Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Jamie's Italian, Cardiff

pic from google

Followers of my humble little blog will know that I love Italian. Like, properly love it. There's something just so satisfying about a massive bowl of saucy pasta dredged with Parmesan or a creamy spoonful of rich tiramisu. You can't beat it food-wise, in my opinion.

A while back I posted a 'review' (I call it a review, but still maintain I'm far too young to be passing judgement on food cooked by professionals) of a tiny little Italian, Cafe Citta, in Cardiff. I mentioned in that how much I'd always wanted to visit Jamie's Italian, and my initial disappointment that we went somewhere else for a family meal. Cafe Citta turned out to be absoloutely lovely, a true hidden jem, and I'd advise anyone that can get there to get a table asap. But. Although my craving for Italian love and food was satisfied, I was still intrigued by Jamie's. Which is why, when I caught up with a great friend over Christmas, and we arranged to go out for a meal, I slyly suggested we go there. Dylan, having been there before, and a fellow Italian-enthusiast, was game for this, and a table was booked the next day.

Situated on the outside of a busy shopping centre, Jamie's Cardiff is surrounded by posh shops (Vivian Westwood, no less) so going there really feels like a proper occasion, even though I was just catching up with a friend. Incidently, Cardiff is amazing for shopping, you should visit. Heaters blaze in the outside seating area, giving a very rustic, but still formal atmosphere. The first thing you see when you walk through the doors is a massive bar in the very centre of the restaurant, where custom cocktails are prepared. Loaves of sliced artisan bread spill lazily across the counter tops, and strings of garlic and chillis decorate the rustic wooden structure, which once again creates a relaxed formal atmosphere. Also the huge chandelier hangs grandly over the restaurant, oozing class. Jamie's is posh, but effortlessly so. You can tell that I loved it already, can't you?

We were shown to our table right next to the kitchen by a very polite and helpful waitress. Some people wouldn't think this was the best seating, but both being into cooking, Dylan and I didn't mind this at all. We were also right next to the bar area, and so could see cocktails and other fancy things being prepared and served, which was interesting.

photo from

Choosing from the extensive menu was hard (menus vary from restaurant to restaurant, I gather). I was tempted to try the rabbit ragu pasta, but bottled out for fear of not liking it. I'm sure it would have been delicious, though. I went for a safe fennel sausage ragu with papardelle (£10.95) instead, with 'posh chips' (£3.25). Both were amazing. But I wouldn't have expected anything less. The chips were a particular triumph - rustic (I'm going to use that word a lot this post!) and thick, drizzled in truffle oil and sprinkled with Parmesan, and a good portion of them too. Dylan went for a burger (I forget which one, I think it might have been called the 'Italian Burger'), which, as I was informed many times, was delicious also (£10.95). He chose polenta chips to go with this (£2.50) - exactly what they sound like - fried cubes of polenta with sea salt and Parmesan. Ingenious. Soft and fluffy on the inside, but super crunchy on the outside. Neither dish of chips was greasy, and they were great value I thought. Main meals range from about £9-£15, but steaks can cost up to around £20. For the quality of the food and the dining experience in general, I would say that these were very competitive.

Of course, we had to go for a dessert as well. We both chose the 'Epic Brownie', a warm, fudgy (and fairly large!) chocolate square topped with ameretti ice cream, chocolate sauce, and caremelised popcorn. Yeah. You can imagine how good that was. Don't need to say anything else. Again, the desserts were reasonably priced at around £5 each.

We decided to splash out and get cocktails to end our meal, which tipped our bill into what some might have considered 'too much' to pay for a meal for two people. They were the most expensive part (for what they were, that is), but were a treat, and made us feel extra fancy. I ordered a peach Bellini - peach puree topped up with Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, and Dylan went for a 'Frangelico Sour', whatever that is. Anyway, it was nice. At £6 something for one tiny glass, it wasn't the best value for money, but, as I say, we were splurging.

Two courses each and a cocktail brought our bill to the £50 ish mark, which we were okay with, since it was a 'special occasion'. As I said, it was the cocktails that tipped it into such high figures, the mains and desserts were hardly wildly overpriced.

I loved the whole experience at Jamie's. The decor is to die for, modern yet (you guessed it) rustic, and there's plenty to look at. The staff were friendly and attentive, and I loved the not so subtle displays of all of Jamie's cookbooks available to buy. Obviously, being a chain, you didn't quite get the same personal cooked-just-for-you feel as some other places, but it was one of the nicest chains I've been to, for sure. Ranked maybe slightly lower than Rick Steins, but that would be properly hard to beat. The meal was thoroughly enjoyed by us both, and I'd love to go back, maybe even brave that rabbit ragu, but there are other places I'll be suggesting we try out next time as well. Jamie's Italian met my high expectations and hopes, but didn't exceed them. I loved it, but wasn't bowled over.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Fondant Wedding Cake

I mentioned before that I wanted to attempt another wedding cake trial run before I came back to uni. This time I was working with fondant *recoils in horror*. But you know what? It wasn't all that bad.

