Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Food Bloggers Unplugged

There’s a challenge called Food Bloggers Unplugged doing the rounds (via Twitter). I was invited to do this by Rebecca who blogs as Fasting Foodie (The Tales of a Penarth/Cardiff-based Foodie on a Diet). Here’s her post:
http://fastingfoodie.blogspot.com/2011/12/food-bloggers-unplugged.html
Therefore, I’ll wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and finish my first year’s food blogging with this post. I shall then proceed to unplug.

What, or who inspired you to start a blog?
The original idea behind the blog was that it would be a type of diary, which I would keep for one year. I have always kept a diary, which has taken various forms. In 2010, for example, it was a photo-a-day project. Being a Welsh learner, it was in Welsh for a while (though with my limited vocabulary this soon became very repetitive: Dechreuais i fy mlog bwyd. Wedyn, es i i Gaerdydd. Wedyn…). A food diary has an appealing Proustian ring; recalling a taste can lead to associated memories unfurling in the mind. However, as I’m mainly slaving in the kitchen fueling the kids with pasta, pizza, chicken and chips etc such poetic ideas didn’t last long. The food blog took on a life of its own. It’s no longer a diary, but a chronicle of the exciting food scene in the Cardiff area, where good restaurants seem to be opening on a weekly basis, and the dynamic local food movement in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. I can’t see myself tiring of food blogging any time soon.

Who is your foodie inspiration?
I have followed Heston Blumenthal’s progress with great interest for many years. I find his willingness to experiment very inspiring, although I don’t aspire to cook like him at home.

Your greasiest, batter-splattered food/drink book is?
I’ll be honest; it’s an old edition of Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course. Over the years it has been the most used book in the kitchen (and looks it). Other frequently referenced tomes are by Rick Stein, Jane Grigson, Sophie Grigson, Nigel Slater, Gary Rhodes and Madhur Jaffrey; while the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book (1978) is constantly referenced for cakes, chutneys, marmalade etc.

Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?
This is a difficult one. Food always tastes better when you’re relaxing on holiday and the sun is shining. I can’t remember the names of restaurants but most memorable meals include extremely fresh seafood in a waterside shack in South Carolina (holes in the middle of the round tables to chuck the shells), gumbo in New Orleans, a richly-sauced chicken in a small restaurant near Aix en Provence, grilled fish on a beach in Greece, my first pizza from a proper pizza oven in Italy, and a Portuguese stew in a mountain village in the Algarve.

Another food blogger’s table you’d like to eat at is?
I would be happy to eat at any Cardiff food blogger’s table, although having just read Rebecca’s Food Blogger Unplugged post I would certainly be up for Drunken Lamb or Thai Roast Duck!

What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?
I nearly asked Santa for this, but instead picked one up in Kitchen earlier this week: a digital timer. Compact, it sticks magnetically to the fridge or clips to clothing if you leave the kitchen, and it sounds just like my alarm-clock. I no longer have any excuse for burning the cakes! If money no object, then I would like to have some serious Sous Vide gadgetry to play around with.

Who taught you how to cook?
Watching my mother cook taught me a great deal, especially during the time when part of our family house was used as student accommodation. The students used to join our large family for evening meals, and it was always at least two courses of fabulous food. At University myself, I learned a lot through trial and error (actually, more error than trial - this was a time when the congealed lard in the chip pan, used daily in the communal kitchen, was only changed at the start of each term).

I’m coming to you for dinner. What’s your signature dish?
When I cook for larger gatherings, I tend to make my chili con carne (it’s almost expected). I like cooking risotto (e.g., butternut squash, mushroom) and I cook it often; it'll be served with a tomato salad. Braised red cabbage (from my mum’s recipe) was one of the first recipes I posted online (my first website had a recipe section), and it’s the recipe I recently contributed to the Murch Munchies Recipe Book (a PTA Christmas fundraiser), so that’s definitely a signature dish. For pudding, it’ll probably be an apple or rhubarb crumble with ice cream.

What is your guilty food pleasure?
It has to be doughnuts; Krispy Kreme, of course, but also old-fashioned bakery doughnuts oozing jam.

Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?
I worked as a research entomologist for a year at the University of Georgia and conducted experiments that helped to identify the chemical in sweet potato tubers that induce the female sweet potato weevil to lay eggs (oviposition stimulant). It was here that I got a taste for sweet potato (that most underrated of vegetables), but it was eating the ripe peaches straight off the trees that was the real revelation at the UGA farm.

My five nominees to further the Food Blogging Unplugged chain:

1. Nicki @UrLastMouthful: http://yourlastmouthful-blog.com/

2. @Gourmetgorro: http://gourmetgorro.blogspot.com/

3. @FoodFilm. Janneke Berkelbach (Memorable Food Scenes Combined with Recipes): http://www.filmfood.nl/

4. @wanttobakefree. David’s blog about opening a teahouse in Cardiff: http://iwanttobakefree.blogspot.com/

5. @gomezadams, blogging as Corpulent Capers: http://www.corpulentcapers.com/


Nicki @cardiffbites has already done her Food Blogger Unplugged post: http://cardiffbites.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Greenwood & Brown, Cardiff

Brains are diversifying. The Cardiff-based brewery recently bought the Coffee #1 chain and is now branching out into restaurants. Greenwood & Brown on Quay Street is a bold statement of intent.

At this week’s Greenwood & Brown bar grill preview tasting evenings they’re serving up seafood platters followed by two different steak cuts.

The seafood sampler comprised large meaty shrimp (crevettes), prawn cocktail, peppered mackerel pate, oak smoked salmon and a horseradish and dill sauce. The smoked salmon and the shrimp, in particular, impressed. I like horseradish with my oily fish, so the sauce was a little milder than I would make it. On the full menu, you’ll also find calamari, a kilo of Welsh mussels (with a choice of two sauces, £12), seafood chowder, sea bass and other fish specials at market prices. A fish platter appetiser will cost £16. If you really want to sail the boat out, the Fruits de Mer (for two people) is £58.00 (pre-order 12 hours notice required).

The steaks, served with green beans and steak chips, were tender and tasted like they had come from animals that had been well looked after. I thought the sirloin was really good, but the comparison showed why the ribeye costs that little more, as it was even better. The green beans and thick steak chips were very moreish, partly because there’s a fair bit of salt on them. On the full menu there’s a choice of rump, sirloin and ribeye (£12, £15 and £19, respectively, which includes one side dish), while there will be steak cut specials. If you’re a couple and want to go for it, the Chateaubriand steak with Béarnaise sauce might be for you (£48 for two people). Our preview steaks definitely left us wanting more.

The menu is limited in extent. However, it includes dishes such as the chowder and steak cuts that mark it out as unique. The philosophy is: simple cooking done well. Don’t expect fancy plating or extraneous ingredients. It’s not necessarily cheap, though lunches come in at a competitive fixed price of £7, but if you want steak or seafood off the grill then it should certainly hit the spot.

Greenwood and Brown will probably appeal to a fairly select clientele. The nature of the menu and the high tables will exclude children and families. There is little for vegetarians (apart from the risotto of the day and a falafel burger). My partner thought the atmosphere (meaty menu options, masculine décor etc) would make it a good place to entertain male business clients. It will certainly attract the discerning rugby fan (being only a penalty kick away from the Millennium Stadium).

