|Bill’s Restaurant, Cardiff|
The start-up success story behind Bill’s Restaurant helps to make it a keen contender when choosing somewhere to dine out. The restaurant’s roots lie in a small greengrocer’s stall in Lewes, Sussex, owned by Bill Collison. When the stall was destroyed by flooding in 2000, Bill re-opened on a bigger site as a greengrocer’s and cafe. Popularity grew and Bill’s Food and Produce Store soon developed a strong repuation for fresh food, leading to the opening of a restaurant in Brighton in 2005. The talk around Bill’s attracted the attention of restaurant mogul Richard Caring; the man behind two of London’s most renown restaurants, The Ivy and Le Caprice. Bill sold Caring a sizeable chunk of his business and, today, Bill’s Restaurant now has 33 branches across the UK, with another set to open in Eastbourne this month.
At first impressions of Bill’s Cardiff, it’s clear that the restaurant’s origins haven’t been forgotten. In fact, the early characteristics of Bill’s Restaurant still seem to define the concept of the restaurant as it exists today. Featuring distressed leather sofas and worn wooden tables lit by silk lampshades and candles burning in silver candelabras, everything about Bill’s screams shabby chic.
|Silk lampshades light up the dining area; dried chillies also hang from the ceiling|
Menu options are scrawled onto blackboards and aprons hang on walls, a row of authentic green olive labels surrounds the edge of the bar and bottled wines sit on steel shelves overhead. All carefully crafted to envoke the character and charm of the original Bill’s Food and Produce Store, of course.
|Authentic food produce labels are attached to the edge of the bar|
On to the menu – a combination of British, American and Mediterranean cuisines, including popular dishes like fish and chips, macaroni cheese, hamburgers, BBQ-style pork ribs, risotto and a mezze board. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are catered for, with a childrens’ menu and a dessert menu also available.
As we ponder over our choices, I sip on a bloody Mary (£4.50) and my guest relaxes with a Heineken (£4.50, 330ml). Although it takes about 10 minutes to arrive, the bloody mary is spot on – the balance of spiciness is just right and the vodka isn’t too overpowering, while the celery stalk makes for a traditional finishing touch. I’m not so impressed by the price of the Heineken, though – almost a fiver and you don’t even get a full pint!
To start, neither of us can resist the sound of the chorizo scotch egg (£5.50), served with watercress and mayonnaise. We’re not really sure what to make of it, though. The chorizo coating is lukewarm but the egg is cold, although the yolk is still runny. I’m not sure whether this is intentional or whether, perhaps, the egg is intended to be warm and maybe it’s been left too cool for too long; either way, warm chorizo doesn’t pair well with cold egg. Cold egg aside, we both liked our starters, although at £5.50 these are probably the most expensive scotch eggs we’ll ever eat in our lives.
For our main course, we both opt for the 10oz ribeye steak (£15.95) topped with garlic butter, served with watercress and skinny fries. Put simply, this is the best steak I’ve ever had the joy of eating – and take it from me, I’ve eaten a lot of steak! Cooked medium to rare, my steak is pink inside and red at the very centre, exactly how I like it. It’s so tender, my knife glides through it. My guest, who prefers his steak served medium to well-done, is equally as pleased. The fries are served in a dainty bucket, deliciously crisp and full of flavour. All in all, a very satisfactory main course.
To accompany our main course we order a side of roasted mushrooms, but the waitress politely informs us that the restaurant has run out of mushrooms. Disappointed, we settle instead for the tender stem broccoli with red chilli and toasted sesame seeds (£2.95). The broccoli is firm and crunchy, whilst the chilli and sesame seeds introduce a mild heat and unique flavour to the dish.
Leaving Bill’s, I’m glad to have finally visited this much-talked about restaurant for myself. Our main courses were fantastic, the service was attentive and I really like the shabby chic decor.
However, some aspects of our visit leave me wondering just what Bill would think if he was to visit one of his restaurants today, now that Richard Caring has more or less taken over. It seems ironic that Bill’s had run out of mushrooms, when you consider that the restaurant was originally borne out of a greengrocer’s stall. Furthermore, whilst some of the main courses offer great value for money, £4.50 for 330ml Heineken and £5.50 for a scotch egg, is excessive. Finally, when we received our bill we were slightly annoyed that it automatically included an ‘optional’ 10% service charge, which we politely requested our waitress to remove so that we could leave a tip of our choice.
I would be happy to eat at Bill’s Restaurant again in the future, but it won’t be amongst my favourite choices of venue when dining out in Cardiff.
27-39 Wyndham Arcade,
(029) 2023 1524
Monday – Saturday: 8.00am – 11.00pm
Sunday: 9.00am – 11.00pm