Well, if Larry Lamb says so! Eating the Yorkshire Dales (and slightly beyond) – part 2

Yes, we made it after part 1! Although we weren’t out of danger just yet – there was still plenty of cheese in the fridge. The second half (ok, two-thirds, if your being pedantic) of our Yorkshire Dales food-filled adventure would see us… well, not in the Yorkshire Dales for 40% of it (too much math?). But I would take Larry Lamb’s advice on board to eat one of the 100-ish best-ever (those posters are legit, right!) pork pies – and dine in the only fancy place not about to ban breathing.

 

Settle down! (days 4-6)

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit, I waffled on a little in part 1, which means I had to split the article a day earlier than originally planned – it also means I’ve now aborted the day by day account to avoid having to write-up a part 3.

(So, quickly summing in an effort to curb the word count) The next 3 days saw us:

  • Overdose on the remaining cheese and crackers – I refused to enter any more farm shops.
  • Drive to Ingleton to visit the White Scar Cave – only to find it was closed for the day due to heavy rain (it was sunny). In fact, it seemed the whole village had closed for the day – there was no way we were using up calories on the waterfall walk if we couldn’t consume cake at the end!
  • Visit the idyllic villages of Long Preston, Gargrave, Clapham and Hellifield to take photographs of yet more stone-built houses and bridges, just about avoid falling into any rivers and, yes, finally, consume cake (see below).
  • Skip the rather naff-sounding canal boat trip in Skipton (Dave Spikey was apparently offering guided boat tours, despite being on a stand-up tour…in another part of the country) due to the unpredictable weather (we’ve lost what little trust we had left in the BBC), but enjoy our time struggling to follow the printed A4 guide in the town’s castle.
  • Pub crawl between Giggleswick and Settle, where Mrs. B.B. tricked me into a 3-hour countryside walk – and to pay for her £8 G&Ts all day.

(Scroll to the bottom if you want to see photographic evidence.)

We’ll cover our meal at The Traddock Hotel in Austwick in another blog – we paid enough to warrant an individual piece, even if it was a mixed affair – but other noshing highlights included:

The Goat Gap Café

Situated next to the A65 between Ingleton and Clapham, we’d passed The Goat Gap Café by Newby several times on various excursions, but the impression was a of a cold, characterless café serving up insipid coffee and overpriced, stale cakes (we’re so bloody judgemental).

In fact, had the townsfolk not deserted Ingleton, we would never have entered. But in our desperation for lunch (it had gone 1:30pm – can you imagine?!), we had no choice but to overlook our preconceptions.

What we found was a very welcoming establishment, serving up fresh, home-made scran and one of the best lattes I’ve ever had – perhaps a little hyperbolic, but I was expecting UHT milk pots and not such a creamy delight.

And despite its location next to a busy main road, all you could see through the large road-facing windows was the beautiful countryside.

I went for the special – smoked salmon and cream cheese toastie:

goat-gap-cafe-newby-smoked-

The griddled bread was beautifully crisp – absorbing enough oil to add moisture without feeling greasy.

You can’t really go wrong with cream cheese and smoked salmon – but you can definitely improve on it when the cheese is warm and rich, and you are extra generous with the smoked salmon. I was also taken by the rocket salad – with clever, and restrained used of pesto, and plenty of nutty, almost earthy tasting giant couscous thrown in for good measure.

Mrs. B.B. opted for chargrilled vegetables with red pepper and chilli hummus and sourdough:

goat-gap-cafe-chargrilled-v

The veg. was generously drenched in olive oil and once piled upon the sweet hummus smothered sourdough proved a messy but delightful combination.

The Dalesman

Despite having a 3-course meal just hours away, we couldn’t resist a jam sponge pudding and custard at The Dalesman in Gargrave.

dalesman-gargrave-jam-spong

Transported back to the 1940s (well, it was a long time ago), this tea shop has dedicated vintage décor throughout – right down to the ringing sales till and pull-chain toilet – and a sweet selection from the good ol’ days on display.

dalesman-sweet-shop

(I’m obviously too young but appreciated the attention to detail and the wicked waitress who listed all the favourite desserts of my youth – later than Mrs. B.B.’s youth, but then she would argue I’m still living mine.)

