No, this isn’t a joke. This was the last of the guest-chef nights at Tommy Heaney’s restaurant in Cardiff, featuring Scottish-born chef Michael Bremner, owner of Brighton restaurants 64 Degrees and Murmur.
Michael Bremner has certainly been around; from Pittodrie House Hotel Scotland to the Orrery Restaurant, London, then Seven with Richard Turner, Marco Pierre White’s Quo Vadis, Melbourne, Sydney, Airlie Beach and others in Australia, Brighton at the Seattle hotel, Whistler Canada at the Pan Pacific Hotel, then back to Brighton at Due South, then over to Food for Friends where he fine-tuned his skills creating vegetarian food worthy of the best restaurants.
In 2013 Michael opened 64 Degrees which has received several best restaurant and numerous other awards. It describes its dining as eclectic, no surprise given the chef’s CV. In 2016 he competed strongly in The Great British Menu, then entered again in 2017, winning the chance to cook at the Wimbledon Tennis banquet after a string of 10s from the judges . In 2017 he opened his second Brighton restaurant, Murmur, named for the murmurations of starlings that flock over the town’s piers.
We already know from two visits that Tommy Heaney does great vegetarian food – imaginative and packed with flavour – so you can imagine our anticipation at the prospect of a kitchen collaboration with a well travelled, award winning chef whose passion is creating high quality vegetarian food.
A mistake had us arriving way too early but it also gave us the opportunity to devote a little more time than usual to the seductively lit section of Heaney’s bar area that looks as if it has been curated by an apothecary. An Espresso Martini and a Daquiri were stylishly extracted from the potion bottles and the chemistry worked its magic via our empty stomachs. All was good with the world, but to ensure we could properly enjoy (and remember) the food, we decided to switch to mocktails next, something we know Heaney’s are particularly good at. M. NotLeafy tried an Elderberry Mule, and it turned out to be so utterly delicious that Mme. had one too.
Bless Heaney’s they put us out of our wait misery (I’m sure we didn’t look glum at the bar though) and readied our table early, thanks guys, especially when you were so busy. Service continued to be top notch throughout, as it always has been.
Here is the eight course menu and our journey through it.
Choux bun: Fresh, sharp whipped goat cheese in a sugar crusted choux shell (try saying that after some cocktails). Think amaretti biscuits without the peach kernel flavour and filled with ethereal whipped goat cheese. A small dollop of PX gel, rolled in finely chopped pistachio topped them off. This was a difficult dish to handle because the combination of sweet crunchy crust, slightly sour goat cheese and sweet/sour PX gel was so alluring that you wanted to eke out each mouthful for an eternity and simultaneously stuff every last molecule into your mouth in a nanosecond. We both fantasised about being left alone with a large quantity of these, and yes, we would travel to Brighton just for these (unless we don’t have to – hint).
Sunflower seed Ajo Blanco: We don’t know if the soup base was made with sunflower seed or the traditional almonds but it was definitely topped with those tastily toasted seeds and some apple. The creamy, mild apple flavour of the soup was given a perfect acidity by a quality vinegar and raisins replaced grapes, which we definitely prefer. Fragrant olive oil and no garlic made for a refreshing , healthy and very complex tasting cold soup. A small portion was necessary in an eight course meal, but again we imagined, one hot summer’s day, setting sail across a chilled, ocean-sized bowlful of the stuff.
Taco: A dainty, soft corn taco with buckets of Mexican corn flavour, topped with a dab of molé, deep, nutty and rich. It was better than any of the Mexican molés we’ve ever had. A dab of astringent, sweet chilli jam, pickled shallots and a spoonful of an avocado puree of incredible freshness supported a crisp slice of savoury caramelised roast cauliflower. Time well spent licking the molé off our fingers, hard to get it off that bobbled plate though.