The desserts are suitably grown up and there’s Costa coffee. The wine list features nine reds and nine whites, with a few roses, with additional choices on a wine specials board. Bottled beers, spirits, champagne and classic cocktails are featured.

It’s good to see an emphasis on Welsh products and local food sourcing. Welsh beef comes from Celtic Pride, free range eggs from Birchgrove Eggs, seafood from Swansea Fish in Swansea Marina, cheeses from Caws Cenarth, Abergavenny Fine Foods and Carmarthenshire Creameries, deli products from Capital Cuisine Caerphilly, and ice cream from Mario Dallavalle of Carmarthenshire.

Greenwood & Brown is located on the site of The Model Inn, one of Cardiff’s oldest pubs (On a 1600 map it’s called The Ship on Launch; it may have been renamed The Model Inn after a visit by Cromwell’s New Model Army). It was purchased by Brains in 1956 and renamed after the wine merchants who they bought it off. The major internal and external refurbishment means there is little evidence of the building’s history to be seen (though some of the metal columns look old). The modern décor centres on high chairs and marble counters/tables (a bit of communal dining maybe), bare brick and butcher’s tiles, with some chandeliers that don’t look quite right. The kitchen area is fashionably visible.

Music can complement the dining experience. In Cardiff, for example, the classical music in Wally’s Kaffeehaus and the classic rock in the New York Deli perfectly chime with the décor and food. At Greenwood & Brown, the overloud early-evening dance music did nothing to enhance my dining experience.

I had a pint of the Rev in the City Arms beforehand, a pub owned by Brains and one of the best traditional-style drinking venues in the city centre. The City Arms is practically next door to Greenwood & Brown (Casanova’s Italian Restaurant is sandwiched between them) and this was a key factor in the decision to convert the Model Inn into a restaurant rather than another pub. I suspect there will be a fair amount of traffic between the two Brain’s establishments.

Other Brains pubs in Cardiff city centre: Goat Major, Dempsey’s, Old Arcade, Cardiff Cottage, Barocco, Yard Bar and Kitchen, Kitty Flynn’s, Duke of Wellington, Westgate, Cardiff Arts Institute, 33 Windsor Place.

Greenwood & Brown:
http://www.greenwoodandbrowncardiff.co.uk/

Pub conversion reference:
http://beerbrewer.blogspot.com/2011/12/model-inn-reopens-as-restaurant.html

Brains Brewery:
http://www.sabrain.com/index

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Arth Wines, Penarth

Stocking up on drink for the festive season? Don’t forget your independent off-licences and wine merchants.

Arth Wine Store in Penarth is one such place. This independent wine merchant, owned by Richard Silk, moved to its present location near Penarth Station in March 2010. You are sure to get a warm welcome. Richard is very knowledgeable, and happy to chat with customers: the sort of personal service you don’t get in a major retail chain.

The shop is situated in the Old Masonic Buildings (the more-recent Masonic Hall on Stanwell Road is now a restaurant and party venue). The modern restoration is sympathetic to the old building and provides a dramatic backdrop for the displays of wine, beer, ciders and soft drinks. The theatricality is completed by having a glass-fronted room within the room: a cooler space where much of the white wine and beer is kept.

Richard imports wine directly from smaller independent vineyards, which helps keep prices down and enables him to offer a different selection to other wine-selling outlets. The shop, in particular, is known for its selection of organic wines. It’s also the place to go for bio-dynamic wine, wine for vegans, and other alternative wine options.

Independent shops like Arth Wines are good when you’re looking for something a little different to serve guests, especially guests who look at wines and tell you what supermarkets they came from (do you know people like this?). Keep them guessing this Christmas. Good to see Arth wines stock Cock Hill, for instance, our local white wine made from grapes grown on a hillside in Leckwith, between Cardiff and Dinas Powys.

However, I went to Arth Wines last week to stock up on some local microbrewery beers.

I selected three Celt beers, from the Celtic Experience brewery in Caerphilly (est. 2007). The Bronze (4.5%), named after Bronze Age Celts, although it’s also a bronze colour; the Golden (4.2%), named after the Golden Age of the Celtic People, although it’s also a golden colour; and Bleddyn 1075 (5.6%), named after a Celtic ruler who died in 1075. Celt beers are made using organic ingredients. The Head Brewer is Tom Newman who, according to their website, is Caerphilly-born and West Country-raised, and likes drinking, rugby, learning Welsh and prawn racing.

My other selections were from Cardiff’s Untapped Brewery and the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery in Barry. They also stock beers from the Rhymney Brewery of Dowlais, near Merthyr Tydfil. The Otley Brewery in Pontypridd is having temporary bottling difficulties (Richard has a letter explaining the situation displayed by the beer section) and so their bottled brews are currently out of stock.

I’ll post some more on our local beers next year.

Arth Wines, Old Masonic Buildings, Station Approach, Penarth CF64 3EE

A previous post on Cock Hill wine:
http://sfnottingham.blogspot.com/2011/01/winde-from-dinas-powys-cock-hill.html


Celtic beers:
http://www.theceltexperience.co.uk/

Untapped Brewing Co:
http://www.untappedbrew.com/

Vale of Glamorgan Brewery:
http://www.vogbrewery.co.uk/

Rhymney Brewery:
http://www.rhymneybreweryltd.com/

Friday, 16 December 2011

Tesco Express Dinas Powys: Day 1

The Tesco Express on The Parade, Castle Drive, Dinas Powys opened for business at 8am this morning, when it was full of school kids and men in suits (Tesco employees). The shop is well-stocked. The focus is on sandwich deals, ready meals and convenience foods; although there is a wide range of items on the shelves.

Tesco took over a former pub, which could have remained derelict, and have improved the surrounding environment by paving the car park at the back and putting up extra lighting. They have created around 25 jobs. Although they are not selling anything (I could see) that is not already available elsewhere in the village, the shopping choice in the village has increased and the profile of Dinas Powys enhanced as a shopping destination. The main concern with Tesco Express, which is one of the fastest expanding chains in the UK, is that is that it will lead to the closure of locally-owned shops, thereby reducing shopping options in the long-term while taking retail profits out of the community.

The other shops along The Parade are Martins’ newsagent, Hung House Chinese and Thai Takeaway, Paul’s Chippy, Valley View Fruit Stores (run by Jan and Tony Mapstone for 14 years), A Class Apart (children’s school uniforms) and Spar. The nearby shops at Camms Corner include Murch Pharmacy (run by Linda Jones for over 20 years), Murch Post Office, TC Ellis Guitars Ltd (Tim makes guitars for Mötorhead), Biz Hairdressers and Mark Griffiths Family Butcher (Mark has worked in the village for 34 years). The range sold by Tesco overlaps with that of Spar, the newsagent, the fruit and vegetable store, the pharmacy, the butcher, and to a lesser extent, the post office and take-aways (although Tesco might also be making electric guitars out back by now, possibly for Coldplay).

Near the locally-operated Budgens on Cardiff Road are the Bank of Flowers florists, and a convenience store attached to the Texaco garage. The other main shopping hub in the village is around the green, where you can find, among other shops, the Village Stores (selling fruit and veg) and The Wild Blackberry (deli).

There are plenty of community blogs out there recording local shop closures after the opening of a Tesco in a village or small town. The arrival of competition from Tesco, for example, may be the last straw for struggling independent businesses. In the UK there is an alarming rate of shop closures: 25,000 closed shops since the start of the Millennium, with more than one in seven high street units standing empty, according to press reports this week that focussed on an independent review chaired by Mary Portas (see below).

