It was a rainy day at the Bay a few weeks ago and we were trying to find somewhere to have lunch that wasn’t completely devoid of atmosphere (due to a serious lack of other people silly enough to think that Cardiff Bay is a pleasant place to be on such a horrible day!) I also wanted to go somewhere I’d not reviewed for the blog before (the trials of being a food blogger!) We ended up deciding on the Bayside Brasserie, which is upstairs in Mermaid Quay and occupies what has to be one of the nicest dining spaces in Cardiff – a big, open dining room, with a high ceiling and a balcony area upstairs (admittedly it’s occupied by the entrance to the toilets and a couple of sofas that I can’t imagine anyone would sit on, ever, but it still makes it an impressive place!) It also has gorgeous views across the Bay to Penarth if you’re lucky enough to get a window table (which we were, given there were only a few other diners brave or stupid enough to venture out that day).
The menu is described as European dishes combined with brasserie favourites, but there doesn’t seem to be a focus on a particular type of cuisine. On the website, the restaurant’s strapline appears to be “Grill and Fresh Display” which seems rather odd – and we certainly didn’t see any fresh display when we visited. There’s a lovely glass-fronted display counter at the entrance, but all it had in it was a few bottles of wine and champagne, which seemed to have been spaced out to try and make it look full!
We looked at their Dine with Wine menu – which at £10.95 for one course and £16.95 for two, to include a glass of Los Picos wine, seemed good value, but nothing on it particularly appealed, so we went with the a la carte option instead.
We decided to share a starter of a selection of cured meats, served with toasted French bread and piccalilli. We also had some bread brought to our table without having to ask for it – I like it when restaurants do this – and the bread was very fresh too, with plenty of butter.
The cured meats were tasty if a little unremarkable. The toasted French bread was good, but the piccalilli was quite unpleasant. I know it’s a fairly lurid colour at the best of times, but this looked almost radioactive, had a nasty gelatinous consistency and an even worse flavour. I’m sure it had come out of a catering sized vat – a shame, as I’ve had some really nice homemade piccalillis with crisp, chunky vegetables before, and something like this would have been a good accompaniment to this dish. As it was, the piccalilli was pretty much surplus to requirements – as was the lettuce that seemed to be filling up a space on the plate.
I chose fish and chips (or rather ‘deep fried catch of the day’) for my main course. The fish itself was pretty good – chunky and flaky with a nice thin layer of crisp beer batter. I had a couple of issues with the dish, though. It was served with mushy peas, which I love, but these were underneath the piece of fish, smeared in a thin layer on the plate, which resulted in the fish being a bit soggy on the bottom, and the peas being difficult to eat as they were mostly stuck to the batter, and I had to move the fish and scrape them off before I could get near them. Serving the fish and peas essentially in the same place on the plate meant a big gap was left – which was filled with a large and unnecessary pile of yet more lettuce. Even a mixed salad would have been an odd accompaniment to fish and chips when you’ve already got peas of some description on the plate, but this was just lettuce – and far too much of it for me to assume it was a garnish! As for the chips, the menu described them as ‘home cut’ and I’m really not convinced they were. They did taste slightly better than they looked, but again they looked very much as if they’d come from a catering pack – and there were far too many of them. I’d have preferred a smaller portion of genuinely ‘home cut’ chips. Fresh lemon was served in muslin – good – but tartare sauce again tasted cheap and synthetic – bad. I’d have preferred something that seemed a bit more like it had been made on the premises.
Mr W opted for a stuffed fillet of trout, which was wrapped in streaky bacon and served with a green bean, olive, tomato and new potato salad with a herb and garlic butter. This was definitely the best dish of the meal for us – some strong flavours which could have fought with each other, but in fact managed to work together really well.
None of the desserts leapt out at me from the menu, but we decided to share a crème brulee, which was served with shortbread biscuits – which had been oddly embedded into the top of the brulee, making me feel as if I wanted to draw some eyes on them! There was nothing wrong with it, but it certainly wasn’t an outstanding crème brulee and I wouldn’t rush to have it again.
Our meal, with two mains, a starter, a pudding and wine, came to £65. I’ve got really mixed feelings about the Bayside Brasserie. I like the location, I love the space inside, and it has the potential to be somewhere really special – especially as one of the few restaurants at the Bay that’s not part of a national chain (although it does have the same ownership as its neighbours Bellini’s and Signor Valentino). Unfortunately, food and service wise, it doesn’t quite hit the mark, and as a result it wouldn’t even make the shortlist if I was choosing somewhere for a special occasion meal. Some of what we had was good – but other things fell short, and it felt as if corners and costs had been cut on some of the little details (the sauces, the chips etc.) which can actually make or break a meal for me – take note, Cafe des Amis! I can’t help but feel that the food is more on a par with some of the better chain pubs, rather than a real competitor for somewhere such as Woods or Mimosa at the Bay – and I actually preferred the meal we had recently at Cote Bistro. I really think Bayside Brasserie needs to find its USP – whether it’s more of a focus on a particular type of cuisine, some entertainment, or just doing something a bit more with the lovely space they have.
The service was efficient, but distinctly unmemorable – and in fact, unmemorable probably sums up the visit, which is a shame. The Bayside Brasserie has potential to be a standout venue in an area where there’s relatively little competition, but with everything other than its location it falls short.
Food: *** Service: *** Ambience: ****
Bayside Brasserie, Unit Upper 14, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay CF10 5BZ