By Caterina Dassiè and Josh Ong
On Wednesday October 10th the Great British Menu chef Tommy Heaney has finally opened the doors of his brand-new bar and restaurant, Heaney’s, in Pontcanna on Romilly Crescent. Yet, Quench has had the opportunity to try it out the night before the launch.
After being successful at the Great House in Bridgend, Tommy and his team aimed at the bigger market of the Capital. They wanted to find a venue which would have reflected their comfortable service – nothing too fuss – but first-rate goods: Pontcanna. The perfect neighbourhood for modern and fine cuisine. Here, they opened their pop-up micro-restaurant which has been supported and loved by the locals, which has been essential for the opening of the new venue, previously occupied by the fruitful Arbennig, just next door to the pop-up. The old site was known to be one of the best in the capital, thus, Heaney’s aims at keeping Arbennig’s tradition, fame and (Welsh) quality.
Besides, the opening of Heaney’s has been possible because of the £40,000 raised via a publicly open Kickstarter campaign, making possible the furnishing of the new venue – semi-industrial style ambience with visible brickwork and of course, local ornaments and unique decorations made just for Heaney’s. All the renovation has been leaded by Welsh building contractor, DWEP. Not a single private backers or investors have helped the shining Heaney’s, just food lovers. What’s more, there will be different organized events with Michelin starred chefs appearing and cooking with Tommy.
Now, let’s talk about our experience at the restaurant. Being the night before the opening, they offered us a tasting menu. A 10-course dinner which we would hardly forget. The plates were a combination of colourful, distinct flavors, and freshness due to the high-quality products used. Yet, we decided to bring back to you the best four.
With fried food, the first hint which tells you whether something has been fried well or not, is the sound of the batter while cracking it with a fork. In this case, it was the perfect sounds. Indeed, the batter had that perfect crunchiness and golden color due to the optimal oil temperature and of course, a good (Tommy’s) eye and technique.The pollock fillet was cooked to perfection, it was steamed inside while retaining moisture and softness. Also, the delicate taste of the white fish was enhanced by the lime zest freshly grated on the top. The buttermilk tartar and the rainbow chard offered a good contrast. The sourness of the sauce was in fact balanced by the sweetness of the chard. The only suggestion here might be on the quantity of the tartar: it was a teeny bit too much for my taste and in part covered the fine taste of the fish.
At first sight of this on the menu, it certainly raised an eyebrow on my end. My love of anything barbecued is well documented (See our website for a love-letter to true barbecue) and I’ve certainly never encountered anchovy working in unison with lamb. Needless to say, I was more than pleasantly surprised. The glistening rose pink lamb lay as the centrepiece of the dish. From appearance alone, I’d say there was enough to warrant the price of the whole tasting menu. Nevertheless, the smoke profile of the lamb was utterly divine with the umami-boost of the anchovy supporting, but not overpowering, the flavour of the meat. The jus, puree and sea vegetables gave the dish the edge it required to complete it as an all round perfect treat.
An explosion of flavors, temperatures and consistencies. The crunchy hazelnut crumble at the bottom of the dessert was slightly warm revealing a layer of fresh berries, and sweet and soft cooked apple, which unveiled the heart: a raspberry sorbet. All of it was topped up by something in between an Earl Grey mousse and a custard. Each of the different flavours worked deliciously good together: while the creaminess and sweetness of the topping custard was well balanced by the bitterness of the hint of Earl Grey, the freshness and sharpness of the raspberry sorbet was countered by the apple pieces. Not to mention the crumble and fresh berries, which helped drying out the mouth, from the different soft and creamy goodies, taste after taste.
This dish was the perfect way to finish the tasting menu. The decadently rich, soft salted caramel log was one of those dishes that just coats the entirety of the inside of your mouth with joy only to then but cut through by the tanginess of the yogurt. Furthermore, who could forget the shards of beautiful gold scattered around the central piece. These golden delights aided the dish in providing the textural difference of a brittle snap and crunch to an otherwise elderly-friendly dish.
Our expectations were high, but they managed to succeeded them. The portions might not be as big as other restaurants we can find in Cardiff, but the service, ambience and high-quality ingredients are just worth the money (and the walk).
As an added bonus, Tommy agreed to answer some of our questions we had at the magazine.
Why did you decide Cardiff?
We didn’t really decide Cardiff, we put it in on social media, asking the question: should we look at Cardiff, Bristol or Swansea? And basically, John, the owner from Arbennig, contacted me asking if I was interested in this place. Social media made a huge part in this, and when we came here, looked at it, we just fell in love with it. The supporters were absolutely incredible.
Tell us more about the idea of the pop-up and the new venue.
We bought both the places and we needed to do something with Arbennig stuff in order to plan the revenue and to still give a pay to our staff. Thus, we decided to launch the pop-up. The whole idea of the pop-up was to give people an example of what we were going to provide next door and it has been essential to be able to do what we are doing now in the main restaurant.
What is the difference now between the pop-up restaurant and the new one?
The pop-up restaurant was very small, we only had 20 seats and it was really informal. Instead, next door, we have 50-60 covers, but also we have a cocktail bar and a wide wine selection. The ambience and the atmosphere next door are just on a different level.
How can you manage to offer high-quality products at a low-price?
The idea is that we do small bites. Basically, we took the tasting menu and individually price the plates. So, to an extent, it is not a small as a tasting, but just a little bit bigger so that you can have in between the two. Regarding the high-quality of the products, all the ingredients are local and fresh meaning that the fisherman, for example, would tell me what he has available that day and we write the menu around that.
Talking about the menu, where do you usually take inspiration from?
I guess the fisherman, butcher or whoever provides me that day with fresh ingredients is actually deciding how the menu would develop. We then take whatever that piece of fish, meat, etc… and we combine it with the range of veggies that we’ve got. Yet, we have decided a limit of three elements on the plate meaning there are no unnecessary items on the plate. If an herb is there, it’s there is for a reason, not just to make it look pretty.
How was the opening night?
The opening night was amazing. It was buzzing, busier than we could have ever imagined. A lot of it was created by the local support. The biggest compliment that we had was about the ambience, because we didn’t want a fancy restaurant. We just wanted to create a place where you can go and enjoy good food or just have a pint, a glass of wine or a simple bite. We just wanted people to feel comfortable.
Have you got anything planned for the future?
Yes, we do have plenty. We have our old pop-up and we want to turn that into something. We still don’t know into what yet, but we are heading towards sandwiches, coffee or a quick lunch place with everything remaining centered around quality. If we are going to have pastrami, we will be the one making it, as well as cured meats, which will be cured in house; we will probably make most things on the BBQ. Also, we would like to put a little function room on the upper level of the restaurant, creating a conference room for 15-20 people.
To Book a table, head to http://www.heaneyscardiff.co.uk/
Call 02920 341264