Review

'The perfect barbecued lamb provoked a rare family consensus': Heaneys, Cardiff, restaurant review

4/5

Our critic sees her son off to college with a ‘blended’ family date in the Welsh capital

Chic and spacious: Heaneys in Cardiff surprised our critic
Chic and spacious: Heaneys in Cardiff surprised our critic Credit: Jay Williams

On first impressions – which is to say after being in the area for, ooh, about five minutes – I decided I liked Pontcanna, Cardiff CF11, very much. For fellow ignoramuses, this is a smart and stylish enclave of attractive terrace houses of various vintages set among leafy streets a mile or so north-west of the city centre: atmospherically, very much Hove by way of the chic-er parts of Hackney.

I was a bit early for lunch so hopped on to Rightmove to ascertain the state of the local housing market... and… blimey! It turns out that Pontcanna is more Notting Hill than Tower Hamlets – a spontaneous sing-song around the old Joanna at the local gastropub is liable to be led by Charlotte Church, with Bryn Terfel on backing vocals.

 Indeed, a deeper dive into Google revealed that back in the far-off, here-be-(red)-dragons days of 2015, Pontcanna was the only Welsh entry in a Sunday newspaper’s list of the 30 most fashionable places to live in the UK.

All of which helped to explain the presence of Heaneys on Romilly Crescent – a chic, spacious, airily modernist (big glassy windows, mezzanine, squidgy banquettes: comfortable suburban-industrial), restaurant run by a former Great British Menu finalist, Tommy Heaney.

It is the sort of urbane local gaff that is not only perfectly comfortable offering 50-quid tasting menus on a Wednesday lunchtime but pretty busy dishing them out, too. Comparable Notting Hill vibe? Jackson Boxer’s Orasay.

However, while it might be a local hotspot, could Heaneys also be the right venue for a quietly momentous lunch encompassing a major rite of passage? Having driven up separately (we are no longer a nuclear family but a contemporary “blended” one, capable of going ballistic on occasions) my eldest son, 18, and his father (older) appeared at the table for what would be the last en-quasi-famille meal before we deposited said son at his new university halls of residence.

Our first course was a bowlful of broth with a side of super-thin slivers of duck – a quackscuttio, if you will. “There’s no right or wrong way to eat this,” said our waiter, which was good to know, especially as we’d not been given any cutlery.

Dumping the duck in the broth and downing in one seemed to be the sensible approach, and it was good and meaty. As was its follow-up, the oxtail and anchovy chunklets: all gone ­without hitting the sides.

A sea trout and baked potato course arrived as a wafer-thin tartlet topped with a froth of, conceivably, spume. It was light and “er, interesting,” said my son, “but not for me”. He compensated with several slices of excellent bread and Marmite butter.

“The butter is not a patch on MCR’s chicken butter, which is one of the greatest things I’ve ever had.”

“Chicken butter?!” exclaimed Dad. “I don’t know about that – but this...” he sank his ice-flecked pickled oyster with cucumber and dill, “is excellent.”

“Have mine,” said our son.

We were collectively all over the next course, however – slices of cured monkfish nestled at the bottom of a bowl of yet more clear broth, with a dollop of wasabi and (we agreed) entirely unnecessary artisanal tomato. “I really don’t think tomato and wasabi is a Thing,” said our son, with conviction. If the physics with astrophysics doesn’t pan out, perhaps food criticism beckons. Though if it does, rest assured I shall slap its hand, firmly.

Impressive: The first course of broth with slivers of duck, pictured Credit: Jay Williams

There was, happily, rare family consensus on the little slab of pinkly barbecued lamb with blueberry, yeast cauliflower and blob of black garlic: “perfect”. Dessert was a delightful mini-Magnum style chocolate, coffee miso and hazelnut ice cream, followed by excellent “treats” in the form of beetroot and goat’s cheese macarons.

Confident, packed with flavours both comfortingly predictable and pleasingly unexpected, executed with style and delivered with a light professional touch (the minimum of “let me explain…”) plus, intriguingly, cutlery only provided for the lamb course, even if every plate didn’t wow all of us (and how likely was that?) it’s fair to say that Heaneys delivered something memorable. Or, as our son put it: “This is almost certainly the last proper meal I’ll eat before Christmas.”

Which turned out to have been a poignant comment when Cardiff announced its impending local lockdown 48 hours later. Fortunately, I had anticipated the possibility of this kind of Fresh Meat in extremis, and packed the boot of the Volvo with more packets of pasta and jars of pesto than there are in Genoa, if not Pontcanna.

Incidentally, the last time I managed to speak to my son during his no-fun freshers’ week, he’d just had a disagreement with the law. Spotting a few students skulking after 10pm carrying cans of beers and perhaps not being as quiet as, say, a bunch of socially distanced septuagenarians, the police had piled out of their cars shouting (I quote) “You selfish bunch of little s---- – my grandmother is going to die because of this behaviour!”

To which my son’s response was to list the current ONS stats on rates of infection versus hospitalisations in the greater Cardiff area – so, yes, of course I couldn’t be prouder that he’s successfully settling into university, 2020-style! (Karmic pay-off: a few days later I was fined for driving in a Cardiff bus lane.) And even if it isn’t at Heaneys, I really hope he manages to eat properly this Christmas.