Monday saw a rare day off work for me and Mr W, and a visit to Cardiff by my parents. We had a lovely walk across the Cardiff Bay barrage from Penarth Marina to the Bay, where we stopped off for some well-deserved lunch, our choice of venue being Woods.
Like Demiro’s and Moksh, the subjects of previous reviews, Woods is one of only a few independent, non-chain restaurants in the Bay. We’ve been there a couple of times before for both lunch and dinner, but I like it more as a lunch venue as the dining area has three glass sides so it’s really light and bright and a lovely place to eat when maybe it’s not quite warm enough to be outside but you still want to appreciate the sunshine. Oh, and the food’s pretty good too!
The lunch menu seems to change fairly regularly. The one we had (of which I was able to take away a copy, hence some very accurate descriptions of the dishes!) was dated August 2011. One course is £11.50, two are £14.50 and three are £17.50. There’s an extra charge for ‘nibbles’ (bread, olives, hummus etc.) and a ‘From the grill’ selection with a couple of steaks and vegetable side dishes on offer. There was also a set lunch menu, comprising moules, fish and chips and a panna cotta, which was really excellent value at £10 for one course and £12.50 for two.
While we were consulting the menu, we had some bread, which was nicely presented with a generous pat of butter and some dipping oil seasoned with pink peppercorns. To start, I opted for smoked salmon, which was served with a beetroot carpaccio and a vodka crème fraiche. The salmon was excellent, but the beetroot seemed to have been steeped in oil and as a result the dish was a bit too oily in places, and also topped with an excessive amount of lettuce, which wasn’t really necessary other than as a garnish. The crème fraiche was excellent, however. I wouldn’t have known the flavour was vodka, but it certainly had an unusual tang to it and went very well with the salmon and beetroot.
Mr W and my Dad both had pressed ham hock, which came with pineapple chutney. The ham hock was quite salty, but was a generous portion filled with tasty chunks of ham. The pineapple chutney was very nice, unmistakeably pineapple, and a good complement to the salty ham.
My Mum chose air dried cured ham with Sauternes infused honeydew melon, crushed hazelnut and celeriac slaw. The ham was delicious, with the slaw a good accompaniment. I tried a piece of the melon and again wouldn’t have necessarily known that the flavour was Sauternes, but it was certainly juicy and refreshing and again went nicely with the ham.
As is often the case, Dad and I chose the same main course: pan roasted chicken breast, basil potato puree and a bacon and tomato dressing. The chicken could not be faulted and came with a very crispy skin. The puree was a bit disappointing as it definitely seemed more like mash than a puree. It wasn’t exactly lumpy, but it didn’t have the smooth creaminess of a genuine puree. The basil flavour (and colour) was good, though. The highlight of the dish was the dressing, which reminded me of a really good pasta sauce or ratatouille base, made with fresh, juicy, sun ripened tomatoes, and just a tiny bit of salty bacon to add another dimension. Very, very good.
Mum and Mr W opted for roasted fillet of mackerel, sautéed artichoke, new potatoes and black olive tapenade. I’m not a big mackerel fan, but it went down very well with them – and apparently the tapenade really made the dish, so again, a big thumbs up to whoever was on ‘sauces and dressings’ that day!
Only three of us had a pudding. My choice, following a confusing discussion with our (French) waiter as to whether or not they were ‘gooey’, was the hazelnut brownies served with cookie dough ice cream. These were nice, but probably not gooey enough for me, and much as I love cookie dough ice cream, it wasn’t really necessary with the brownies. Having just one scoop meant that a large proportion of it was dough and there wasn’t really enough actual ice cream to go with the drier bits of the brownies. It was okay, but I wouldn’t choose it again – but then I am very fussy about my brownies and tend to only really like them if they’re practically raw in the middle!
Dad chose a vanilla and Welsh honey panna cotta. This came with raspberry sorbet. He is something of a panna cotta aficionado (with my Mum’s homemade version being the benchmark that restaurants can only hope to get close to!) but I’m pleased to say this one made the grade, with good flavours of vanilla and honey coming through. The raspberry sorbet was an odd accompaniment, however, and he’d have preferred some fresh fruit or a coulis.
Mr W had a very berry and rhubarb mess – which was the tidiest (in the English, not the Welsh sense of the word) mess I’ve ever seen. In fact, with the current fashion for all things ‘deconstructed’, it was as if this had been ‘reconstructed’, as it was just a meringue nest filled with cream, topped with some rhubarb and accompanied by some berries. It looked pretty, but if I’d ordered it I’d have been really disappointed. It tasted good when all mixed together, but the rhubarb was somewhat ‘al dente’, which is not really my cup of tea.
Despite a few oddities all round with the desserts, we did thoroughly enjoy our meal and I’d definitely go back to Woods. It’s in a lovely location and the restaurant is decorated beautifully, which makes it a pleasant place to visit. The service is always good too. It wasn’t busy when we went (although there were enough other diners for it not to feel uncomfortable), but I’ve been when it’s been a lot busier and it’s consistently friendly and helpful and there have never been any problems at all. The wine we chose wasn’t available, but the waitress came and suggested an alternative for us, which was lovely.
For a relaxed lunch in pleasant surroundings, with some of the best food on offer in the Bay, prepared with care and style, but without pretention, Woods is an excellent choice.
Food: **** Service: **** Ambience: ****
Woods Brasserie, Pilotage Building, Stuart Street, Cardiff CF10 5BW