Monday, 29 August 2011

The British Fish Craft Championships

The Harbour Festival in Cardiff Bay takes place over August bank holiday weekend as part of the Cardiff Festival. It is becoming a more interesting foodie event than the actual Cardiff Food Festival that occurs in this location earlier in the summer. One reason for this is The British Fish Craft Championships that take place on the Sunday, in a marquee run by the National Federation of Fishmongers that is devoted to seafood-related events throughout the weekend (e.g., Monday sees the Welsh Oyster Opening Championship).

This is the third year that the Fish Craft Championships have been held at the Harbour (Fish’n’Ships) Festival. Here, Britain’s top fishmongers demonstrate their skills and compete in a variety of categories. The marquee was packed throughout Sunday, with video screens helping the audience to follow the action. The categories depicted here are for preparing salmon, halibut and arranging a fish display.

In the salmon filleting competition, three Scottish salmon had to be prepared in 12 minutes. This involved skinning and filleting one, preparing equal-sized steaks from another, and approaching the third freestyle. Scales and pin bones were removed, and a high level of presentation was required.

The halibut preparation time was ten minutes, in which the fish was filleted and arranged in equal and attractive portion sizes along with prawns, lemon and decorative seaweed.

The collage competition involved competitors getting a box of assorted fish and making an attractive display from them. Fish can be kept whole, although some were filleted, and displayed along with lemons and seaweed. The audience were asked to guess the number of fish species in the boxes (between 9 and 13, I believe).

In addition to fish, one category had the fishmongers using their skills on poultry. In the categories I saw, it was mainly Morrison’s and local fishmonger Ashton’s battling it out for glory. Afterwards, the prepared fish was either barbequed on The Fig Tree’s stand or sold outside the marquee. We went home with some bargain-priced salmon and halibut.

Harbour Festival

National Federation of Fishmongers:

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Dried Peas

Sometimes I happen upon a food item that seems to be from a bygone age, which I just have to try. Before freezing became the main way of preserving peas, dried peas were the way to get them out-of-season. I cooked up Leo Dried Peas with steeping tablet (sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, and acid sodium pyrophosphate) and pea net.

The dried peas are poured into a bowl. The steeping tablet is unwrapped and added. Boiling water is poured over the peas and they are left for at least 12 hours. They expand considerably, so periodically check that they are still covered by the water. The steeping water is ditched and the peas are thoroughly washed in fresh water. The peas are then put into the supplied gauze bag and bought to the boil in a pan of water and simmered for 20-30 minutes.

They are fairly tasteless compared to fresh or frozen peas, even with the serving suggestion of a knob of butter. I made them into a soup with chicken stock and some potato and chopped ham. I cooked them for a further hour or so in the stock and liquidized the mixture. With the addition of some mint, the soup was well received.

I guess dried peas are useful if you are living somewhere without a freezer, but I’ll be sticking to frozen peas in the future. Apparently, they got into the cupboard because they were brought for a children’s party game (of the remove sweets silently from a tin filled with dried peas/pasta variety).

Friday, 26 August 2011

Festival Food: Goan Seafood Company

One of the most popular food stalls on the music festival circuit is run by the Goan Seafood Company, which specializes in Goan Fish Curries.

In 2009, the Goan Seafood Company won the coveted Nationwide Caterers Association Award as the best caterers at Glastonbury Festival. Their summer 2011 tour has taken in Wychwood, Glastonbury, Cornbury, Larmar Tree, Secret Garden Party, Womad, Wickham, Cropredy, Green Man, Greenbelt, and End of the Road festivals.

In previous years at the Green Man, I have sampled several of their first class curries. The curries available at Green Man this year were the Goan Fish Curry, the King Prawn Caldine, Goan Mackeral Masala Dahl (their most popular dish), and the Vegetarian Masala Dahl. Typically, there is queue and they close early because the food has all sold out. You often catch a wonderful aromatic smell as you walk past.