“The tea pot was a beast and it tasted like a proper brew!”

The sponge was light and airy, the jam wasn’t too sweet, and whilst the custard was no doubt of the instant variety, I’ll forgive them – just because the tea pot was a beast and it tasted like a proper brew!

Settle Italian Restaurant

One of our most enjoyable meals of the stay came at the Settle Italian Restaurant – not necessarily because of the food itself (although, the things you can achieve with butter and cream continue to astound me), but because of the restaurant owner.

“The more mischief the better in my books.”

I appreciate his brash nature and constant teasing won’t be to everyone’s liking – based on what I observe on Twitter some days, we’ve all become a bit precious haven’t we? – but the more mischief the better in my books.

the-italian-restaurant-sett
If anything summed up the owner’s personality, it was this sign in the toilet!

From digging us out over our changed reservation date to alluding to the fact Mrs. B.B. may have had a gin problem – no opportunity for a few giggles was missed.

The fact he was managing the restaurant by himself – welcoming and seating guests, taking orders, cooking, taking payment, etc. made his stand-up performance even more impressive.

And the food itself?

Mushrooms cooked in a generous bowl of garlic, butter and cream may be simple, but it certainly delivers. There were no mistakes.

italian-restaurant-creamy-m

Mrs. B.B.’s bruschetta was barely visible for the tomatoes:

bruschetta-tomatoes-starter

…and there had been no holding back with the garlic rub – nobody was going to feast on our necks on the walk back to Langcliffe in the pitch black (good job Mrs. B.B. is sensible and brought a torch). Again, not much cooking to speak of, but the ingredients were top quality, it was fresh – and it was packed with flavour.

The pizzas may have lacked the wow factor you get from the likes of da MARA, but the base had a home-cooked charm – retaining its crispiness despite the copious amounts of topping (Mrs. B.B. must have had her 5-a-day for the week). Although why you’d leave the stones in the olives I have no idea (it added a little danger, I suppose).

pizza-main-settle-italian-m
Fortunately, I did not save the anchovy quarter until last!
mrs-bb-vegetarian-pizza-mai
Mrs. B.B. definitely got her 5-a-day!

Unfortunately, we were so bamboozled with the post-meal chatter that we forgot to leave a tip pay for our stand-up ticket.

Stanforth Butchers

I was unaware that Skipton is home to the world’s most decorated pork pie makers. Every bakery has picked up an award or a championship for their particular pie – or, as in Stanforth Butchers’ case, you’ve had thumbs up from this guy:

larry-lamb-stanforth-pie

Who?

You know…

He was in Eastenders the last time I could sit through an episode – and that was good enough for me!

“Larry’s clearly got good taste in the ol’ pork and pastry combination.”

In fairness, Larry’s clearly got good taste in the ol’ pork and pastry combination – my pork and apple may have been lacking in pork filling and was probably more suited to custard than the advertised gravy, but it was delicious. A thin, crisp pastry, and plenty of moisture despite a lack of visible gelatine.

pork-pie-apple-stanforth
Risking it all for a nice background.

Mrs. B.B. went for the savoury black pudding and pork option, which was equally as impressive – although I saw something I never thought I would. She left some pastry! Defeated by the density of the meat filling.

 

To be fair, we haven’t been strictly honest with you

Our final couple of days weren’t actually in the Yorkshire Dales (and if we are being geographically correct, we’d already ventured out a few times) – an inability to find a cottage (admittedly, we left booking until the very last-minute) in or around Settle for the whole week forced us further south to the world’s first fair trade village, Haworth, for the final couple of days.

Ultimately, it served as a bed for two nights – Mrs. B.B. receiving the news that her grandma was in hospital, which sent us two hours north to spend our final day proper at Darlington Memorial Hospital.

From what I did see, the cobbled Main Street of Haworth is charming, but we’d definitely left the idyllic Yorkshire Dales behind.

