Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Promised Land

Lunch today was in The Promised Land - the bar in Cardiff’s Windsor Place with the enigmatic elephant on the front. We went two-for-£10: pie of the day (beef and onion), fish and chips (haddock today); pint of Otley and some cider.

The Promised Land was opened in September 2008 by Nick Davidson and Alan Savory. The food philosophy appears to be keep it simple, make it affordable, but do it well. Ingredients are locally sourced and probably organic. Nick Davidson currently directs operations, although Alan Savory appears to have moved on.

The menu offers a wide range of Welsh bar food: sandwiches, salads, soup of the day, pub meals (e.g., ham, egg and chips; sausages and mash; curry). Specialities include the Elephant burger (actually beef). Treats on Toast (e.g., Welsh rarebit) and Butty! (e.g., chip; bacon) are separate menu sections. They do a full Welsh breakfast, a small children’s menu, have an interesting wine list, and then there’s the sticky toffee pudding. It's good pub food, but if you were coming here on the strength of the early rave reviews for food you may leave a little disappointed.

Welsh Cheese and Charcuterie platters are supplied by Deli a Go Go ( in Whitchurch, another Nick Davidson venture, which opened in 2010 (he describes himself as "VP of cheese and wine" there).

On the ground floor, The Promised Land décor is uncluttered and ‘regular pub’ in appearance (unlike the quirkiness favoured by other recent music bars in Cardiff). Pictures of The Manic Street Preachers (signed) and The Beatles feature strongly on the walls (worth wandering around if you're into rock memorabilia - it extends down to the bathrooms). The selection of music is good and a wide-screen TV was today silently tuned to BBC News - Barack Obama in London. There’s a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere (don’t expect fast food).

Upstairs there is another bar, which is a venue for a full program of live local music and other events (quiz nights and so forth).

The Promised Land, 4 Windsor Place, Cardiff CF10 3BX
Mon-Wed 10am-11pm; Thu 10am-12am; Fri-Sat 10am-2am; Sun 11am-6pm

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Cardiff Central Market

There has been a market in central Cardiff for over 800 years. However, the first covered market on the site near St John’s Church was established in 1835. Solomon Andrews, one of Cardiff’s leading Victorian entrepreneurs, had a new market built in 1884. It was completely destroyed by fire in 1885. Solomon fainted at the shock when he saw the destruction, but soon had it rebuilt.
The large indoor glass-roofed Victorian market that we know today, between St Mary and Trinity Street, was erected on the site in 1891. Designed by local engineer William Harpur and built by Andrew Handyside & Co. of Derby, it was solidly constructed from wrought iron and steel. The market was officially opened on 8th May 1891 by the Marchioness of Bute. A commemorative plaque hangs inside the Trinity Street entrance. The original design provided for 349 stalls of various sizes. Initially they were grouped according to trade, with non-food stalls confined to the upper balcony area.

The first stall you may have encountered in 1891, on your right as you entered the Trinity Street entrance, was Ashton’s Fishmongers. It is still there. Since 1973, the business has been run by the Adams family, a long-established family of fishmongers from Penarth. John James Adams was awarded an MBE in this year’s New Year’s Honours List for services to the fishing industry in south Wales. His son Nick Adams, a fifth-generation fishmonger, currently runs Ashton’s market stall.

Marks & Spencer opened one of their original penny bazaars in the market in 1895. Roche’s was a stall selling china for 70 years in the market, until Mr. Roche retired in 2004. Alan Griffiths, one of the butcher’s and chairman of the Cardiff Traders’ Association has said that, “People like to come into a market, they like personal service and friendly faces – that is something which lacks in supermarkets really.” The market has a long tradition, and is liked for its consistency as large areas of Cardiff have been redeveloped around it.

The building was refurbished between 1988 and 1991, and to help celebrate the Grade II listed building’s 120th anniversary this year the Trinity Street entrance has had its stonework washed and repaired.

