The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - The Telegraph Magazine
William Sitwell ‘The greatest lamb saddle I can remember tasting’
The neighbourhood of Pontcanna is a sort-of Fulham of Cardiff. I don’t mean that the bijou avenues of handsome Victorian houses heave with red-trousered hoorays, rather that it exudes a modest leafiness. There is culture oozing from the arts centre; there are gastropubs and restaurants, independent coffee shops and stores, and it feels a safe place to stretch your legs. But it has a thing few other villagey city neighbourhoods do: a heavily tattooed, diminutive Northern Irishman who, at least twice a day, performs miracles in his kitchen. Tommy Heaney’s Heaneys occupies a long frontage on Romilly Crescent. This is his main, smart restaurant, which neighbours a new, less formal place called Uisce. The latter is like the pre-prep for the main establishment, and while I have given up attempting to say it (if you overhear me trying to, I sound like I’m drowning), it means water in Gaelic. Uisce serves small plates of stuff like lamb skewers with salsa verde and little fishcakes, but you can’t book – no use for a planning obsessive like me – so I did the grown-up thing of reserving a table next door.
In Heaneys you’ll find a pleasant mix of brushed concrete walls, wooden floors, dark green clubby banquettes and the odd massive, blowsy mural.
We went for the short tasting menu, six courses ending with ‘treats’, which is in acceptable tasting menu-length territory. Our two small children were offered a kids’ menu with impeccable fishcakes, battered buttermilk chicken, mashed potato and broccoli. Heaney understands kids: if the teenagers are next door, with the youngest in the main restaurant, the latter are brought their food as a matter of urgency.
But this being a posh place, our four-year-old, like us, had a stack of cutlery piled into a carved piece of dark wood: presented as standard but there to do battle for what is normally the chef ’s nine courses. ‘Why do you think you’ve got so many knives, forks and spoons?’ I ask him. ‘For when I drop them on the floor,’ he replies, quick as a flash.
First up was some sourdough with a soft Marmite butter. Our smallest, aged two, was mesmerised by this glorious invention and, to avoid an intemperate explosion, we just watched on as he, using the sensual small wooden knife, ‘spooned’ it straight from dish to mouth, forgoing the traditional vessel of bread.
Pre-starters were oysters with fermented chilli, providing a wholesome dose of heat, and a pair of the softest cheese and onion tarts, as light and fresh as mist, showered in a dust of Parmesan.
Then followed a cluster of courses of beautifully balanced, delicate, elegant and deeply tasty dishes: cottage pie (the meat hiding under a gentle duvet of potato dotted with crisp shallots), trout tartare (a broth that is the answer to the question, what is umami?), and pollock – the fish, flaky and delicious under a crisp skin, charred to perfection, in a rich velouté, with a slightly pointless half-moon of squash (really, that vegetable needs banning along with Morris dancing). Then the greatest dish of the night arrived in the form of loin of lamb. Oh, dear sheep, your slaughter was worth it. It looked almost too rare, but I was wrong. Literally the greatest mouthful of lamb saddle I can remember tasting. Rich, earthy, melting and with crisp skin. Seriously, sheep farmers should stand outside Heaneys and applaud him for the honour he does to their produce.
Yes, there was a decadent baked yogurt with rhubarb and some fudgey treats. But for that lamb Cardiff should give Tommy the keys to the city.
Sheep farmers should stand outside Heaneys and applaud him for the honour he does to their produce