The Korean short rib is all wobbly seduction, testament to slow hours in the oven. Pak choi, slick with meat juices, still has some bite to it.
Sticky rice is glutinous and shot through with coriander, just the thing for mopping up those juices. A simple plate, then, but superbly satisfying. It won’t earn any prizes in a beef beauty pageant, but when it tastes like this- who on earth cares? It’s the kind of dish you look forward to eating again, even as you polish it off.
I make no apology for showing it three times: I just wish I could have eaten it again.
Buttermilk chicken is remarkable, an object lesson in elevating a familiar staple into something truly memorable. There’s nothing soggy or claggy here: it’s beautifully crisp and light.
Sweet potato fries are so light and crisply executed that it’s no wonder the Aztecs used to revere this vegetable as deities, beseeching their favour with human sacrifice. (Note to Sub: check this before publication. May not be historically accurate).
The only quibble would be the chips- they could have done with an extra half a minute in the pan, though the truffle oil and shaved Parmesan made for a seductive dressing.
We managed desserts. Heroically.
Peanut butter chocolate cheesecake was as good as it sounded, the topping rich and thick, though the base could have been a tad thicker and crunchier. You see the extent I have to go to find any drawbacks at all?
My brownie was sinfully indulgent, a smart bomb of everything that makes a dessert memorable, its fudgy denseness layered with caramel sauce.
So in spite of myself I am genuinely taken aback by how good the food is here. What a welcome addition; from now on, that frequent question ‘Where’s good to eat down The Bay?’ can get a clear, positive answer.
The prices set The Dock firmly in restaurant, rather than pub, territory; but it is immensely encouraging to see a local company willing to invest in something of this quality in what is typically a bland backdrop of identikit chain joints. Coupled with The Cambrian Tap, which I visited last year, Brains is capable of confounding expectations. Terra Nova has long gone, and good riddance; but what a way to erase its memory.
Disclosure: I was invited to review The Dock and all food and drink was complimentary.
The Dock Bar and Kitchen
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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.