Today, there are 73 stalls selling a wide range of items, with food and non-food stalls intermixed. You can buy meat, fruit and vegetables, cakes, vinyl records, pets, tools, leather bags, second-hand books and much more. There are several places to eat inside the market: The Bull Terrace café, the Gallery Café, Woody’s café and Celtic Corner for teas and coffees. There are eight butchers stall, five fruit and vegetable stalls, including Sullivan’s opposite Ashton’s, two delicatessens, two confectionary stalls, along with bread, and cake and cheese stalls.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A History of the World in 100 Objects

Today’s lunchtime Origins talk at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff proved so popular it was relocated to the large Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre; not too surprising given that the subject was one of the most popular BBC Radio 4 programs of recent times. Dr J.D. Hill, Head of Research at the British Museum, gave a fascinating insight into the making of A History of the World in 100 Objects. In this series, British Museum Director Neil MacGregor told one hundred stories based on objects in the museum’s collection that shed light on the object's wider history, so that we can better understand events in our own time.

J. D. Hill was lead curator on A History of the World, which, although centring on the radio show, was a huge multi-media project involving a website, podcasts, a bestselling book, collaborations with 540 other museums around the UK, a children’s TV series and more. Dr Hill outlined the benefits of radio as a basis for the whole project, being much cheaper than TV, allowing more risks to be taken, and enabling the presenter to say more in the thirteen-and-a-half minutes of each episode (around 1800 words) than could be said in an hour of TV.

The oldest object selected itself, according to Dr Hill, being a stone tool (the Clovis Spear Point) from 1.8m years ago representing an advance in human technology for killing and eating animals. As history becomes more modern there is more choice of objects because more artefacts survive.

It was decided that the choice of objects should cover global human history. In those terms, objects from Britain and Europe might be considered as being over-represented. However, a decision was made to include familiar objects, to give listeners a frame of reference, alongside ones few may have encountered before. One such unfamiliar object is a bird-shaped pestle from Papua New Guinea, representing the birth of agriculture and early attempts at cookery.

The final choice of object (from 2010) was a source of much debate. Neil MacGregor’s choice of a solar-powered torch was selected, ending the series of a positive note (although Drogba’s Chelsea shirt and thermals for exploring Antarctica were also contenders). This raises a big question: what do you collect now so that museums in the future can best understand the 21st Century.

Dr Hill concluded his talk by noting how the popularity of the series had far exceeded their expectations, illustrating its global reach using a cartoon from a newspaper in the Midwestern USA in which two teenage boys are asked their ‘lame’ Dad what’s on his i-pod (the podcast featuring the Minoan bull leapers, as it  turns out).

The culture surrounding food is represented by the story surrounding a Mayan stone Maize God, a silver pepper pot tells of the Roman spice trade with India, an early Victorian tea set is used to tell the story of the global trade in tea, and so forth. All the programmes can be heard via the website:

Monday, 16 May 2011

Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay

The Norwegian Church officially re-opens 17th May 2011 (Norwegian Constitution Day) after major renovation work. I visited on Sunday for a coffee and a look around, on the first full day of operations for the new Norsk coffee shop (“Brunch…Lunch…Afternoon Tea”).

The church was founded in 1868 by Herman Lunde of Oslo to serve as a religious meeting place for the Scandinavian community in Cardiff. The church, which was located at the entrance to West Bute Docks, was closed and deconsecrated in 1974, after which it fell into disrepair. During the docklands redevelopment, the Norwegian Church Preservation Society moved the building to its present position on the waterfront and restored it. It re-opened as an Arts Centre and Coffee Shop in 1992.

From the outside the Norwegian Church looks little different, apart from a new raised decking area for al fresco dining and outdoor staged events. However, the interior has been significantly changed. The wall between the old coffee shop and the main hall has been removed, so tables can be arranged continuously through the ground floor. The stained glass, the ship hanging from the ceiling, the pulpit and the quilt are still there, but the open-plan café makes the building feel less quirky. The most striking difference is probably the white paint on the wood panels in the main room (the Grieg Room). It seems a shame to cover the lovely wood panelling, but the redecorated has been done in keeping with the traditional decor of Norwegian churches (after and before photos below).

Norsk offers a mix of Norwegian and Welsh dishes: Welsh Cawl, Norwegian Fisherman’s Lunch, Welsh Rarebit, Welsh Beef Lasagne, and Norwegian & Welsh Cheese Platter. Sandwiches are served with “Real Welsh Crisps” and local eggs and bacon are on the brunch menu. Some of the food I saw coming from the kitchen looked very appetizing and it’s all reasonably priced, with the possible exception of the Afternoon Tea comprising a selection of cakes, scones with clotted cream & jam and finger sandwiches “all served on a 3 tier cake stand” with tea or cake. Classical music is piped in. The previous café was a bit of a greasy spoon in comparison! The new venture has an eye on the tourists as the Bay redevelopment expands beyond the Norwegian Church.

