Le Monde was one of the first restaurants I ever visited in Cardiff, and indeed one of the first I blogged about, so has always felt a bit like an old friend. So, it was with some trepidation that Mr W and I went for dinner for the first time after its recent refurbishment, during which it had been closed for around a month. I’ve always liked its relative old fashioned-ness compared with many of Cardiff’s trendier venues, but I had a horrible feeling that it would lose its charm in the refurb, especially since it became part of the same group as Soda Bar a while ago – one of my least favourite Cardiff bars (more on that later!)
The good news, at least for those who liked Le Monde before, is that it’s relatively unchanged in terms of décor, ambience and concept. Dark tones are still the order of the day, it still has a lot of the art deco style accessories, and a fresh fish counter still dominates when you walk in – albeit it’s moved and is now part of the open kitchen. The bar area has also moved and is less of an entrance area and now more a separate part of the restaurant. We sat in the bar for a drink beforehand, but felt a bit out on a limb, not to mention a bit irritated by music coming up the stairs from Soda. We had a couple of lovely cocktails, but waited what seemed like an eternity for them, due to the fact that there was only one barman, who was doing a fantastic job, but kept having demands for drinks made upon him by the waiting staff, who seemed to think he should prioritise these above orders for people waiting in the bar. He wasn’t at fault at all – we could tell he felt awkward about not having served us sooner.
The restaurant area was very busy when we were shown to our table, so it felt like a good place to be on a Saturday night. The biggest change to Le Monde is that it now has menus! Previously, diners would have to visit the fish counter and look at the blackboards above to make their choice, but now there’s a proper printed menu that comes to the table – and what a menu it is! Selections were extensive to say the least: fish, meat and vegetarian starters, oysters, grills, whole fish, portioned fish and even a leg of lamb that could be pre-ordered for large groups were available. Unfortunately a few items of fresh fish were unavailable when we visited (including oysters, which was a shame, as Mr W fancied having a couple), but we were told about most of these before we came to order. I’m generally not a fan of huge menus as I worry that it won’t be possible to do so many things well, but the beauty of Le Monde’s style of cuisine is its simplicity, so the big menu just means they have lots of raw ingredients to hand, which they cook well.
To start, we chose Moules Marinieres and gravadlax. The moules were fresh and tasty and cooked just right, with a deliciously rich sauce. I’ve always loved the fresh French bread in Le Monde, and thankfully they’ve not changed their supplier as it was just as good this time. The gravadlax was equally good, and came with a slightly overly generous helping of dill and mustard sauce, which I would have preferred to have been less plentiful and more flavourful.
For my main, I chose deep fried hake which was served with chips and tartare sauce, as I was in the mood for fish and chips and this was billed as being the best option if the classic dish was what you were after. The fish was good, in very crispy batter, but sadly the way it had been portioned meant there was a awful lot of skin and bone to negotiate in order to get to the tasty white fish – which was not easy when it had been cooked in batter. The chips were good and had a definite chip shop feel to them.
Mr W chose a dover sole, which at £27 should certainly have been good – and it was! A lemon butter sauce on the side was a little odd – more like a hollandaise than a lemon butter – but the fish was so good that it didn’t really need anything extra. New potatoes were waxy and delicious and a lovely simple complement to the delicate fish.
I’ve never enjoyed desserts in Le Monde before, but decided to risk one this time as the selection had changed completely from the previous menu. I chose a lemon and ginger cheesecake, which was a very pleasant surprise: a crisp biscuit base, tangy lemon topping and more than a hint of fiery ginger, topped with a very gingery syrup.
Having thoroughly enjoyed our meal, with excellent food and service to match, we had no hesitation in saying yes when we were offered entry into the new bar upstairs, called Attic. Unfortunately, this was where we were rather disappointed! Billing itself as an exclusive members’ bar, it’s certainly a lovely space, with a glass dance floor and luxurious surroundings, but the service let it down massively. Bar staff were at best disinterested and at worst quite rude and unhelpful, and they claimed not to be able to make any cocktails. Sadly, this is in line with the type of service I’ve experienced on several occasions in Soda Bar from staff who act as if it’s beneath them to be serving drinks and seem to think they’re doing you a massive favour by taking your order. Similarly, staff on the door that led to and from the outside terrace didn’t seem to be very enthusiastic in their role – which was unfortunate, given the door couldn’t be opened from the outside to go back in, so at one point I was left standing outside banging on the door, trying to attract someone’s attention to let me back in after the doorman had disappeared from his post. It has since been suggested to me that as I’m neither in the cast of The Valleys, nor look like I want to be, perhaps this is why I’ve been served less than enthusiastically in these bars!
All of that is an aside, really, as Le Monde itself was very enjoyable. It’s lost none of its charm, but the refurbishment and newly printed menus have given it a new lease of life and made it a definite contender for one of the best places to eat in the centre of Cardiff.
Food: **** Service: **** Ambience: ****
Le Monde, 61 St Mary Street, Cardiff CF10 1FE