Interview with Chef Antonio Simone – Poca in Pontcanna
There’s a pleasing symmetry to this, for us.
The Humble Onion was the first restaurant we worked with when we set up our main site. The Poca menu, Antonio’s answer to brutal pandemic challenges, was instantly memorable. Dish after dish impressed: plates of plump prawns in harissa butter, a crispy egg with celeriac, braised ox cheek. It just felt right.
Since then Antonio has opened alium in Barry, news we brought you in the first interview here. (We also sat there as Tom Parker Bowles was smitten by one of those lunches that simply cannot put a foot wrong as he concluded for cooking of this level, that’s not so much value as a downright heist.)
And now Antonio brings Poca to Cardiff: not just that, but he’s doing it in one of our favourites, the much-missed La Cuina.
It’s a prime spot. Ample parking nearby, a highly visible berth just off busy Cowbridge Road, but also within that stretch of less than half a mile which takes in another three of the city’s most accomplished and renowned chefs: Tom Simmons, Anand George and Tommy Heaney.
FMD: That’s impressive company!
AS: We are right by some of my favourite places to eat! The local area has pretty much everything you could wish for within a small radius. I do think we’ll be a great addition here, offering seasonal small plates, and humble cuts of meat.
FMD: It’s a seductive menu. The menu reads (and trust us, we’ve read it, reread it and re-reread it since we saw it) as if you’re cooking your favourites. There’s a lot here that feels very ‘you’- your love of less fashionable, perhaps less popular cuts. It’s definitely more ‘Humble Onion’ than ‘alium’: this feels like you with no filters somehow. The sweetbreads, the crispy pigs ear: this isn’t typical Canton/Pontcanna eating.
FMD: What will Poca bring that’s new and distinctive?
AS: The menu in many ways has similarities to what we do elsewhere at alium and especially The Humble Onion. We are using local seasonal produce: it’s ‘labour of love’ cooking. Although with Poca we are focusing more on seafood and offal.
I don’t think we are reinventing the wheel in Poca: but what we do is simple things really well, showcasing amazing produce and creating big flavours.
We shall be offering all our wines by the glass, allowing you to try wines which might be a little unfamiliar without risking a whole bottle.
FMD: If you had to pick one dish from the new menu you’re particularly proud of..?
AS: I think my favourite dish is the pork belly hash brown. We confit pork belly, cooking it for 16 hours, pick it down and combine it with confit potato and onion. Then we bind it with fat, fry and finish with lardo…then we sit it next to a harissa-spiced egg yolk.
FMD: La Cuina was one of those lovely neighbourhood restaurants with a loyal following. We suppose those are big shoes to fill, though your style is very different. But would we be right in thinking the shared lamb on your Poca menu is an affectionate tribute to what Montserrat and Samir did here?
AS: Exactly that! La Cuina was highly regarded, and has been for many years. As a little nod of respect we’ve added a sharing dish of lamb. It was obviously a well-loved staple there and we hope new customers will enjoy what we do just as much. Our menu will chop and change throughout the seasons- but in homage to La Cuina it’ll always be present on any menu at Poca.
Poca is set to open in Spring 2023. To keep up-to-date with the latest news, and be the first to find out when reservations open, sign up for their newsletter – pocarestaurant.co.uk