It should come as no surprise to anyone to learn that one of my favourite things is food. It’s probably not a massive surprise, either, that one of my other favourite things is wine, so when I had an invitation to combine the two with a meal at the Cariad Bistro at Llanerch Vineyard, I was thrilled!
Mr W and I visited Llanerch for our meal on a Friday night. Unfortunately, it was pouring with rain (again – it rained last time we were there visiting Angela Grey’s Cookery School) but yet again I was reminded of what a beautiful location it is, and made a mental note that we must go back there on a less miserable day.
Fortunately, the Bistro was warm and welcoming, the bar and dining area both lively and buzzing when we arrived. We were shown to a lovely table by the window, which would have been even lovelier on a summer’s evening or a bright, winter’s day.
Ryan, the owner of Llanerch Vineyard, recommended that we try a bottle of their Cariad Sparkling Blush Rose, one of four wines on offer that are made from the grapes grown in the vineyard. I’m no wine expert, but I know what I like and don’t like, and can confirm that this fell firmly within the former category: fresh, fruity but not to sweet, and just a gentle fizz, so it worked well with a meal.
To start, we were offered an amuse bouche, which was one of the largest of its kind I have ever seen (just how big did they think my ‘bouche’ was to need this much amusement?!) – with not one, but three different mouthfuls to try: a shot of artichoke soup (which tasted delicious, but was impossible to drink from the shot glass as it was more of a puree – I think it may have been the same puree that later appeared on my main course!), a scallop with little shards of beetroot, and some chorizo with apple. They were all delicious, but I was left already feeling slightly full, so could easily have managed with just one, especially as there was also some delicious fresh bread, including a particularly tasty sundried tomato bread, and olives for us to enjoy before our meal.
My starter gave me a bit of a sense of déjà vu, in light of the amuse bouche, as I chose scallops and chorizo with apples and tomato gazpacho. The scallops were hand dived, big and juicy, and cooked well, and chorizo always works well alongside scallops. Had I not had the amuse bouche, I might have been surprised to find just two scallops in the starter, but as it was I was quite relieved that there wasn’t too much food! The apple, and some small pieces of cucumber added an interesting contrast in flavour and texture, and the gazpacho worked surprisingly well as an accompaniment, although I was surprised to discover it was warm. I would have liked it to have been served cold, perhaps with hot scallops and chorizo added at the last minute to provide yet more contrast and the true gazpacho flavour.
Mr W chose ham hock, with sweet herb mustard, beetroot and an apple puree. This was a seriously chunky portion for a starter and would have satisfied even the hungriest of diners! It was well presented and the flavour was excellent. The bread on our table was a good complement to this dish.
I really liked the selection of mains on offer, as they managed to tick a lot of the traditional boxes but all with an innovative twist. Meat lovers were especially well catered for, with lamb, pork, beef and duck all on offer (I was pleasantly surprised to see the all too ubiquitous standard chicken dish absent here), plus a sea bass dish.
I chose a pan fried breast of Gressingham duck, which was served with mandarin, artichoke puree and tenderstem broccoli. The duck was cooked to perfection, pink inside, with the fat rendered nicely, and the accompaniments offered a good contrast of flavours and textures.
Mr W opted for a rack of lamb, served with fondant potato, spinach, pine nuts and a red wine jus. Rack of lamb is one of his favourite dishes and he certainly enjoyed this take on it. The fondant potato, spinach and pine nuts gave a more contemporary twist to what could have felt like a traditional Sunday lunch.
A portion of seasonal vegetables was more than enough to share between the two of us, and I particularly liked the roasted root vegetable selection.
By this point, I was fairly close to bursting, but we couldn’t resist the dessert selection. I chose a chocolate marquis, with popping candy and Turkish delight ice cream. This was lovely – rich chocolate flavour and a lovely smooth texture, both complemented beautifully by the delicate, fragrant ice cream. The popping candy was a bit of fun too, and gave me the chance to experiment with what happens if you combine popping candy with a mouthful of sparkling wine (answer: not much, but at least I tried!)
Mr W was swayed by the Cariad blush after dinner tea – a creative take on the traditional cream tea, which featured a little strawberry and cream scone, an espresso cup filled with coffee parfait, and a ‘shot’ of Cariad blush wine (which I’d advise savouring, rather than downing in one!) This was another fun dessert, and we particularly liked the fact that the coffee parfait tasted of real coffee, and wasn’t too sweet, so there three completely different taste experiences on the plate.
We really enjoyed our meal. Everything was well cooked, and the menu choices were varied and appealing – with lots of creative takes and quirky twists on traditional bistro style dishes. For me, some of the portion sizes were a bit too large, but I appreciate that for some people, this would be a positive! Despite the location itself probably being more suited to good weather, the Bistro and bar offer a lovely cosy venue for a winter’s evening. The service couldn’t be faulted either. We felt very well looked after, and with each course, someone came to check on whether we were enjoying our food, but this wasn’t intrusive or over the top, and seemed very genuine. Admittedly, they knew we were there to review the meal, but I did notice other diners receiving a similar level of attention, which is a good sign.
Despite its countryside setting, Llanerch is easily accessible from Cardiff and would be a great venue for dinner if you fancy something different, or for Sunday lunch. If the lovely, hearty food we tried was anything to go by, I can imagine their Sunday lunch being a good one, especially if you work up an appetite by exploring everything else that Llanerch has to offer. It’s also great to have the opportunity not only to eat food cooked using local produce, but to drink some lovely Welsh wine alongside it as well.
I was invited to dine at Cariad Bistro as a guest and as such our meal and wine were complimentary.
Llanerch Vineyard, Hensol, Vale of Glamorgan CF72 8GG