Rugby and curry have nothing in common except that the Welsh love them dearly and I happened to be in Cardiff for both last week.
I’ll be short on the appraisal of the rugby match (this is, after all, a food blog) but just to say that Wales beat Argentina (33-3). In fact, they didn’t just beat them, they slam-dunked them into the stratosphere, then smacked them into oblivion and gave them a one way ticket to the lonely planet of humiliation.
Back to my dinner, I hoped the Wales was going to put on a similarly good show for my Saturday night meal in one of Cardiff’s most celebrated curry houses, the Purple Poppadom.
Located just outside of the centre, on Cowbridge Road, it’s not much of a looker from the outside; positioned above a chicken shop and up some stairs covered in yellow and black warning tape. But once inside we were in a space that felt like a cross between a dairy milk bar and an airport lounge. Thick plush carpets and heavy seating created just the right atmosphere to encourage hushed voices and the dabbing of mouths with napkins.
We were presented with the poetically entitled menu ‘A Winter’s Tale’ full of bold vision and good intentions although some descriptions were inexplicably fussy and French. The ‘Scallops Chou Fleur’ for example, scallops with cauliflower three ways or the ‘Oxtail Odyssey Duo’, oxtail two ways, pledged big promises. We plumped for a Syrian Christian dish for starters, ‘Pidi with Thauval’, or duck in a coconut sauce and upon eating, forgave them instantly for their superfluous language. It was a mouthful of dreams.
The duck had lost any sort of composure it had and fell apart happily, escorted by a black pepper and coriander spicing and a thick and lush coconut sauce. The plate was beautifully presented with some miniature steamed rice balls which looked great but weren’t really necessary.
Many Indians (all Muslims included) myself not included, abstain from eating pork, so was a rare joy to see some spiced and roasted pork belly on the menu. I ordered it for my main course, out of intrigue. H, who is a fan of all things finned, ordered the ‘Tiffin Seabass’.
Our main courses arrived instantly. Those who hate waiting might wonder why I’d picked a bone over some efficient timeliness. But I enjoy eating out specifically to loiter in the company of my diner and stretch out time. Besides which, it always makes me wonder whether my meal has been pre-cooked and been left loitering, on the pass.
Not only was my pork speedy, it was braised and not roasted as the menu suggested, which meant that its rubber tyre of fat remained intact and formed half of the mass in my bowl. There was no spike of spice, heat or bold flavour rather it was served with a sort of Bistro-styled gravy. The waiter had informed us a side (bread, rice or vegetables) was unnecessary although the couple of slices of onion and (oddly) celery it came with was not really adequate. At worst this dish was confused and at best, a decent gastro pub dish. In either case at £14, it wasn’t cheap.
H’s main course, Tiffin Seabass was touted as Head Chef Anand George’s signature dish. It was a tower of pan-fried sea bass served in a ‘tongue tickling’ coconut and raw mango sauce. The fish was lovely, the sauce was lovely; a sort of creamy, but not sickly, lemongrass and mango flavour but it definitely didn’t tickle. Neither really went together or tasted much like anything Indian, more Thai if anything. The fish came perched on a curry leaf infused mash in which it was hard to find the curry leaves and, as much as I like beetroot pachadi, the apathetic bit of puree plonked on top of the fish didn’t do much to bump it up into my affection. H thought his meal was ‘alright’.
Around this time I glanced over to the next table who were navigating the fully blown ‘Winter’s Tale Chef’s Taster Menu’ at a cost of £44 each. They were already nine dishes down and only just approaching their main course. After having started in the spirit of joy, optimism and witty banter, they’d stopped talking, come to a grinding halt and were pushing bits of food around their plates casting nervous glances towards the kitchen.
I was done too, any naughty thoughts of afters were quashed by my very own pork belly and in a hasty second, our bill arrived.
On our way out, a medley of leaflets for Anand George’s up coming pop-up restaurant, his Wedding Catering, ‘Sunday Best Winter’s Tale Tasting Menu’ and ‘Beaujolais Menu’ were thrust upon us, which pretty much summed up our experience of the place. We certainly couldn’t fault Purple Poppadom for its enthusiasm or ambition to put on a good show and I didn’t actually doubt their ability to knock out some great food. But, massively over complicating the simplest of things meant their focus had been lost and unlike their rugby team, they’d just dropped the ball one too many times.*
Address: 185a Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff
Total bill: £60 for two (with a shared starter, two mains no pudding but a few beers)