As a Brit, I’ve had to hear my fair share of jokes about the food served on this humble rainy island. Sometimes I’ve laughed, sometimes I’ve explained, sometimes I’ve excused. And sometimes I’ve had to take a deep slow breath and smile. If people prefer sticking to stereotypes than finding a a good place to eat then I suppose that’s a choice best left to them.
So as I sat down for dinner at one of Cardiff’s best restaurants, Park House, I was more than a little surprised to see boiled egg and soldiers on the menu (to the uninitiated, they’re a standard breakfast dish of egg and sliced toast most definitely aimed at children. You can dip the soldier into the runny yolk of the egg, a practice which doesn’t really fit the military metaphor and which, rather unjustly, is deemed inappropriate behaviour for grown-up luxury food writers and bloggers.But I digress.)
Park House has the history and setting for grandeur. Built in 1874, this Grade 1 listed townhouse illustrates the spirit of its time with its steep Gothic roof, textured walls and gables. It was commissioned by the Marquess of Bute (the man credited with bringing Cardiff back to life by reviving the dockyards) and designed by William Burges, the man in charge of renovating Cardiff Castle and creating the whimsical Castell Coch.
The entrance summons up all the sense of theatre such a past should command: a hushed atmosphere, sweeping staircase, attentive butler* and high ceiling. The Pinot Restaurant it leads to is a curiously incongruous affair. The staff are still attentive and the twinkling ghost of the floodlit City Hall outside adds the requisite je ne sais quoi, to which the giant TV screen and paper napkins add more of a sense of je sais exactement quoi.
The food, however, excels at every turn.
Creativity and fine flavours ruled the evening as we opted for the seven course winter tasting menu. Macarons with a foie gras and caramel centre arrived as canapés along with smoked salmon and a spiced beetroot gazpacho. The curried carrot and parsnip soup was delicate with a succulent serving of Brixham crab and my dining companion’s favourite dish by far was something called a duck bon bon.
To give its full name, it was a cava creedy duck bon bon, arriving in the shape of meatball with a surprising but excellent wasabi and soy dressing. The beef came with tarka dhal lentils and coriander yoghurt but if reading about all these flavours is enough to make you feel confused, rest assured that’s not the case when they get to your table. Finishing off with buttermilk ice cream and honeycomb, this innovative menu is a great credit to head chef Jonathan Edwards and his mentor, Michelin-star-laden Roger Jones.
It would be remiss not to mention the wine pairings, and not just because so many came from where I’ve just been writing about: the Mornington Peninsula within a vineyard’s reach of Melbourne. There was also a spot of pedro ximinez in there too to remind me of my Andalucian days…
And then, of course, there was the boiled egg which came just after the beef and lentil dish.
Dee-licious. An egg shaped marshmallow you had to “crack” open just like the good old days. Inside was a soft and sweet mango coulis – just perfect for dipping your shortbread biscuit soldier into. That’s what I truly loved about this place – fun and fine dining no matter your age.
I paid a reduced rate to dine at Park House restaurant thanks to Travelzoo through one of their Valentine Deals. The deals have now finished, though, sorry! But Park House is just as good!
* – Not actually a butler. But, you know…
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com