Sunday, 24 June 2012

Review - Afternoon Tea @ Laguna Kitchen & Bar, Cardiff

Last weekend, Nicola and me were fortunate enough to attend a black tie gala dinner at Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales. As our return flight back to Glasgow wasn't until 8.00pm, it gave us time to wander the streets of Cardiff before enjoying a lazy afternoon tea at Laguna Kitchen & Bar, which is housed within the Park Plaza Hotel.

The weather on the Saturday had been awful and had rained continuously. Fortunately, the sun decided to make an appearance as we made our way back through to Cardiff. We had previously enjoyed a night punctuated with pink champagne, so with the sun beating down on the Welsh capital we wandered about the Edwardian and Victorian shopping arcades in an effort to clear our heads before lunch.

After two days of luxury, relaxation and celebration, it didn't take too long before we were feeling weary from the walking so we made our way to the Park Plaza. We were a little early for our booking so whilst we waited for our table to be prepared, a quick glance at the watch told me that it was cocktail o'clock.

The cocktail menu had a great selection of classics plus a few interesting adaptations. Nicola ordered a Spiced Apple Martini while I decided to go for the Sweet Chili Collins. Nicola's martini was a potent mix of vanilla vodka, apricot brandy, ginger liquor, spiced Kraken Rum all shaken with a splash of fresh pressed apple juice. Whilst the traditional Appletini is a fresh blend of sweet and sour, Nicola's drink managed to recreate the true flavours of a spiced apple, although I personally think these flavours are more suited to a cold winters evening rather than a warm summer's day. My drink was a brilliant twist on the classic Tom Collins with Tanqueray gin shaken with mint, chili, basil & lime juice, all poured over crushed ice and topped with soda with a garnish of fresh chili. The balance of the fresh flavours of the herbs and lime with an earthy chili heat, made this a truly refreshing drink.

Once the cocktails were finished, we were shown through to our table for the main event. Whilst the bar area was a laid back & cosy affair, the restaurant had a much more formal feel to it with well dressed waiting staff,silver cutlery and plenty of clean lines.

This was the first time that I had ever had afternoon tea so was unsure of the correct protocol, fortunately for me, Nicola is a bit of a seasoned professional and kept me right by guiding me through the extensive selection of teas before the waiter came back to take our order.

Pretty soon, two teapots arrived with Assam for Nicola and Earl Grey for me, these were followed by a lovely three tiered cake stand which was fully loaded with tasty treats.

The bottom tier carried a very nice collection sandwiches on soft white and brown bread. A great selection of locally produced Severn & Wye smoked salmon, Cucumber with soft cheese & dill, Free range egg mayonnaise & cress, and Home roasted ham with English mustard, prepared on thick cut finger sandwiches. They all tasted fantastic, the bread was soft and fresh while the fillings were full of flavour. Both of us declared the smoked salmon as our favourite, although in fairness they were all top quality fillings.
I was enjoying the slow pace that afternoon tea seems to dictate as it gave us time to reflect on our two nights at Celtic Manor and start planning a return trip to Cardiff.
Once the sandwiches were finished it was time to work our way up to the middle tier...... Welsh cakes and Tea infused sultana scones with Jersey clotted cream and strawberry preserve. Until the day before, I hadn't heard of Welsh cakes. The best way I can describe them is that they are a cross between shortbread and a scone. The recipe is very similar to that if a fruit scone but the batter is then cooked on a cast iron griddle, in the same way as Scotch pancakes. Anyway, putting that knowledge to the side, Welsh cakes are now my favourite new thing. Absolutely delicious!
We moved onto our scones next and as Nicola started to spread clotted cream and jam onto hers, I had to call our waiter over as my scone was solid on the inside! After much apologising and a trip to the kitchen, our waiter returned with they chefs apologies and reassurance that the problem would be rectified. Moments later I had not one scone, but two delivered alongside the largest scoop of clotted cream that I had ever seen. This time my scone was light and soft, and worth the extended wait.
As we moved onto our third cup of tea, it was time to get to the petit fours. On the top tier we had sliced of rich fruit cake, miniature lemon meringue pies and little shot glasses filled to the top with a lovely Eton Mess.
Afternoon tea is very deceptive, when the cake stand was delivered to our table I honestly thought that we would be finished in no time at all. However after making a valiant attempt at our Eton Mess, and I did manage to squeeze in my lemon meringue pie, we were both finished.
All in all, I enjoyed my first afternoon tea and look forward to doing it again. Nicola has told me that I need to go with her to The Corinthian Club in Glasgow to try their afternoon tea, this is the benchmark that Nicola uses to rate other places. I don't think this will be a big problem for me, as regular readers will know from a previous review that any excuse to get back to The Corinthian Club will work for me.

The time was pushing on and our train back to the airport was leaving in 40 minutes so we asked for the bill ,and for our remaining cakes to be wrapped up to take away with us. The cakes came back in a delicate bag shaped from tin foil which was nice, what wasn't nice was that for the second time in Cardiff, our bill had an "optional" 10% service charge added. Is this a Cardiff thing? I know that lots of restaurants add a service charge for larger groups, but to automatically add to a bill for two people especially after part of the meal had to be sent back to the kitchen, is ridiculous!

Maybe someone can let me know if this happens anywhere else in the country? Anyway, putting my little gripe aside, our afternoon tea was very good value for £15 per person. The quality of the food served was excellent, the drinks in the bar were fantastic, and the service received from the moment when I asked the hotel reception desk to look after our suitcase while we walked around the city centre through to the dodgy scone incident onto settling our bill was very good. Overall, Laguna Kitchen & Bar was very good and I'm sure if we ever get back to Cardiff I think we would definitely think about heading back.


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