Television food programmes have worn out the mantra of the word ‘passion’ for what is required to create excellent food but what about ‘skill’, ‘bloody hard work’ and probably most of all, ‘drive’ ? We once spent 14 ball-aching hours in our kitchen making a friend’s wedding feast, so believe us when we say we know the passion and the hard work but clearly we lack drive, as we immediately resolved to never, ever do that again.
Four people who have all the aforementioned attributes in spades are John and Ceri Cook and Phill and Deb Lewis; John and Ceri presiding over Arbennig, DIRT, Lamb & Flag and Ember, Phill and Deb founding Dusty Knuckle and making the BITE food festival a reality – twice – as well as having other project in the wings (The Warden’s House and the enigmatic sounding dkdarkside, which we’re hoping is not sensory deprivation dining). Clearly drive is a middle child of their other virtues, it must be feeling inferior because it has decided to assert itself so strongly that they have teamed up to open another enterprise which they have christened Nook.
Nook are neighbours to Victoria Park, Bloc Coffee (who host the superlative Paysan), Bwydiful (who hold our best veggie burger award), Dough Thrower pizza and the awesome Pettigrew Bakery (whose rarebit pasties can’t be ignored). We arrived courtesy of blogger friends Kavey and Pete whose review can be found on Kavey’s blog
Nook is bright and has an open feel with a décor that doesn’t follow any obvious trends. Someone with a keen eye for design and a warm heart has made it smart yet homely. A large wall display holds wines which are sold by the bottle and a slightly wacky, but charming, green wall with live succulents emerging from it will no doubt develop into something quite amazing as time passes.
Their menu contains a rare treat for vegetarians, more choices than we can eat in one sitting, but still plenty of dishes for our omnivore friends. We got spot-on advice on portion sizes and opted for 5 savoury and 2 sweet dishes to share between the two of us.
Deep fried enoki mushrooms. It’s a mystery as to what evolutionary drive makes our monkey brains go ape over deep fried battered food but it’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser when executed correctly. Enjoying it at a restaurant has the added bonus that someone else has to dodge bullets of red hot oil and clean a molecule-thick layer of grease from every exposed surface of the kitchen afterwards.
Enoki mushrooms are delicate, feathery things so a tempura-ised version is not easy to get right. A few black sesame seeds and silky beans added aesthetics and interest. M. NotLeafy was particularly pleased because Mme. is not a wild mushroom fan, so he got the lion’s share. The light, oh-so-crispy, well-seasoned batter brought back fond seaside memories, so it’s no surprise that this dish gets heaps of twitter action.
Pressed potato, truffle. Rich, dense ingots of potato with the lower notes of truffle scent drove us nearly wild when it arrived on the table. We were definitely pigs in a previous life; ok, we are in this one too. If we went in feeling like nibbling just one of the savoury dishes, we’d have this or the enoki mushrooms. Sour cream took the edge off the buttery richness making it all too easy to eat.
Pavs carrots. The quality of the veg shone through with the cooking elevating these above and beyond a mere meal accompaniment. Buttery and sweet but not too scented and topped off with chervil, a herb we love. It’s made for carrots and it’s great to see it trending again after being forgotten around the early ‘90s.
Burrata, fermented chilli, lemon, olive oil, dukkah. Simple, but very effective. Take a generous dollop of fresh smooth, creamy cheese and smother it in a salty/hot/sharp light oil dressing, sprinkle with robust, herby Dukkah and you have a perfect balance. We liked tasting cheese and dressing in turn as the each threatened to overwhelm the palate.
Sheeps ricotta, pear mostardo sour honey, chicory. A soft and delicately creamy ricotta was just a perfect match for the amazing mostardo which managed to be sharp and sweet at the same time The chicory was not harshly bitter and added a good crunch to otherwise soft textures. Not sure what sour honey is, but it hit the right note in a dish that straddles the border between sweet and savoury.
Phil’s pavlova. This was a meringue perfectly balanced between sticky inside and crisply crumbly outside, reminding Mme. of the ones her cookery school-trained Mum made. It was served with some plums poached in vanilla syrup until they were almost candied, plus a splodge of cream. This disappeared in seconds under a two-spoon onslaught.
Milk Chocolate. Anyone who has had the EMBER variations on this theme know how indulgent it is. Imagine a quenelle of sweet, dark, milk chocolate with the texture of clotted cream. Here there were two quenelles, one chocolate and one caramel. The flavour of the caramel was rich and creamy, like the old Caramac chocolate bars. A sprinkling of lime zest added lightness. Very addictive and a perfect climax to the meal.
We have limited knowledge of natural wines; the first we ever tasted, a few years ago now, was pretty grim, like a wine that had aged too long and, in our house, would be retired for cooking. Fortunately, those we have had subsequently from Wright’s wines have been fresh and pleasant, so we weren’t afraid to try Nook’s. We went for the easy option, two from the house selection and very nice they were too. We’d have them again but we’re grateful to Soliciting Flavours for further insight in his blog post so that next time we can tackle the large selection displayed on the wall.
In our post reviewing The Gaff, Abergavenny, we extolled the virtues of small plate dining and the same applies here. Freed from the old starters/mains/afters constraint you can vector your dining whichever way takes your fancy, a quick nibble, gluttony, favourites only, exploration, dietary preferences; hell, you can even have dessert first!
Nook marries this casual dining freedom with a genuine warm welcome plus the combination of the culinary styles of two of Cardiff’s best food heroes. The result definitely adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
Want to go there?
The menu changes seasonally and Nook has the distinction of being open on Mondays to allow those in the hospitality industry the chance of a relaxing meal out on what is usually their day off.
587 Cowbridge Rd E, Cardiff CF5 1BE
Tel: N/A: Walk-in only but, if full, you can wait in a nearby hostelry and they will contact you by phone when a table is free.