I was recently invited to try the food at Arboreal Kitchen, a ‘boutique café’ in Cowbridge. I’d already heard good things about the venue, so was excited to go along and find out for myself what it was like. Arboreal, of course, means ‘to do with trees’, so it was no surprise to find Arboreal furnished with natural-looking wood, and other décor inspired by nature. There’s a big focus on all things natural throughout the restaurant, and they have their own small allotment and kitchen garden at the back where they grow many of their own vegetables and herbs – and we were able to have a look at those too.
Rob, who served us, recommended that we try one of their sharing platters, so we went for the Picnic Platter, which comprised a selection of charcuterie meats, organic bread from the Tortoise bakery, roasted almonds, stuffed peppers, tortilla and olives. There’s quite a selection of different platters on the menu, including meats, cheese, fish and vegetarian options, priced per person (ours was £7.25 per person), available for two or more to share. We were pleased with our choice. Mr W particularly enjoyed the meats and I really liked the stuffed peppers and the bread. The tortilla didn’t really work for us as it was cold and seemed a bit heavy with the other little nibbles, but that was our only minor negative. I really liked the way the platter was arranged too – symmetrically, with a bit of each item at both end, so there was no fighting over the last piece of something or potential awkwardness over sharing!
As well as an impressive selection of mains which included Thai chicken curry and lamb shank, Arboreal also offers authentic pizzas cooked in their wood-fired oven. We’re both huge fans of ‘proper’ pizza and have been on a quest for the elusive perfect pizza in the UK, having enjoyed delicious ones in Italy and France. So, we both ordered pizza – I went for the Serrano Ham, which featured the ham, mozzarella and tomatoes, and fresh rocket. I also asked for some mushrooms, which were added as an extra. Mr W chose the Napoletana: tomato, mozzarella, olives, anchovies and capers – and also had some Serrano ham as an extra. The pizza options range from £8.95 up to £11.00 and I am pleased to report both of ours were fantastic! A thin, crisp base, without a hint of burnt-ness underneath (as is all too often the case with wood-fired pizza – in fact it’s really difficult NOT to burn the base slightly as it cooks so quickly!) topped with a pleasantly frugal amount of cheese and tomato, so as to let the other toppings speak for themselves and not let the base go soggy.
We also had a green side salad between us, which featured some lovely shoots and leaves, rather than the usual uninspiring lettuce and cucumber, and a tangy vinaigrette. Again, everything looked and tasted lovely and fresh and natural.
To finish, I couldn’t resist the rhubarb and custard fool – poached rhubarb which had been folded with softly whipped cream and homemade vanilla custard, and topped with pistachios. It wasn’t exactly a dieter’s delight, but it tasted fantastic, and was actually surprisingly light! The vanilla of the custard tempered a slight sharpness to the rhubarb, and the rhubarb was pleasantly al dente, so it not only looked pretty but meant that the dessert had a good mixture of textures.
Mr W opted for Rob’s recommendation of the elderflower jelly, which came with berries set into it, some ginger crunch, and a small jug of pouring cream. This was a very pretty dessert, with beautifully fresh berries sparkling in a lovely clear (and extremely wobbly!) jelly – and it pleased us as much with its taste as it did with its aesthetics. Two really lovely light and fresh puddings, both a bit different from the norm.
We had a lovely evening at Arboreal. I had some minor concerns before our visit that as somewhere that describes itself primarily as a café it might struggle to live up to the competition as a venue for an evening meal, but I needn’t have worried as although it’s certainly more of a casual dining experience, I was very impressed. It’s definitely more than a café, and had a buzz to it when we visited on a week night, which apparently increases at the weekend. Everything about it screams natural, fresh produce and lots of loving care in not only the preparation of the food, but the growing of many of the ingredients. The food is tasty and innovative, and there’s an open kitchen, so we were able to watch our pizzas going in the oven, and the smell from the wood oven makes it feel suitably rustic, and is a good fit with the décor – which we both loved! We were exceptionally well looked after, and the service was attentive, friendly and professional. It’s a relatively new, family-run business, and we sensed real pride and passion from Rob, who is also one of the owners, when he talked about the business, the kitchen garden and the food. As well as the dinner menu that we tried, they offer breakfast and lunch, and different theme evenings during the week such as Pizza and Peroni, or Steak Night, plus there’s a bar and a conservatory area at the front with big doors that are opened up on warm days, so there’s something to suit everyone.
Food: **** Service: ***** Ambience: ****
Arboreal, 68 Eastgate, Cowbridge, CF71 7AB