Chef Tommy Heaney has launched his first solo restaurant, offering a flexible sharing plates concept of seasonal ingredients. Katherine Price pops to Pontcanna in Cardiff to check it out
Tommy Heaney’s debut solo restaurant, Heaneys in Pontcanna, was garnering a committed following before it even opened. Having taken over the former Arbennig site in the Welsh capital and the adjoining café/deli, Heaney used the café as a pop-up venue to refine the concept, while a Kickstarter campaign crowdfunded more than £41,000 to fund a full refurbishment of the restaurant.
Heaney and his partner Nikki Curnock, who manages the restaurant, weren’t originally looking to open in Cardiff – in fact, they had their sights set on Bristol – but following a tweet stating that they were looking to open a site, Arbennig owners Ceri and John Cook got in touch to say they were considering moving on.
The 52-cover restaurant serves a daily changing lunch and dinner menu offering around four starters, main courses and desserts; a set lunch menu, introduced in response to guest feedback; and a 10-course tasting menu, all focusing on small sharing plates using seasonal ingredients.
“Who says you have to share? That’s the beauty of the concept, you can make it what you want,” says Heaney. “If you want to have three courses, you just pick the items from the menu, tell your waiter how you want them to come out, and we’ll make sure it happens.”
Even the tasting menu is a sharing concept: “The tasting menu can be quite formal, whereas we wanted to make it really, really relaxed,” explains Heaney, who announced he was opening his first restaurant last year while head chef at the Great House hotel in Laleston, Bridgend. His intention was to split his time between the two, however in August he announced his departure from the hotel.
“The pop-up just went crazy,” he says. “We had people queueing out the door. This is our first real restaurant and we want to give it 100% commitment – it wouldn’t have been fair on the Great House.”
His previous experience includes head chef stints at Bar 44 in Cowbridge and the Low Wood hotel in Windermere, Cumbria. He credits his time competing on BBC Two’s Great British Menu over the past two years in giving him the confidence not to try to impress people, but to instead develop his own style.
One of the best-selling dishes is Welsh lamb rump, barbecued with garlic and rosemary in a Big Green Egg (“the smoke almost tenderises the meat without overpowering”), served with an anchovy emulsion, blanched sea vegetables, a lamb reduction and a mint or dill oil.
A popular starter is oyster served with apple, dill and a yogurt and dill granita – but sourcing seafood locally has been an issue. “It’s all from Devon or Cornwall. I’d love to see a supplier that gets things from Wales. I’d love to get razor clams from the Gower, but we can’t source them. It’s there, but it’s getting shipped to other places before we can get our hands on it,” he says.
Despite only having been open for three months, there are already plans for expansion. Heaney hopes to start work on the smaller adjoining site in January – they are still yet to decide whether to transform it into a chef’s table or a bakery, but they plan for it to evolve into a wine bar by night.
He also hopes to create an al fresco seating area and transform a room above the restaurant into a private conference space. Jonathan Edwards recently joined the team as head chef, having previously worked in the same position at Park House in Cardiff and Cae Court hotel in Bridgend, allowing Heaney to focus on developing both the food and the business. With the restaurant often doing 100 or more covers a day on weekends, it’s a busy site for his small team.
“We’re still finding our feet here, and once we do, then we’ll look at doing next door,” says Heaney, who emphasises that any expansion will only happen if it doesn’t have a knock-on effect on his brigade of six and the quality of their food.
Heaney wants the venue to have a strong reputation for its bar as well as its restaurant – for which they moved the bar to be more central during the refurbishment – and he hopes the restaurant can be a part of developing Cardiff’s reputation as a foodie hotspot.
“There’s a community here – Pontcanna and Llandaff – there are some really good independent restaurants. It would be great to get Cardiff on the map,” he says. “Bristol has such amazing restaurants – why can’t Cardiff be the same?”
From the menu
• Pickled herring, heritage tomato, chilli and black olive £5
• Smoked duck ham £4.50
• Ibérico pork, beetroot and pistachio £13
• Hake, cauliflower, cider beurre noisette and herring roe £14
• Miso-glazed mackerel, kimchi and puffed rice £10
• Oxtail, kohlrabi, brown shrimp and oyster mayonnaise £9
• Crab, ginger, pickled shallot and Old Bay crisps £10
• Cured red mullet, apple, celery and gin £12
• Plaice on the bone, green butter sauce and mussels £10
• Chocolate, Maldon sherbet, arbequina and walnut £7
• Apple and beetroot, goats’ cheese and lavender £7
• Salted caramel, malt, yogurt and honeycomb £7
6-10 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff CF11 9NR