The Shed, Swansea: ‘A place to eat every mooing, baa-ing tasty thing’ - restaurant review

<span>‘Make a detour’: The Shed restaurant in Swansea.</span><span>Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian</span>
‘Make a detour’: The Shed restaurant in Swansea.Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian

The Shed, close to the waterfront in Swansea, lives in a hulking industrial Victorian redbrick warehouse that once served the former docks. Now, chef Jonathan Woolway, after 16 years at London’s beloved St John, has finally returned home to Wales and set up shop, or rather a big, beautiful shed, here. Woolway is from Swansea, and passionate about fanning the flames of the local food scene. He’s serving bara brith – a traditional fruit loaf flavoured with tea – with slices of heritage teifi cheese, as well as family-recipe Welsh cakes with a shot of whisky; there are also hot, crisp croquettes made with local cockles and potted Câr-y-Môr crab with warm flatbreads.

Swansea, which is Wales’ second city, does not enjoy the same tourist attention as Cardiff, or lure book-lovers as Hay-On-Wye does, or draw the Gore-Tex-clad visitors to Snowdonia. But it does feel like a slice of living, breathing, everyday Wales, with a diminished town centre grappling to find new purpose. Yes, there are bits that look rather forgotten and shabby, with numerous boarded-up shopfronts, but there are also sleek, hopeful areas such as the SA1 Waterfront Area, which is where Woolway and his team are now showcasing Welsh produce and the future of local culinary talent.

Do not by any means expect a St John replica. The Shed is essentially 16 years of Woolway’s homesickness on a plate, complete with a laverbread garnish. There may be no whole roast suckling pigs on platters or Eccles cakes with lancashire cheese to please the St John fanboys, but there are offally, mysterious faggots with sides of chips and greens or a salad of Cae Tân leaves. There was also, when I visited, a breadcrumbed, fatty, lamb rissole draped in a runny-yolked fried egg with a puddle of sweet, fiery homemade brown sauce. On other days, that same sauce may be served with mangalitsa blood cake.

The Shed does make attempts to cater to vegetarians, too – a lovely bowl of thickly cut roast squash atop a stew of puy lentils topped with ewe’s cheese, say, soft-boiled eggs with fennel, or leek soup with local wild garlic – but I think it’s safe to say that this is more of a place for farm-to-fork lovers keen to eat every mooing, baa-ing tasty thing from across the Gower Peninsula, the Brecon Beacons, Herefordshire, and the lush farmland of West Wales and the Monmouthshire borders. Considering I had made the long-suffering Charles endure a six-hour round trip from London to Swansea and back just to eat lunch, he still says the Shed’s lamb chops, served on a mound of peppery mashed turnip, were absolutely worth every minute.

On a Friday lunchtime, trade was healthy, with slabs of welsh rarebit flying out of the open kitchen. And if you are ever going to eat a welsh rarebit, then make sure it’s Jonathan Woolway’s, because he just knows what he’s talking about. His oozy slabs of cheesy heaven come with a bottle of Lee & Perrins so you can add it to taste. A plate of pickled sardines to start were fresh and vibrant, with glistening, silver skins and a vinegar hit that knocked us sideways. One surprising dish, which seemed on paper to amount to very little, was a simple plate of gurnard fillet in a very light tempura batter with a warm, melting salad of anchovy, radicchio and spring onion. That may sound a bit peculiar, and it was most definitely odd, but I can’t forget the crisp, hot fish and the salty pungent salad.

If you’re a vegetarian and feel a little short-changed by the starters and mains on offer, may I recommend just sitting quietly and waiting for dessert, because the Shed’s pudding list is almost as long as the mains and contains a whole lot of treasure. We – or, more accurately, I – managed a slice of chocolate terrine, with a quenelle of creme fraiche just to provide some refuge from the intense chocolate bombardment. We (sorry, I) also managed a slice of vivid-green pistachio cake with slices of pretty, pink poached forced rhubarb.

In fact, the Shed’s regularly changing dessert menu has made me even today linger on the internet, looking for any updates, with one hand hovering over the train timetable: blood orange trifle, marmalade bread-and-butter pudding, baked egg custard, chocolate and honey choux bun – and that’s just in the past week alone. In a world of depressing pudding lists that speak meekly of sticky toffee pudding and homemade sorbet, the Shed really goes hard before you go home. If you’re heading to Wales this summer, make a detour for lunch and leave room for the Welsh cakes.

  • The Shed Unit 1 & 2 J-Shed, Kings Road, Swansea SA1, 01792 712120. Open Tues 5-11pm, Weds-Sat noon-11pm, Sun noon-6pm. From about £50 a head à la carte, plus drinks and service

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