This year, I tried the Luxury Kedgeree (£6), which is served until midday. It is made from home-smoked salmon, free-range egg, peas, basmati rice, chopped parsley and spices, and served with a slice of lemon. There is optional Goan Hot Sauce, a pea-green paste you squeeze out of a plastic bottle that carries a v. hot warning. They are not kidding! The kedgeree was tasty, but I found it a little on the dry side.

The stall trades under the slogan: “Fresh Cornish Fish, Authentic Goan Recipes”. The Goan Seafood Company is based in the fishing village of Mevagissey in Cornwall. They obtain all their fish from local fishermen, from sustainable fish stocks caught using traditional methods. Their head chef, on his travels, became hooked on Goan cooking (a distinct Indian cuisine influenced by a long period of Portuguese rule, which makes excellent use of fresh fish). Goan fish dishes are characterized by “hot-sour” flavours.

Goan Seafood Company:

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Festival Food: Cymdu School

Each year at the Green Man Festival, Cwmdu Church in Wales School, located in the nearby village of Cwmdu just outside Crickhowell, sets up its café stall by the gate into the main arena. Volunteers run the stall, which is a fund-raising venture.

The stall is always popular and it's open all around the clock (the Green Man also has a 24 hour bar). This year, I had my usual bacon roll (generously stuffed with bacon) and tea from the stall for breakfast. They also cook a range of locally-produced sausages. Soup is usually available. Along with the teas, coffees and hot chocolate, there is a constant supply of home-made cakes. It’s one of the best-value places to eat at the festival, and the welcome is always very friendly.

When you see this type of stall at a festival, it is indicative of the festival organisers working closely with the local community.

Fiona Stewart, Managing Director of the Green Man Festival, told me in a recent interview: “The support we get from local people has always been brilliant. With so many people coming to the area there is a boost to the economy which is great. We suggest to local business to stock up on the kind of goods that people attending buy each year to optimise opportunities.” She adds: “We think it’s great that Green Man stimulates tourism and boosts the economy”.

Cwmdu School:

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Festival Food: Hall’s Dorset Smokery

Like many of the food outlets that tour the UK’s festivals, Hall’s Dorset Smokery has gained something of a following among music fans.

Halls’ unique selling point is that for the past six years they have smoked food on-site, using a Hot Smoking technique that involves smoking food over smouldering wet oak chips. After Hot Smoking, the food is chilled. This prevents overcooking and enables the smoke residue to marinade into the meat.

They offer lightly smoked salmon, bacon, chicken and brie, in wraps and bagels. Their bacon, brie and cranberry bagel is especially well thought of (if social networking sites are anything to go by). At some festivals they also smoke mackerel.

At the Green Man Festival last weekend, I had the smoked salmon bagel with pepper and lemon juice (£5). The lightly smoked salmon tasted delicious and the bagel oozed cream cheese. It was very good.

Hall’s source their pork, cream and cheese from Dorset, their brie from Somerset, and their salmon from Scotland.

Owner Richard Hall is used to dealing with Environmental Health Officers and keeps a very high standard of food hygiene (he passes weekly checks at different sites with flying colours: see the interesting article on rising food standards at festivals below). Apparently, Glastonbury in 1970 was the first rock festival to be reported on by environmental health inspectors. Those inspectors would have been amazed by today’s festival food standards.

In addition to Green Man, Hall’s Dorset Smokery’s summer 2011 tour has taken in Glastonbury, Sonisphere, Download, The Big Chill, the Rhythm Festival and Womad.

With their expertise in freshly smoked food, Hall’s has the “boutique” festival circuit’s smoked meats needs well and truly covered.

Source for Hall’s Dorset Smokery and food hygiene info:

Monday, 22 August 2011

Festival Food: Iechyd Da

I remember going to music festivals as a youngster where the only food available was beefburgers, hot dogs and greasy chips. Times have certainly changed for the better, and today’s best festivals offer appetizing cuisine from around the world. Catering operations have vans that specialize in festivals during the summer months – it appears to be a thriving sector of the catering industry.