To lift morale, we decided to book somewhere super fancy scarily pricey for the final night, which saw us presented with this:

beef-wellington-restaurant-
Mrs. B.B. was so excited, she couldn’t keep the camera steady!

…at Restaurant 92 in Harrogate – I’ll fess up, it was the third choice after The Devonshire Arms and The Box Tree, but they had banned jeans and were requesting dinner jackets, so we were going to struggle to sneak in with our muddy walking boots.

Restaurant 92 cost enough (and crucially, it blew our minds enough) to warrant its own review, but before I head off to cook tonight’s dinner of turkey steaks and lettuce (I haven’t got any money left to replace my unseemly jeans), let’s talk meat.

The Hawthorn

I’ll be honest, I was a little reluctant to enter The Hawthorn in Haworth.

The picturesque little restaurant we found on TripAdvisor was in fact a pub, blasting out a KT Tunstall-lite singer-songwriter (I’m guessing whoever it was has topped the charts since I gave up on the radio ten years ago) for the whole street to endure – fortunately, the stereo was upstairs, and it was louder outside than in.

hawthorn-haworth-restaurant

The fact it was completely empty at 7:30pm, there was a limited ‘Thursday Menu’, and the bar staff were staring at us with seeming desperation did set off a few alarm bells. However, I figured it would probably save me on the word count and so we entered.

“It didn’t get off to the best of starts – the waitress accidentally placing her fingers in my beer.”

Had this blog been around a year longer, I’d have honoured it with its own article, but with another three already in the pipeline from Yorkshire, I’m conscious my South Wales coverage is looking a bit thin on the ground (not good when you are Wales’ finest food blog… with beard in the title).

It didn’t get off to the best of starts – the waitress accidentally placing her fingers in my beer. She replaced it straight away, but it did mean I had to drink more than a pint of the foul-tasting Nettle Thrasher, which was more of a sour than a copper bitter.

I started with the Yorkshire smoked salmon on sourdough toast:

salmon-starter-hawthorn-haw

The whole dish was lifted by the lemon dressing – very fresh, even if the look and the fragrance was slightly off-putting.

The gin-pickled cucumber reminded me of gherkin, and I couldn’t get enough of the cream fraiche & horseradish (to the point I was scraping the remnants out of the pot with my knife).

Mrs. B.B. went for the chestnut mushrooms on toasted sourdough:

chestnut-mushrooms-sourdoug

The sourdough was a bit burnt but this only added to the flavour, especially once the creamy thyme sauce had started to soak into it. The sauce itself was mellow and complimented the perfectly cooked mushrooms.

Now, I never normally order steak when I’m out – it’s such a simple dish, I’m adamant it’s the one thing I can cook at least as good at home (and boy do you pay a premium for it). However, with only three mains on offer, I figured I’d give the dry-aged flat iron steak a go:

steak-main-hawthorn-haworth

In all honesty, I can’t recall ever tasting a steak this good before. Cooked medium rare, it just melted in the mouth – a little chew, no gristle. A different league to Miller & Carter, put it that way.

Although it came with a peppercorn sauce, the herby butter was enough (I could do without the watercress…on any meal I ever have).

“The gently melting goats cheese was a sight to behold.”

The creamy, dare I say, dreamy (I’ve embarrassed myself now, I know), black pepper sauce did not go to waste – the perfect accompaniment to dip the crisp, salty dripping fries (well, they were chips – a bit of a false advertising, but no complaints).

Mrs. B.B.’s spelt risotto with goats’ cheese was a hearty and comforting bowl, perfect for a damp chilly evening.

spelt-risotto-main-haworth

She found the spelt far superior to the standard rice risotto, which had a satisfying chewy texture. The gently melting goats cheese was a sight to behold – the amount of which was well judged to not over-power the flavour of the risotto.

 

Heartbeat, why do you skip…?!

So that’s probably the final noshing tour of 2018. Not because of the damage to my arteries, but I’ve used up all my leave.

