I’ve become a big fan of Browns since it opened in Cardiff a couple of years or so ago. Like the recently reviewed Miller & Carter, Browns is another brand in the Mitchells and Butlers stable, also seeming to aim at the higher end of the market. Browns did have a bit of a shaky start, with a couple of visits where literally half the menu seemed to be unavailable, but since then, it’s gone from strength to strength and is one of my favourite places to go for a long lunch, Saturday night dinner, or cocktails (the Berry and Pomegranate Martini remains my favourite; Mr W is a huge fan of the Espresso Martini!) Their mixture of classic and contemporary dishes pretty much always hits the spot. So, when I was invited to try their latest menu, I jumped at the chance.
After one each of our favourite cocktails, we sat at a table in the round ‘conservatory’ area on the corner of the restaurant. This is my favourite place to sit, especially on a Saturday night (as it was when we visited) as it’s a prime location for people watching – you can be guaranteed all sorts of weird and wonderful sights making their way to the bars and clubs of Greyfriars Road (only some of them fancy dress!) On a Saturday night, the restaurant has a nice buzz, and a good mixture of diners in large groups and in couples.
I started my meal with Rannoch Smoked Venison, which was served with an apple and celeriac remoulade, chilli and chocolate sauce and a piquillo pepper vinaigrette. Although not unpleasant, this was actually the weakest dish of the evening: the remoulade was lovely, but too creamy for the venison, and ended up overpowering everything else on the plate, even the chocolate and chilli, which I had been adding to every mouthful but actually forgot was chocolate and chilli until I’d almost finished. The smokiness of the venison was overwhelmed too. It was only when I tried some of it on its own (without the remoulade) that I was able to taste hints of the intended flavours.
Mr W’s starter was much better: a pressed duck and parsley terrine which was served with a rhubarb and tomato chutney and cinnamon brioche. This was an excellent and well balanced dish, which I would consider ordering on a future visit.
For my main I opted for fillet of beef. This was cooked to your liking (in my case medium rare) and was served with creamy exotic mushrooms , horseradish infused crushed baby potatoes and a black olive, truffle oil and red wine sauce. It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing of dishes (no fault of the presentation, the ingredients just aren’t the prettiest), but it certainly made up for it in taste. The beef melted in the mouth and the accompaniments worked very well together with just the right balance of flavours.
Mr W was also in the mood for beef and chose the 21 day aged sirloin, served with anchovy butter, watercress, roasted plum tomato, baked flat mushrooms and chunky chips. He also added a peppercorn sauce. He too was very pleased with his choice of main course.
On the side, we couldn’t resist the creamed savoy cabbage with bacon, which was every bit as tasty as it sounded, and asparagus with chervil hollandaise, which was good as well, but at £3.50 for just three spears of asparagus was certainly not the best value dish in the world! On that subject, generally the menu caters to a range of budgets: our mains were at the higher end (£22 and £21 respectively) but there are other options that come in at half that.
To finish, I decided to try one of their selection of speciality brownies: milk chocolate and ginger, which was served with chocolate ice cream. The brownie was not as gooey as I’d hoped, but wasn’t dry either and was actually quite light, which was probably a blessing after such a good meal! For me personally, having chocolate ice cream with it was a bit of a step too far – I’d have preferred something more neutral to contrast with the chocolate of the brownie and not overpower the ginger. I did think of asking for an alternative when I placed my order, but decided against it as I wanted to try the dish as the chef intended.
Mr W’s pudding was the absolute star of the evening: a peach and raspberry crumble, served in a shallow skillet with a jug of custard. It was pretty much the perfect crumble: delicious juicy fruit flavours and a topping of crunchy, chewy crumble that had been cooked in situ (we’re always disappointed if a crumble top has been added after the event!)
All of our dishes were nicely presented and the service we received was excellent. Browns always ask customers to complete an online survey about the staff member that served them, and this certainly seems to help ensure that the service is good as we’ve never had anything but praise for the staff there.
The wine list is fairly impressive too, with some nice choices such as Cloudy Bay (one of my favourites!) on offer.
I remain a big fan of Browns and there’s lots more on the new menu that I’d like to try!
Food: **** Service: **** Ambience: ****
I was invited to dine at Browns as a guest and as such our meals and bottle of wine were complimentary.
Browns Bar and Brasserie, The Friary Centre, The Friary, Cardiff CF10 3FA