Maybe it’s the rebel in me, but some days the strict conformity of dinnertime in this country is most unappealing.
Eating is not just about getting energy, it’s about friends and family and conversation. So the other day, inspired by the arrival of Spring and a lovely light evening, I took a cue from our continental brethren and trekked to Puccini’s on Albany Road for a spot of Tapas.
Tapas is the perfect friend-food. It’s uncomplicated, designed for bars and lets you pass the time away with your companions unrestricted. The Spanish don’t eat their evening meal until about 11pm (why be stuck at the table at home when it’s still nice out?) so Tapas was specially concocted for that all-important social time between work and dinner.
Puccini's is an unassuming “Mediterranean” restaurant. It's hidden between darkened lifeless houses and partly blocked behind the row of parked cars which line the busy road. In fact, at some distance from Roath’s main shops the average punter probably wouldn’t think to go up as far as Puccini’s – an explanation for the empty dining area that confronted me when I walked through the door.
At 7pm no customers is a very worrying sign.
But I would not be deterred. With a more formal looking restaurant area at the back, the comfy lounge area with brown leather squishy sofas I could see from the street was exactly the relaxed, inviting and warm setting I desired for my cheeky between-meals-snack.
Traditionally accompanied by a sweet sherry, I diligently ordered a shot and perused the menu. I am usually suspicious of a long menu and I confess Puccini’s was a confusing amalgamation of different cuisines and styles, with a bizarre wide-range of meals – from Mediterranean to Middle Eastern and everything in between. Very off putting.
On the plus side, Puccini’s can cater for almost any appetite and offers anything from a light snack with a drink to a three-course meal. But with evidence of just one chef, it would be quite a feat if she had comprehensively mastered everything on the menu.
Still, something about the endearing and accommodating front of house kept me. I was taken out back to select my wine and although the staff’s ignorance and inability to find anything vaguely Spanish for my meal was disappointing, it was all so honest I couldn’t hold it against them for long.
Also, but perhaps expected given the smallness of their business, the only wine they sold by the glass was a cheap, ordinary Italian white.
The deserts were poorly displayed in an automatic twirling glass case – they did not look particularly fresh, and in fact I made up my mind not to risk it.
My Tapas came promptly. Spanish Potatoes, Calamari with a tartar sauce dip and hummus with flatbread (yes, the last one isn’t Spanish but what can I say? I love hummus). And a no holds barred 10 out of 10 – perfectly cooked, full of flavour and beautifully presented. The high standard came as a surprise against the backdrop of a struggling old-fashioned restaurant.
Intending to stay only about 40 minutes, it was a full two hours before I asked for the bill. It cost about £20 for the sherry, a generous glass of wine and three hearty Tapas dishes (one dish would be plenty for a one-person snack).
Puccini’s is not a sophisticated dining experience, the drinks selection leaves somewhat to be desired and, because it does not commit to one cuisine, I cannot quite bring myself to call it authentic. But friendly staff, comfortable seats and exceedingly good food (wherever it hails from) make it a perfectly acceptable place to enjoy an evening with friends. I would happily go there again.
And as the days get warmer I would highly recommend scrapping “dinnertime” and making the most of our long evenings by enjoying drinks and Tapas after work with a few choice friends.