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Beating the January blues; Kathryn Williams escaped the post-Christmas gloom by popping down to the Bunch of Grapes in Pontypridd with her mam - and they weren't disappointed...

Byline: Kathryn Williams

POST.CHRISTMAS blues had definitely kicked in once January's weather started to resemble a gloomy scene from Luther - so refusing to let the cold and damp keep me indoors I decided to take my mother out for a Friday-night dinner to Pontypridd's award-winning gastropub.

The Bunch of Grapes really is a pleasant place to spend a few hours. I like the traditional looking bar with its low ceilings and wooden beams and the larger dining area is comfortable and more modern - it buzzes with atmosphere from the tables that fill up in no time. The service was swift, friendly and informed.

I was starving and ready for some pub grub and the menu fulfilled any fancy I happened to have.

Starters included pan-fried pigeon, beef carpaccio and pan-seared scallops, while from the mains you had options like grilled fillet of cod, slow-braised ox cheek or slow-cooked belly pork.

It was almost too hard to narrow it down, but I selected the pan-fried cockles (PS7). It came with leeks, laverbread and pancetta in the mix and was served on a slice of lightly fried bread and a charred lemon. Fantastic.

There were lots of cockles - needed a bit more laverbread, mind - and the topping was salty and the right kind of fishy. Squeeze the lemon on it and it was a winner. So tasty and the bread was the perfect holder for all these flavours, crisp enough but also soft enough to soak up all the juices and yumminess from every other part of the starter.

The second first course picked was the pan-fried pigeon (PS7.50), served with spinach, roasted shallots, burnt onion puree and potato crisps.

There were two small pieces of pigeon breast, a bit too small in my opinion, but my mother agreed that the whole combo was tasty. The onion puree was slightly overpowering the bird, but not to the extent that it spoilt the whole plate.

With the starters being the ideal-sized portions, we were ready for more. Mam chose the pork belly (PS16.50) and I decided to get that evening's special, coffee rubbed 10oz Breconshire rump steak (PS21.50).

I don't think either of us were disappointed, I'll be honest.

The slow-cooked pork arrived with braised savoy cabbage, black pudding potato cake and in a red wine and mustard jus.

Altogether the combination was perfect. The belly pork had a manageable, crispy top layer and the soft meat and delicious fatty layer were cooked wonderfully. Mix in the back pudding cake and it was a poster dish for pub grub.

My steak was excellent too. I'll be honest, I couldn't taste coffee much, but the quality of the meat was superb and the way it was cooked - brilliant.

It was juicy and the outside was flavoured really nicely. It was served with homemade chips - yum - a rosemary and cream roasted onion - yes please! But I couldn't eat all of it - and a blob of pesto, which didn't go but I was happy they tried to add something different to a steak dinner.

My only fault, and I'm sorry I have to mention this because I really enjoyed the dish, was that it was served on a wooden board.

Serving food on platters doesn't really bother me, but there was a smidge of blood that came out of my - perfectly cooked - medium steak, which trickled over and onto my new scarf. It didn't stain, thankfully, but I do think that if there's any danger of the food leaking from the thing it's served on, serve it on something else.

Putting that criticism out of my mind, I wanted to give an extra mention for the veggie dish my brother, who also came with us, chose. What a beautiful looking dish, beetroot risotto topped with goat's cheese, thyme and roasted garlic mousse and roasted beetroot (PS14.50).

It was beautiful, in both taste and appearance.

It's vibrant pink colour complemented the flavourful nature and it wasn't overly filling, in a good way, as most risottos can be heavy on the stomach.

Dessert looked just as attractive. Chocolate creme brulee (PS6.50) and cherry cheesecake (PS6) were chosen - and were great options.

The brulee was very creamy, not too chocolatey and the biscuits served with it were lovely, buttery and crumbly. The cheesecake had loads of lovely juicy cherries on it and a crunchy, satisfying base with a luscious, creamy cheese segment in between.

Accompanied by a marvellous few glasses of La Casada Sangiovese, which tasted even better after the cockles, popping out for a Friday dinner to Pontypridd couldn't have been lovelier and tastier.

| The Bunch of Grapes is at Ynysangharad Road, Pontypridd CF37 4DA. Call 01443 402934 to make a booking

The Bunch of Grapes really is a pleasant place to spend a few hours

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<B The steak at the Bunch of Grapes and, below, the cockles and the cherry cheesecake
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 12, 2019
Words:822
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