One of the best places to eat in Cardiff city centre, in my humble opinion, is Laguna Kitchen and Bar at the Park Plaza Hotel. I’ve never had a bad meal in the restaurant, and it’s a rarity outside London in that it’s a hotel restaurant that really doesn’t feel like one. They’re also constantly innovating, with regular menu changes, special events and promotions – several of which I’ve reviewed previously – the latest of which, the Chef’s Table, showcasing the talents of head chef Justin Llewellyn, we were recently invited to try, along with some fellow food bloggers.
The chef’s table is a long, high table, right in front of the kitchen, so that at least half of the diners get a view of the pass, although the other half might end up with a stiff neck if they’re equally interested! That said, I can’t imagine it would be a major problem, as the location of the table is more about the general atmosphere of the kitchen being nearby, rather than any particularly interesting views of live cooking action, as most of this goes on a way away from the pass anyway – so we didn’t really get the ‘intimate insight’ into the kitchen that our invitation promised!
We started with a selection of breads with oil and vinegar, then moved on to a mise en bouche of smoked Brecon venison, served with Neil’s Yard goats’ curd and heritage beetroot. In reality, this was more like a starter-sized portion. Although enjoyable, this was probably my least favourite course of the evening as it looked pretty and sounded lovely, but was less flavoursome than the mouthwatering description promised. I’d have preferred a smaller, bitesize portion of a more intensely flavoured dish. This was paired with a sparkling wine, Del Fin Del Mundo Extra Brut.
Next was the most visually impressive of the courses: the equally impressively named Spectacular Selection of the Finest Hot and Cold Sea Food with Coastline Vegetables and Welsh Tracklements. The clear highlight here was a scallop shell, filled with scallops and chorizo and topped with puff pastry. I’d have happily just eaten this on its own as it was filling and delicious, but we were also spoiled with a trio of cured salmon, some pickled seafood, cockles with samphire and baked lobster with prawns. Pretty much something for everyone, so long as you like seafood! The prawns were particularly tasty, and again, I could have easily made a meal out of this platter. This course was paired with a particularly lovely 2011 Chateau Fontaine Sancerre. I was driving so only had a sip of each of the other paired wines, but had two or three sips of this one as I love Sancerre and this one was especially delicious and its fruity finish worked beautifully with the richness and multitude of flavours of the seafood.
A Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic sorbet cleansed our palates before the next course. For me, it could have done with a bit more time out of the freezer before being served, but what it lacked in texture it made up for in flavour and really did taste exactly like a refreshing G&T!
By this point, expectations were already high, but I think most of us were still blown away by the main course: an open beef wellington, served with duck liver parfait, wild mushrooms, roasted shallots and fondant potato. The only slight complaint here was that the potato was a bit under seasoned, but if I’m honest I didn’t really need potato with the dish anyway. The beef fillet was cooked perfectly, just the medium side of medium rare, and melted in the mouth. It contrasted perfectly with the richness of the duck liver parfait, with the pastry, spinach and mushrooms bringing it all together. A port wine jus completed the dish, which was one of the best I’ve eaten in Cardiff in a long time. A 2011 Del Fin Del Mundo Malbec Reserva was paired with this dish.
By this point, we were all full to bursting and a rich crème brulee made with Jersey Cream could have finished us off, but the genius addition of sour passion fruit somehow managed to cut through the richness. Shortbread biscuits completed the picture, which was rounded off by a glass of Moscato Passito dessert wine.
A selection of truffles and raspberries accompanied coffee at the end of the meal – but by this point I was too full to even contemplate eating anything more (but I’m told the truffles were very good!)
Groups of between 6 and 12 people can be accommodated at the table, with the set menu, including paired wines with each course, coming in at an amazingly reasonable £45 per head. We all agreed after the meal that this was astonishingly good value for the quality and quantity of food, let alone with four glasses of excellent wine into the bargain, and that, in theory, they could charge more for what’s on offer. We also agreed, however, that for this type of concept, the pricing is about right. If you’ve got to muster up at least a group of six people in order to book, it’s much easier to get people to commit to something that comes in under the £50 mark. The menu we tried will be the standard chef’s table menu for a while, but will be reviewed in the longer term to make the most of seasonal ingredients and cater for returning diners.
Chef Justin came out of the kitchen with each course and explained the dish and its ingredients to us. He’s a chef with real passion that’s easy to see and hear as soon as he starts talking about the food, and that definitely added to the evening. I’d highly recommend the chef’s table experience. It was outstanding food and wine at an outstanding price, and it’s a great, sociable way for foodies to get together and enjoy an evening. Just make sure you’re hungry!
My partner and I were invited to the Chef’s Table as guests of the Park Plaza and as such, our meals and drinks were complimentary.