Yorkshire may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of exciting ‘food scenes’ or bucket list restaurants, but our experience was of a place where people love food, have access to high-quality ingredients (and combine them sensibly) and take great care with their cooking. They also don’t mess about with the portion sizes! Remember this (if you don’t, check out part 1):

sausage-yorkshire-pudding-country-harvest
Just in case you’d forgotten!

And whilst consuming food did consume us for much of the week, we found the Yorkshire Dales itself to be quite magical – despite the weather. The perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of every day life, with idyllic villages and lush green countryside – a step back in time to an age when Nick Berry took his smile for a ride around Aidensfield (and I didn’t have to worry about offending someone on Twitter).

My mission now turns to finding a South Wales restaurant that offers the same wow factor as Grassington House and Restaurant 92 (you’ll understand why when I eventually clear my review backlog) – well, once I’m back in my jeans! 

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter if you want to see us try and pad out our lifestyle until we can afford another adventure.

And if you’ve got nothing better to do, here are some more pics:

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Barnaby Sykes Pie Maker - Festival Food at Green Man.

Who ate all the pies at Green Man 2018?

With The War on Drugs and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (come on – who cares what they sound like with a name like that?) headlining on the main stage, and Brød headlining on the pastry stage (I’ve made that up), there was only one choice for this year’s weekend of long-term health damage: Green Man. 

You wouldn’t know, but, in another life, I was winging it as a music hack – with a failing bank balance but an infallible musical opinion (some would call me arrogant… I married her).

Whilst a move into digital marketing was necessary to ensure we would still be able to eat (life suddenly became very expensive post-2010), freelancing has allowed me to keep a finger in the pie.

With this blog, I also get to eat pie – and sometimes to combine that figurative pie with the actual pie (yeah, I’m confused as well)…

 

A proper base…

Green Man has been on the bucket list for as long as I can remember – primarily because it’s 45-minutes’ drive away, which means I’m only 45-minutes’ drive away from getting into bed when it’s over.

But there’s always been a bigger pull on our limited funds to a Latitude (Portishead), a Hop Farm (Prince) or a, umm, Cornbury (All Saints?!). Although it would mean missing our annual slip and slide around a muddy field to the Levellers (Beautiful Days), this year – this year! – they had The War on Drugs.

Travel to the site was as easy as we could have hoped for – well sign-posted and bizarrely quiet through the narrow country lanes, despite being absolutely rammed at the box office (we arrived around 11am on the Thursday). The queue wouldn’t let up for the two hours we trekked back and forth between the car park and our pitch (it was more painful on the Monday morning).

“The portaloos weren’t the horror scenes we’ve come to expect.”

The festival site itself is quite compact. At times, we found it quite overwhelming – hoards of people moving between stages, bars, food stalls and portaloos causing bottlenecks (and putting our £9 double G&Ts at risk!). But, actually, as we moved closer to the Mountain Stage, and became braver in the Far Out tent, the crowds were fairly sparse – camping chairs plugging the gaps and providing some ‘Some mothers do av em’-style amusement in the dark.

Health and Safety? Although it did feel busy, the festival itself is very laid-back. No bag searches (to be fair, you are encouraged not to sneak alcohol in given it also hosts its very own beer festival!); a lack of signage (we accidently pitched up in quiet camping – the chap who decided to pack up at 5am, and the couple who decided to pump up their mattress at 2am clearly missed that as well); and, to be honest, I didn’t notice any security or authority figures during the four days we were there.

audience-main-stage-green-man
Ominous-looking clouds – thankfully, the forecast rain stayed away!

I guess they can trust this crowd. There was a good mix – I’d say predominantly teens, retirees and younger families, but outwardly middle class. Put it this way, the portaloos weren’t the horror scenes we’ve come to expect. Still, not quite your “we require a Waitrose onsite” Cornbury types.

 

A packed filling

The War on Drugs were the main attraction, but I had my doubts. How would the beautifully textured but ambient sounds of the band’s last two albums transfer to a closing night’s headline slot.

