Barney had a day out in Cardiff to kind-of celebrate the fact that Barney exists and is being well received. The entire Barney team was there; Omar and I, the immaculate Jon who brilliantly wrote the Cardiff section and Forksy, our secret Bristol writer who everyone in the industry secretly knows is Robert Del Naja of the band Massive Attack.

Jon meets us earlier, his dapper frame sauntering through the Royal Arcade to Uncommon Ground to meet us, him looking like Sean Penn if he were styling himself as Richard Hawley. He takes us to the central market, a vast, slightly tired space filled with miscellaneous stands, and, somewhat more importantly, multiple food traders. We get gnocchi and ragu from one, periogi from another, and finish with some rather brilliant cooking at Tukka Tuk. The only thing that stops us eating more is a restaurant reservation in fifteen minutes time.

We are eating at Asador 44. Given Jon booked lunch, it was never in question. He was here last week, last night, and will be here next week. We get ciders and beers, I think a cocktail, then some white, followed by two bottles of red. It’s very much that kind of lunch.

It’s easy to see why he loves it so much. It’s the kind of tribute to Spanish food thats impossible not to. It’s not subtle, nor should it be. The chest is puffed out, the arms aloft, belting out every-single-syllable at maximum volume. When the first thing to hit the table is impeccable grilled bread with a jamon butter full of wobbly, densely flavoured piggy fat, you know it’s going to be a good lunch. When the next is a croquette full of pokey bisque and red prawn, it’s clear that it is going to be a great one.

I can tell you that come the end of the year the beef shin rice will be on the list of the best things I ate this year. The whole cut of meat collapses into the rice at the mere suggestion of pressure, whilst the rice has that beautiful nutty profile from a hard and fast cook in stock. At the base is the socarrat of dreams; a hardened layer of rice that has to be chiselled out to leave the dish clean. I chiselled and I cleaned. There are pictures to prove it. I have nothing to hide for food this good.

Omar had spent the first fifteen minutes staring lovingly into the meat ageing fridge so that’s where the main comes from. A massive hunk of Galician Dairy Cow like you get in the Basque Country. I’d argue the treatment of the meat here would stand up to just about anywhere there; heavily charred on the outside with the internal temperature just enough to cause the clearly defined ribbons of fat to wilt to a pleasant chew. It’s beef for people who love the flavour of beef, not the sociopaths who eat weekly at Miller and Carter, ordering the same flavourless cut of fillet with that weird wedge salad that tastes like day six of Glastonbury foot. We get a whole sea bass, precisely filleted at the table, with an array of dips and sauces. In truth it doesn’t stand-up to the beef but very few things would.

There’s a broth of blackened Roscoff onions with a hard cheese tuile that tastes like French onion soup without the arrogance, and fries that come dressed in extra virgin olive oil to add a spritely pepperiness. We get cocktails and a bill that’s four digits in length. Cardiff could have ended there and we’d have all left happy, yet there’s more to come in the next week or so. Jon’s right; Asador 44 is very special and rightly fits in our little list of the cities fifty best. You can find the other 49 here.


Listen to The Meat and One Veg Podcast here

Full credit to The Plate Licked Clean for the pics.