Cardiff’s reputation for dependable beer has, in the past, been limited by its loyalty to Wales’ most iconic and longstanding brewers, SA Brains & Co. Now, in an attempt to reflect the changing culture of beer in Britain, restaurants and pubs have had to up their beer game.
In a prime, city centre location (replacing Fat Cat Café and The Rugby Club pop-up bar on Greyfriars Road) Barley & Rye opened its doors in January, promising 80 beers from 20 countries worldwide, to be paired with a menu created by head chef Gareth Dobbs (ex chef de partie at Le Gavroche and Pétrus). Word of Dobbs’ return to his hometown of Cardiff sparked plenty of interest from local gourmets, keen to sample his Michelin-starred culinary talents closer to home.
Presenting a contemporary, rustic design – makeshift wooden crate shelves behind the bar, exposed brick partitions, banquet-style table and benches, hessian table runners and vases of wheatsheaf – the addition of four cosy booths will no doubt prove popular with large groups and there’s also a traditional dining area neighbouring the kitchen at the rear, for discerning diners to peek into Dobbs’ playground.
Dobbs has designed a menu with dishes to complement many of the beers featured on the extensive drinks menu, with a particular focus on European brands. Each menu comes with recommended pairings to bring out the best of both food and beverage.
A starter of chicken liver, tequila and cranberry pâté (silky smooth and well-seasoned) paired handsomely with a German 4.8% Krombacher Pils (finely bitter with a full-flavoured aroma and a crisp finish) while the creamy tang of panko-breaded Pantsygawn goat’s cheese (satisfying crisp coating with melting centre) shone brightly thanks to the 5.5% König Ludwig Weizen, a German wheat beer with the unmistakable scent of aromatic fruit and banana esters.
A well-priced main of braised pork belly (tender, not too fatty and generous in portion) served with a comforting side of bubble and squeak cake, carrot purée, curly kale, chorizo croquette and barbecue jus disappeared alongside the highly-drinkable American 6.2% Lagunitas IPA, with its rich caramel malt barley base.
While Scotland’s 4.5% Three Hop Lager, with its spicy herbal aroma and refreshing lingering lemon finish, was general manager Paul Bisset’s recommendation for Dobbs’ grilled sea bream (pearlescent flakes and crisp skin) with smoked haddock and mussel bouillabaisse. Taking a surprising but delightful Thai twist, a stack of pickled carrot and ginger matches crowned the bream, with the deep broth punctured with warming lemongrass and satisfying umami undertones.
Puddings sadly didn’t live up to that of mains, with a Halen Môn salted caramel chocolate torte sounding tempting enough on paper but not quite hitting the right ratios, along with its side of uninspiring soft-scoop vanilla ice cream. Though a 4.2% Whitstable Bay Black Oyster Stout, from Faversham Steam Brewery, scored a few extra points with its silky blend, pitch-black pour and frothy, beige head.
Similarly a coffee panna cotta with passion fruit jelly and peanut butter ice cream seemed chaotic, with each layer – though individually pleasing – lost amidst the fusion of strong flavours. A pairing of Cwtch 4.6% from none other than Cardiff brewery Tiny Rebel, with its tropical fruit and caramel malts, proved that Wales – which currently boasts 78 breweries – can hold its own amongst the world’s most-celebrated craft brewers.
Unlike wine, with its relatively high alcohol content, beer offers the perfect choice for lunch-time food pairing, so it’s good to see Dobbs has put as much thought into the day-time menu, as with the a la carte, with local favourites including Welsh rarebit and pork and leek sausages; a thing of national pride for the patriotic Welshman. A return visit would surely be for the Cwrw Braf braised featherblade of beef with chive mash that turned heads when it passed our table or to try thecreative vegetarian options (cranberry, mushroom and Perl Wen pithier, anyone?) and gluten-free beers, including Estrella Daura and Brewdog Vagabond Pale Ale.
With a few creases to iron out (overlooked toilets that cry of its nightclub predecessor) Barley & Rye is a refreshing addition to the Welsh capital’s food scene, helping to champion modern Welsh cuisine and more importantly offer locally sourced food that’s well-priced for an audience who are gradually veering away from the lure of discounted, soulless chains. With the Welsh beer-brewing scene thriving and punters keen to explore the rise in food and beer matching, Barley & Rye is well worth raising a glass to.
Barley & Rye: Bier Bar & Kitchen
2 Greyfriars Road, Cardiff, CF10 3AD
Words by Sophie Rae
Written February 2016
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