Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Abergavenny Food Festival 2015

Last weekend saw the return of one of the biggest food festivals in the UK and although I had heard many good things about Abergavenny Food Festival I have never been. That is until last Saturday.

I cannot stress enough how easy it was to get to the festival from Cardiff. Mrs Clonc and I caught the train from Cardiff Central direct to Abergavenny then it was the matter of a short 10 minute jaunt into town. Perfect.
We got there early doors and that would be my top tip for anyone wanting to attend the festival as it gets A LOT busier later, that is unless you like queuing for food. We had a good look around and then decided what we wanted to buy and eat. There is nothing worse than buying/eating something only to realise there is something even more awesome around the corner! 

I have to say the set up in the castle was probably my favourite. So beautiful and atmospheric. 

It's here we had the most amazing calamari from the excellent Cafe Mor, winner of BBC Radio 4's Best Street Food 2014. Crispy coating giving way to melt in the mouth squid, insanely good! 

This was accompanied by a Smoked Bloody Mary cocktail made by the fabulous team from Chase. The vodka they make comes from potatoes and their classic vodka was voted best in the world. For the limited edition smoked vodka, water sourced from their own borehole is sat in the coolest part of the smokehouse for 5 days to pick up the distinctive smoky taste, then blended with their award winning Chase vodka! The smoky flavour totally comes through but is not overpowering and is a nice twist on a classic cocktail. 

I also loved The Dome in the castle grounds which was home to the Children's Food Academy with a series of free workshops. So plenty to keep the kids entertained.

After lunch I had the great honour of interviewing Chief Executive of the Festival Heather Myers. I asked her what sets Abergavenny apart from other festivals? She said "it is the quality and diversity of food and drink on offer as well as the calibre of guest speakers and chefs that the festival attracts", she also added that "we work hard to put on a festival that is friendly and inclusive but still professional and not overly commercial". 
The festival has grown year on year with more advanced tickets sold this year than ever before. Looking forward to next year I asked Heather whether she could give me a teasers or any future plans for the festival. She said she wanted to promote more farming links and potentially have livestock at the festival. The aim to promote the link between farm to consumer and inform people about where our food comes from. I think that was a bit of a Kitchen Clonc exclusive!

Back out onto the streets and  the crowds had definitely grown in numbers. Ambling along we spotted the infamous Onion Man and then gorged on a Seville Chocolate Orange Brownie with chocolate sauce from The Chockshop, which had a stand literally stacked full of brownies of all varieties. One slip and there would have easily been a brownie avalanche!

We rounded off the day with a Theo Randall masterclass at the Borough Theatre. The Masterclass is a chance to catch your favourite foodie personalities in either conversation on stage or as in this case demonstrating their recipes. Others who graced the Borough Theatre stage last weekend included Raymond Blanc and Yotam Ottolenghi.

Theo Randall was showcasing recipes from his new book 'My Simple Italian'. It was both an entertaining and informative show from a man that has obviously done a few of these gigs before. 

It must be said that we loved just wondering around all the festival venues, soaking up the atmosphere (and some drinks) and chatting to people. Everyone was so friendly. I don't know if it was the glorious sunshine we had, the amazing array of food and drink available or that it is such a well organised event but Abergavenny Food Festival is now for me a must every year. If you have not been, trust me you are missing out! If next year is too long to wait then there is an Abergavenny Christmas Food and Drink Festival on the 13th of December, see you there!

Photos courtesy of Huw John and Cowshed. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Abergavenny Food Festival 2015 - Photo Diary

After visiting Abergavenny Food Festival for the first time on Saturday I'm still grinning from ear to ear! I had the most brilliant time and below is a photo diary of my day with another blog post to follow with my experiences as a first timer to the festival.

The day kicked off with some glorious sunshine as we awaited the train to Abergavenny from Cardiff Central.

First up on arrival was a lovely reception at the utterly gorgeous and stylish Angel Hotel, which I can't wait to go back and visit again soon. Melanie Doyle, the newly appointed Chair of the Festival introduced the always entertaining, hugely talented and instantly likeable Cyrus Todiwala who said a few words to open the festival.

I was lucky enough to have a few minutes with Cyrus to ask him about his thoughts on the state of Indian food in Wales and the UK. More about my interview with Cyrus in my next blog post.

Picture courtesy of Huw John

Then it was out into the festival taking in the buzzing Market Hall,  Brewery Yard and Castle.

It didn't take too long for our stomachs to start rumbling, so we got stuck into some truly amazing food a drink.