The Norwegian Church hosts an interesting program of concerts and events, as before. The upper-floor gallery has been rechristened the Dahl Gallery (after the author Roald Dahl - the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust’s first president - who was christened in the building). The gallery has been made more accessible, with a lift for disabled access. It provides a valuable exhibition space in Cardiff Bay. The first exhibition is of photos showing stages in the renovation of the Norwegian Church. The old wooden balcony railings have been replaced by glass panels, while a sliding screen can isolate the room from the Grieg Room below. Overall, the renovations have made the church a more versatile space.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Madame Fromage

Today (11th May 2011) saw the release of the new Lonely Planet Guide covering Wales. It is generally upbeat about Cardiff (Saturday nights on St Mary’s Street excepted). The new Cardiff Story Museum, National Museum Wales, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Castle and the Victorian Arcades are considered highlights. The Riverside Farmers’ Market is recommended, as are food establishments Brava, The Plan, and Madame Fromage.

Madame Fromage was founded in 2004 by Karen Cunnington, initially in Duke Street and then soon after in its current location in Castle Arcade. She runs the café, shop and online deli with her family. As the name suggests, the specialty is cheese. Around 150 interesting cheeses are typically in stock, predominantly from Wales, England, France, Spain and Italy. This is a good place to go for cheeses (e.g., Y Fenni, Stinking Bishop, Saint Nectaire, Gorgonzola dulce, Picos blue) you’ve heard about but not yet tried.

Around a corner from the cheese and patisserie counters is the well-stocked delicatessen. Bread and cakes are also a feature, with large cupcakes currently popular. The establishment has taken over both sides of a corner in Castle Arcade, with the shop restaurant on one side and the Little Café on the other. The restaurants focus on Welsh and Breton cuisine.
Madame Fromage: 18 Castle Arcade and 21 - 25 Castle Arcade, Cardiff.

Madam Fromage: The Fine Cheese Specialist.

Wales Online:

Confessions of Madame Fromage, by Vikki Davies, South Wales Echo, 25 November 2010.

Old Cogan Hall Farm

On a walk from Dinas Powys this morning, I passed through Old Cogan Hall Farm on a Farm Gate Sale day (“Bacon Sunday!”). Every third Sunday of each month (mid-May as May 1st was a Sunday!) between 10am and 1pm they sell bacon and sausages from a barn by the footpath near the Sully Road entrance into Cosmeston Lakes Country Park.
Lisa Corbett-Bailey and Trevor Bailey produce bacon and sausages from the farm’s Gloucester Old Spot pigs (a rare breed). The home-cured bacon is either dry cured or sweet cured. Dry curing is where a ham is covered with salt for preservation and flavour, while molasses and Demerara sugar have been worked into the surface of a ham for sweet cured bacon.
Sausages are cooked on Farm Gate Sale days, so you can sample them. Each month there’s a speciality flavour. Today it is chocolate and chilli pork sausages, so I have to buy some of those. Last month it was pork, rhubarb and mustard seed. Other Old Cogan Hall Farm sausage recipes include the Jonlee (‘Gloucester Old Spot Pork, Black Pudding, Stilton & Lime Pickle’) and Toulouse garlic sausage (‘Gloucester Old Spot Pork, Farm Fresh Pancetta, White Wine, Fresh Garlic & Seasoning’), along with pork and apple (with cinnamon) and regular pork.
Old Cogan Hall Farm also sells organically-produced lamb from its small flock of sheep (around 60 ewes), beef from its Welsh Black cattle, and raises turkeys for the Christmas market.
The farm is one of the oldest in the Penarth area. Documents show that meat was transported from around here to London as early as 1247. The present farm buildings date back to the 16th Century, with extensive remodelling during the 19th Century. Next door to the farm is the ancient church of St Peter’s Old Cogan.