The large village of Dinas Powys (population around 9,000) is bucking the trend for UK-wide shop closures. As of today (16 Dec 2011), there has been only one recent closure (Lifestyle Furniture & Kitchens on Cardiff Road). The small shops in Dinas Powys have loyal customers, who can recall how shopkeepers have operated beyond the call of duty (e.g., during adverse winter weather) to help their customers. If customers keep supporting these local shops they can co-exist with a major retail chain. Valley View Fruit Stores, and other locally-owned stores in the village, also use local suppliers, so by supporting local stores you’re also supporting the local farmers, bakers, pie-makers and so on, who supply the shops. Profits are retained in the area. Tesco’s shelves are notable for their absence of locally-sourced products.

A Tesco opening need not have an adverse impact on local shops. In nearby Penarth, a Tesco Express opened last year and appears to have had minimum impact; though Penarth does have a vibrant local food scene. This revolves around independent stores, like Foxy’s Deli, David Lush Butchers, Arth Wines, restaurants (e.g., The Fig Tree), and local community group Gwyrddio Penarth Greening. A local traders’ discount scheme and several food co-op schemes have been established, in addition to a food festival that celebrates local businesses.

The protests in Dinas Powys have finished (there were no protestors this morning). Few planning objections were upheld (one being the proposed sign on the green by the oak tree, but Tesco appear to be occupying this space with their flags and banners regardless). Tesco Express is now part of Dinas Powys’ retail community. Tesco is the UK’s top supermarket and this is because it is popular, therefore it will be widely welcomed within the village for bringing the best of convenience shopping to Dinas Powys. It may mean more people shop in Dinas (rather than go to, say, Penarth). However, if the long-established local shops at the heart of the village’s community start to close, then Tesco will have helped to “rip the heart out of the village” as protestors predicted.

How will things work out in Dinas Powys? I’ll keep you posted.


Notes:
The Portas review (commissioned by David Cameron) stressed the importance of local shops within the heart of communities, and acknowledged that the expansion of major supermarkets has been a factor in the decline of traditional high streets. It made 28 recommendations designed to benefit entrepreneurial traders and maintain the diversity of shops:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2011/dec/13/mary-portas-rescue-plan-shops?INTCMP=SRCH
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/13/high-street-christmas-shopping-editorial?INTCMP=SRCH

Monday, 12 December 2011

Siop y Bobl, Cardiff

Siop y Bobl (The People’s Supermarket) held their latest meeting at the Festive Food Fair in Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, on Saturday (10 Dec 2011). The members of the Core Team introduced themselves and unveiled their plans for the coming year.

A People’s Supermarket has been operating successfully in London for a couple of years, but Siop y Bobl will be a unique venture in Cardiff. It will run as a local co-operative and open for business toward the end of 2012.

The key stages that need to be achieved in the coming months are, firstly, the completion of the Business Plan, and then the opening of a business bank account. Grants and funding will then be applied for. Suitable premises will be sought, while publicity and marketing will be taken up a gear. People with the necessary skills will be bought on board, while existing members will undergo training in appropriate areas (e.g., through Welsh Government and co-operative movement training schemes). Finally, potential suppliers will be assessed, using the ethical, environmental and local community values that are at the heart of the business.

Gwion acted as spokesperson and outlined the plans, values, and the necessary steps needed to achieve their goal. The other Core Team members - Kate, Andrew, Becca, Richard and Graham – noted their particular interests within the project. These included environmental issues and the benefits of local food production, keeping profits within the community, the value of involving local people as members, and enhancing food security and reducing food wastage. All agreed that Siop y Bobl will provide an ethical and sustainable convenience shopping alternative for Cardiff.

Public Relations and publicity will be increasing important next year. A website is under construction (on-line shopping is under discussion). James from BBC Radio Wales was recording proceedings on Saturday and, as an observer, will be following Siop y Bobl until its opening. His reports will use Siop y Bobl as an example of an ongoing community project. Needless to say, I’ll also be following progress on this blog.

After the meeting itself, Richard organized the Cook Up competition. Two teams of three were chosen from the audience and asked to cook items selected from a “supermarket shelf” within 30 minutes. The items were not labeled by price, however, but by carbon ratings (an estimate of how food production adversely contributes to climate change). Such are the ethical decisions that will be made when it comes to stock Siop y Bobl.

Team B (there was no team A) cooked Chestnut, mushroom and tomato rigatoni, while Team C made a Butternut squash, spinach and lentil curry. I was honoured to be on the judging panel. It was a close call, but we awarded the prize to the rigatoni (the meaty chesnuts being an inspired touch that really worked).

This will be the website (it’s still early days):
http://siopybobl.co.uk/

The People’s Supermarket in London (Siop y Bobl hopes to emulate its success):
http://www.thepeoplessupermarket.org/

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Festive Food Fair, Chapter, Cardiff

Today’s Festive Food Fair at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff was a great success. There was a sizeable crowd and most of the stallholders were generally doing very good business.

I Want to Bake Free was selling, among other things, Victorian sponge cakes, gingerbread houses, loose tea and peppermint creams. The stall raised around £100 for the LATCH charity. The traditional tearoom will be opening, somewhere in Cardiff, next year. If David's stall at Chapter is anything to go by, it will be an interesting prospect.

Mark’s Bread had an eye-catching display. Although Bristol-based, Mark Newman sets up a stall every Wednesday afternoon at Chapter. Today we came home with Pan au Chocolate and a Malthouse loaf. Artisan slow-fermented sourdough bread was also available from Cardiff’s Hungry Planet and Bridgend-based Tortoise Bakery.

I always enjoy looking at The Parsnipship for their creative Vegetarian dishes, which today included a seasonal Roast Chestnut and Jerusalem Artichoke Dauphinoise. We went for the Lapsang-Souchong Smoked Butternut Lasagne, the Glamorgan Crumble, and a Stilton and Spinach Cake, which we heated up and had for dinner tonight.

Box vegetable schemes were being promoted by Riverside Market Garden (Cardiff) and Riverford Organic Veg (Devon). The other stallholders included Gwatkin Cider and Gwynt y Draig Cider, Llanfaes Dairy Ice Cream, The Nut Hut, Welsh Brew Tea, and Hipo Hyfryd.

There was also a range of workshops (gingerbread decoration, pottery, mosaics and more) and a raffle (I won a bottle of perry). Carols were performed under the Christmas tree by jazz singer Brigida Melly. The jazz arrangements fooled my daughter for a while, until she heard the words.

Outside the arts centre, there was a demonstration of a rocket jet-stove. This sealed unit can be used to cook potatoes (or chestnuts, as it did today). It is a very efficient way of burning wood, as it burns to a combustible gas that does the cooking. Biochar is producing as a by-product, which can be mixed with manure to make a great fertilizer.

A key part of proceedings was a meeting of Siop y Pobl (The People’s Supermarket), with the Core Group of this initiative updating us on progress, followed by a cooking competition. Siop y Pobl will be the subject of a longer blog post next week.

The Festive Fair was one of those events that exceeded expectations. Well done Chapter, Green City and Hedfan Arts for making it happen.

http://iwanttobakefree.blogspot.com/

http://www.marksbread.co.uk/

http://www.theparsnipship.co.uk/

Friday, 9 December 2011

Steve Garrett on Local Food in Cardiff

Earlier this week, Steve Garrett (Founding Director and Special Projects Manager for Riverside Community Market Association [RCMA] Social Enterprise Ltd) gave a public lecture in the ornate Glamorgan Building Committee Rooms of Cardiff University’s School of City and Regional Planning. He talked about his experiences with local food and Farmers’ Markets, lessons from which could help Cardiff achieve its 'Sustainable City' planning vision. A key challenge is to develop a more sustainable food system with increased consumption of locally-produced food.

Steve established the Riverside Farmers’ Market in 1998, based on markets he had seen in Canada. Riverside was to become the first of a new wave of street markets in the UK where local farmers and artisan producers sold directly to the public.

However, it soon became apparent that most of the people shopping at the Riverside Farmers’ Market were not from the local area; they were coming from more affluent areas, such as Pontcanna. RCMA subsequently established Farmers’ Markets in Roath, Rhiwbina and Llandaff North. These attracted more people from their immediate localities. Nevertheless, overall, there remains a sense that Farmers’ Markets are catering for a certain type of person (like the stereotypical affluent, middle-class “foodie”).

People who regard themselves as “non-Farmers’ Market people” have said that they do not necessarily feel comfortable shopping at them. Steve contrasted this with the situation in France, where everyone shops at markets regardless of their class. High footfall therefore does not necessarily equate with successful markets. The Farmers’ Market in Newport’s John Frost Square, for example, closed after three years. This is also the case when markets are located where people are not expecting to buy food (IKEA and The Red Dragon Centre being recent examples); although cakes always sell well, apparently.

There is also a perception that Farmers’ Markets are more expensive than supermarkets. Although this is true for some value-added or artisan products, it is not necessarily the case for fruit and vegetables. Value for money and quality also need to be taken into account. An artificially pumped-up frozen supermarket chicken may be cheaper, but an equivalently-sized organic Farmers’ Market chicken is likely to taste better and go further when feeding a family.

To broaden the customer base for local food, therefore, perceptions and attitudes must be changed. New approaches include greater community involvement, changing people’s views on quality and cost, and to establish a greater range of appropriate outlets to make locally-produced food more accessible.

Food systems are more than just about retail: they are also about culture and community. The mainstream supermarket sector will always have a bigger retail advertising budget, but local food schemes are more community-oriented. RCMA Social Enterprise Ltd found that a good place to start is schools. Children are taken on farm-trips, where they get to eat fresh vegetables (a novelty for many kids). Meanwhile, role models, such as Olympic-medal winning athletes from south Wales, visit schools to promote Real Food (with an emphasis on fresh local produce) and its importance to health. This provides an important alternative to the mainstream message, epitomized for Steve by the insanity of having McDonalds as a lead sponsor of the Olympics.

There is a potential problem with supply. If local food markets become more successful, then more food needs to be grown locally. To this end RCMA has established the Riverside Community Garden in Cardiff, and the 10-acre Riverside Market Garden close to Cardiff that will supply Farmers’ Markets stalls and their Vegetable Box scheme.

Much more food could be grown within Cardiff. Steve cites the WW2 Dig for Victory campaign, when Roath Park was ploughed and turned into productive allotments that enhanced the city’s food security. For a modern response to food production in the coming post-oil age, Cuba is the place to look. After Russia turned off its oil supply, the country turned to intensive, urban, organic agriculture with great success. Around 80% of Havana’s vegetables and salads, for example, are grown in organic urban agricultural redevelopment schemes.

In Britain, communities like Todmorden in West Yorkshire are leading the way. They are planning to become self-sufficient in food by 2018. Community Gardens have proliferated (along with “help yourself” signs). The community has been drawn together, so everyone feels part of this local food scheme. It has been made possible through the political will of the local Council. Steve contrasted this with the current situation in Cardiff, where there is a long waiting lists for allotments.

Steve believes Community Food Security should incorporate the concept of Food Sovereignty, whereby food is produced locally and the means of producing that food are put into the hands of the people themselves. Community Gardens also provide education and training opportunities, so local food-producing expertise grows. The Riverside Market Garden is a community-owned social enterprise.

To make local food more accessible, a range of means can be employed to move the food closer to people’s homes. Vegetable Box schemes are proving popular, while RCMA will soon be selling from a mobile shop that can take local food into new areas of the city. A People’s Supermarket (Siop y Bobl) is planning to open in late 2012 in Cardiff, which instead of being owned by a multinational corporation will be owned by its local community. This will stock local food, along with a full range of convenience food and also non-food items. Projects like these should show people that high-quality locally-produced food is not more expensive and it is for everyone.


Riverside Market Garden:
http://www.riversidemarketgarden.co.uk/
Future Cardiff University City and Regional Planning events:
http://www.cplan.cf.ac.uk/events/

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Corner House, Cardiff

A pyramid of thickly-sliced lamb rump, cooked to order, on a base of roasted baby potatoes mingled with pancetta and shallots, with a dollop of soubise (béchamel-based onion sauce) and topped by two asparagus spears. Juicy and flavoursome, everything on this plate was working for the greater good. It was accompanied by a seasonal (optional) redcurrant jelly with nutmeg.

This was my main course yesterday lunchtime at The Corner House Bar & Dining Rooms, which opens for business this Friday. It’s on the sharp corner of Caroline Street (the postal address) and Mill Lane (the front door) in Cardiff city centre’s self-styled Café Quarter. Operating under the Mitchell and Butler umbrella, The Corner House is the start of a new venture. It’s the first, and therefore flagship, Maybury Pub (“Maybury at The Corner House”): a planned new chain of gastropubs.

My partner decided to go for something a little different for her main course, and ordered the Salmon and Caper Fishcakes. Two thick fishcakes, each topped with a poached egg and chive hollandaise sauce, stood sentinel over a small mound of spinach. Intriguingly-spiced, they were pronounced a little salty in their cumulative effect. The saltiness was nicely counterbalanced by the poached egg, although the balance would have been better with smaller fishcakes. So (for a change): best menu choice to me! Prices for main courses range from the £10.95 Classic Burger to the £16.95 Lamb Rump.

We had gone for Scallops and Lamb Koftas, respectively, for starters. My trio of large scallops, griddled for the bare-minimum time, were mouth-meltingly light and succulent; the best scallops I’ve tasted for years. Between them lay a mound of very thin noodles, where intense ginger and soy flavours lurked. This was offset by cubes of refreshing watermelon. I liked the way these three components were arranged and could be tasted individually, but I was less sure about the handful of cress on top (maybe a case of less is more).


The Moroccan-style lamb koftas were served with a fattoush salad (crispy grilled pieces of pita bread, feta cheese, radish, cucumber, salad leaves, mint, olive oil and lemon juice) and a tzatziki dip. This was a very pleasing mixture of textures and flavours, which could also have been made into a good main course.


The wine menu offered plenty of choice, even for wine ordered by the glass. I had a glass of Rioja, while my partner ordered an Aspall’s cider (dwarfed in an oversized glass). Our friendly waiter Adam seemed representative of the experienced and enthusiastic staff at The Corner House.

