From France to Italy…without leaving Cardiff – Restaurant review: San Martino, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay

When BA Brandings opened Entrecote Café de Paris in Mermaid Quay, I didn’t have high hopes for it, but was forced to eat my words when it turned out to be an excellent French restaurant – a little expensive for Mermaid Quay, but worth every penny due to the quality and authenticity of the food, the great service and the classy interior.

I’ve been back to Entrecote numerous times since it opened, and over time, I noticed a few changes. At first, it was just a reduction in the prices. Then, I noticed a bit of a ‘dumbing down’ of the menu: just to give a couple of examples, frogs legs and the like were gone, and the traditional moules marinieres (with white wine, carrots and celery), lost the carrots and celery and gained cream. The menu became less authentically French and closer to the anglicised offerings of Cote Brasserie and (shudder) Café Rouge – which was disappointing. The quality of the dishes, however, along with no change to the service and ambience, still made it a pleasant place to visit, and one of the highlights of chain-filled Mermaid Quay, particularly in light of the sad news of the closer of Woods Brasserie.

So, we were fairly horrified on a recent visit to notice flyers in the restaurant letting us know they were ‘travelling to Italy’ and rebranding Entrecote as San Martino. A chat with the staff revealed that they were struggling to get customers in as people seemed intimidated by French food (this doesn’t surprise me, given Cardiff’s fairly unsophisticated food landscape, but saddens me nonetheless) and that it was felt that a change to Italian cuisine – despite BA Brandings having two other Italian venues (Bellini’s and Signor Valentino) right next door – was the way forward. They assured us it would be entirely different from the other two venues and would offer authentic Italian food, with a proper Italian chef, rather than bog standard Italian chain fare of pizzas and pasta. We took them at their word, and decided to give it a try.

The rebranding of the restaurant has been cosmetic only: the interior is exactly the same as it was under the Entrecote banner (clearly a lot of money had been spent on making it seem a more classy venue than the majority of Mermaid Quay eateries, so I don’t blame them for not wanting to change it again!) save for a few Italian type paintings replacing the French ones and even the menus have just had a sticker put on them to change the name, with the Montpelier Suite private dining room having become the Verdi Suite. I also noticed “AUTHENTIC ITALIAN RESTAURANT” emblazoned on one of the walls, and whilst I appreciated the sentiment, I kind of felt that’s not something you should have to explicitly state and if you do, it immediately makes it feel less so.

"Rebranding"

“Rebranding”

On the plus side, the menu did feel very authentic, with not a pizza in sight, a wide selection of non-standard Italian starters and appetisers, and Primi Piatti pasta courses, followed by meat and fish-based Secondi.

We decided to start by sharing the Pane Carasau – Sardinian crispbread served with red pepper, chick pea and olive dips, and a Primi Piatti of Tagliolini Carbonara alla Romana. The crispbread and dips were good (with the exception of the red pepper one which tasted more like a sauce or cold soup than a dip) and the pasta was absolutely excellent, rich and tasty and the authentic Italian recipe without any cream, complemented by salty pancetta. I was left wishing I’d ordered this for my main course as it was so good, and I’ve been frantically Googling authentic carbonara recipes ever since, in the hope that I can try and recreate it at home! It was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in Cardiff.

Sardinian crispbread with dips

Sardinian crispbread with dips

Carbonara

Carbonara

 

Up next for me was Filleto all’Aceto Balsamico: pan fried fillet steak with balsamic vinegar, which said it was served with sautéed spring onion and leeks. The steak was absolutely excellent: clearly good quality and cooked perfectly medium rare as I’d requested. I’d not tried steak with balsamic before, but really enjoyed the combination. There weren’t many leeks or spring onions in evidence, however – a few bits of julienne courgette were underneath the steak, but even the most committed low carbers would have needed a side order. Happily, there were plenty on offer, and my polenta chips were excellent, albeit a rather stingy portion for £3.50.

Fillet steak

Fillet steak

Polenta chips

Polenta chips

Mr W chose Medaglione de Rana Pescatrice: medallions of monkfish wrapped in parma ham with a dry white wine and lemon sauce. This was too salty for my taste, but Mr W found it very tasty and enjoyed it, so I think it was my tastebuds, rather than an issue with the food. He had a portion of rosemary roasted potatoes, which was far more generous than the polenta chips, and also pepperonata – roasted peppers.

Monkfish

Monkfish

Sides

Sides

To finish, we shared a tiramisu and profiteroles with chocolate sauce. Both were very good, and I was pleasantly surprised that the profiteroles were indeed filled with crème patissiere as it said on the menu, rather than standard whipped cream or, worse, squirty cream.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

Profiteroles

Profiteroles

Service was excellent all night, and the quality of the food was spot on. We could see into the open(ish) kitchen and Mr W spoke briefly to the head chef, who is Italian. It’s sad to think that a French restaurant can’t survive in Cardiff Bay, but perhaps not surprising. I’m pleased, though, that what’s replaced it is pretty close to an authentic Italian restaurant, and let’s face it, good food is good food – it doesn’t matter what country it originates from! I just hope it can survive by staying as it is and doesn’t have to dumb down in the way that Entrecote had to. My favourite eatery at Mermaid Quay is still in the same place, it just has a different name and cuisine!

Food: **** Service: **** Ambience: ****

San Martino, Upper Unit 9, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay CF10 5BZ

http://www.sanmartinocardiff.com

Advertisements

2 responses to “From France to Italy…without leaving Cardiff – Restaurant review: San Martino, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay

  1. This looks lovely! Nice to see an authentic Italian restaurant in Cardiff for once

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s