This is the first of a series of posts on festival food, based in particular on the Green Man Festival, in the Brecon Beacons, from which I have recently returned.

It’s not all tempura, Thai fish curries, paella and Mexican, of course. Local food is always represented at a good festival. At the Green Man, for instance, you can sample a range of Welsh foods.

Swansea-based Iechyd Da is a family-run business that was one of the first to tour traditional Welsh recipes around Britain’s music festivals. At Green Man, Iechyd Da were serving Faggots and Pies, Beef Stew and Dumplings, Cauliflower and Broccoli Bake, Chicken and Leek Casserole, and the usual range of teas, coffees and cakes (including Welsh cakes, of course).

I went along one morning for the Full Welsh Breakfast (served until 2pm). For £5.50 this included free-range bacon; pork and leek sausage; free-range egg; baked beans; laver bread; buttered bread (white or brown) and coffee. The laver bread (seaweed) is optional, but having lived in south Wales for a few years now I am getting a taste for it. A vegetarian breakfast was also available, with homemade Glamorgan sausage and mushrooms.

Iechyd Da’s summer tour 2011 has also included gigs at Wychwood Music Festival, Glastonbury (stage crew and artist catering), Ely Folk Festival, Lamar Tree Festival, and Shrewsbury Folk Festival.

In Cardiff recently, it was revealed that takeaways often score 0 or 1 out of 5 in Food Hygiene Ratings (conducted by the Food Standards Agency). Out in the festival fields, Iechyd Da displays its rating: a perfect 5. In fact, most of the food vans that tour UK music festivals look like they keep to an altogether better standard of hygiene than you would encounter in chippies and kebab houses along the average high street.

Brian Murphy & Rebecca Jones
Iechyd da Catering
8, Sardis close,

Website (includes their recipes for Glamorgan sausage, Welsh cakes and faggots):

Monday, 15 August 2011

Food Hygiene Standards in Cardiff

In a previous post (11 March), I commented on the first food hygiene standard ratings given by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to Cardiff’s eateries. They provide a useful guide to consumers, but no specific information as to specific food hygiene infringements.

Today, Wales Online gives the ratings of some new and follow-up inspections, and reports on a Freedom of Information investigation that has revealed the actual reasons given for Cardiff’s zero food hygiene ratings.

Ratings are given from 0 (urgent improvement necessary) to 5 (very good). You may think that a low rating would be a bit of a wake-up call to improve your standards. Some of Cardiff’s establishments, such as The Plan, may have been a little unfortunate on their initial inspections and have quickly acted to improve procedures. Crumbs in the Morgan Arcade, for example, is now rated 5. However, a number of the city’s independent takeaway outlets have either shut up shop or gone on to score zero again after a repeat inspection.

Reasons given by inspectors for awarding zero-ratings include mouse-infestations, rotting food, meat and poultry kept at inappropriate temperatures, chefs not washing their hands, dirty cloths being used, and kitchens opening onto toilets. Among Cardiff’s worst food hygiene offenders (and selected reasons) are the Ocean Palace Chinese Takeaway in Riverside (thorough deep clean required), Sub 100 on City Road (hygiene training certificate displayed belonged to a cousin who worked in tanning salon over the road), Mazza in Adamsdown (mouldy food and dirty pans), Kaczunszka in Roath (rodent infestation), The Paddle Steamer in Butetown (generally poor cleaning) and Tony’s in Gabalfa (mice infestation and chef with poor knowledge of food hygiene).

This comes on the day that an outbreak of E.coli 0157 occurred in Cardiff, with at least seven people suffering from food poisoning (one in a serious condition). The Adonis Kebab House on City Road was closed as a precaution, as it appears to be linked to these cases. The premises were inspected by the FSA last month, and a food hygiene rating of 1 is to be awarded. E. coli is spread as a result of poor kitchen hygiene.

As a result of this latest food poisoning case, Wales is likely to become the first country where it is mandatory to display food standard hygiene rating certificates in restaurants and takeaways.

