Details matter. Barry’s recently opened Alium has only one L, not the two you might expect – its name is Latin for ‘another’. Why Latin? Well, it’s a nod to owner Antonio Simone’s late father, chef Giuliano, who was taught the language by Puglian monks.
There’s a further reference here: Antonio built his reputation at Dinas Powys’ Humble Onion, and allium (with two Ls) is the family which includes the onion. “Another onion”, if you will. There’s plenty going on below the surface.
That’s true of the food, too. Antonio’s cooking is characterised by skill and time well spent in preparation, but for far too long his food has been in the category of “those who know, know”. This highly visible move to Barry’s Pumphouse building, formerly occupied by Hang Fire, puts his food where it belongs. There’s nowhere to hide now.
Alium’s motto is “Produce. Parrilla. Plates.” – an understated manifesto at a time when other restaurants seem to spout multi-volume effusions. It’s all about feeding you well, a menu with something for everyone. Or, as Antonio tells me, ”I just want people to see how nice simple stuff can be.”
The building will be familiar to many, but now there’s a green and copper theme throughout, a light industrial nod to the Pumphouse’s 1880s origins. It’s stylish and welcoming without being formal, the sort of place you feel instantly at home as you ponder the menu, negroni in hand.
There are prime Porthilly oysters with a choice of dressings, and plump prawns heady with garlic butter. There are deep-fried macaroni cheese squares, crisp yet gooey. There’s a cake of long-braised pork cheek, the meat cooked for hours until it has surrendered its collagen and slumped into a sultry tangle of flesh ready to be cooled and pressed and portioned and crumbed. Served with a dab of sriracha mayonnaise, it’s shorthand for what this cooking is all about: careful and patient, but never showy or flounce. It’s a hearty, indulgent menu.
Steaks festure heavily. Alium champions Welsh produce, so these come from Oriel Jones’ Llygadenwyn farm in the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains. Familiar cuts are available – porterhouse, sirloin, fillet – but we go for bavette, served pink and with the mineral depth of properly reared and aged beef. It comes courtesy of Lemmy, the hulking custom-made parilla grill left behind by Hang Fire. The sauce has a lip-coating intensity, the sort of deep dark heft you might expect from someone whose Sunday gravy takes three days to perfect.
There’s a hefty slab of pork belly with an impeccable crackling, the glossy surface giving way to skilfully rendered meat against the simple sharpness of apple. It’s all too easy to come across underdone crackling or find the meat dry or flabby. Here, it’s beautifully judged in every way.
And the chips? With little fear of contradiction, they are the best in the area. They take days to prepare, he tells me, but they rustle and whisper and sigh against each other, elevated from good to brilliant by time and patience. Just ‘chips’, maybe. But never ‘just’ chips.
And of course, when it comes to dessert, only the panna cotta will do: a Humble Onion classic making its bow on a wider stage. It’s as faultless as ever, that lascivious wobble a familiar delight. It’s a quietly lovely end to an excellent meal.
Alium is an exciting opening: it deserves to do well. This is exactly the kind of independent restaurant the area needs and exactly the kind of place Barry deserves. You allow yourself a twinge of jealousy toward locals, even as you plan a return trip.
The Pumphouse, Hood Road, Barry. Info: here
words JONATHAN SWAIN
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