I had nothing to worry about. Despite three nights of sleep deprivation and four days of beer bloating, I was a man possessed throughout an exhilarating performance. Given the rich, multi-layered soundscape on the band’s recent albums, it was easy to miss Adam Granduciel’s impressive fretwork – now I know just what a dazzling guitarist he is.

“They may only have one trick – but that is to mesmerise you. Job done.”

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have an eclectic back-catalogue (crossing the boundaries of genre on each of the five albums they released in 2017 alone), but they stuck to a psychedelic rock formula for most of their set – in fact, I think they stuck to one song for 90 minutes! Not necessarily a bad thing when you’ve got that groove!

king-lizard-wizard-green-man
King Lizard and the Lizard Wizard

Talking psychedelia – nobody does it better than The Black Angels, and they delivered: big drums and hypnotic riffs! They may only have one trick – but that is to mesmerise you. Job done.

There were disappointments – missing Joan the Policewoman hurt most (damn you, schedulers!).

John Grant was a little more dimensional live than on record; Dirty Projectors overegged it as much I thought they would – but left out most of their fun songs; Whyte Horses managed to go from catchy indie pop to irritatingly repetitious within the space of three songs; and Snail Mail – wow, way to kill the vibes, man!

But Green Man is all about the positive energy.

Wye Oak delivered a perfect blend of rock and dance indie, with Jenn Wasner’s inimitable vocals drawing a big crowd and one of the warmest receptions of the weekend – although it didn’t quite match the love for Cardiff’s own Boy Azooga (they would be huge if this was the ‘90s).

Belgium’s J Bernardt had the look of someone who had been kicked out of the dance tent at 4am. He amused us with his posing and exaggerated dance moves – but he had the vocal chops to get away with it. Baxter Dury entertained (primarily the children) with various foul-mouthed tirades (otherwise known as his back catalogue). And the virtuoso Bluesy guitar noodling and shrieking vocals from King Tuff made an impression – or at least his hat did:

king-tuff-snarl-green-man

No real household names – I suspect much of this year’s attendees were regulars and it’s the festival itself that serves as the big draw – but you couldn’t fault the quality of the artists on show.

But damn those schedulers!

 

A wonderful, shiny glaze

As much as we enjoyed the music, it was the quality of the food that made this a standout festival – and not just the pies (I only had two, but I needed a title!).

We didn’t eat one dud meal over the course of four days – I estimate that over the course of 22 meals (11 each! – come on now!), we must have visited 16 different food stalls. That’s not including braving the hornet’s nest for a Brød pastry every morning, nor repeat visits for chocolate brownie.

Here’s a countdown of the top-5:

Bearded Taco

Neither of us were willing to miss out on Bearded Taco.

I went for the Bahn Mi-guel:

bearded-tacos-bahn-mi-guel

The pickled carrot, daikon and cucumber really cut through the fat of the Vietnamese BBQ pork. A surprisingly clean eat with the fresh coriander and chilies providing plenty of kick.

I was concerned these small, delicate looking tacos wouldn’t suffice two beers in, but they were deceptively satisfying.

Mrs. B.B.’s Let’s Avo Cwtch tacos were arguably even more eye-catching:

lets-avo-cwtch-bearded-tacos

I’d never tried tempura battered avocado before – and Mrs. B.B. did well to keep her lunch once I had.

Again, wonderfully fresh, with a lemon ‘slaw offsetting the grease from the light and crisp tempura – although we couldn’t really pick out the gin and tonic (we’d have to fork out a small fortune for that at the bar!).

Le Bao

I was flying solo at Le Bao (or is it Boas, or Boas Steaming?):

le-baos-pork-green-man

The braised pork belly was simply divine. I’d go as far as to claim it’s the best cooked pork I’ve ever had (and I’ve spent out a fair few quid in many a restaurant) – absorbing all the hoisin flavour, they really packed a punch.

It was obviously quite fatty, but, as with Bearded Taco, the addition of pickles, coriander and chili ensured it was a fresh eat. The powdered peanuts adding a complimentary crunch to the heavenly moistness.

I was concerned the buns may be quite dense, but they were deceptively light and airy. Still, I knew I had been well-fed at the end.

