One of the most positive reviews I’ve ever written on this blog was of Bar 44 in Cowbridge, where I enjoyed some of the nicest tapas I’ve ever tried outside of Spain. So, you can imagine I nearly exploded with excitement when the team announced they were to open their second branch of Bar 44 in my home town of Penarth.
Bar 44, Penarth, opened in December 2012, and, despite having just returned from a trip to Spain where we consumed more than our fair share of tapas, Mr W and I decided to pay our first visit to the new venue on New Year’s Day 2013 to see whether it lived up to expectations.
Amazingly, given it was until recently a branch of Clinton Cards, if anything, the décor and layout of the Penarth branch recreates an authentic Spanish tapas bar much more faithfully than the Cowbridge venue – with ceramic tiles, bar tables made from barrels and an open kitchen (with a few place settings where guests can sit overlooking the kitchen and watch the chefs in action!) The menu is slightly less extensive than the one in Cowbridge, but still offers an impressive range of traditional and contemporary tapas, with daily specials, plus a fantastic selection of Iberian meats and cheeses. Bar 44 Penarth bills itself as ‘Tapas y Copas’ and the drinks selection is, if anything, even more comprehensive than the food, with a selection of sherries and an innovative cocktail menu that combines classics with some unusual twists (many of them involving sherry!) – plus a good wine list, soft drinks and even milkshakes, providing something to tempt just about everyone!
A simple plate of Serrano ham started us off, and was expertly carved and full of flavour. Likewise, the cheese selection was delicious, beautifully and simply presented, and complemented by a range of accompaniments including membrillo and a particularly delicious tomato relish. A selection of breads (olive, walnut and white) was served with excellent quality olive oil.
For our tapas, we chose two dishes from the specials menu. First was creamed salt cod with a poached egg, which was certainly salty, but worked well as a combination. This was the only dish about which I had a slight reservation, namely how easy it is to share a soft poached egg – but we managed it, and it tasted good. Our second special was pan roasted chorizo with new potato and watercress salad. I love chorizo, but sometimes in tapas it can be incredibly oily. Pan roasting, however, meant it kept all of its flavour and juiciness, without being at all greasy. This was a delicious dish.
From the main menu, our first choice was fillet of seabream, served with crab, roasted new potatoes and spinach, which we really enjoyed.
A surprise hit with me was our choice of griddled confit baby chicken served with romesco. I’m generally underwhelmed by most chicken dishes, and this was Mr W’s choice, but I was blown away by how moist and flavoursome the meat was (and how much there was on each piece), and the romesco was absolutely delicious too, making this one of my favourite dishes of the day and a ‘must have’ on my next visit.
The patatas bravas were equally delicious, with just the right amount of spicy tomato sauce and aioli to add a great flavour to the perfectly crisp potatoes. I was pleased that the sauces weren’t dumped on top of the potatoes – often they are served with the sauce on top, which takes away the crispness, but not in this case.
Last but not least were croquetas de jamon. Regular readers of my blog will know that croquetas are one of my absolute favourite foods, and I could eat them all day long. Regular readers will also know about a recent traumatic ‘croqueta’ experience at La Cha Cha, and although I’d just about regained my equilibrium through excessive croqueta consumption in Spain, I needed to eat good croquetas close to home in order to feel whole again! Based on previous experience, I never doubted that Bar 44 could come up with the goods, and sure enough, what we had were divine: creamy béchamel studded with tasty morsels of ham, encased in the lightest, crispiest breadcrumb shell. I’d go as far as to say they were better than any we had on our most recent visit to Spain, and up there with the ones I ate in abundance on a trip to Girona where my friend and I both nearly turned into croquetas. Having these available only minutes away from home is going to be extraordinarily dangerous for my waistline.
We finished our meal with a chocolate mousse, served with chocolate ganache, sea salt, olive oil and toast. This combination intrigued me, as I’m a big fan of salted caramel, especially when combined with chocolate, but hadn’t tried salt and chocolate on their own together. It certainly wasn’t a dish for the faint hearted – the salt was a very strong flavour, and perhaps needed something a bit sweeter than the chocolate to temper it – at least for a sweet tooth like mine, but it was nice to try, and I can imagine it becoming a favourite with many diners.
I am absolutely thrilled that Bar 44 has come to Penarth. The lack of a really good bar in the town centre has always surprised me, and this is exactly what was needed. The food was every bit as good as the restaurant in Cowbridge – which is no mean feat, given all of it is prepared in the open kitchen, a relatively tiny space, considering the volume and range of dishes that have to be consistently delivered. It’s clear that the ingredients used are top quality, and there’s a real pride in the way the dishes are presented.
I like the fact it feels even more like a Spanish bar than its Cowbridge cousin. The place was buzzing when we visited, and every evening when I’ve driven past on my way home, it’s seemed similarly busy. The service was friendly and enthusiastic, despite the fact the staff were clearly run off their feet on New Year’s Day. My next two visits are already in the diary – one with a group of ten, which will be fun, and will afford an opportunity to try even more of the lovely dishes on offer – and I will definitely be becoming a regular!
Food: ***** Service: **** Ambience: ****
Bar 44, 14 Windsor Road, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan CF64 1JH