Celeriac:, we are guessing, was out of Tommy Heaney’s stable of big flavour cooking. Coiled, broad ribbons of crunchy celeriac looking like a filo pie, some black grapes, lovage leaves and an intense oil and broth giving super strong celery flavours. Just when your palette started declaring celery overload, a nibble of sweet toasted hazelnut toned it down and the signature horseradish sorbet, with its acidity and sweetness, cut right through it and left your palette refreshed, ready for the more robust dishes to come.
Roast Onion: This dish was way under-described on the menu. We both love the flavour of roasted onions and it was there is spades, yet achieved without the obvious use of fat thus imparting an unexpected lightness. There was a generous sprinkle of super-crunchy pangritata, some crispy sage leaves, basil and courgette oil, some creamy dollops we couldn’t identify and the whole was sitting on a bed of the smoothest, nuttiest, gently smoked hummus ever. A unique combination which has spoilt us for hummus forever more.
Truffle Pasta: Six courses in, this was the gastronomic body slam of the evening. A nest of some Brandelli type pasta with a confit egg yolk in the middle, all completely entombed in grated cheese. The menu says Spin Wood , maybe it was Spenwoood cheese; a vegetarian rennet, smooth sheep-milk cheese. The whole was sprinkled with a generous amount of very fragrant shaved black truffle. It was the veggie equivalent of Steak Tartare; silky texture and challenging richness, enough calories for an expedition across Antarctica.
Peach Melba: This was exactly what it said on the tin, but with some additions that weren’t gratuitous. Nutty puffed rice, a biscuity crumb, shards of snappy white chocolate meringue and a quenelle of gentle lemon ice just made a timeless classic better. Eating it felt like meeting a dear old friend you haven’t seen for a while.
Chocolate: Was it chocolate parfait? We aren’t knowledgable enough to be sure. We can visualise the chefs reading this and laughing, saying “eejut! It was a delice” or similar, but let’s pretend we are French speakers, for perfect is what it was. It was shiny and the texture of smooth clotted cream with the darkest, deepest chocolate flavour, low on sweetness but high on ecstasy. It came with a malt ice cream and crunchy malty bits and we just loved It, a perfect finale. Life is short so two desserts makes it extra sweet.
From the thoughtful Heaney’s wine list we chose Babylon’s Peak, a South African Chenin Blanc (v). Acidic yet fruity, it did a very good job of matching with everything savoury, and was even OK with the peach Melba. It was robust enough for the heavier dishes but didn’t swamp the lighter ones. Having cocktailed-out, we forewent thoughts of dessert wine.
An amazing evening of mightily memorable vegetarian food and a very satisfying 8 courses. What impressed us was the harmony of the courses with one another and yet their pronounced distinction from each other, even where ingredients were in common.
Kudos to Tommy Heaney for persuading so many great chefs to join him in the kitchen and give the denizens of the ‘Diff the chance to experience their skills without needing a hotel room. Thanks also for pointing out Michael as the one for us to experience. It was a great partnership with a serious respect shown for vegetarian cuisine and the big love shone through in the food. We hope such collaborations will happen again in Cardiff but suspect that, beforehand, we’ll manage to find time for a weekend trip to the East Sussex coast armed with a booking at the bar of Michael’s open kitchen.
Want to go there?
6-10 Romilly Crescent
Cardiff CF11 9NR
Tel: 02920 341264
Book online: https://www.opentable.co.uk/r/heaneys-cardiff?ref=4208 , http://www.heaneyscardiff.co.uk/bookings.php
Monday – closed
Tues-Thurs 11:30am – 11pm
Fri/Sat 11:30am – 12:00am
Sunday 11:30am – 11pm
53 Meeting House Lane
Brighton BN1 1HB
Tel: 01273 770115
Book online https://64degrees.co.uk/book-a-table
Mon-Sun Lunch 12pm-2:45pm
Sun-Thu Dinner 6pm-9:15pm
Fri/Sat Dinner 6pm-9:45pm