The Humble Onion’s salted focaccia, the taut, fragile bronze breaking apart for its airy crumb to be dredged through herby, grassy oil and its thick, sweet plug of balsamic.
A rolled lamb breast which combines a light crust with the wanton wobble of rich fat, a scattering of little cubes of pickled cucumber, little flecks of red chilli and shallot, a silky dollop of hung yoghurt. It’s exemplary meat cookery, simple but thoughtful so that everything is on the plate for a reason.
‘These are beautiful, too…’
Prawns, simply cooked and served. A waft of the sea. Meaty, garlicky, buttery. Simple pleasures are key here. Which will soon bring us to the chips.
And on it went.
The occasion is my parents’ first meal out in months, in this well-spaced, clearly safety-minded garden in Dinas Powys: the words, my mother’s. I had visited the previous week and couldn’t think of a better place to break her duck. (We all operate with a ‘readiness versus wariness’ scale these days I suppose: I have felt safe both times, and so did they.) and while it’s far too late to transition from black sheep to favourite son, I knew she’d appreciate it.
Antonio Simone’s cooking made it a safe bet. My mother has been cooking ‘properly’ for over 60 years. She finally left school at nine, having already spent time in the kitchens, when my grandfather thought she’d be better served cooking full-time in the family’s restaurants, than by getting a formal education. (In the interests of balance, he took the same line with his four sons, too. The businesses came first.) She spent hours preparing and preserving anchovies, or peeling and slicing mounds of potatoes for the thick, rich tortillas which would stand on the tapas counter. She could catch a chicken and have it ready for the pot by the time she was in her early double digits.
So she’s forgotten more about good, fresh food than I will ever know. She knows what goes into running a kitchen. About the prime importance of high quality ingredients. About treating them well.
Her reaction to every dish may have been repetitive. But it repaid that decision to bring her here.
So from here on in, just supply the ‘beautiful!’ or ‘gorgeous!’ yourself. And to be fair, she did thrown in the odd comment about how this is food with ‘understanding’ and ‘care’ and that it clearly comes out of a philosophy that isn’t yet dominant in this country. She’s right, even if she kept getting the name of the place wrong before we arrived: so if you overhear a heavily accented Spanish lady telling a friend about the memorable meal she had at the Hopeful Artichoke or the Friendly Parsnip, feel free to say hello.
The good things keep coming. A tangle of shredded celeriac with creamy ras el hanout dressing has a gentle warmth which builds and builds. The brilliant touch here? That crisp-crumbed egg, which breaks apart just in time for that yolk to flow everywhere and smooth everything down with its ooze. It’s wonderful.
This is food with a light touch, the sort of thing you can only achieve if you’ve got excellent produce and the confidence to let it speak for itself. The baked sardines stand as a handy symbol of what they do here. Spankingly fresh, served on the bone, topped with little pickled shallot rings and a glossy, herby aioli. A humble ingredient, treated with care and respect, no superfluous flourishes. Even the menu follows this pattern, with its functional font and lower-case-only print.
There’s cheese on toast, if your imagination leads you down an avenue of meat falling into thick juicy strands and pepped up with a touch of heat under a ‘duvet of cheese’ (phrase copyright, Genevieve Taylor). The brioche base is still crisp, despite the welter of good things happening above it.
They can even make broccoli inspiring here, with long, thin stems scattered with the bite of toasted hazelnuts and a touch of sriracha. It makes you want to try it like that at home, while reminding you it wouldn’t turn out this well.
Chips. The pub staple. Here, smoked paprika is a light touch under a manchego snowdrift. (This, of course, will be the title of my Diffficult Second Album.) It can be tempting to throw trite words like ‘the best’ around but I still can’t think of a better bowl I’ve had in the area.
They have roastie qualities- colour, texture, little golden inlets where the hot oil frolics- in a chip. They rustle and snap. An essential order, a humble element elevated through sheer talent. And I love the fact they’re listed in the ‘Vegetable’ section, so they clearly fall under your 5 a day recommendation.
Rich, buttery, layered. These are not words you’d associate with cauliflower, but the purée which comes with the scallops is a lovely thing. Such colour and depth (think of the cauliflower sauce at John Cook’s Ember and you’d be on the right track) all earthy-sweet and speckled with capers. The flesh is a beautiful thing, an adroit piece of work which deftly nails that balance of allowing a crust to form and keeping its centre just-so translucent. You’d struggle to find many better examples of classical scallop cookery.
Panacotta’s a joy, too. Salted caramel, praline, a scattering of popcorn. There hasn’t been a misstep across the ten or so dishes we have eaten, or the similar number last week, all hosted by Dominic with warmth, good humour and an obvious pride in the kitchen he represents.
In keeping with its name, this isn’t a kitchen which is going to boast how great it is on social media. This kind of place flourishes on personal recommendation, on those who actually care about local restaurants, spreading the word, and doing it actively. It matters.
It’s worth recalling the high esteem in which Antonio is held. You hear nothing but praise and respect from his peers, from the people driving this area’s food forward, people who can see there’s something quietly lovely about what is happening at The Humble Onion. If it’s new to you, good things await. If it’s an old friend, then supporting places like this- our skilful, locally owned businesses- and spreading the message is even more important than ever.
Either way, go. This is a place to cherish, to savour.
Or as someone said- beautiful.
The Humble Onion
Wednesdays – 12 – 9 (last food orders)
Thursdays 12 – 9
Friday 12 – 9
Saturday 12 – 9
Sunday 12 – 4
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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.