My cousin and his fiance decided on a fruitcake base (which will be made by my Gran) and two layers of sponge on top. This really only left fondant as the option for covering the cake, and not being its biggest fan, I want to get in as many practice runs as possible before their wedding in July.

As I'll only be baking the top two tiers for the real thing, and three cake tiers is a lot for any family to eat by itself, I decided to make a 10'' and 6'' tier, one chocolate, and one lemon. I'm not going to post the recipes here, but you can find them on the 'baking' page of 'the wedding cake project'. It's my standard sponge mix that comes out perfect literally every time I make it. It's easy to make, ridiculously easy to remember (just equal amounts of everything and a splash of milk!) and the cake stays moist for days without drying out, making it ideal for a cake that you need to make a little in advance, like this.

So, after baking the tiers on Saturday night, I got to work on the decorations. I didn't have any fresh flowers to hand (it being a spur of the moment decision to make the cake), and so I took to pinterest for some alternative decorating ideas. I saw one design where different sizes of fondant flowers had been cut out and arranged in a sweep over the plain white cake. Liking the concept, but wanting something with a little more depth, and dare I say it, elegance, I decided to improvise. I rolled out a ball of fondant very thin (so it would dry and become solid overnight) and used cookie cutters of two different sizes to cut out flower shapes. I then placed them in the hollows of some egg boxes to give them a curved shape. They dried out overnight and by the next morning were quite sturdy. NOTE, if you try these, make them a day ahead at most, keep them out in the open too long and moisture in the air will get to them, literally causing them to wilt.

The flowers were meant to be a substitute for fresh ones, but my cousin's fiance ended up liking the cake quite a bit, so these may be what I do for the real thing. If you decide to make these, make a lot more than you think you need, as some will crack and break apart when you put them on the cake. I'd also advise putting them on as late as possible before you want to serve the cake (ideally the morning of the wedding if you're making this for a real celebration) and before travelling, as this will lessen the chances of anything falling off/breaking in transit.

Now, onto the covering of the cakes. I'll admit, I thought this was going to be much harder than it actually was. I guess it was because I was just scared of how 'out there' fondant is, in that it is quite unforgiving. But, give it a little time and a gentle hand, and you'll end up with something pretty good. Obviously, mine is far from perfect - if you went right up close to the cake you could see some lumps and bumps, but these are nothing a few fondant flowers won't fix (another pro for using them instead of fresh flowers, as they are light enough to be stuck anywhere).

After filling your tiers with a thick buttercream (this helps avoid sagging) thin down some more plain (so the colours don't show through the fondant) buttercream with a little milk. Thinning down the buttercream will make it so much easier to spread on the cakes. I ended up using American-style buttercream as the 'glue' between the fondant and cake, but for the real thing I imagine I'll use swiss meringue buttercream, which is even easier to work with.

Roll out a large ball of fondant (guidelines on how much to use for each tier are readily available online, but I used about 1kg for both tiers and all the flowers, with excess) to about 1/2-3/4 of a cm thick, using icing sugar to prevent it sticking to the surface or rolling pin. Once it's rolled out. Gentley lift it up and hold it above the cake to see if it will fit all the way around, you should be generous with excess around the edges, just in case. If you can see it will fit, place it down, centering it on the cake. Smooth down the top first with either your hand or an icing smoother. Slowly smooth down the sides a little at a time, lifting the fondant into place. Smooth out any creases by lifting the fondant out, then laying it back flat and pressing it onto the cake. Use your hands or and icing smoother to even out the sides of the cake. Trim off any excess, then neaten up the bottom with a sharp knife. Joins will be covered by decorations so don't worry too much about being perfect. Repeat these steps for all your tiers.

One thing I would advise is to not use the off cuts from the icing you used for the first tier you did for any tiers you cover later. Shop bought fondant doesn't take well to being re-rolled and my second tier was cracked quite a bit and even had a few holes in it. Fondant has to be done well to look good, so play it safe and use a new quantity of fresh fondant each time you start a tier.

Help your lower tiers support the weight of the cakes above by inserting wooden dowels (see other wedding cake post for more), stack cakes and transfer to serving stand. Use buttercream to glue on the dried fondant flowers, and cover up the joins between tiers with edible decorations, I used tiny rolled balls of fondant.

I was actually really, really pleased with how this cake turned out. So much so that I may have been won around. I definitely think that the look of the finished product make up for the lack of taste. Fondant cakes also look quite traditional, although I love how this cake combines old styles with new ideas. Fondant also makes the cakes easier to transport long distances, ad you don't have to worry about icing being squashed about so much!

This was a fun little project that I enjoyed very much, and I expect I'll squeeze in another practice run before the big day, just to be extra sure. If you're thinking about making any kind of wedding or multi tierd cake, I'd definitely suggest you go for it, they're a lot of fun, and people are amazed when you tell them you made it yourself. As I talked about in my other cake post, you can also save a lot of money by making your own cake, but it's also a great gift to give someone, and a really nice thing to be able to say you did.