I know bad reviews are much more interesting to read so I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you in advance by saying I have just had a properly magnificent lunch. From venue to service to food to value for money I would be reaching for word ‘perfection’ were it not for one mildly disappointing glass of Rioja.
I find myself in Cardiff again, and asked my resident expert on the West Country, (yes I know it is A Country, west,) Mark Olver for tips. Last time he pointed me back to the reliably excellent Potted Pig, and this time he sent me to Asador 44 and as I arrived outside, I realised he’d sent me here before as well. I seemed to remember an excellent lunch which I hadn’t written about, which is, as far as I’m concerned, a winning combination.
And so it proved. Despite having no reservation, I was pointed to a bar table in the corner of a happily buzzing restaurant. This is as good an indication of the ambience as anything else – bad busy restaurants can feel hectic and edgy. Here, everything was conducted with a calm, friendly efficiency that only enhanced the experience.
In the interests of my wallet I decided to go for the set lunch, (mains on the à la carte generally hovering around the lower twentiest) as two courses seemed a relative snip at £19. Only a choice of two starters, but when the spicy Iberian pork rilette with pepinillo are as good as this, that really doesn’t matter. This was just an epic starter, even if it wasn’t going to win any aesthetic awards. A slab of beautifully smoky, slightly spiky rillette was slapped on the plate next to the almost mellow-yet-acidic kick of pepinillo – chopped gherkins to you and me, but with a comforting warmth that set off the lightly spiced meat to perfection. It was advertised with sourdough, which I would normally appreciate, but today came with a seeded cracker whose brittle shards added a hugely pleasing textural element. I don’t always love rillette. These disappeared in seconds.
I decided to go for simplicity in the main course. A lot of the beef they use at Asador is ex-dairy cow, which sacrifices a little tenderness for flavour. Apparently the rump steak I had for lunch is the only exception to this, but its hard to think of a better description. If the other steaks can beat this perfectly charred piece of meat for depth of flavour I may well have to drop in tomorrow to try them out. Olive oil chips were excellent, and a bowl of hispi cabbage with shards of (more) iberico were so deeply satisfying I would have been perfectly happy if I’d just eaten a large bowl of them. I don’t normally drink at lunchtime when I’m working, but when in Spain…and I ordered a small glass of a 2019 Rioja which was perfectly pleasant, but with a slight tannin aftertaste I wasn’t wholly on board with.
After all this it would have been rude not to have pudding and frankly, thank god I did. Everything so far had been perfect, but relatively unshowy, just beautifully put together ingredients treated lovingly. My rhubarb parfait was something else. Proper fireworks. Everything about this dessert was precise and complimentary, including little dabs of raspberry curd on the parfait and a white chocolate ganache so toffilly (is that a word? It is now,) delicious I suspect it should be illegal. The perfect combination of tart and sweet, it even perked up the last of the Rioja which, very unhappily for an Englishman, left me absolutely nothing to complain about.
With a glass of sparkling water, and a 10% service charge that I would probably have increased if it hadn’t already been included, lunch came to £41. This was, frankly, a steal. I cannot recommend this place any more. I really do want to go back tomorrow. But they also have a sister restaurant that does tapas. There is also Cardiff’s oldest Italian which I couldn’t get a table at earlier and looks like the sort of throwback trattoria I thoroughly enjoy getting myself around. Mark tells me it’s excellent. I’m sure it is, but it is really going to have to go some to beat its Spanish mate up the road.