Look deep into the Parka… There are many things in here, things you could never dream of.
– Like what? –
-l’ve dreamed of rubies.
[The Mighty Boosh, ‘Tundra’]
There are some words which don’t belong together. Or at least, not until someone welds them together in some inspired culinary cut-and-shut and you just have to applaud the invention.
Let’s add ‘Lamb crumpet’ to the list, because you’ll need to become better acquainted with this one. Soon, Cardiff diners will be divided into two camps: those who haven’t tried it yet, and those whose eyes glaze over lustfully at the unlikely magic in those words.
If it’s not on your hit list yet, it will be soon.
Lamb crumpet. It shouldn’t work. But Tommy’s cooking is about as close to a ‘sure thing’ as Cardiff has at the moment. Uisce (‘Ish-ka’) is Gaelic for water: (Uisce Beatha ‘Ba-ha’ is whiskey, hence ‘Water of life’), is a play on the idea of water as the ‘source’ for everything that has followed. This space was the launchpad for the restaurant ‘proper’, next door of course. While that menu continues to fill tables with its tasting menus, Uisce is even more relaxed. It bills itself as a ‘coffee and wine bar.’ That doesn’t really do it justice.
It’s a small space, which runs three distinct phases: it’s open from 10am for breakfast, with lunch featuring comfort food and a smattering of small dishes, and the evening is where you’ll idle with a glass of wine from the by the glass selection and sample yet more of those small plates with charcuterie. And more wine.
There’s a lot to tempt at breakfast (10am-12pm, Wednesday to Saturday, and 10 til 2 on Sunday) Chorizo hash, eggs Benedict and Royale, granola if you really must. The ‘Full Irish’ is a classic- proper (imported) black and white puddings, home-cured bacon, a fat, coarse-ground, herby sausage: for want of a better description- it has character, like all good meat. It all tastes as if it was once something that lived and breathed: there’s something deeply, resolutely piggy about the whole thing, the opposite of bland ‘protein’, this must have been what meat used to taste like before industrialised production.
Lightly toasted sourdough, a huge field mushroom, a grilled tomato. £10 is at the upper end of the fry-up price range (mind you, I had one at Fortnum’s once which cost me £23, out of sheer curiosity, and that was without the optional swan foie gras. It was decent enough.)
This also confirms I was right all along about baked beans belonging on a fry-up: they don’t.
Hope that helps.
At lunch (12-3 Wednesday to Saturday), a Reuben oozes in all the right places, the salt beef a wise mix of fat and meat, the bagel (made here) poised judiciously between fluffy and chewy.
And that crumpet? Lamb shoulder is brined overnight, then cooked for 24 hours, resulting in a sultry tangle of meat which foregrounds all the best things about lamb, its luscious fattiness and its ability to stand up to assertive flavours. In a word, flirtatious.
And if it wasn’t already an excellent dish in its first incarnation, it has been tinkered with: now, it is even better, the whole thing drenched in a rich jus. Now it abandons all pretense and is downright wanton, the juices dripping into that sourdough crumpet base until it’s positively sodden with those deeply meaty flavours. It’s all pepped up with a salsa verde to cut through the opulence.
And while ‘soggy crumpet’ sounds a little like the kind of reprehensible public school dorm activity soundtracked by the boorish braying of Bullingdon bellends, the only indecent thing here is how good it tastes.
The lamb itself is a triumph, a sublimely saucy jumble of flesh. Could you take another crumpet and fashion a burger type arrangement? Yes. Should you? Possibly not. It would mean the end of whatever you’re wearing. An afternoon in meetings garlanded with minty lamb jus might prove counterproductive; besides, your mind would keep skittering off to that mouthful. It’s an instant local classic.
My friends tease me that I am looking at the empty dish with longing. Chin on hand, wistful: the kind of look you give as a lover slowly fades from view as her train pulls away from the platform on some misty autumn morning.
Evening dishes (6-930, Tuesday to Saturday) maintain this high standard. Porthilly oysters are ever-present on Tommy Heaney’s menus: next door they are often laced with dill oil, but here they come dotted with crisp apple cubes and a subtle horseradish cream that is more about wrapping the whole thing in a silken mouth-feel than any punchy heat. They slip down a treat.
One cold, one hot: its twin is baked with XO sauce. I like my oysters to provide a briny, life-affirming jolt: I always think they are better raw. This one almost convinces me otherwise, though perhaps the meatier texture of a fat little scallop would stand up better to the heft of the sauce, its fried shrimp base bolstered by dehydrated scallop roe and pancetta. It makes you want to shout, Shooting Stars style, ‘UuuuMAAAAAAAmi!’ like some pound shop Vic Reeves.
But please don’t, because you’re in Pontcanna and the locals are genteel, refined folk, and your visitor’s visa can easily be rescinded by the residents’ council.
Stop for a moment. Picture your perfect croqueta. Sit back. Close your eyes if you have to. Go on, I can wait.
That fragile shell, the bechamel buttery-rich, the filling all sultry ooze? Something delicate, something that needs careful handling?
That’s what we have here. Yes, they’re as good as you’re imagining. They are exactly as good as you want them to be, right now. Possibly better. The smoked meat is the product of producing his duck ‘ham’, and it’s lovely to see these humble vehicles for eking out leftovers elevated to this level.
I’ve rarely had better. Anywhere.
There’s some tangy air-dried beef cecina, the fat melting at room temperature and as soon as it meets your tongue. ‘Mother’s Ruin’ cleverly pairs pork with the eponymous gin aromatics like juniper.
‘Kick in the head’ is accomplished charcuterie, time and effort repaid. It’s a whole pig’s head boned out, smeared with a spice rub, rolled in pork belly skin and cooked for 24 hours. The results are impressive, with the fat just melting and a range of different porky flavours, from bacon to brawn, and a lingering peppery hit.
In profile a cross between an Easter island head and Storm Thorgerson’s sculptures on the cover of Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell. But in meat. Which has to be a good thing. You know this, deep down.
Uisce is all typical Tommy Heaney cooking. High quality ingredients, influences from around the world, clever technique delivering crisp, highly defined flavours in beautiful looking plates. The delicate, the refined sit cheek by jowl (literally, in one case) with things which ooze and melt and drip and ooze again.
I believe this to be the most exciting kitchen in the city; as an aside, Tommy’s cooking is proving instrumental in boosting the image of Cardiff as a destination for food lovers. You could of course eat your three meals here, six days a week- they are closed on Mondays- and no one could possibly blame you.
The best restaurant in the city just got that little bit better.
That lamb crumpet, though…
Uisce by Heaney’s
4 Romilly Crescent
Tues- charcuterie/small plates 1800-2130
Weds- breakfast 1000-1200; lunch 1200-1500; charcuterie and snacks 1500-1800; charcuterie and small plates 1800-2130
Thurs- breakfast 1000-1200; lunch 1200-1500; charcuterie and snacks 1500-1800; charcuterie and small plates 1800-2130
Fri- breakfast 1000-1200; lunch 1200-1500; charcuterie and snacks 1500-1800; charcuterie and small plates 1800-2130
Sat- breakfast 1000-1200; lunch 1200-1500; charcuterie and snacks 1500-1800; charcuterie and small plates 1800-2130
Sun- lunch 1000-1400
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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.