Source and further reading:

Search for ratings:

E.coli outbreak:

Previous post on food hygiene ratings:

Added on 28 Aug. Adonis Kebab House reopens:

Sunday, 14 August 2011

New Season at Cardiff City

Hear we go again: A new season, new manager (Malky Mackay) and a new set of players (about 8 home debuts), but the same old stadium food.

Juliet and I enjoyed Cardiff City’s first home game of the season this afternoon, in which they demolished Bristol City 3-1. Expectations are high. Cardiff had won their first three competitive games of the season. The first half today was like watching Brazil (soccer cliché alert!): fluid passing and movement, and 3-0 up in 36 minutes. It was a game of two halves though, and they took their foot off the accelerator after the break. Impressive performances all round.

Before the game we perused the stadium menu, although we know it already: chips, pies, hot dogs, burgers and pasty. Today Juliet decided against starters and opted for the portion of fried potatoes with a drizzle of tomato sauce. I had corned beef pasty done in the Cornish style (micro-waved). Juliet pronounced the chips to be as good as last season. I thought them thinner, crisper and better than the last portion of rather soggy fried potato I last sampled here, but I suspect they can vary week to week (or even hour to hour). Gordon Ramsey it isn’t. Pie of the day, for those interested, was the chicken and mushroom. Ketchup and mustard on tap, but I saw no brown sauce.

There are no prawn sandwiches at Cardiff City. In fact there are no sandwiches at all (although I suspect the hospitality boxes have a better selection of food). Mind you, I am not sure you would want to risk a prawn sandwich at most football grounds (I've seen much worse than at Cardiff). Unless, of course, it’s somewhere like Norwich, where Delia Smith personally makes the sandwiches and Stephen Fry is at hand to serve them.

A band (Tiger Please) played before the game. Social media suggested they would be playing at 2pm, but we arrived in the stadium a little after 2pm and they had already finished - the players were out warming up. Pre-match live music is a great idea, but may be difficult to pull off. It would probably need a bigger name act to boost the sparse crowd inside the ground over an hour before kick-off.

Previous post on Cardiff City Stadium food:

Monday, 8 August 2011

Cardiff’s Seagulls

Walking through the city centre recently I saw two gulls grab a Panini off a diner’s plate and pull it apart in the middle of the street. This is not an uncommon sight in Cardiff as more people attempt to eat outside during the warmer weather.

A recent attack in Cardiff Bay involved a seagull swooped down and carrying away a per-peri chicken from a man’s plate. The waiters showed little surprise and brought out a replacement meal.

These incidents are usually presented in a humorous light, but in Cardiff the joke is wearing thin. Soon only unwary visitors may be dining al fresco in parts of the city, with possible economic consequences.

Cardiff has one of Britain’s largest gull populations. The city has plenty of flat roofs, on which gulls can nest, and abundant food for the taking. In a recent press interview, seagull expert Peter Rock said his research showed that Cardiff’s seagull population had more than doubled since 2006 (up to 3,339 nesting pairs).

For many years, pigeons (“rats with wings”) were public enemy no.1. Urban gulls are, however, larger, more aggressive, noisier, messier, and create a bigger nuisance than feral pigeons. They potentially leave more dirt, do more damage to buildings, keep people awake at night, and peck open refuse sacks.

Gulls are rightly protected by law (The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) in their natural habitats on sea cliffs. However, urban gulls are another matter entirely. It may be time to consider better measures to reduce the nuisance they cause.

Researchers in Aberystwyth have tried the subtle approach, by installing speakers transmitting the sound of distressed seagulls to prevent gulls snatching food from outdoor diners (although what effect this noise had on the diners was not reported).

The video below is not by me and it was not filmed in Cardiff, but it looks almost identical to an incident I witnessed in St Mary Street when a gull swooped down and took a burger from a tourist who had just emerged from the McDonald's near Cardiff Castle.

Further reading: