This year I experienced two Christmas party meals in Cardiff and I must admit I was disappointed with the quality of both. Why does quality, choice and taste often suffer in restaurants when it comes to functions?
The first restaurant I tried was the Taf pub and restaurant based in Cardiff University students’ union. I was originally doubtful about the quality of the food on hearing the price of the three course meal. For a three course Christmas meal they charged £9.95, which also included a drink.
On arrival we were shown to our seats and we were surrounded by several other Christmas partygoers which created a jovial atmosphere. We received our free drink and I got a red wine. It was rather bland but I was glad I didn’t opt for white, as it was incredibly sweet.
We opened our crackers which contained a lovely and different array of party hat colours, and the usual silly toys and jokes.
When the starter arrived I could tell there wasn’t enough bread for the pate. The French toast was lovely but there wasn’t enough for the amount of pate. The salad leaves were fresh and tasty. The pate was lovely and smooth but a little bland. The best part of the starter was the ramekin containing delicious, fruity chutney.
The main, the usual turkey with all the trimmings was of ample size. There was a lot of turkey and it wasn’t overcooked. There was a vast amount of roast potatoes and a huge mountain of vegetables. Although I love peas, I don’t really associate them with Christmas dinner. The peas were accompanied with swede which was slightly bland. The parsnips were delightful however, they were sweet and crispy, just how I like them. The gravy wasn’t bad, perhaps a little thin. The sausages wrapped in bacon and the stuffing were appropriate.
Overall, the portion was large and it was satisfactory.
The dessert was more than disappointing. I had ordered Christmas pudding and at best thought I would get a warm, mini pudding covered in a tasty brandy sauce. In reality, I received a small rectangle of something that resembled fruit cake, covered in a gloopy, odd coloured, weird tasting brandy sauce. I’m afraid I took two mouthfuls and left the rest.
I tried a bit of the chocolate cake and was also disappointed with that. It was only partly warmed and the sauce had slightly melted but solidified again. The cake was incredibly dense and should really have been warmed. It was reminiscent of a frozen chocolate cake. The ice-cream which accompanied it was bright white in colour. It looked artificial and didn’t particularly taste of vanilla.
All in all, I could now see why the meal cost £9.95. The quality was indeed lacking. We all agreed that the starter was a highlight and parts of the turkey were well done but overall it was certainly cheap pub grub at best.
My second Christmas party meal took place at Zerodegrees, a restaurant and microbrewery, Westgate Street, Cardiff. Located opposite the Millennium stadium, this restaurant looks great from outside and inside. Contemporary, unusual, stylish, it ticks all the boxes. On receiving my pre-order menu, the menu sounded gourmet and after my pub experience I was yearning for a culinary creative and appetising Christmas party meal. At £19.95 for three courses, I expected an improvement.
I opted to try similar courses so I could compare both meals. So first up came the pork terrine. The terrine itself was coarse and looked appealing next to the rocket, bread and red onion relish. However, unfortunately upon tasting, it actually tasted like Spam. Not unpleasant, but not overly tasty. The red onion relish was lovely, as was the balance with the rocket. The bread however, I couldn’t quite work out. As a bread addict, I am surprised I couldn’t decipher its taste. It was odd, lightly toasted but incredibly hard. As a result, I didn’t eat my terrine with it and left it. A nice homemade brown or rye bread would have really worked well with the dish.
I drank white wine with the meal. I’m not usually a fan of the oakiness of chardonnay, preferring the crisp fruity taste of a sauvignon blanc or the light refreshing taste of a pinot grigio. However, I tried a chardonnay and it was pleasing. Not too oaky and quite light. It accompanied the starter perfectly. I tasted a little of the mango beer which the restaurant/brewery specialises in. I don’t profess to know anything about beer; in fact I detest the stuff. Having only ever liked beer in Germany, where the beer was masked with another drink, I didn’t expect to like this beer either, as I was sure I would detect that ‘beer taste’. I was however, pleasantly surprised. It was quite a delight. Although, I’m sure beer connoisseurs would disagree and call it sacrilege.
So for the main course, turkey again…First appearances suggested I was in for a treat. On deep plates rested turkey, cabbage, roast potatoes, stuffing, sausages wrapped in bacon, parsnips and gravy. Now for the taste test.
The turkey was succulent and the roast potatoes were crispy and fluffy inside. However, there was too much on the plate and it felt overdone. There was too much gravy, resulting in everything swimming. I had too much stuffing, which was bland and I was missing my sausage wrapped in bacon. The parsnips were too big, too sweet, soft and disappointing. The cabbage, was watery and tasteless. Overall, it was marginally better than my pub meal.
Dessert, similarly to my pub meal, was a disaster. The chocolate cake also resembled a frozen non- homemade cake. It was a huge chunk and again was cold. I would have preferred it warm. Because of this, I only took a few mouthfuls.
The service was rather slow. As we had pre-ordered, I would have expected it to have been quicker and the correct food to have arrived. Granted, the restaurant was heaving but again because we had pre-ordered this should have made it easier for the staff.
I would go back to Zerodegrees and give it another try, though. It specialises in Italian food , particularly pizza, not Christmas dinner, so I will give it the benefit of the doubt. Although pizza was offered on the pre-booking menu, there wasn’t a list of the pizzas on offer, so I didn’t know what I could order. I don’t think I could have managed a full pizza as part of three courses though. I’ve realised that I don’t particularly like pre-order/ holiday themed menus. I would prefer to choose something from an ordinary menu and choose a starter and main or main and dessert. I have no problem with pre-ordering, but this shouldn’t detract from the quality of the meal.
Please share your experiences of Christmas party meals. Do you find the quality is often lacking? Feel free to comment below.