Restaurant review

The Heathcock, Cardiff: ‘Identify the right things, do them well’ – restaurant review | Food

The Heathcock, 58-60 Bridge Street, Cardiff CF5 2EN (029 2115 2290). Lunch £7 to £13, mains (evening) £15 to £24, desserts £7 to £8.90, wines from £19

On a slow news day in the summer of 2016, I made headlines for giving a restaurant in Cardiff a good review. To be honest, it was less the good things I said about the classroom, which is made up of catering students at Cardiff and Vale College, and more my assertion that it was a boon for the Welsh capital because the city lacked excellent dining options. I had liked both Potted Pig and Purple Poppadom, basically anywhere starting with the letter P, but after that the choice seemed limited.

Some people in Cardiff agreed with me. Others were excited by a foaming digital rage. They sent me lists of great kebabs, pizzas, and burgers, all of which are wonderful things. You have to love a city that has a street nicknamed Chippy Alley, for the number of establishments spanking fryers. I was fired as an insufferable snob; a dreadful stroller who was only interested in beechnuts in fancy breeches. Some said I was no longer welcome in the city. This culminated when Marco Pierre White announced, during a press interview to promote the opening of his new restaurant in Cardiff, that I was specifically not invited. Bless him.

A man employed to distinguish between performing one pig’s head croquette versus another really shouldn’t dispute a charge of insufferable snobbery. And yes, I can get as excited about a bit of gastronomic ambition as the next over-authorized, expense-accounted keyboard jockey. But, in truth, the strength of a country’s food culture is not defined by a handful of gilded gourmet palaces, infested with foams and granitas, and dripping in luster like crystal tits, but by the presence of those places where you would repeatedly go on, because you just want something good to eat.

‘Massive flavor bomb’: salmon pastrami. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Observer

Fortunately, a number of interesting restaurants of this type have opened in Cardiff since my lunch in 2016: Asador 44, Sopra 73, milk wood, North Star, Heaney’s and his brother oyster bar Uisce, Thomas by Tom Simmons, Corner, and a few others. So there is the heathcocka solid, reassuring block of pub, set amongst the tree-lined lanes of Llandaff in the north of the town, where I have been and will go again.

This is a second company from the team behind the hare and dogs at Aberthin a few miles west of Cardiff. In his pleasingly simple approach to the business of feeding people well, he has a touch of St John about it. It feels like Chef Fergus Henderson’s tenet has been read and thoroughly understood – identify the right things, do them well – and then shaped for the space in which it sits. The main bar and adjoining dining room are white, utilitarian spaces, like those at St John’s at Farringdon in London. The offal is embraced, as it is in St John. Beefheart demonstrates. The same goes for pickled nuts and duck fat.

“Gourmet morsels”: heart of beef and candied potatoes.
“Gourmet morsels”: heart of beef and candied potatoes. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Observer

The bar menu features a homemade sausage roll, served with its own brown sauce. It’s a tanned wonder with big shoulders of puff pastry and dense, well-seasoned sausage meat. There are local beers on tap, including Gray Trees Drummer Boy from Aberdare and Bragdy Twt Lol Twti Ffrwti from Pontyprid. Any suggestion that I’m just copying words at this point, and have no idea what that means, is extremely libelous. The thing is, the Heathcock is really a pub that also has a dining room. For £4.20 you can get a flight of three strong beers, plus a heavily French wine list, almost all available by the glass, carafe and bottle.

In the evening, the menu of dishes follows a classic starter-main course model. There’s lamb with Jerusalem artichokes and green sauce. There is game with button mushrooms, roasted beets and blackberries. Most of these networks cost around £20. But at lunchtime, it’s a selection of small plates whose price is rarely in the double digits. Slices of cold roast beef, served soft and pink, are rolled up on a slice of duck fat toast and topped with heavy leaves of peppered watercress with a big grating of fresh horseradish. More grated horseradish comes along with a silvery fillet of pickled mackerel, served with a cucumber relish, which in a sweet, nostalgic way reminds me of the canned stuff I loved as a kid. Both sit on a lake of a sweet and sour blood orange vinaigrette that’s so good we ask for a spoon so we don’t waste it.

'Silver fillet': marinated mackerel.
‘Silver fillet’: marinated mackerel. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Observer

We have ribbons of buttery yellow pappardelle with a rabbit leg stew that’s been braised until it smashes, then helpfully boosted with handfuls of chopped tarragon. For texture, it is topped with golden fried breadcrumbs. There are slices of salmon pastrami, with a dry, dense texture and a spicy, brown sweet edge, that has me dabbing the plate for the last few crumbs of the massive flavor bomb from a rub left on the plate. . Chunks of celeriac get the buttermilk fried chicken treatment and come with wild mushrooms and a mash of their own.

Delicate chunks of grilled beef heart arrive perched on what has been described as a duck fat fry. This turns out to be the same as the multi-layered candied, then fried potato we ordered as a side dish. Having two servings of this on the table is not a difficulty. (Incidentally, I tried making them at home recently thanks to a recipe from London’s Quality house, who is credited with inventing them. Although delicious, they are a huge 24 hour dish and should be left to restaurant kitchens.) Our other side dish is hispi cabbage which, in a drastic change, has not been grilled. Turns out you can just shred and butter the hispi cabbage. Who knew?

'Vivid taste': rhubarb soufflé.
‘Vivid taste’: rhubarb soufflé. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Observer

For a final classic twist, the kitchen knocks out a perfectly engorged rhubarb soufflé that tastes brilliantly of its star ingredient. There’s also a wonky, slightly tangy buttermilk pudding with honeycomb and sweet white chocolate leaves. Even allowing for a gap imposed by the pandemic, it took me a while to get back to Cardiff. After a lunch like this, I can only be delighted to be back. Does Heathcock’s thoughtful and highly satisfying cuisine mean I was wrong to be so down about the city’s possibilities in 2016? No, it just suggests that things have changed, and so much the better.


A large and growing group of chefs and restaurateurs have come together to raise money for Unicef’s relief work in Ukraine under the hashtag #CookForUkraine. Restaurants including St John’s, Sabor, Blacklock and Soho House have so far raised over £65,000, with some adding a supplement to the bill, others putting a Ukrainian-themed dish or drink on the menu . Ukrainian food writer and cook Olia Hercules, one of the people who started the business and whose family is still in the country, said: “I don’t want people to get stuck in the headlines. and lose sight of the human beings behind this story”. . And what’s more human than people getting together and sharing food? Restaurants interested in getting involved can email [email protected] Home cooks are also encouraged to organize fundraising supper clubs. All donations can be made here.

In other Cardiff news, Lee Skeet, former head chef at Hedone in London, has more than hit his crowdfunding goal of raising £25,000 to buy new kitchen equipment for his Cora restaurant in the Welsh capital. After a string of sold-out pop-ups, Cora opened in January. It serves tasting menus costing £50 at lunch and £75 at dinner, and only seats 12 people. The crowdfunder actually raised over £28,000. The extra money will be invested in new staff and crockery.

Elsewhere in Wales, the company behind the sprawling Celtic Manor Resort just outside Newport is to launch a new seafood restaurant in Milford Haven. Dulse, named after the edible seaweed, will be part of the Tŷ Hotel Milford Waterfront. It will open in April and promises “pure Pembrokeshire coast and countryside freshness”. AT

Email Jay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1