I like Jay Rayner. Hell, I even fancy the guy (I have a real weakness for a man with a big shnozz) and I agree with almost every word of his Ten Food Commandments, apart from the bit about eating pigs – obvs. But Jay, do us a favour: stop doing Cardiff down.
In his latest review for The Guardian, Jay says some nice things about The Classroom, but concludes that Cardiff’s restaurants are crap. He moans that at 10.30 on a Thursday night, nowhere was open and he had to resort to a Burger King.
Do other cities outside of London serve food this late? Why didn’t Jay get his smartphone out? Yes, the city centre is pretty much awash with identikit Pizza Express, Zizzi and Nando’s (with the exception of The Potted Pig and the excellent Bar 44), but as many of the commenters on the Guardian piece say, had Jay jumped in a taxi to Cowbridge Road or City Road, he would have found plenty of places to try. And as someone pointed out, he could have had a Grazing Shed…
Cardiff’s not all about chains and kebab houses and if you do your research, you’ll find some great little independent places. It’s the last bank holiday weekend of the year (sob) and I’ve gone all out with eating out. On Friday night, I paid (another) visit to Street Food Circus which anyone remotely interested in food will know about. This pop-up food festival runs until the end of September and is a mecca for foodies. I’m really pleased that there are quite a few options for vegans and veggies this year as well. I tried the thali from Bristol-based Gopal’s Curry Shack and it was delicious. This super fresh and healthy tray of goodness soaked up at least some of the post-work beers.
On Saturday, I walked into town to clear my head and ended up at Crumbs, which has been popular with Cardiff’s vegetarians for years. It’s great for a quick lunch but you could just as easily while away a few hours here. If you want healthy but hearty fare, Crumbs will give you a cwtch in food form. I had the vegan spinach and chickpea pie (a heavenly triangle of buttery pastry with a subtly spicy filling) and a salad bowl and left feeling very full indeed.
Sunday was a double bill of Chai Street followed by Bar 44. Oh, it was a good day for food. Living in Canton means that I’m a regular at Chai Street, which serves Indian street food and is the little sister of Mint and Mustard on Whitchurch Road. I normally have the thali but as it was a late lunch and I was meeting friends for tapas only a few hours later, I went for the thoran, a coconut based vegetable Keralite dish, and the tarka dal with rice. I also polished off most of my friend Naps’ masala fries.
Later on, at Bar 44 (my favourite place in Cardiff), I met some old school friends for a catch-up over cocktails. Bar 44 serves some of the best tapas in Wales (and offers a separate menu for vegans) and the food is tasty, well-presented and good value. Sure, the bill was eye-wateringly high but I think we can blame it on that final round of espresso martinis… As always, the service was brilliant and the staff did a great job of looking after twelve demanding diners.
I’m still dreaming about my recent holiday to Valencia so I had to have the pan con tomate and the version here really gives the real deal a run for its money. The butternut squash with mint and flaked almonds was light and full of flavour and the garbanzos, fried chickpeas, are little balls of joy, golden balls if you will. Oh, and of course, we shared a few plates of padron peppers.
You see, Jay, you needn’t look too far to uncover Cardiff’s not so hidden gems. He’s right about one thing though; Burger King has its merits and I certainly enjoyed my veggie bean burger (sans cheese) at 2.30 this morning. And no, I won’t be checking my bank balance (or the scales, for that matter) until this hangover passes.