The key material in the upstairs dining room is wood: wooden benches, chairs, tables and floor. Quirky touches are thankfully kept to a minimum. The animal skins slung over the chairs are, in fact, reindeer (you can buy one for yourself in the nearby Cardiff Christmas Market!). Sitting on a reindeer is a nice seasonal touch.

The redevelopment of The Corner House was not without controversy. This pub has had a colourful 137-year old history. Previously, as the Kings Cross, it was for many years one of Wales’ best-known gay bars and a focus for the capital’s gay community. A petition signed by more than 2,000 people, demanding the venue keep its gay identity, was presented to M&B’s directors. There was a sense that something important was being lost. The company said the decision was inevitable for economic reasons, as this prime site could no longer support a late-night drinking venue, and needed to become a pub and restaurant catering for customers throughout the daytime and evening (The Corner House indeed covers all the bases: doing breakfast, lunch, after-school pizza deals and so on, through to evening meals in the restaurant).

The Corner House happily describes itself as a Gastropub, but what does that mean? The term “gastropub” was first coined in the early 1990s in London, when pubs started to move away from traditional “pub grub” to offer a wider range of classier food (a novelty at the time). I have an outdated and overly-romantic picture of a Free House pub in an old building, with a traditional bar full of regulars and a dining room next door, where a renowned chef serves up high-quality food that is more affordable and less pretentious than in a typical top-end restaurant.

However, the recent Oxford English Dictionary definition of “gastropub” is: A public house which specializes in serving high-quality food. What constitutes high-quality food is a matter of debate and most dining pubs in the UK could therefore claim to be gastropubs, if they so wished. The Corner House certainly qualifies. However, the other essential feature is that you can go in and feel comfortable just ordering a drink from the bar. The downstairs area at The Corner House looks the part, but a pub needs people. Only time will tell whether this pub becomes merely a pre-dining waiting area or whether it will again attract a loyal customer-base and become an important meeting place for this community of regulars.

The Corner House
Caroline Street, Cardiff CF10 1FF
http://cornerhousecardiff.co.uk/

Previous posts on Mill Lane and Caroline Street:
http://sfnottingham.blogspot.com/2011/09/mill-lane-cardiff.html



Mitchells & Butlers (who also own O’Neill’s, Browns and the new Harvester in Cardiff city centre):
http://www.mbplc.com/
Reference for the Save the Kings Cross Campaign:

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Oriental Diner, Barry

The Oriental Diner in Barry laid on an impressive spread for the Dinas Powys Wolves Football Club last night. Actually, the footballers were with “babysitters” and hopefully heading for early nights, because this was the coaches and parents’ Christmas gathering.

After a few drinks in The Sir Samuel Romilly (Wetherspoons), we took the hundred yard walk along Broad Street to the Oriental Diner. Here, we were shown to the party room (upstairs at the back) and settled down around three large tables. The food bought out, onto the large Lazy Susans on each table, featured Peking, Cantonese and Thai dishes.

Following the obligatory prawn crackers (thick ones), the Hor’s d’Oeuvre included Satay Chicken, Sesame Prawn Toast and Spring Rolls. The Crispy Fried Seaweed was popular (I didn’t have the heart to tell anyone it was actually deep-fried cabbage).

There followed a duck course: Crispy Aromatic Duck Served with Spring Onion, Cucumber, Hoi Sin Sauce and Pancakes. There was also some chicken, as an alternative to duck. Assembling the crispy duck pancakes is always fun. The cooking at the Oriental Diner has an authenticity lacking in too many Chinese restaurants, and the duck in particular reminded me of a restaurant in China (that served nothing else but crispy duck pancakes).

There were vegetarian options throughout the meal, as we had a vegetarian on the table. Actually, I would suggest, if you’re in a big group, someone is designated as vegetarian (even if they are not), because these dishes were very good (e.g., tofu with cashew nuts in yellow bean sauce) and added to the variety of food doing the rounds.

The main courses, served with rice, included Chow Mein, Thai-style Chicken Curry, Sweet and Sour Pork, Spare Ribs, Beef in Black Bean Sauce, Spicy King Prawns, and more besides. The beef and prawn, along with a rice and cashew vegetarian dish were my pick of the excellent food.

I drank draft Sun Lik Beer. It is brewed in the San Miguel brewery in Hong Kong, and is imported into the UK by Shepherd Neame. My problem with lager is usually that it is too fizzy, tastes too ‘tinny’, and is served over-cold. Draft Sun Lik is none of these, and has some subtle fruity and floral notes. I recommend it to accompany Chinese food.

The service was spot on, and the staff at Oriental Diner are clearly used to dealing with parties. The karaoke started as soon as the last of the food was cleared. As this is a food blog, I will refrain from describing the scenes that followed.

Oriental Diner
10 Broad Street Barry CF62 7AA
http://www.orientaldiner.co.uk/index.htm

http://www.sunlikbeer.co.uk/

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Dickensian Fayre, Dinas Powys

Last night (2 Dec), the Twyn (village square) in Dinas Powys was the setting for the annual Dickensian Fayre, organized by The Rotary Club of Dinas Powis to raise money for local charities.

After the freeze and torrential downpours of previous years, the constant rain and above-freezing temperature almost felt like decent weather. However, The Vale of Glamorgan Brass Band were rained off, and so didn’t perform their annual selection of carols. This diminished the Fayre’s pre-Christmas atmosphere considerably, although there was still a reasonable queue of small children and their parents outside Santa’s Grotto.

Plaid Cymru’s soup offering this year was Tomato and Vegetable (with the weather and economic climate there was something of the soup kitchen about their stall). Meanwhile, the Conservatives were doing their usual mulled wine. I have never tasted their mulled wine (as a matter of principle), but fortunately the Rotary Club were also serving it and this was strong, fruity and warming. They were also selling stollen cake and large gingerbread men, while Rotary Club members were busy on the nearby BBQs cooking hot dogs and burgers.

Anne’s owls4u were raising money for rescued owls and other birds by selling cakes and other items. The beautiful owls being walked around were taking everything in. The coconut shy opposite was a popular attraction.

Dinas Powys Infants School were raising money selling drinks, crisps and sweets. Dinas Powys and Llandough Guides were selling their usual chocolate brownies, while the Scouts had Welsh cakes and snacks for sale. We won a Billie Holiday CD box set on the Scouts’ tombola, but had less success on the Cricket Club’s drinks tombola. The W.I., as you would expect, had an attractive range of cakes for sale.

Geraint Roberts set up his bread stall at the Fayre for the first time. Geraint has started a bread subscription scheme in the village, where artisan sourdough loaves can be ordered on a weekly basis. Panettone, the sweet Milanese Christmas bread, was the seasonal special on offer.

There was the odd Top Hat, but little dressing up this year. I believe this event started in the 1980s [correct me if I’m wrong] and, while the connection with Dickens is a bit tenuous (he wrote Christmas stories), it has become an important date in the calendar for Dinas Powys residents.

The event ended before 8.30pm, by which time the wet crowd was either drying out at home or in one of the village’s remaining pubs (The Star, The Three Horseshoes or The Cross Keys), which are all clustered around The Twyn.

Incidentally, the two spellings in the opening sentence are both correct (‘Powis’ is the now less-frequently used English version of the original 'Powys').

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Four Uses For a Rather Large Pumpkin

We had visitors soon after Halloween who arrived with a monster pumpkin, grown on a Manchester allotment. The 5.24 kg (11 lb 6oz) squash had served its decorative function, and last Sunday I rather belatedly started to cook it.