Old Cogan Hall Farm, Sully Road, Penarth CF64 2TQ:

Friday, 13 May 2011

Food on Film: Archipelago

I found Joanna Hogg’s Archipelago (2010), which has just been released on DVD, interested from a food perspective. The film concerns an unhappy family holidaying on Tresco, one of the Scilly Isles. The mother Patricia (Kate Fahy), son Edward (Tom Hiddleston) and daughter (Lydia Leonard) arrive at their holiday home, but the father never shows. They have employed Rose to cook for them throughout their two-week vacation. It’s a slowburing study of the rifts that divide the family.

Professional cook Amy Lloyd plays the part of Rose (she trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama before retraining as a chef), while several key scenes in the film revolve around food.

Rose obtains a pair of lobsters from a (real-life) fisherman. He is informative on identifying the sex of lobsters. Edward enters the kitchen while Rose is cooking them. Rose contrasts the torpid lobsters, which are put into cold water so they go into a coma before they boil, with lively ones she has cooked previously that tried to escape from the pan. It sounds like a commentary on the dysfunctional family.

After footage of a pheasant shoot, a (real-life) local turns up at the cottage with a brace for Rose. He is informative on pheasant plucking. Rose plucks and cooks the pheasant. However, Cynthia, who has ben berating her brother, bites some leadshot while eating the meal and storms from the dining room.

Things become even more stressful on a restaurant outing, when Cynthia returns her underdone guinea fowl, thinking it might be dangerous to eat. Everyone else wants to crawl under the table with embarrassment as the chef comes out and explains that the bird is correctly cooked and the meat should be pink.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The People's Supermarket

The “Ethical Chef” Deri Reed wants to set up a People’s Supermarket in Cardiff. Deri Reed has been working in the food industry for over ten years. He has gone from making baguettes in Carmarthen to working in a famous Vegetarian Restaurant in Cork. He returned to South Wales to set up his EthicalChef business in Cardiff. You may have seen his stall at the Riverside Farmers’ Market. The idea behind EthicalChef is to promote local food through cooking at markets and supper clubs.

A supermarket run by local people is the next step for the EthicalChef. The inspiration was a Channel 4 television programme called "The People's Supermarket.” This showed how such a project was successfully established in London. Here’s a report on London’s People's Supermarket:

The People's Supermarket could provide a model for a similar project in Cardiff. Deri Reed is currently seeking people to help set up this new venture:

The People's Supermarket in London:

The People’s Supermarket (Channel 4 TV Series):

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Community Gardens

A Community Garden is a single piece of land collectively cultivated by a group of people. Such gardens bring benefits in terms of local food security, a sense of community, education and connection to the environment, artistic expression, and health.

In Cardiff, Chapter Arts Centre has established a Community Garden, run by Canton Community Gardens. Food plants have been arranged with regard to their decorative effect, amongst existing trees and newly-planted apple trees, in borders around the front of the arts complex. A colourful array of plants, including brassica species and nasturtiums was achieved last year.

Earlier this year, purple-sprouting broccoli, in a bed running up to the main entrance, became ready to pick. Word was sent out over social networking sites, inviting local people to come and take a share. This is a novel concept. Certainly, there was some broccoli that could have been picked that went to seed. Maybe Chapter should put up suggested portion sizes for the communal bounty, so people don’t feel anxious about taking more than their fair share, and to discourage a minority who may excessively crop the plants. I predict this garden will become increasingly popular as more people contribute and benefit from it.

In its first year (2010), Chapter’s edible Community Garden was a winner in the Peoples Millions Big Lottery competition. The garden is set to expand in 2011. Designs for a “perennial edible landscape” have been draw up by Michele Fitzsimmons ( These plans were approved by Cardiff Council in February. Gardening is underway. I’ll be blogging on progress, as I visit Chapter during the rest of this year.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Nando's, Cardiff Bay

The tricky thing about deciding on a shared chicken platter in Nando’s is the degree of hotness to choose: the mango and lime, lemon and herb, medium Peri Peri, hot Peri Peri or the extra hot.

I first encountered Peri-Peri Chicken in Portugal and have been a fan ever since (Piri-Piri is to Portugal what curry is to the England). Nando’s specialty is “succulent, Portuguese, flame-grilled PERi-PERi chicken”, which has been marinated for at least 24 hours “in our unique Afro-Portuguese PERi-PERi sauce” before being flame-grilled. When I have ordered from the periphery of the menu it’s sometimes disappointing; so I generally stick to the Peri Peri Chicken, which always delivers. The medium Peri Peri is my usual choice.

