Ed Gilbert, author of award-winning food blog Gourmet Gorro, takes us through his food and drink highlights in Cardiff
Scratch beneath the surface of Cardiff city centre’s chain dominated veneer and there’s a vibrant independent food scene which has flourished in the last few years. Whilst there’s more than a handful of good options to be found in the city centre, the best rewards are to be found in the suburbs of Roath, Canton, Cathays and Pontcanna.
Standout themes include the city’s multicultural mix which is represented by the globally influenced eateries of City Road and Cowbridge Road East, the wealth of great Welsh produce used in restaurants across the city and a street food scene which is in rude health.
Whilst it’s impossible for me to include all of Cardiff’s awesome independents in the below guide, whatever type of nosh you’re looking for, Wales’s capital city has something to fit the bill:
If you’re a cooked breakfast type of person then head to Pettigrew Tea Rooms, a quaint cafe located in the gatehouse of Bute Park, where their full Welsh breakfast is accompanied by a freshly baked laver-bread scone. Another great option is The Early Bird Bakery in Cathays who serve irreverently named breakfasts like Hulk Smash (smashed avocado and poached eggs on toast) using their freshly baked sourdough bread.
If you’re after a quick bite to eat then head to one of Cardiff’s three branches of Nata & Co, a Portuguese bakery which serves the best custard tarts this side of Lisbon. Alternatively, Pontcanna’s Danish bakery, Brod makes wicked cinnamon rolls (snegl) and Charcutier Ltd serve the best bacon sandwiches at Roath Market (Saturdays) and Riverside Market (Sundays).
If you’re serious about your coffee then The Plan, located in the Morgan Arcade, has an enviable selection of single origin coffee beans and a UK Barista Championship finalist who makes the drinks. Waterloo and Wyndham Tea meanwhile have an apothecary like range of teas which includes Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong and Ancient Emerald Lily Green Tea.
If you want a bite to eat to go with your cuppa then Madame Fromage dish up groaning cheese platters, Pettigrew Tea Rooms offer delightfully quaint afternoon teas, Cocorico bake stonkingly good French pastries and New York Deli has meat filled hoagies which are bigger than the size of your head.
Takeaways, Markets and Street Food
Over the last few years, street food has taken off in Cardiff in a big way. On Saturday nights, The Depot, a warehouse in between Cardiff Bay and the city centre, is home to a changing roster of street food vendors. With a roof offering shelter, the party atmosphere is never dampened by the changeable Welsh weather.
More traditional street markets include St Mary’s Street Market on a Friday and Saturday and Riverside Market (across the river from the Millennium Stadium) on a Sunday where wood-fired pizza from Ffwrnes and Dusty Knuckle, Cup & Cake Bakery’s cronuts (a sinful cross between a donut and a croissant) and Mr Croquewich’s gourmet toasted cheese sandwiches are the highlights.
It would be a crime to visit Wales and not try one of the country’s most famous delicacies, the Welsh Cake, a sort of squished fruit scone. Head to Cardiff Bakestones in Cardiff Central Market or Fabulous in Cardiff Bay where they’re served at their very best, warm off the bakestone.
Arguably Cardiff’s strongest suit is its mammoth range of cracking value, ethnically diverse restaurants. Head to Roath’s City Road and Canton’s Cowbridge Road East for the biggest variety. Favourites on City Road include southern Indian canteen Kumar’s, plant-based bar and restaurant Milgi and kebab houses Troy (Turkish) and Lilo’s (Lebanese).
Over on Cowbridge Road East, Indian street food cafe Chai Street, the Thai Bangkok Cafe, Calabrian pizzeria Calabrisella and the DIY cooking of Korean restaurant Kimchi all guarantee a good meal.
If you’re in the city centre then Cafe Citta, a charmingly petite Italian restaurant, serves excellent wood-fired pizza and the Grazing Shed, voted Wales’s number 1 burger in a public poll, cooks up super-tidy burgers. There are others who argue that Got Beef, found in the suburb of Cathays, serve Cardiff’s best burger.
Other picks from around Cardiff include sushi and noodle bar Yakitori #1 found a few minutes’ walk from Wales Millennium Centre and the gourmet hotdogs of Hogwurst located in close proximity to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
If you’re looking for somewhere special for a meal out then Cardiff has plenty of swisher options. Notable city centre picks include Bar 44’s award winning contemporary Spanish tapas, The Potted Pig with its modern British cooking and atmospheric bank vault setting and Casanova’s refined Italian food with not a spag bol or lasagne in sight.
Two of Cardiff’s finest restaurants both serve high end Southern Indian food that’s heady with coconut, curry leaf and chilli. Purple Poppadom is located in the suburb of Canton whilst Mint and Mustard is found in Cathays.
Some restaurants are worth a special journey outside of Cardiff and these are the best that South East Wales has to offer.
Restaurant James Sommerin’s eponymous seafront restaurant in Penarth is my pick of the fine-dining restaurants in the local area. His cooking earned him a Michelin star at his previous establishment and recent menu picks include pea raviolo with crispy ham and sage, and confit partridge on toast.
Hang Fire Smokehouse have won a Radio 4 Food Award for serving the best street food in the UK. This year they opened their first bricks and mortar restaurant in the seaside town of Barry where they serve stunning American-style barbecue. Make sure you order the ribs.
The Hare and Hounds in Aberthin is a peerless country pub in the Vale of Glamorgan. The chef-owner trained at London’s legendary St John and it’s evidenced in the ingredient led, no-nonsense cooking which includes dishes like crispy pork cheek with pickled apple and grass-fed lamb with butternut squash.
The Walnut Tree Inn and Hardwick can both be found in the foodie mecca of Abergavenny, an hour’s drive from Cardiff. Elder statesman of British cooking Shaun Hill can often be seen leaning at the bar of his restaurant, the Michelin-starred Walnut Tree whilst Stephen Terry serves top drawer pub food at The Hardwick where he cooks with the technique of a chef who hung up his Michelin stars in search of a quieter life.
Ed Gilbert is the author of award-winning food blog Gourmet Gorro which focuses on restaurant reviews in Cardiff. He was named Best Food & Drink Blog at the Wales Blog Awards in 2012, is currently one of Bookatable’s top 50 bloggers in the UK, and is the Wales expert in Phaidon’s recently published guide to the world’s best pizza.