When you cut up a vegetable of this size, you need to have a number of uses planned for it. So, I cut the surprisingly thin-skinned pumpkin into four and it went its separate ways.

The first quarter was soon being made into a risotto, following the method I frequently use for butternut squash risotto. Cubed pumpkin was roasted with butter, salt and pepper; meanwhile chopped onions and bacon were fried in a risotto pan. Arborio rice was stirred in and hot home-made chicken stock gradually added, with some thyme. The cooked buttery squash was stirred in toward the end; grated cheese optional.

My partner took the second quarter and made chutney, following the recipe in The Complete Book of Preserves and Pickles for Butternut, Apricot and Almond Chutney (pumpkin instead of butternut squash). The other ingredients included onion, coriander seeds, cider vinegar and orange juice. As there were less apricots and almonds in the cupboard than the recipe suggested, the jars were just labelled ‘Pumpkin Chutney’. This turned out to be a golden-coloured, sharp-tasting chutney, with the almonds giving it plenty of crunch and the coriander rounding out the flavour. It will mature for a month or so before we start eating it.

I made a soup with the third quarter. Looking through the Riverford autumn magazine and recipe files from vegetable box deliveries, I found a couple of promising ideas. The Dev-Mex Pumpkin Soup looked good (pumpkin or squash, onion, garlic, paprika, chillies, tomato, kidney beans, lime juice etc) - that’s Devon-Mexican, by the way. However, I decided to do that another day and go for the Spiced Pumpkin Soup. I roasted pumpkin cubes and fried onions, then simmered both in chicken stock with cumin, coriander, grated nutmeg and a little chilli sauce. The soup was liquidized and a dollop of sour cream was mixed in to serve.

With the last chunk of pumpkin I was tempted by some recipes in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, which has a particularly good selected of pumpkin recipes. I liked the sound of Toulouse Lautrec’s Gratin of Pumpkin (Gratin de Potiron), for instance, taken from the French artist’s collected recipes. However, on reflection, I decided to complete a sort of three-course pumpkin meal with an American-style Pumpkin Pie for dessert.

A look through some US recipe books, collected while touring the States, suggested that all those Halloween pumpkins probably end up in the bin, because most recipes seemed to use canned pumpkin. I decided to go with a custard-style pie based on a recipe in a regional home cooking book (see below), but using fresh pumpkin. I filled a pastry casing with a mixture of mashed pumpkin, canned condensed milk (omitting the canned evaporated milk), beaten eggs, ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, vanilla essence and rum. Not bad, but next year I’ll stick to Jane Grigson’s Pumpkin Pie!

Cook books referred to:
The Complete Book of Preserves and Pickles, Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhew, Anness Publishing Ltd, 2004. Page 186.
Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, Penguin Books, 1978. Pages 417-429.
Riverford Recipe Files (in Vegetable Box), 24 Oct 2011 & The Riverford Farm Cookbook, Jane Baxter, 2011.
Our US cookbooks include small press and amateur publications, which collect people’s regional home recipes and gave an insight into what people really cook (e.g., A Taste of New Mexico from the Junior League of Albuquerque; Best of the Best from Florida Cookbook etc). The Florida cookbook has plenty of microwave recipes and includes unusual dishes such as Coca-Cola Chicken: “mix ketchup, Coca-Cola and Worcestershire sauce and pour over chicken”. Sometimes, you get handy hints along the bottom of each recipe page in this type of book (e.g., Household borax dissolved in water removes stains and smells after your child has been sick”). We also have similar cookbooks, sold for charity, from regions around the UK, which must look equally strange to people from out of town.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Great British Food Revival: Beetroot

One of the best things on TV recently has been the second series of Great British Food Revival (BBC2). The series aims to promote underappreciated British vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and shellfish, in order to try and change the public’s perception of these foods. This is needed to reverse often alarming declines in their production, with serious implications for British farming and food culture.

Different chefs have championed different foods. Highlights of the series so far have included John Torode on beef from heritage breeds, Valentine Warner on cockles and mussels, Raymond Blanc on plums, Richard Corrigan on mackerel, Michael Roux Jr on bread and on pears, and the Hairy Bikers (yes, really) enthusing about cauliflowers. With its farm-to-fork emphasis on seasonality, local produce and traditional cooking, this is my kind of cookery show.

Last night, Antonio Carluccio was promoting beetroot. I had been aware of this program since July when I briefly corresponded with Assistant Producer Isaure de Pontbriand, who was using my e-book Beetroot (2004) for research. We agreed that getting production statistics for this crop is very difficult. I think more is probably grown on allotments and in gardens than is produced commercially. They reckoned that beetroot accounts for just 1% of vegetables grown in Britain.

For those who missed it (or saw it and would welcome a summary), Antonio Carluccio started by roasting a large beetroot in embers and relating the type of statistics that have become all-to-familiar during this series. Half of all British beetroot fields have been lost in the past 30 years. In the case of beetroot, the post-war trend to preserve it in cheap heavy vinegar has seriously damaged the crop’s reputation.

Antonio talked to beetroot supplier Graham Forber and the general farm manager of Riverford Organics James McGregor, who both agreed that beetroot still has an image problem to overcome. At the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, Head Gardener Nicola Bradley introduced us to some heritage varieties, showing the diversity of beetroot. They can be cylindrical or globular, and range in colour from purple to red, orange and white.

The health benefits of beetroot were illustrated using recent research at Exeter University showing that beetroot juice significantly enhanced exercise performance. This research is new to me, and I would like to read a bit more about it. I know that discussing the health benefits was the hardest part of writing Beetroot, because there is so much flaky stuff out there. The general health benefits of consuming beetroot are not in doubt, however. If Team Britain does consume concentrated shots of beetroot juice as a “secret weapon” (oops!), then they should probably be warned about beeturia (that’s red pee, to you and me).

Interspersed with his peripatetic wanderings, Carluccio cooked a three-course meal using beetroot: A Beetroot Soufflé with Anchovy Sauce, a Timbale of Beetroot (white sauce, ham, leeks and cheese), and a Panna Cotta Dessert with lime syrup and beetroot.

Simon Hulstone, the Michelin-starred head chef at The Elephant in Torquay, likes to cook with beetroot. His Beets and Curds features a range of heritage beetroot varieties, including Chioggia (white with red stripes), Golden, a white variety (possibly Albina Vereduna), and a dusting of red beetroot powder. The heritage varieties are all grown especially for him by a local farmer. The dish looks great and I’ll certainly be ordering it if I ever find myself in Torquay.

This was another excellent edition of Great British Food Revival.

I am currently harvesting beetroot from a deep bed in my Welsh garden. My personal preference is for the cylindrical varieties (which actually predate the globe ones), with Forono being my favourite. At the time of writing Beetroot (2004), I had an allotment in Stevenage, England, where I grew a range of modern and heritage varieties. You can see photos of them in the final section of the e-book, which comprises a dictionary of cultivated varieties (The photos included here are of the heritage variety Bull’s Blood).

Beetroot (2004):
http://www.stephennottingham.co.uk/beetroot.htm

Dictionary of Beetroot Varieties:
http://www.stephennottingham.co.uk/beetroot8.htm

Monday, 14 November 2011

Family Dining at the Red Hot World Buffet

The opening night showed that the Red Hot World Buffet and Bar in Cardiff is a fun place for adults, with plenty of great food on offer, but what would children make of it? To find out, I made a return trip with my daughters (aged 8 and 15) and partner to see how it rates as a family dining experience.

