Cen At Celtic Manor
Well, this has got to rank as the poshest Oriental restaurant in Wales. First off, it’s headed up by Larkin Cen, the Cardiff-born Masterchef finalist. Then there’s the location. The old Manor House at the 5* Celtic Manor is about as plush as it gets – no expense spared, its vibe is somewhere between the colonial air of Raffles and a stately home.
Nor did the food disappoint. Having mulled over the Pan-Asian menu for an eternity I was happy with my choice of starter: plump, juicy scallops that were seared perfectly and served with delightfully piquant pancetta dashi broth. My companion’s trendy Korean chicken bao was equally impressive: two fluffy buns stuffed with crispy coated tender chicken and served with a light yuzo mayo and spicy Sriracha sauce combo.
We pigged out on mains, deciding, on the advice of a fellow diner, to share Cen’s signature Cantonese duck platter (for two) whilst throwing in a Laksa seafood broth for variety’s sake. I’ve had Peking duck aplenty over the years but this was something special – a perfectly cooked slab of duck breast, crisp and seared on the outside, yet pink, succulent and moreish inside, sliced and served with the obligatory cucumber, spring onion, pancakes and Peking sauce. It’s not cheap at £68 but you get what you pay for – the quality of the duck is top drawer and you get a lot of it. The Laksa was much more subtle – a warming, mellow confluence of delicate oriental herbs and spices that allows the freshness of tiger prawns, scallops and vegetables to shine.
Positively stuffed we shared the simply named Chocolate for dessert – a stunning mix of torte, mousse and aero ably supported by a malt ice cream and mandarin, then headed home, bewitched.
Cen at Celtic Manor,
Coldra Woods, The Usk Valley, Newport,
As you step inside, there’s no doubting that Chapel 1877 is a special place. Once the hub and pride of the Welsh language Methodist community in Cardiff, it’s been lovingly restored to its dazzlingly ornate former glory and is now a restaurant.
We’re off to a good start with some cracking sour-dough bread accompanied by a velvety, full flavoured balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Always a good measure, my starter scallops were sweet and plump, perfectly seared and well matched with spicy, smoky chorizo and creamy white bean puree. A, as a self-confessed beetroot nut, was in heaven with her delightful beetroot and ricotta tortellini.
On the recommendation of our waitress (who was both attentive and knowledgeable) I opted for the loin of venison for main. I was hesitant, as venison can be tough and too strongly flavoured if it’s not top notch. Not this time. Middlewood Farm in the Beacons supplies the best venison in Wales - it was perfectly pink, tender and with a delicate gamey piquancy that slowly enveloped the taste-buds. Accompanied by Penderyn jus, wild mushrooms and smoked garlic mash it was a glorious flavour-fest. A’s Jerusalem artichoke and chive risotto, was just as good, albeit in a gentler fashion with the sweet nuttiness of artichoke working well with the judicious use of chives. All washed down with a nicely balanced Bordeaux from Domaine du Seuil, a Welsh owned vineyard.
To finish, a sticky ginger pudding with marinated pineapple, mango cream and ginger beer syrup hit the spot, mainly because it majored on fresh ginger rather than sugar, as did a sumptuous dark chocolate and malt tart, bitter/sweet of chocolate off-set by sweet malt. The food does indeed do justice to this fine building, but more, its flair and richness actually adds to the experience.
Chapel 1877, Churchill Way, Cardiff, CF10 2WF
029 2022 2020
Vivo Latino promises to bring some authentic Latin American flavour to Cardiff ’s sprawling Cowbridge Road. It is much-needed, especially on a night of sideways rain. Friendly staff welcome us into the warm and bright interior with exposed brick walls, sprayed motifs and industrial lighting.
The drinks menu is stacked with choice. The cocktails are the main draw and I opt for a taste of Brazil with a wonderfully refreshing Caipirinha. My partner plays safe with a beer.
We share two starter plates of Cone tacos and a Mexican bruschetta selection. The cones are stuffed with a spicy beef, corn salsa and fajita chicken served with lettuce, pickled onions, jalapenos and radish. These crunchy pockets of delight are packed with freshness, followed by gentle waves of heat. The Mexican bruschetta selection contains the same ingredients but served on toasted mini ciabattas. They’re just as delicious and hoovered in seconds.
For mains, my dining partner opts for the Pan seared salmon steak. Served with wilted spinach, vegetable ragout and smoked paprika, it’s pale pink, smacks of freshness and flakes effortlessly. The crushed cassava cake it’s served on brings a lovely smoothness to the dish. I order the chicken sizzler; a show-stopping fajita that’s a cut above your standard Tex-Mex cuisine. The chicken breast is plump and zesty with a fresh lemon glaze that bubbles away on a hot plate of peppers and onions.
For dessert, it’s Aztec chocolate fudge cake. Sumptuous warm gooeyness of the cake nicely cooled with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. My buddy goes for Dule de leche napoleons. A naughty but nice sandwich of light, crispy puff pastry filled with caramel custard and vanilla ice cream. All told, a very welcome addition to one of Cardiff ’s most eclectic dining districts.
147 Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff CF11 9AH
029 2022 0636 www.vivolatino.co.uk