Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Smoke House Breakfast - Review

Going out for breakfast is not something I do very often any more, there was a time going out for breakfast was synonymous with a hang over. Back then the only place for me was the late, great Cafe Calcio on Crwys Road. I know it may not be a popular statement but after several years of frequenting said cafe the idea of a fry up is just not appetizing to me any more. If I do go out for breakfast, I now would normally order either eggs Benedict or eggs Florentine.  There is a certain beauty in a perfectly poached egg and rich hollandaise sauce but even this breakfast mainstay now seems a little mundane.
Enter The Smoke House breakfast menu, filled with options like Huevos Rancheros, Breakfast Burrito and Smoked Brisket Hash with Duck Eggs, reignited my interest in venturing out for breakfast again. So when the opportunity arose to catch up with some friends and their kids we suggested The Smoke House for breakfast.

Sorry about the creased menu!

The ever popular Smoke House based on Pontcanna Street is a fairly compact restaurant to say the least, anyone who has ventured there in the evening will know making a reservation is almost essential to guarantee a table. With this in mind we booked a table for breakfast which is always handy to know especially if you are a large group. However for breakfast things are a little bit more chilled. Much more space to spread out, chilled tunes playing and the oh so heavenly smell of coffee.
Being a group of four adults and three children we were able to try a good selection from the menu. First up, Pancake Stack with Greek yoghurt, fresh berries, toasted almonds and maple syrup.

Aside from looking stunning, the pancakes were quite dense and really needed the moisture from the accompanying berries and yoghurt to help lift the dish. That being said our friend who ordered it was very happy indeed.
Next up Huevos Rancheros, baked eggs, chilli, tomatoes, bell pepper topped with manchego cheese, coriander and avocado (usually there is some chorizo in the mix but I forwent it for dietary reasons).

I had heard of this traditional Mexican breakfast before but never tried it and was unsure how the long list of ingredients from the description was going to come together. Presented beautifully in a cast iron skillet and served with a soft tortilla and tomato salsa with watercress on the side this dish was superb. The richness from the egg yolk running into the spicy and sweet mixture beneath, seasoned by the strips of manchego cheese. The tortilla was great for dipping but ordered some toast to mop up the remains, the salsa cut through the richness of the dish perfectly. Delicious, filling and exciting to eat. However I'm not so sure what the avocado brought to the party. 
Lastly the dish I wanted to order but Mrs Clonc beat me to it (if you and your other half are any thing like us we have a rule about ordering the same thing) Smoked Brisket Hash with Duck eggs. Smoked beef brisket with potato and onion hash topped with either poached or fried duck eggs severed with a side of smoked baked beans.

Mrs Clonc ordered fried duck eggs and needless the say this was the dish I was most anticipating. Tender smoked beef in a potato and onion hash, with two pert fried duck eggs sat on top, what's not to like? The dish totally delivered, the mild smokiness in the deliciously soft beef was lovely, coupled with the well seasoned and flavoursome hash was enhanced by the richness of the runny duck egg yolk. The smoked beans were insane. Thick, sweet, smoky and completely essential, otherwise the dish would have been far too dry. Easily the best dish of the morning for me.
The two little ones who were eating with us had mini scrambled eggs on toast and smoked beans on toast. Great portions for kids and plenty for mums or dads to help finish off as well. Baby Clonc slept throughout the meal. High chairs are available and there is space in the corridor at the back of the restaurant for buggies, sorry travel systems. 
As for the drinks, the coffee was good and the tea was standard. The service was excellent and could not be more helpful.

The total bill came to £50.95 including a number of teas, coffees and juices. It must also be mentioned that the breakfast menu is only available at the weekends. The group consensus at the end of breakfast was a resounding thumbs up. For me, I just loved the chilled atmosphere and delicious food. I definitely recommend The Smoke House for breakfast especially if  you fancy a change from the usual humdrum. 

The Smoke House
77 Pontcanna Street, Cardiff, CF11 9HS
Tel: 02920 344628

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Potato and Pea Curry

Following a visit to the launch of Chai St. I was inspired to post this recipe which is a firm family favourite in the Clonc household. This is my mother's recipe and although I have made some minor tweaks to simplify,  it still delivers on flavour. The curry itself is spiced delicately rather than chilli hot and is truly satisfying. A comfort food that not only tastes great, it's easy to make and healthy too. This one pan wonder would make a lovely simple dinner or lunch or even a side dish. 

Potato and Pea Curry - Serves two as a main meal
  • 500g white potatoes diced into small chunks of roughly equal size
  • 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp of chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp of ground coriander 
  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp of fenugreek seeds
  • 1/4 tsp of mustard seeds
  • 1 clove of garlic grated
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 piece of ginger grated (similar size to the garlic clove being used is fine)
  • 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • tomato tin full of water
  • salt to taste
  • 200g frozen peas
  • 1/2 tsp of garam masala 
  • handful of roughly chopped fresh coriander 

  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan or saucepan over a low heat. Add the ground chilli, cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek and mustard seeds to it and heat gently. Then add the grated ginger and garlic and cook until the garlic takes a little colour. Be mindful that the heat is not up too high or you will burn the spices and garlic which will leave a bitter taste to the curry.
  2. Next sauté the chopped potatoes in the spiced oil mixture for 5 mins (I don't bother to par boil them or peel them for that matter). Pop the bay leaf in and the tin of tomatoes. Fill up the empty tin with water and add to the pan. It will look like there is too much liquid but fear not this will reduce down nicely to a thick sauce that clings to the potatoes. Add salt to taste and allow to simmer away for 50 minutes or until the potatoes have cook through, turning down the heat as required if the simmering gets a bit too violent.
  3. Add the frozen peas 5 minutes before the end and heat through. Lastly stir in the garam masala and scatter the chopped coriander to finish.

