Have you been to The Humble Onion recently?
Two visits in the last fortnight have confirmed what has been obvious for a few years now. Namely, that Antonio Simone’s cooking is a true local highlight and deserves to be celebrated in that way..
The ‘Humble at Home’ boxes were a lockdown highlight, the outdoor-dining-friendly Poca small plates menu I enjoyed here has been replaced by this new menu.
It’s a gutsy line up. And it’s every bit as good as I expected it to be. I’d even say it’s the best it’s been. Make no mistake: this is some of the best cooking in the area, and comfortably, too.
And yet is often overlooked.
The food here satisfies in a way few others do. This isn’t an attempt to trawl through every dish, but to convey in broad sweeps the essence of what goes on here: that this is cooking full of flavour, executed with deft technique. Cooking which comforts and excites. Cooking which understands what makes a plate of food appealing to anticipate, enjoyable to eat and hard to forget.
This is food which puts flavour front and centre. An achingly obvious thing for any restaurant, you’d think, but few locally do it as well as The Humble Onion. Whether it’s an exemplary chorizo ibérico, the fat surrendering as soon as it meets your tongue, or a crisp cake of long-braised pigs head- a fritter to rival the one I had at Manteca recently- with that tangle of meat waiting inside a taut, breaded shell, it’s flavour first.
It’s in a hand-chopped tartare of aged beef, punctuated by tang and heat from capers and sriracha mayonnaise, and a yolk that does the sultry ooze thing throughout.
It’s in achingly tender sweetbreads. They can be divisive, can’t they? Some find them off-putting, perhaps too ‘offaly’ or visceral. Some believe they’re being offered testicles rather than thymus glands. My slogan pitch for the Testicle Marketing Board (“Go Mad…for Gonads!”) will have to stay on the shelf. For now, anyway. But if you’re hesitant, try these.
They’re dripping with nutty, still-foaming brown butter and toasted hazelnuts. Beautifully simple, simply beautiful. On my second visit I decide to try something n…oh who am I kidding. I have the sweetbreads again. And they are superb. They’re opinion changers, a too-rare pleasure on menus.
There’s sweet lamb breast nudged apart with your fork, the richness tempered by salty, creamy goats curd and an anchovy crumb. What more could you want? A thick cassoulet of white beans, that’s what.
If you asked me to pinpoint one thing, just one, that is a particular strength here- it would be Antonio’s way with slow-cooked meat. The feather blade of beef is an object lesson in texture and taste, the pork cheek and belly nothing short of masterful. Sauces always impress, too. So that’s two things. I can still recall the gloss and the lustre and the sheer legs on that gravy from the ‘at home’ box last year. I’ve had few sauces in this city to rival his.
Those two pork dishes are especially compelling, whether it’s a confit pig’s cheek or a hefty slice of belly with a wiggle and a wobble which is frankly lascivious. Molten striations of fat and leaner meat under crackling full of salty snap, crackling which is blistered and brittle and salty: this is how roast pork belly should always be.
And of course you’ll order the chips, because not ordering the chips here is an act of culinary and moral vandalism and you should be pointed at and roundly mocked in the street. They’re the best I’ve had in South Wales, hands down. Ruffled, crisp, rustling against each other, clearly born from attention and care, whilst getting the sort of pre-oil pounding that brings you the deep gold of little scraps you’ll hoover up. One of us has his leftovers wrapped so he can take them back to Bristol. Yes, that good.
The salted caramel panna cotta is essential of course, salt-sweet and lent texture by popcorn. A Humble Onion classic, the end to every meal here. You leave here feeling very well fed, simultaneously impressed at the skill on show and the lack of pretension throughout, from the amiable service to the decor.
That’s one of the best meals I’ve had this year, says M, and when he reels off where he’s been recently, you realise he’s paying Antonio’s cooking a massive compliment. Massive, but wholly deserved. Let’s come back soon, says C, whose commitment to eating out is at Olympic levels. They’ll have made a hundred mile round trip for this dinner alone, and consider it time very well spent. Which begs my opening question.
It’s places like this which represents the best of this area, and if we don’t use them we will lose them. There will be little mileage in moaning about bland brands if we don’t celebrate our standard-setters. It’s up to us who value good restaurants, and the people who run them, to use them, because when you have something this good close at hand, why on earth wouldn’t you cherish it? It might be nestled away in Dinas Powys: but it deserves to be in the full glare of your attention, to be part of every conversation about the best places to eat locally.
So, then. You’re waiting for…what, exactly?
The Humble Onion, Station Road, Dinas Powys CF64 4DE
Tel: 029 2051 4900
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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.