Our oldest daughter has developed a taste for sushi, so Red Hot World Buffet appeared to be a winner even before we entered. The display of sushi and seafood looked very inviting through the window. The younger daughter spotted the pizzas being prepared nearby and was similarly impressed.

To start our meal, I joined our oldest in assembling a starter plate of sushi and other seafood. I can’t get as excited as her about sushi generally (too much sticky rice for me), but the shrimps and the New Zealand mussels at Red Hot are a real treat (don’t miss the little trays of mussels with buerre blanc in the European section).

After her pizza slices fresh from the pizza oven, which proved a hit, the youngest (who is also into noodles) joined me at the Teppanyaki and Noodles section, one of ten live cooking stations around the buffet. We selected, from containers in front of us, the type of noodles we wanted, then the meat and vegetables. We passed these to the chef who stir-fried them on a hot plate with our choice of sauces. As throughout the buffet, most of the counters are low so that children have no problem seeing the food. The element of theatre and having food cooked while you watch is one of the best things about this buffet experience.

Both girls also took a liking to the adjacent Tex Mex and Louisiana sections, and corn-on-the-cob, nachos, quesadillas, olives and potato wedges were all sampled approvingly (although the youngest found the Taco tray filled with chilli and sour cream a bit hot for her taste). There are also beef burgers and BBQ chicken on offer in these sections, which I recommend as a diversion for dessert-fixated kids.

My partner was keen on the salads. I had overlooked them on my previous visit, but investigation revealed a wide range of interesting salad options around the buffet. There is also a vegetarian section that is worth sampling.

I helped my eldest daughter sample a couple of flavours of small pancake hot off the griddle, although even better were the Belgian waffles on sticks - dripping with the maple syrup she had spooned on. The ice creams and sorbets did not disappoint. My favourite was the kulfi.

For her final visit to the buffet, our youngest returned with a plate of sweets. She seemed to be finding her way around, or at least finding items on the buffet invisible to adults. Apart from the plate of sweets, and one rather overloaded dessert plate, both girls made sensible choices in taste combinations (unlike some food bloggers at the opening night party!).

We were given a tour of the buffet by Saurabh Khare, who had previously worked at the Liverpool branch. The chain was started in Nottingham in 2004 by Helen and Parmjit Dhaliwal, although Saurabh reckons it was in Liverpool that things really took off. Cardiff is the seventh Red Hot Buffet and Bar to open; in three year’s time they hope to have a total of 25 restaurants like this in the UK.

Cardiff has 35 highly-qualified chefs cooking up some 300 dishes. They specialize in particular cuisines, as Saurabh points out, so chefs from Chinese backgrounds are more likely to be cooking Chinese food, and so on. Additional buffet areas have been created in Cardiff, most notably the central live dessert station where six pastry chefs work. There are some beautifully-crafted confections on show, behind the display of over thirty tempting desserts. Saurabh admiringly admits one of the chefs is a bit of an artist. Looking up, we see previously unseen chefs on a mezzanine floor preparing salads.

Saurabh says that lunchtimes and afternoons (12pm-4pm Mon-Sat) are the main times for children in the restaurant. He indicates the area where a line of pushchairs can usually be found. They have 40 highchairs stacked somewhere to cater for a rush of younger children. Families are seated downstairs, so the upper floor remains a child-free dining zone.

The buffet opens at 5pm in the evenings, and it was already packed by 5.15pm when we arrived last Friday. There were a fair number of children downstairs and red balloons were being handed out. Around the buffet, children of all ages seemed to be mainly encountered around the ice creams (15 flavours). There was a lull around 7.30pm, and then it filled up again quickly but without children. We took our well-fed offspring home soon after, planning another trip over the Christmas holidays (note: they are getting heavily booked).

I don’t want to give the impression that this is a children’s restaurant. It might not be the best place for a children’s party, for instance, whereas the place is made for office parties (all tastes and cultures catered for). Younger children also need close supervision around the buffet due to the hot food. However, children are made very welcome at Red Hot World Buffet and it provides a unique family dining experience. Best of all, it’s a great place for children to try out new types of food, which they might not have tasted before.

Red Hot World Buffet and Bar
3-6 Hills Street, St David’s Dewi Sant
Cardiff CF10 2LE

Set prices (Children under 10 eat for half price)
Lunch: Adults from £7.99 (rising to £12.99 on Sundays when they are open all day)
Dinner: Adults from £12.99 (rising to £14.99 on Friday and Saturday evenings)
You can book online:
http://www.redhot-worldbuffet.com/redhot_cardiff.html
Opening night at Red Hot World Buffet Cardiff:
http://sfnottingham.blogspot.com/2011/10/red-hot-world-buffet-cardiff.html

Monday, 7 November 2011

Farm to Fork: The Pork at St Fagans

We took visitors to St Fagans National History Museum yesterday and had Sunday lunch in the museum’s Vale Restaurant.

The open air museum, on the edge of Cardiff, is Wales’ most popular heritage attraction. The large site contains over 40 historic buildings from all around Wales, which have been moved and rebuilt. They show how people have lived in Wales over the ages. Our visitors are never disappointed by St Fagans.

I had the roast pork for lunch, which came with boiled and roast potatoes, cabbage, fluffy mashed Swede that had an unexpected hotness, some parsnip and stuffing, gravy and apple sauce. The meat was delightfully tender.

All the pork served in the restaurant is from pigs reared at St Fagans: at the Llwyn-yr–Eos Farm just a few hundred yards from the restaurant. The farm is in its original site, with the farmhouse preserved as it would have been at the end of the First World War. The pigs are traditional Welsh pigs, kept in traditional sties. The larger pigs have access to a field. You can see that the pigs and other animals are well-cared for.

I approve of the trend for suppliers to be listed on restaurant boards and in menus. I think that knowing more about how your dinner has travelled from farm to fork really adds to the dining experience.

In addition to the home-reared pork, St Fagans sources ham and potatoes from Pembrokeshire, butter from Swansea, and cheese from south Wales: Smoked Caerphilly, Welsh cheddar and Perl Lâs. The latter is described by its makers, Caws Cenarth of Carmarthenshire, as a mature Caerphilly cheese that has become naturally blue.

St Fagans: National History Museum, Cardiff CF5 6XB

Friday, 4 November 2011

Wally's Kaffeehaus

For lunch on Wednesday at Wally’s Kaffeehaus, in Cardiff’s Royal Arcade, we went for Open Sandwiches.

I had the Tyrol, which consisted of Roast Chicken breast, sweet Spanish chorizo and shaved manchego cheese, with Piquillo peppers, garlic mayonnaise and rocket, topped with black olives and served on toasted artisan sourdough.

My partner (the one who always chooses best) had the Baden, comprising German dark smoked black ham, Hereford Hop cheese and ploughman’s chutney with green salad, chopped balsamic onions and sliced pear, served on wholegrain seeded bread.

Although I really enjoyed my Tyrol, the Baden seemed to have more going for it, with a wider variety of flavours and textures, especially the tangy balsamic pickled onion and the full-flavoured cheese. The bread was also tastier and there was more of it. I know it’s an open sandwich, but I felt I wanted an extra bit of sourdough, that wasn’t under all those ingredients, just to better appreciate the bread.