I like to serve this dish with brown basmati rice which provides a nutty taste and slightly more firm texture along with some lightly pickled finely sliced red onions which cut though the dish perfectly (I dust the onions with 1/2 tsp of salt and pour over 2 tsp of white wine vinegar, mix through and set aside to allow for the pickle to do its thing). This is a lovely dish that I urge you all to try. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me via email at or twitter @kitchenclonc.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Chai St. - Preview

This week after a two year hiatus, Chai St will once again open it doors to serve up delicious Indian street food. After closing in 2012 to make way for the acclaimed Mint and Mustard to expand, Chai St is set to make a come back.  At that time Chai St was one of only two Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurants in Cardiff, the other being Mint and Mustard (more on this in the next blog post).
Now relocated to the Canton area of Cardiff the foundations that made Chai St such a hit the first time round have not changed. Providing fresh and delicious Indian food redefined for contemporary tastes and applying it to the street food of India to create the perfect informal dining experience.

This chap in the poster looks a bit like my uncle back in the 70's
The restaurant has been given a new look and branding, the aim is to inspire and create a space where people can eat, chat and relax. Initially it will be a no reservation sit down service only, a take away option will follow shortly  after  opening. 
Having had a look at the sample menu on their website I am positively ravenous. Highlights for me are the Chicken 65 which I believe was on the menu the first time round and was a firm favourite of mine, Chai samosa basket and of course the Thali's. All washed down with some Chai. Rather worryingly/intriguingly there is something called masala coke in the soft drinks section which may warrant a try in the name of research.

I personally have great fondness for the original Chai St on Whitchurch Rd, its kitsch decor, delicious food, informal atmosphere and killer chai reminds me of great times living on Australia Rd just opposite. I look forward to trying out Chai St in its new incarnation. Chai St opens on the 15th of January 2015.

Chai St
153 Cowbridge Road East, Canton, Cardiff, CF11 9AH
Tel: 02920 228888
Twitter: @ChaiStreet

Photos courtesy of Mint and Mustard and Evoke Pictures

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Eccentric Gin

Alcohol, an interesting topic to start the new year with, I hear you say? Especially when it's the month many try to cut back or abstain from the stuff. But something special is afoot and after several years of trying (and failing) to have a dry January I have decided that moderation is the key and if you are going to have a drink, make it a good one.
The alcohol in question here is gin, glorious gin. I was first introduced to it post university by Mrs Clonc (I don't think I could have survived the piss taking if I had started drinking it at university) some several years ago and have not looked back. It is my drink of choice for a pre dinner tipple, dinner parties or when the beer gets too much and my education in it has led me from my first gin Gordons through to Tanqueray to my now favourite Hendricks. But I now want to look further afield to more interesting, characterful and artisan gins. This summer my first foray into this area was an extraordinary gin produced in Yorkshire, Masons Gin.  So it was of  interest when I heard that a gin was being produced right here in South Wales and have been following the developments of this small batch artisan gin ever since. 
Eccentric Gin is the brain child of Celt Experience head man Tom Newman, who last year built a distillery in the basement of a pub he owns, The Wheatsheaf Rooms in Llantrisant. So after much badgering I managed to pay a visit to the distillery to pick myself up a bottle of the good stuff just before Christmas.
The building itself is not the most inspiring of places, set on a hill in Llantrisant but this rather drab building holds within it some remarkable kit for making gin.


Bottles ready to go
I was warmly welcomed on my visit by Josh and Simon who are also working on the project and was introduced to their 18th Century Special Batch 'Pot Stilled IPA' Gin! The gin itself is in the Genever style. Now just a quick one on Genever vs Gin, genever is really the predecessor to the style of gin that we know as London Dry Gin. The Genever is distilled from malted grain, similar to a whisky, where as most well known gins are London Dry style gins. These gins start off as pure alcohol that is flavoured with botanicals of which juniper is at the forefront.
Back to Eccentric Gin, this Genever style gin weighs in at 45.3% ABV and has been twice distilled with Celt Experience Ogham Willow Beer hence the IPA part in its description. It has been proofed with water from Ty-Nant, in fact the natural spring water courses through the building itself. How about that for provenance. It retails for £30 for 70cl which firmly places it in the top end of the market but probably reflects the quality ingredients used and small scale artisan production.

I was informed that I should be looking out for chocolate malt notes and citrus hops when I come to taste it. Serving suggestions included Dutch style i.e. served cold as an accompaniment to beer or with tonic, of course, with a slice of orange. I thanked the chaps for their time and headed off to the in laws in West Wales to celebrate Christmas armed with some Eccentric Gin to road test over the festive period.

The verdict? Unfortunately I think this gin should have remained in the 18th century, so overpowering was the smell and harsh was the taste, I could only tolerate a very small measure drowned in tonic. The idea of drinking it Dutch style was out of the question. I fixed up a round for the in-laws and after my mother in law regained conciousness she wasn't so sure about it either. Gutted. I was really looking forward to it. Potentially this is aimed at more of a niche market than I am looking for and potentially it will be loved by mixologists who can help make it taste better in a cocktail. But fear not as there is far more to come from Eccentric Gin, I believe they have started bottling up their London Dry Style Gin, Madam Geneva! Hooray, I can't wait to try it, that's if they'll let me buy a bottle.

Find out more:

Twitter: @EccenticGin