Pieminister

My first experience of a Pieminister actually came at a music festival. And whilst I’ve eaten at their Cardiff restaurant on quite a few occasions, it’s never really lived up to expectations.

This one did.

I went for the festival ‘special’, Hurrikane Pie:

pieminster-beef-green-man

There was a definite cheese flavour running through the pastry – which wasn’t advertised, but I really liked it. A good thick, crisp pastry, with a flaky top (although it had been submerged in peas and gravy), and it was packed to the rafters with tender beef steak and roasted peppers.

Given the strongly minty peas and rich gravy, you couldn’t really make out the ale or red wine, but there was a definite heat coming through from the smoke paprika. It was delicious, and a level up from a Barnaby Sykes Pie Maker who I visited the day prior (in fairness, their pies are pretty decent as well).

Even Mrs. B.B. couldn’t resist – opting for the Moo and Blue pie. You couldn’t miss the stilton, which really complimented the succulent beef and generous filling.

Welsh Venison Centre Beacons Farm Shop

Faggots and peas from the Beacons Farm Shop – it had to be done:

beacons-farm-shop-faggots-peas

Slightly depressed by the couple who had no idea what a faggot was, but these were the ‘posh version’ – and huge (there was enough meat here for four burgers). Not quite as smooth or moist in texture as I’ve become accustomed, there was a nice peppery heat running through and a deep venison flavour, which really elevated the dish.

And there were proper mushy peas!

Chock Shop

We couldn’t go without talking about these beauties from the Chock Shop:

chock-shop-brownie-display

We returned on three separate occasions, which tells you a lot. These pics will you more:

chock-shop-black-forest

chock-shop-white-chocolate

Each brownie had a crunchy thin topping and a moist centre (we like a bit of gooey) – it was pretty sexy, with the warm chocolate sauce and cream just adding to the filth.

We were both particularly taken by their crunchy peanut butter offering (sorry, we couldn’t wait long enough to take a picture by that point), topped with a sneaky slither of Snicker, but I just wish there was time – and room in my belly – to try them all.

 

I’ve run out of workable pie references

It’s fair to say, I’m not a big fan of jeans right now – and pies are off the menu.

There were so many great places serving food over the festival that I haven’t mentioned, but I can only recommend you head along to an event if you see any of the following in attendance: Smoking Buns (the fries were stunning); The Chai Shop Organic (lovely mellow vegetable korma); Café Dish (fresh-tasting butternut squash and goats cheese tart); Manna (Singapore red curry tofu noodles with a serious chilli kick); Dosa (chilli cheese dosa wrap with masala paneer and a cracker of an onion bhaji); Flavors of Africa (fried plantain to die for); Made of Dough (lovely thin, crispy pizza dough); and Wrappers Delight (thick but light flatbreads packed with falafel, halloumi, hummus and salad).

I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful ales from Wales’ finest independent breweries that also contributed to my weight gain.

But now it’s time for a few weeks of salad 

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see more pictures from Green Man and to keep up-to-date on our other adventures.

Close-up of the Diavola pizza from da MARA for the banner.

It could have been crapper: da MARA

Who knew a last-minute decision to go for pizza would turn into such an adventure? From the pizza to the privy, Da MARA provided a mid-week night out to remember.

When you get a text from Mrs. B.B. at 4:15pm, asking what’s for tea, you need to act fast.

When she specifies “no chicken,” you know your go-to white meat and two veg (salad when the temperature’s above 20 degrees Celsius) speciality isn’t going to cut it.

Cue turning to Twitter for help to complicate things:

twitter-cardiff-pizza-request-july
No idea why my Twitter is nine hours behind me.

 

And the winner (of the unofficial Twitter vote) is…

There are A LOT of places doing good pizza now apparently!

Having whittled down added a zero to the end of the number of pizzerias on my shortlist for the evening, I decided to ignore the notifications (still coming through as I type this) and plumped for da MARA.

To be fair, it had been on the ‘places to eat’ list for well over… well, way before they moved from Lakeside, so it was about time! (thanks to Twitter, this list won’t clear before I’m 50 now).

