It is easy to forget that only about 20 years ago, the licensing laws meant that pubs generally, even in Cardiff City Centre, closed at 2.30pm and did not open again until 5.30pm. To continue to imbibe during the afternoon hours, it was necessary to belong to a private members’ club and one of the best-liked of these was the Key Club in Westgate Street. This was one of the many establishments over the years owned and run by Paul Bullimore, the quintessential - if slightly eccentric! – host. Paul not only served drinks during the afternoon until the early hours of the morning but was an entertainer and raconteur. So much so that most of his customers were or became friends rather than just customers – although this did not stop Paul brandishing his shotgun at them when even he eventually decided it was time to close!
In 1996, Paul, with one of his sons Daniel, settled into the little restaurant behind the Maltsters in Llandaff, naming it “Bullys”. He was joined there in 2005 by his son, Russell, and, when the Maltsters was redeveloped, the restaurant moved to its present premises in Romilly Crescent.
The restaurant is eclectically furnished and decorated with a mixture of styles of furniture, plus large mirrors, photographs, mementos, menus and restaurant bills from all over the world on the walls (look out for the photo of Paul with Gordon Ramsey) – all of which gel into making this a welcoming neighbourhood restaurant. However, the standard and quality of the cooking is far from neighbourhood and Bullys deserves the heartiest congratulations in just having won the AA Wales Restaurant of the Year Award – a well-deserved accolade for this family-run business.
The cooking is French and as befits the French style, there is an excellent value fixed price lunch at £35 for 2 persons for 3 courses including half a bottle of wine.
The menu has a choice of 3 dishes in each course and we tried the squid, which was not at all rubbery, and the spiced beef dumplings. Perhaps influenced by a recent trip to Poland, I thought that this would be a plate of small dumplings but in fact came in the shape of small shepherd’s pie with a light suet topping. A tasty and not heavy starter.
The Ox cheek was a no brainier for me for a main course and I was not disappointed. It was a beautiful piece of meat, slowly cooked in a delicious sauce and just melted in the mouth; served with mash and baby carrots it was just right for a 3 course meal.
The puddings were, in addition to cheese, a pear tart which looked a generous serving but was a very light texture. I had the lemon posset with basil granita which was a treat to look at as the granita was a vivid green topping on a posset of lovely consistency – creamy but tangy.
The A La Carte has a wider selection at each course, including for starters, foie gras, Pigeon breast, pork rillettes and an interesting sounding confit salmon, all of which I have vowed to try on my now certain future visits. For the mains it was nice to see a roast pheasant which is not a dish you see very often in a restaurant. CDC was tempted by this but I told her it wouldn’t be as good as my Pheasant and Calvados casserole so she went for her favourite cut, rack of lamb. Now, I like my meat rare, including lamb, but if you have been watching the recent Professional Masterchef series, you may have seen some of the meat dishes which were so called rare but to me looked bright red and totally uncooked - even by French standards. The rack of lamb here was perfect – sealed on the outside but perfectly pink when you cut into it. The sign of a good chef is to be able to do something simple extremely well and I highly recommend one of the side dishes, extra fine beans with toasted flaked almonds – this does not sound and in fact is perhaps not out of the ordinary but all four of us thought this was almost the best dish of the day – crispy and nutty and perfect for all the mains!
There is as you would expect a selection of French wines and again, in the French style, you can have any of them by the glass or a 50cl carafe as well as a bottle. I like this size carafe as they are ideal for different wines for different courses, especially if there only two of you.
Russell and the team also put on gourmet evenings and special events so look out for these on their website, bullysrestaurant.co.uk.
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