As an avid people watcher I couldn't help but notice everyone having such a great time, maybe it was the sunshine, maybe it was the excellent and varied selection of food and drink on offer or maybe this is the best darn food festival I have ever been too! One couple were so caught up in the moment they broke out into dance. Also if you keep your eyes peeled you never know who you may see!

Raymond Blanc taking a stroll 

Our day closed in style with a Theo Randall Masterclass, where he showcased recipes from his new book 'My Simple Italian' including recounting his record breaking 'Omelette Challenge' time on Saturday Kitchen, 14.76 sec!

As we caught the train back to Cardiff with our bellies full and our bags heavy from all the foodie goodies we had bought, I couldn't help but feel that I had fallen head over heels for this utterly brilliant festival and Abergavenny. Next year's festival can't come soon enough.

More blog posts to follow about my first time at Abergavenny Food Festival.
Follow me @KitchenClonc

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Bar 44 Cardiff - Review

It's fair to say I haven't been this giddy about visiting a restaurant in a long time, maybe it's because I maybe the only person in Cardiff to have not eaten in any of their award winning restaurants. There I said it. It's been like a dirty secret that I've kept for a while, but the opportunity simply had never arisen. However with their latest outpost on Westgate Street in Cardiff which is a 10 minute drive (if that) from my house or a thirty minute stroll through Llandaff and Pontcanna fields I was going to put things right.

I decided to walk this particular night and met my friends at the restaurant.  The  only thing recognisable from it's previous incarnation as Pica Pica is the vaulted ceilings and location of the bars. Everything else has been improved immeasurably. It some how seems bigger, lighter and  not at all dingy but warm and inviting.

I was the first to arrive and decided to quench the thirst I'd built up during my walk with a pint of Alhambra, heaven. After the rest of the group arrived and ordered their drinks (a couple of glasses of sherry as recommended by our host) we proceeded to chat and ordered what felt like half the menu.

First up the Alex Gooch sourdough bread and oils, Gordal olives and Venison salami. Simply the best bread and oils I have had which is saying a lot for a dish that is normally instantly forgettable. Superb olives, I could have eaten them all. Venison salami, deep game flavour with a peppery kick, perfect with a cold beer. Apologies for the brief run down but we did order quite a lot!

The fish dishes of crispy hake and sea bream were perfectly cooked. The hake in a crisp batter accompanied by a searing alioli was as mentioned perfectly cooked if a little bland. The sea bream on the other hand was superb and the favourite dish of the night for one of my dining partners. The other fish dish was something I've wanted to try for a long time, the Puntillitas negra burger. Baby squid in a squid ink burger roll with a side of fennel and apple alioli. The impossibly soft and earthy squid ink burger encasing the crispy squid was delicious but the whole dish including the fennel salad seemed to lack seasoning. 

My other dinning partner preferred the one pot braised chrorizo, ham hock, pancetta fava bean stew which was her favourite dish of the night.

Pushing on, the patatas bravas was good, tortilla well made but again bland, the crispy chickpea, tomato and zamarano (hard ewes cheese) was lovely nutty chickpeas, sharp tomato and salty cheese, delicious
The cheeses brought up the rear with an excellent Mahon (paprika rubbed cows cheese, the Spanish know how to show their cheese a good time) served with crunchy toast thins and a delicious zingy chutney. The bomba rice fritters filled with Cabrales cheese packed quite a punch. The crispy as you like coating giving way to creamy rice and then potent blue cheese. The Cabrales cheese is what I can only describe as blue cheese squared, so be warned only blue cheese lovers may like this one, I loved it!

But it doesn't stop there and yes of course we ordered desserts. One orange sorbet, an almond and caramel ice cream and a muscavado cheese cake with sour cherry sorbet. The orange sorbet was everything you would expect from a well made citrus sorbet, light and refreshing, perhaps the most sensible choice after the amount of food we ate. The almond and caramel ice cream was just incredibly delicious and one of the nicest ice creams I've had. However my favourite dish of the night was just the best cheesecake I've had in an age. Creamy sweet cheese, perfect biscuit top and the most astounding sour cherry sorbet. Just so good. You must order this if you go, its totally worth it. The pedro ximenez I had to accompany it topped off an excellent meal.

The service was exemplary. Polite, attentive and helpful. Alice and the team ran the show so well, it's a joy to see service done so brilliantly. The entire bill with drinks came to £87.50 without tip. 
I thoroughly enjoyed eating at Bar 44 Cardiff, the food was executed well and delicious the service brilliant and the atmosphere just so welcoming I didn't really want to leave. 

Bar 44 Cardiff
Address: 15-23 Westgate Street, Cardiff, CF10 1DD
Tel: 02920 090 444
Twitter: @bar44cardiff