 

Parking next to a park

Given it was warm enough to expose my knees, and Mrs B.B. wanted a snap for Instagram:

seagulls-roath-park

…we decided to leave the car next to Roath Park – we could justify the calorie intake if we’d spent 15 minutes walking back from the restaurant.

I’d forgotten what a peaceful escape it can be on a summer’s evening (having moved from the area approximately five years ago) – well, until the warden started whistling and shouting at us that the gates had been locked!

 

da MARA with love…that chilli oil!

The restaurant was quiet when we arrived, which meant we were kindly given the choice of where we wanted to sit. Despite the doors being wide open, you could instantly feel it was too warm, so we attempted to get as close to the freestanding fan as possible without messing up our hairstyles (the odd salt and pepper cellar falling over provided more amusement than it really should have at my age).

“The odd cheeky comment at Mrs. B.B.’s expense is always a bonus.”

The gentleman who show us to our table made us feel very welcome – the odd cheeky comment at Mrs. B.B.’s expense is always a bonus – and generally we found the staff attentive but relaxed. Particularly the lady at the end who saw the funny side of Mrs. B.B.’s grumbles that the portions were too big.

And to think how thoughtful I’d been when I gobbled up all the complimentary olives to help her out when we arrived:

complimentary-olives-da-mara-cardiff

We were having an alcohol-free night. The Italian mineral water tasted the same as any other mineral water (although, the label probably added an extra £1 to the bill) – from what I could see on the menu, they offer a good selection of white / red wines (predominantly Italian with a couple from Argentina and Australia) priced up to around the £25-mark

Surprisingly, there were only 3 options in total for beers / ciders – they should look to partner up with The Bottle Shop, which is literally next door!

It’s definitely on the ‘posh side’ for a pizza joint.

da-mara-outside-restaurant

The décor is chic without being pretentious. Dark furniture, trendy wall art, interior stone cladding – and a nice decorated screen over the side window. The downstairs seating (which I walked through on the way to the wrong lavatory – more on that later!) looked a little less interesting and more formal.

da-mara-wood-fired-oven

The real winner for us though was the playlist – but you only get the full, surround sound (well, there’s a speaker in the ceiling) experience, though, when you’re on the toilet!

Although some were sung in English, I assume they were all Italian artists (or at least, I didn’t know any of them!) – it was an odd mix of Nickelback-esque rock, uber ballads, chirpy ditties and covers (Mamas and Papas California Dreamin’ was particularly bemusing).

Each song was almost as much of a delight as each mouthful of pizza.

Yep, it’s time to talk food!

Starters

Having umm’d and arr’d about whether to go for a starter or save ourselves for desserts, the gorgonzola swung the decision.

fungo-ripieno-starter-da-mara
The official title: Fungo Ripieno

How could a gorgonzola smothered (the menu did claim stuffed but there was no containing it) portobello mushroom possibly pair with strawberries?

In a very peculiar way, it worked – Mrs. B.B.’s taste buds at odds with what she could see on the plate.

It was a bit pricey for what you got, though (£7.50) – especially when the strawberries were “very Tesco” (otherwise known as mushy).

Fearing my heart couldn’t take a mozzarella wrapped in ham pre-pizza, I opted for the calamari on a bed of mayo.

calamari-mayo-da-mara-starter

The calamari itself was cooked well. Firm but tender in texture. But the batter was a disappointment. It lacked any crisp – and someone had been a little heavy handed with the salt. I also think they could have put a bit more effort in with the salad – a few dry leaves (on the verge of turning).

I enjoyed it, but I think it was mainly down to the mayo!

Mains

We were nearly swayed by a couple of the specials (the Spaghetti Con Gamberoni sounded particularly sexy with a mix of giant and baby prawns), but having sent the Cardiff foodie community into overdrive on Twitter (there are still several tangent conversations going on now), I felt we had a duty to order pizza! It had nothing to do with the £24.95 price tag… honest!