There are eleven Open Sandwiches to choose from (all named after Austrian towns or villages), all served with a side garnish of potato salad, including two vegetarian options: the Rohrbach, with grilled aubergine and Caerphilly cheese, and the Linz, with marinated mushrooms, sun-blushed tomato and Perl Las cheese. I noted the Kitzbuhel, which included liver sausage and sauerkraut, and the Wiener, with marinated herring and dill pickle, for future reference. We were also tempted by the Aufschnitt: selections of cold meats and cheeses on a platter for two.

Wally’s Delicatessen has been in the Royal Arcade since 1981. It doubled its size by taking over an adjoining shop a few years ago. The Kaffeehaus opened above the Deli about a month ago. It is a family business owned by Steve Salamon - who was chatting to diners in the Kaffeehaus on Wednesday. See the Deli website (link below) for the fascinating family history.

The Kaffeehaus aims to bring Viennese Coffee House tradition to Cardiff (Steve’s father Wally Salamon was born in Austria). That is, there’s no rush, feel free to chat away or read the newspapers provided, while listening to Beethoven and Mozart on the sound system.

There is a pleasing synergy between the Deli and the Kaffeehaus. The café obviously has a wide variety of delicacies they can draw upon (the staff regularly bring trays of ham and cheese up the stairs), and the menu is designed to showcase what the Deli has to offer; while diners can take home the favourite ingredient from their lunch. We particularly liked the Hereford Hop cheese and bought some downstairs in the Deli on the way out.

The Deli sells all manner of things (around 1,600 products from all over the world) and there’s always something new to discover. I also bought fresh yeast this week and have subsequently been doing some baking (but that’s another blog post).

Wally's Kaffeehaus and Wally's Delicatessen
38 - 46 Royal Arcade, Cardiff CF10 1AE

http://www.wallyskaffeehaus.co.uk/

http://www.wallysdeli.co.uk/index.html

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Cowbridge Food & Drink Festival

Large crowds turned out today for the seventh annual Cowbridge Food & Drink Festival / Gŵyl Bwyd a Diod Y Bont-Faen (29-30 Oct 2011), in the heart of the Vale of Glamorgan. With over 80 exhibitors, cooking demonstrations, food and drink talks, entertainment and children’s activities, it has become one of the regions top food festivals.

We arrived early and parked in a farm on the edge of town – part of the free park and ride service. The main marquees were bustling with activity by mid-morning. Although the festival is centred on these marquees, events occur throughout the market town.

In the main Festival Marquee and the Cheese & Wine Marquee there was a great selection of fine food and drink to sample and purchase. We seemed to sample a lot of cheese, and lingered at Teifi Farmhouse Cheese, Cothi Valley Goats (cheese), Caws Cenarth Cheese, Slade Farm Organics, Wernddu Wines & Vineyard, and many more stalls besides. You can see Cardiff’s The Parsnipship in the foreground of the photo taken down the main marquee.

There was some tempting cooking smells emanating from the hot food marquee. Glam Lamb and the Venison Burger stalls, and the hog roast, were attracting sizeable queues. We opted for Taste of Persia, sharing a Lamb Kebab and a Pomegranate Chicken with Walnuts and rice. Based in Llanbadoc, Monmouthshire, they are regulars at Cardiff’s Riverside Food Market.

Taste of Persia’s owner Kamran Khanverdi was among the chefs doing demonstrations today in the True Taste of Wales exhibition trailer, in the Town Hall car park. Others included Kurt Fleming of ffresh Bar & Restaurant. Martin Cowley (Cowley’s Fine Foods) was demonstrating historical meat-drying techniques.

Bev Robins from the Otley Brewery and Deryck Mathews of Preselli Coffee are among the contributors to the drinks talks programme in Cowbridge Town Hall. A Real Ale Festival was well underway by lunchtime today at the Vale of Glamorgan Inn.

Other events around Cowbridge include a Craft Fayre, a Champagne Marquee & Bar, and a circus (from the Belgian twin town of Mouscron). The festival continues tomorrow (Sunday 30 Oct: 10am-4pm). Entry to marquees: £4 adults (under 12s free).


Last year the event was awarded the National Tourism Awards Wales: Best Community Event 2010. If it continues to be this successful, the organizers might have to get bigger marquees to fit in all the visitors (they already have many more applications for trade stands than they can accomodate). 



Cowbridge Food & Drink Festival is already pencilled into our diary again for next year, with a note that we need to spend much more time there to do justice to all the events!


Cowbridge Food & Drink Festival:
http://www.cowbridgefoodanddrink.org/

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Red Hot World Buffet Cardiff

The Red Hot World Buffet and Bar was packed for its launch party last night in Cardiff. There were drinks, speeches, belly dancing, Chinese dragon dancing, Indian music, stilt walkers, and finally the opening of the buffet itself.

A walk around the buffet takes you past Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Tex-Mex, Cajun, Italian, Mediterranean and British food items (around 300 in all), including live stations where chefs prepare food such as pizza and risotto. There are also plenty of desserts and ice creams. Portion size is small for most pre-prepared items, to help you make a diverse selection. There's a range of vegetarian options and all the food is attractively presented.

Faced with this cornucopia, I made my usual buffet mistake - my first plateful mixed too many items that did not complement each other. Some of the dishes are pleasingly hot and spicy, for instance, and don’t go with other styles of food. I prefer buffets after I get familiar with them, and always enjoy buffets on all-inclusive holidays more after several days when I can assemble my optimum buffet plateful.

I had an enjoyable seafood selection for my second plate last night, with some excellent mussels. I finished off with several types of dessert (it’s all cream and chocolate rather than fresh fruit). Not all the world’s regions are pulled off with the same success, and I’ll be honing in on the Indian and oriental areas on future visits. I’ll also be taking the kids, to see what they make of it and how the place caters for them. I expect this is where the pizza station comes into its own.

Red Hot World Buffet reminds me somewhat of Epcot’s World Showcase in Orlando, Florida. This is not a criticism of the food by the way; some of the pavilions around the lake at Disney’s park pull out all the stops to promote their nation’s cuisine (although Ye Olde British Pub serving “warm beer” and greasy chips is to be avoided). The connection is the attraction of sampling many world cuisines in one place; although the disneyfication of the dining experience was evident in the choice of entertainment at Red Hot World Buffet and Bar last night.

The first Red Hot World Buffet and Bar was founded in Nottingham in 2004. The Cardiff branch is the seventh in the UK. It offers all-you-can-eat buffet dining for a set price, from £7.99 for lunch and £12.99 for dinner.

If you really want, say, Italian or Japanese, then you should probably stick to a specialist restaurant, but if you want to sample a range of world cuisines in one sitting then Red Hot World Buffet is definitely the place for you.

Red Hot World Buffet and Bar
3-6 Hills Street, St David’s Dewi Sant, Cardiff CF10 2LE
http://www.redhot-worldbuffet.com/redhot_cardiff.html

The last time I ate at Epcot I had an excellent Moroccan evening (complete with obligatory belly dancer, of course). Penarth-based food blogger Rebecca (Fasting Foodie) recently ate in Epcot. Here's her post:
http://fastingfoodie.blogspot.com/2011/10/eating-in-america-food-is-theme-park.html