When Mr W and I visit his family in France, one of our favourite places to eat is the local pizzeria in Valbonne that serves some of the most delectable pizzas I have ever tried, on wafer thin, crispy bases, cooked in their wood-fired oven. After our last visit, I was hoping to recreate the experience closer to home, and asked on Twitter (I do that a lot!) whether there was anywhere in Cardiff that had a wood-fired pizza oven.
One of the places mentioned was Bar Cwtch, in the basement of Jolyons Hotel at the Bay, but I never got around to visiting. Fast forward a few months, and group discount site Living Social was running a deal for two pizzas and two glasses of wine at Bar Cwtch for £12, which jogged my memory and seemed like the ideal opportunity to go and sample Bar Cwtch’s wood-fired pizza offering.
We entered the bar from the rear of the hotel, through what must be a lovely beer garden in the summer months. The entrance from this side was a bit odd, down some stairs to basement level, with the doors styled to look like an old fashioned police box (perhaps to appeal to the legions of Dr Who fans that visit the area?) but nothing else in the place in keeping with this theme. We then had to negotiate our way past the toilets before finding ourselves in the bar.
As the name would imply, Bar Cwtch is cosy and homely, with a few sofas at one end, an open fire, and trestle tables along the walls at the other, opposite the bar and the open kitchen, which features the aforementioned wood-fired oven. It’s definitely got a rustic feel. The vibe was quite studenty, although I can imagine it being a nice place to go for an after work drink too.
We both had a glass of red wine, which was the house variety – not sure what it was, but it was reasonably palatable. The bar also offered a selection of different wines, and also some fairly reasonably priced cocktails (or ‘cwtchtails’ – see what they’ve done there?) and spirits.
Foodwise, they’ve obviously decided to choose one thing (pizzas!) and do it well (we hoped) as there was one special starter (mushroom soup with garlic bread) and one special dessert (chocolate fudge cake) on the blackboard, at £3.95 each, and just a selection of pizzas on the menu. These ranged in price from £7.00 for a Margarita, up to £9.45 at the top end. Extra toppings were £1.00 each.
Pretty much all of the topping combinations sounded tempting, with fairly authentic Italian themes in most cases (no ‘BBQ chicken’ or the like, thankfully, although I’m about to go on and talk about us ordering pizzas featuring Spanish and Greek ingredients respectively, but at least they’re in the same continent!) and we were a bit spoilt for choice. I opted for the ‘Cwtchitta’ (there they go again!) which was topped with chorizo, sun dried tomatoes and mixed peppers. The toppings were delicious – just the right proportions, with the peppers finely chopped so that they were actually properly cooked (big chunky slices of nearly raw pepper on a pizza is an all too common disappointment when eating out). I particularly liked the tomato base too – it seemed to be chopped fresh tomato, or perhaps passata, rather than a heavily concentrated or overly herby tomato sauce, which again can ruin a pizza. Plentiful stringy mozzarella topped it all off. The base was good – definitely better for being cooked in the pizza oven, but it was nowhere near as thin as the ones we’ve enjoyed in France, and it was also quite burnt underneath, so there was an occasional charcoal flavour to some parts, which was a shame.
Mr W chose the ‘Mediterranean’, which comprised artichokes, sundried tomatoes and feta. His pizza seemed to have less tomato and more cheese. There was no discernible feta, but we assumed maybe it was crumbled in with the mozzarella, hence the extra cheesiness, although we weren’t sure, and I wouldn’t necessarily expect feta to melt. He enjoyed it, but preferred mine as it had more variety in the flavours, and found the layer of cheese on top to be a bit too thick.
The service from the chap manning the bar was friendly and informal, but also attentive, and in keeping with what you’d expect in this kind of casual venue. What we didn’t expect, however, was for the chef (who we’d watched preparing our pizzas earlier on in the evening) to disappear for a while, come back in his hat (well, baseball cap!) and coat, then go back into the kitchen and proceed to roll a cigarette in the food preparation area in full view of anyone sitting in that part of the bar. Very, very poor, hence only one star for service as this kind of thing really is inexcusable.
Putting that aside (it’s not going to cause a mass outbreak of food poisoning or anything, it’s more that if the chef thinks that is acceptable in the kitchen, it makes you wonder what else he might deem appropriate in there), we had a pleasant evening, and I’d go back to Bar Cwtch for an early evening drink or a casual pizza on a week night. The pizzas, being cooked in the wood-fired oven, were definitely better than the usual chain restuarant-style pizzas (Pizza Express, Prezzo etc.) but were not the best example of their kind.
I really would love to find somewhere that does exceptionally good authentically cooked pizzas, so if you know of anywhere in the Cardiff area, please leave a comment and let me know!
Food: *** Service: * Ambience: ***
Bar Cwtch, Jolyons Hotel, Bute Crescent, Cardiff CF10 5AN