I went for the Diavola:

pizza-diavola-close-da-mara

Mrs. B.B. had the Crudo & Rucola.

crudo-rucola-pizza-main

From the small areas which hadn’t been drowned in tomato sauce on either pizza, the base texture was light, slightly chewy, with a crisp accent on the crust (I would have preferred it a little crispier). However, for the most part, the moisture had taken over – which only highlighted the need for a proper pizza cutter. It was quite a challenge to cut a neat triangle slice with the knife provided.

Toppings were generous on both.

The Crudo & Rucola pizza was a mix of prosciutto, mozzarella, rocket and cherry tomatoes.

Mrs. B.B. said she was happy with her “proper Italian pizza,” but I could see envious eyes…

“I was on safer ground than I am with Mrs. B.B.’s fajitas!”

After a quick Google of Spianata Calabra, I opted for the Diavola. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say every mouthful tasted different – nor that every mouthful was a real sensation.

The Spianata Calabra and Nduja were hidden under the mozzarella. My first mouthful put my taste buds into a frenzy as they were kicked about by the heat of the pepper and spices.

There were some additional blobs of (caramelised?) chilli, which wasn’t advertised – and I was being liberal with the dangerously addictive chilli oil that had been wickedly brought to the table.

Despite it all, the heat was never overwhelming. There was a definite kick, but my eye balls weren’t sweating – I was on safer ground than I am with Mrs. B.B.’s fajitas!

I was in pain from about halfway in, but there was nothing stopping me. I finished proud that there were only a few crusts to spare, but this was tinged with a sadness I wouldn’t get a pud.

Dessert

When discussing the pros and cons of a starter or dessert, Mrs. B.B. made a statement that she will regret for at least 3 days – “I bet they’ll only do a Tiramisu and then it’ll be ice cream.”

Well, actually, they do two ‘proper’ desserts – yes, a Tiramisu (although it didn’t look like any old Tiramisu) AND profiteroles (which again didn’t look like any profiteroles I’ve ever seen). The white chocolate shavings were the making of them – visually at least.

We watched as the couple dining next to us gleefully consumed both said desserts and made the promise for the 16th time to date that next time we go for pizza, no starters! (In fact, we could have missed the starter and shared a pizza and still left feeling like we’d feasted royally).

 

Before we go, I just need to nip to the… ladies!

Now, I wouldn’t normally talk about my toilet habits (on here), but I thought it was worth highlighting my experiences for anyone else with similar attention deficiency problems – and who doesn’t like to No.2. in the dark.

Having found my way to the toilets in the basement, I was presented with two doors: one to the left, one to the right – both ajar.

I quickly dived through the left door where I was presented with a lavatory and a large sink – room for one – and started to go about my business…

It’s pitch black!!!!!!

Stand up, lights on… Sit back down, (30 seconds later) lights off… Stand up, lights on… Sit down (30 seconds later), lights off… You get the picture. As well as bringing on the sweat I’d managed to avoid from all the chilli, this was seriously impacting my digital note taking.

Just about keeping things together…

There’s no loo roll!!!!!!

I can hear someone shuffling about outside – they’ve already tried to get in twice.

What do I do?

Maybe the black cabinet has… Yes, there’s a bottom drawer.

It’s empty.

Does it have a… Yes, there’s a top drawer – it has toilet paper! Phew!

(fast forward – c’mon, I’m not that bad) I’m getting out of here.

I open the door to find a lady whose facial expression represents an odd mixture of annoyance and surprise.

I glance up to see the door directly opposite has the male WC sign.

I don’t look behind me: just smile and walk away run.

 

What I’ve been through, so you don’t have to

So, there are a few takeaways / lessons learned from our meal at da MARA:

  1. There are clearly a lot of places doing good pizza in and around Cardiff – when we get around to them, they’ll have a tough task to beat the flavours at da MARA.
  2. Skip the starters – they were ok, but we’d have been happier leaving room in our tummies (or stretching them) for dessert.
  3. We need to find some chilli olive oil to drink at home.
  4. “Just tiramisu” may be enough.
  5. Inspect the lavatory doors before entering – and maybe take a torch in with you as back-up.

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