26th February 2016

The Good Food Guide to... Cardiff

Cardiff.jpgCardiff has always been special: its Victorian and Edwardian shopping arcades are enchanting alleyways crammed with independent shops and cafés, their vaulted glass ceilings hung with old-world lanterns. You can happily spend hours winding your way from one to the next, pretending you’re in Diagon Alley. Throw in a vast complex of modern shopping centres, and it’s hardly surprising that Cardiff is known as the ‘city of arcades’.

Other parts of Cardiff have only blossomed in recent years, with millions of pounds of investment turning it into a true capital. Nowhere is this more evident than in Cardiff Bay, once a grimy no-go area, now a glistening waterfront destination, home to the Welsh government, the magnificent Millennium Centre concert venue and dozens of mostly chain eateries and bars. The more interesting independent restaurants are concentrated in the suburbs and the city centre, where you can easily grab a great meal just a short walk from the Principality Stadium (formerly known as the Millennium Stadium).

If you’re planning to visit during the Six Nations rugby championship, be warned that the city will be heaving with visitors and the best restaurants are often booked well in advance.

‘We have some lovely customers who come here year after year during the Six Nations, and they tend to book a year in advance,’ says Selim Terziu, manager of Casanova in the city centre. ‘We’re near the entrance to the stadium so people come here to eat, then go to the game and come back here to relax, maybe with some wine and cheese.’

Casanova reflects a tradition of Italian dining in Cardiff that can be traced back to the Italian immigrants who came to South Wales in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Indian restaurants are another delicious theme, with Cardiff boasting two of Wales’s finest – the Purple Poppadom and Mint and Mustard.

Foodies should also look out for stylish new takes on gutsy US fare, such as The Grazing Shed in the city centre (for burgers) and Smoke House in Pontcanna for Texan barbecue. For very cheap, unreconstructed comfort food, head to Caroline Street, known to the locals as Chip Alley, which is lined with takeaways whose abundance of deep-fat fryers may explain the long history of fires on the street. Cardiff also has a bountiful selection of bars selling craft ales: the Urban Tap House and the Gravity Station are great places to begin or end your evening.

 

Treat yourself £££

Restaurant James Sommerin | 029 2070 6559 | jamessommerinrestaurant.co.uk

James Sommerin’s understated, modern restaurant is the hub of some of the most dynamic cooking in South Wales. Dishes have the all-important contemporary look – chic and neat little bundles of ingredients in which detonations of mesmerising flavours lurk, but the foundation is more classical than it might look. Fish could be a barbecue mackerel salad with olive oil caviar, while meat might be tender guinea fowl with sweetcorn, sprouts and bacon. At the sweet end of things, maybe vanilla-scented cream cheese with rhubarb and a sprinkling of toasted oat crumble.

The Potted Pig | 029 2022 4817 | thepottedpig.com

The discreet doorway in Cardiff’s city centre gives no clue to the size of this subterranean restaurant. Set in a former bank vault, its bare brickwork, low lighting and industrial piping conjure an air of underground cool, while the menu delivers a trendy take on British favourites; especially pigs. They may come potted with toast or in a sharing dish of whole mustard-glazed ham hock with coleslaw, cauliflower and new potatoes. Other dishes, such as pan-roasted hake with cockle, laverbread and bacon cake, cavolo nero, cauliflower purée and mussel broth, have a distinctly Welsh flavour. Gin, pork’s perfect partner, is offered in countless guises.

 

Great value ££

Mint And Mustard | 029 2062 0333 | mintandmustard.com

A long-reigning star of the city’s dining scene, Mint And Mustard is a smart, modern Indian restaurant that conjures a sense of occasion with a relaxed, cheery buzz. To begin, choose from classics such as onion palak pakora and Bombay chat, or try the venison trio (tikka, kebab and samosa). The influence here is the fresh, light and healthy food of Kerala, so mains focus on regional dishes such as Nadan chicken curry (with coconut milk, tomatoes and spices); Malabar lamb shank, marinated in spices and tandoor cooked; and coastal inspired pan-fried sea bass with curry-leaf infused mash in a mango, ginger and coconut sauce.

Bully’s | 029 222 1905 | bullysrestaurant.co.uk

‘The quirky atmosphere gives you something to talk about no matter how dull your dinner date,’ asserted one reporter of this restaurant, whose walls are adorned with an array of family memorabilia. Classically based but full of fresh ideas, the food showcases top-tier ingredients: pan-fried foie gras with ginger crumb and mango purée; chargrilled Welsh beef fillet with dauphinoise potatoes, wild garlic, yellow chanterelles and Madagascan peppercorn sauce, and vanilla panna cotta with bitter orange and basil sorbet are typical offerings. The wine list includes a keenly priced selection of the owner Russel Bullimore’s favourites.

 

Budget £

Casanova | 029 2034 4044 | casanovacardiff.co.uk

Now into its 10th year, this homely little Italian is as charming and seductive as
the man who inspired its name. Casanova is run by three friends who have brought an authentic slice of Italy to a part of Cardiff dominated by chain restaurants. Keenly priced set lunch and dinner menus offer a roll call
of rustic regional dishes, perhaps diver-caught scallops with chilli, black pudding, pumpkin purée and spicy tomato jam, followed with venison and pork ragù. Panna cotta and blackberry jam is one traditional way to finish. Wines, from the unashamedly all-Italian wine list, start at £17.50.

Arbennig | 029 2034 1264 | arbennig.co.uk

Head chef John and Ceri Cook have done a grand job here, reimagining what was local favourite Oscar’s as a stylish suburban eatery, done out with bistro furnishings and richly coloured walls. The welcome is warm and the food ‘first class’ from chef Jarrad Thomas, with locally sourced ingredients adding some extra cred to the menu. Recommended dishes such as wild sea bass with smoked prawn and basil butter show the kitchen’s fondness for fish, but the eclectic seasonal repertoire also runs from Welsh lamb tagine with saffron risotto, salsa verde, fried garlic and shallots to a steak burger with Cajun brisket, ale mustard, triple-cooked chips and coleslaw.

 

 

Article originally published in Waitrose Weekend, 18 February 2016. For more news stories, life-style features, wine recommendations, recipes and weekend entertaining, download the Waitrose Weekend app.

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