Nando’s originated in South Africa (where the hot piri piri pepper is widely grown), and can now be found in over 30 countries. There are three Nando’s in Cardiff: in the Brewery Quarter, in St David’s and on Mermaid Quay in Cardiff Bay.

Last night as a family of four, on our way to the Scottish Ballet production of Alice at the WMC, we opted for the flavoursome lemon and herb marinaded chicken platter, to suit everyone’s tastes, with large chips and garlic bread as sides. We washed it down with Sagres (Portuguese beer), Savanna (South African cider) and some ‘bottomless’ soft drinks.

As usual with Nando's, the staff were helpful and efficient.

I may go for the extra hot Peri Peri Chicken next time. It's something that has to be done.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Dartmoor Beer Diary

The beers I drank last week in Devon and Cornwall.

Dartmoor Brewery:
Jail Ale
(The Dartmoor Brewery in Princetown is a stone’s throw from the Dartmoor Prison, so it’s no surprise that its flagship award-winning beer is called Jail Ale).

Skinners Brewery (Truro, Cornwall):
Betty Stogs

St Austell Brewery (est. 1851):
(Tribute is one of the region’s most popular beers; pale amber in colour and with malt and citrus notes).

Sharp’s Brewery (Rock, Cornwall):
Eden Pure Ale
(From the brewery more famous for Doom Bar, this recent gold-coloured beer is brewed in collaboration with the Eden Project)

Palmer’s Brewery (Bridport, Dorset):
Palmer’s Copper

Best pubs visited:
The Dartmoor Inn, Merrivale.
A 17th Century coaching inn, 1000 feet above sea level and on the open moor, by Merrivale Bridge and near the fascinating Merrivale prehistoric monuments site.

Plume of Feathers, Princetown.
A coaching inn since 1785 and across the road from the hotel (now Visitor Centre) where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Monday, 2 May 2011

IKEA, Cardiff

Ah, the May Day bank holiday, when people traditionally assemble on village greens to dance around the Maypole. Today, they flock to IKEA.

The cafe in IKEA Cardiff is always bustling. You can eat well on a tight budget here: whether it's the 99p cooked breakfast, the £1.50 fish and chips, or the "signature dishes" of meatballs or lox.

I like coming to IKEA every couple of months to stock up on Swedish foodstuffs for a change. Today it was frozen meatballs, sprat fillets (Abba of Sweden - no not ABBA), herrings in mustard sauce, and some Swedish cheeses. Other specialist items include lingonberry (jam and juice), sliced smoked reindeer, cured salmon (lox), rye crackers, and dill sauce for fish.

IKEA also sell furniture.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Eden Project, Cornwall

Last week was our third visit to the Eden Project in Cornwall. We saw the site soon after it opened, again about five year’s ago, and returned during its 10th anniversary year. It’s probably my favourite visitor attraction in the UK and, not surprisingly, ecology and food plants are central to its vision.

There was major flooding over the winter, which destroyed the stage and ice rink area and inundated the low-lying restaurant between the biomes. Typically, rather than see this is an unmitigated disaster, Tim Smit and his team saw it as an opportunity to establish the bakery that they had always wanted, and put it at the heart of the project. It was back to basics – with long functional wooden refectory tables across the hall; along two of them apprentice bakers work to make loaves, pizza, croissants, and other food for sale. The Eden Bakery is a distinct feature, and the minimalism suits the place.

Restaurants and cafes in other parts of the site continue in the more traditional manner, while a stall sells tasty Tuscan Bean Stew and Catalan Fish Stew in the Mediterranean area.

You can see some of the food being grown in the GrowZone, a demonstration allotment that has expanded in recent years.

There was drama as we were walking around the Rainforest Biome. We heard a very loud cracking noise, and branches of a tree started to fall onto the path. On being informed of this, the staff went quickly into action; understandable as the tree in question was toxic - apparently being used for poison-tipped darts. The hot air balloon was launched within the biome, drastic pruning was undertaken, and the area reopened promptly.

The new rainforest lookout gives spectacular views down onto the trees. It’s very hot up there!

To help celebrate the Eden Project’s tenth anniversary, Cardiff-based NoFit State Circus will be performing a new show there in August.