Nearly 2 years ago now, I went to Cardiff for the day with some friends (to see Take That perform at the Millennium Stadium, as it happens!) As part of our day out, we decided to have lunch somewhere. One of my friends had been to Cardiff the week before for another concert and picked up a flyer for a deal on lobster and champagne which looked good, so we decided to give it a go and ended up in a restaurant called Le Monde.
Fast forward nearly a year on from them and my first weekend in Cardiff with Mr W, and he told me he was going to take me to one of his favourite local restaurants. You can probably guess what’s coming: of course it turned out to be the same restaurant. Since then, Le Monde has become a firm favourite with me as well, and it was there that we decided to eat on Friday night. Having not been for a couple of months, a visit was long overdue.
Along with its sister restaurant downstairs, La Brasserie (more of a summer lunch favourite – no doubt to be reviewed in the future!), Le Monde has been open for probably around 30 years, with a few changes of ownership along the way, but as I understand it it hasn’t really undergone any dramatic changes. Being long-established, and having an extensive wine list and a reputation for very good food, it is frequented by the great and the good of Cardiff and seems to have a lot of regular clientele. Mr W has counted himself amongst these for many years, and of course I am now a bit of a regular myself!
It’s always a lot harder to objectively review somewhere that you visit regularly whilst remaining focused on a particular visit, but that is what I intend to do, as it’s likely that Le Monde (and indeed various other favourites) will crop up again in my blog in future.
This particular visit, being a Friday night (rather than Saturday which is usually the busier night in Cardiff) and also the weekend after two Bank Holiday weekends, the restaurant was fairly quiet and maybe didn’t have as much atmosphere as it usually does. Also, the owner, Simon and his partner Nicki were not there, which was a shame as we usually like to have a chat, but I am sure they had more than earned a night off over recent weeks.
The street level entrance to Le Monde is quite unassuming, but on climbing the flight of stairs up to the main entrance (there is a lift as well), you are immediately struck by the unusual style. It’s difficult to describe, but has echoes of Art Deco, combined with a fairly old-fashioned, but classy French bistro. The walls, floors and other decor are all quite dark – there’s a lot of dark wood, but the open kitchen, high ceilinged bar and tasteful lighting mean that it doesn’t ever feel dingy or oppressive. Every time I go I seem to notice something new about the decor – this time, a dark wood cocktail cabinet near the entrance with vintage champagne and spirits on display. There’s also a fish tank, statues and an old fashioned lamp post in the centre of the bar, all of which add to an authentic , genuinely retro feel.
Le Monde has no printed menu or wine list. Instead, all the options are listed on fairly permanent-looking blackboards around the bar area. The emphasis is on very fresh food, and all of the meat and fish are on display at the counter for you to choose exactly what you want and how you want it cooked. There are recommendations and specials, which do change on a regular basis, but the basic menu is always the same: a huge choice of impeccably fresh meat and fish, cooked to order, with sauces and accompaniments of your choice. There is also a ‘help yourself’ fresh salad bar behind the counter. Once you’ve chosen your food, it will be prepared in the open kitchen, which is completely open on three sides so customers can choose to watch their entire meal being prepared if they so desire! For those who really enjoy the close-up cooking experience (and perhaps don’t value their eyebrows too much), one of Le Monde’s specialities is flambéed meat and fish, which will be prepared at your table.
Our order in Le Monde is pretty much always the same – and Friday was no exception. We went for a whole seabass, cooked in rock salt, with lemon butter sauce on the side, fresh crusty bread, new potatoes and asparagus with hollandaise.
The sea bass, as always, was absolutely perfect. Baked sea bass is a favourite of mine, and I’ve eaten it in many, many places, but nowhere has ever beaten Le Monde on quality. It was filleted at our table, after the thick layer of rock salt was removed, and between us we only found one small bone left in the fish. I’m not a huge fan of new potatoes, but Mr W is, and he waxed lyrical (pun intended) about how lovely and waxy they were – apparently the sign of a good new potato! Similarly, the French bread was beautifully fresh – crusty on the outside and soft and light in the middle. To accompany our meal we had a bottle (okay, we actually had two!) of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, nice and crisp and refreshing – a perfect complement to the delicate flavour of the sea bass.
I’m sorry to say that on this occasion we were bad foodies, and just had the one course as we were eating late – no starter, no dessert, although we did have coffees and Mr W had his favourite Cardinal Mendoza brandy – Le Monde being one of only a few places where this is readily available. As all of the meat and fish is sold by weight it’s difficult to give an accurate price guide, but our meal, including the two bottles of fairly reasonably priced wine, came to around £75.
The service is always excellent and very attentive, and although I am sure this is in part down to our being regular visitors, I am equally sure that other customers receive equally good service. All the waiting staff are friendly, helpful and seem to enjoy their work – which does make a big difference. On this occasion, we were looked after well at our table, and given a friendly welcome at the bar when we arrived.
Le Monde is fun, a little bit quirky, and a very sure bet for a fantastic meal with excellent and personal service.
Food: **** Service: **** Ambience: *****
Le Monde, 61 Saint Mary Street, Cardiff CF10 1FE