Something Stirs in the Heart of the City

The centre of Cardiff is often criticised for being an endless sea of chain restaurants.  Certainly any visitor staying in the city centre would be forgiven for thinking there aren't any decent independents when faced with the likes of Mill Lane, the Brewery Quarter and St David's. 

As someone who travels away with work I understand the choice many face - venture out into a city you're unfamiliar with and end up at the likes of Pizza Hut or, if your hotel is lucky enough to have one, eat at the hotel restaurant.  Unlike some neighbouring budget hotels, Maldron Hotel does indeed have a restaurant and bar and I was invited to go and check them out.

Entering through the main lobby and heading up to the first floor you are met with a large bar area decorated in rich olives, plums and soft greys with views overlooking lower St Mary Street and Mill Lane.  As we were early we grabbed a drink from the bar and settled down to enjoy the view and take in our surroundings.  One thing that may put people off hanging around are the bar prices - £7.95 for a cider and a Guinness is pricey even by Cardiff standards (the Guinness costing over £4 a pint).

We soon took our seats in the Stir restaurant and were surprised by a rather classical menu, and even more surprised by the prices.  The menu is a set 3 courses (£12.50 for 1, £15 for 2 and £18 for 3) whilst a bottle of house wine was £12.  For those staying on a budget or, let's face it, a work account, this is a bonus.

Crispy Chili Beef [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
Starters of Crispy Chili Beef and Chicken Liver Pate were well received but didn't quite hit the mark.  The beef was coated in a sweet, honey glaze with a slight hint of chili aftertaste - great if you're not a fan of heat.  Pleasant, well cooked but sadly let down by not being remotely crispy.

Chicken Liver Pate with Melba Toasts [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
The pate was smooth with a mild flavour - bought-in rather than made on site, and served with Melba toasts, sharp pickles and a sweet sun-dried tomato chutney.  For the price, I can't say I was expecting anything more from the pate but three pieces of toast felt a bit stingy.  The pickles and chutney livened up the pate and brought a lovely sweet/sour combination to the dish.

Pangasius Fillet with Grilled Polenta and Seasonal Veg [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
The mains were slightly more successful.  The Pangasisus was cooked to perfection, soft and melting wrapped around some young asparagus stems.  The vegetables were well cooked and complemented by the herby cream sauce.  The only disappointment was the polenta.  If you've ever had polenta you're aware that, if mistreated, it can become lumpen and bland.  Sadly that is what happened here - it was a bland, solid mass, too dense to eat and lacking any real flavour.  Replacing it with some boiled new potatoes would have helped lighten this otherwise lovely spring dish.

Risotto Balls [Photo Cardiff Bites]
I stuck to my roots and opted for the Italian Risotto Balls served with a sun-dried tomato sauce, crisp greens and some more of that asparagus.  These weren't the dense, crisp little rice balls I was used to from my youth. Despite their size (somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball) they were light with a subtle herby flavour beneath a delicate crumb.  Breaking them open revealed a soft, cheese-filled centre and the asparagus and tomatoes added some sweetness and texture.  These were fantastic and such a simple twist on ordinary risotto.

We finished with a Trio of Chocolate Mousse with a Mocha Granita and a Mango and Coconut Cheesecake.  Sadly my camera battery ran out so no photos this time, sorry! Both dishes were attractively presented but were sadly lacking.  The mousse was a served as a tower, dark and milk chocolate sandwiching white and was exactly as you'd imagine - chocolaty and light.  The granita though wasn't to be - instead of a coffee "slush puppy", it was instead served with an iced coffee shot.  Nice but not the same thing at all.

My pudding was less successful, the cheesecake having split somewhere in the cooking process leaving the whole thing with an unpleasant grainy texture.  The biscuit base had been made with salted butter and this overwhelmed the delicate fruit and coconut flavours.  This left me bitterly disappointed and with a slightly nasty taste in my mouth.

The price is well set and reflects the quality of the food we ate but I'm still confused as to who the restaurant is aimed at.  We were the only diners for much of the night so clearly hotel guests are choosing to eat elsewhere, perhaps seduced by the bright lights outside.  Yet the restaurant isn't really marketing itself to locals either - the website mentions the menus but doesn't link to them and unless you go into the hotel itself you wouldn't know it was there as there are no external signs or menus to invite you in.  This is a real shame as it is in a prime position in the city centre and really needs to take advantage of this.

This visit was sponsored by Freshbaked PR and as such the meal and wine were complimentary.


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