In a nutshell
Just opened on Cardiff’s Quay Street, just off from Principality Stadium, Asador 44 is the latest in a series of Spanish restaurants from local restaurateurs Owen and Tom Morgan. Translating to barbecue or grill, Asador sees a departure from the brothers’ band of esteemed tapas tabernas – Bar 44 in Cardiff, Cowbridge and Penarth serves some of the best small plates and sherry this side of the Severn – to an exploration of northern Spain’s ancestral asador culture, where a session over the open flames earns prize cuts and sumptuous seafood a starring role on the table and diners’ full adoration.
For the moment, Owen has adopted chef patron duties, teaching a crack team of senior chefs from the Bar 44 cohort their way around the grill. A lengthy research trip in northern Spain, sniffing out the finest ingredients and top producers for their new venture, taught the brothers what they know, learning to master the flames from the maestros as they ate their way across the region’s ancient asador restaurants.
The resulting menu is an amalgamation of the duo’s favourite finds and Wales’ freshest produce. Snacks of house-smoked almonds and Colchester rock oysters with moscatel vinegar and shallot introduce a bill boasting Spain’s most sought-after exports, from hand-carved jamón ibérico and 14-month extra-virgin olive oil to monster carabineros prawns. Market fish, octopus and seasonal veggies all get their moment on the charcoal, with milk-fed lamb and squash slow cooked over wood.
What’s the room like/atmosphere?
Exposed brick, dark wood and leather banquettes create a classic Spanish vibe, though touches of marble and white tiling, plus contemporary lighting, bring the spacious dining room bang up to date. Embracing the mantra ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’, Asador’s best assets are all on show, with the impressive wine cellar (more on that beauty later), collection of ageing Galician, Asturian and Welsh beef carcasses, and clan of chefs cooking over the grill, encased in glass for guests’ voyeuristic gratification.
Menu must-orders and misfires
Come packing an appetite because no matter how much you aspire to resist, a second round of the house-made breads smothered in salty jamón-infused butter is inevitable. We cut through the gloriously fatty mouthfeel of our doughy indulgences with starters of charred white asparagus on a bed of beautifully bitter piquillo pepper purée, tucked in with a chorizo and almond crumb. Swiftly followed by gloriously crispy pig’s head croquetas, cured duroc belly pork and a tangy apple accomplice.
With air-dried cabinets adjacent to our table parading a meaty haul, naturally main courses were of the rare-breed variety. A handsome hunk of nine-year-old Asturian ex-dairy cow arrived blushed and bare, simply seasoned with sea salt and charred to thigh-slappingly soft proportions. A side of scorched romanesco with burnt sage and cauliflower purée made delicious mopping material.
Sommelier Fergus Muirhead has done a cracking job on the wine front, curating Wales’ most extensive selection for the restaurant’s technologically savvy EuroCave cellar. The use of a Coravin system (where a hypodermic needle is used to extract wine without removing the cork) means rare – and often pricey – vintages can be sampled without remortgaging the house for the whole bottle. We’d recommend starting the evening with the nectarous sparkler from Monmouth-based Ancre Hill, the lone Welsh listing in the 99.5% Spanish collection.
What else did you like/dislike?
The cheese cave (yes, cheese cave) is an ode to queso, which shouldn’t be overlooked. Ask one of the knowledgeable front of house for their pick of the 30-plus compilation and create a signature cheese plate – best paired with a glass of Fergus’ favourite sherry, we reckon.
In a city saturated with chains and chippies, this is the smart, independently owned restaurant Cardiff has been calling for. Yes you’re going to have to pay a little more than the going rate and yes you may have to join the queue for a table, but it’s easier (and cheaper) than a flight to San Sebastián, no?
Words by Kathryn Lewis
Written March 2017