Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The rebranding of the Cardiff Arts Institute

The Cardiff Arts Institute (CAI) re-opened this week, after a radical refurbishment. Brains are now sole owners and they have rebranded the bar as “The Institute”. The Lego wall and all the other quirky details have gone.

Established in 2009, the CAI (“Canteen, Social Club & Music Room”) was a partnership of Brains with 580 Ltd and Something Creatives who did the design and event programming. It had a very distinctive décor, with some highly original touches, but it was not really built to last.

The new décor is more robust than previously and not as bland as some feared it might be. The new theme is Art Gallery, appropriate given that this bar is across the road from the National Museum of Wales. There are numerous reproductions of old masters, along with a good selection of historical photos of Cardiff. The Lego wall has been covered in blue flock wallpaper of the type found in old-fashioned museums. The (frankly awful) wall of rubber gloves is now bare brick and a handsome large mirror. There’s Leonardo (sorry, Michelangelo) on the ceiling above the bar, and the skull (optically corrected) from Holbein’s The Ambassadors above the stairs descending to the basement; although in other areas the selection appears pretty random (and I don’t think the originals of any of these are in the museum over the road).

I thought the food (and drink) in the old CAI was overpriced and a little fussy. Brains have completely changed that, with a no-nonsense menu that caters to the budget eater and the very hungry.

Breakfasts include The Breakfast (£4.95) and other items apparently marketed toward the hung-over; “sarnies” start from the £2.25 Chip Buttie; jacket potatoes and fillings start from £3.50. There are pizzas, grills and many “pub favourites” including fish & chips (£5.79), bangers & mash (£4.29) and lasagne. Curries are particular good value on Mondays, when they come bundled with a drink. The coffee is Costa Coffee, which can be bought in combination with a slice of one of the cakes displayed on the bar.

You may have already guessed that this is probably not the place for refined or particularly healthy eating. In fact, overindulgence is encouraged with The Hulk Burger (£17.95) constructed with three 10 oz steaks and all the works: at least 4,500 calories guaranteed. To get your head around this, if I (a 70 kg man) ate a large meat pizza (of 2,900 calories) it would take me approximately 7 hours to walk off the calories. This is competitive eating and The Hulk Burger comes with rules about no sharing, no public vomiting etc. However, it may all be a subtle ploy, as anyone eating this amount of fat-drenched dead cow in one sitting might subsequently decide to spend the rest of their days a vegetarian.

Music and events have been scaled back in The Institute, although Brains are hosting an acoustic night on Wednesdays and live bands on Saturdays. The old stage has been removed to accommodate more seating, and music will be set up to the left at the back rather than the right (if you know the place). It is unlikely that the art classes and other cultural activities will carry on as before.

The old CAI will be missed. It was a one-of-its-kind with the wide range of social activities and events it hosted.

However, the owners of this new Brains bar seem to know what they are doing. Much more food is going to be consumed here than in the former-CAI, for example; food that is competitively priced and ideally washed down with a pint or few of Brains.

Previous post on the Cardiff Arts Institute:

Cardiff Arts Institute
29 Park Place, Cardiff

Monday, 26 September 2011

Community Food Cooperatives

There are over 300 local Food Co-ops in Wales supported by the Rural Regeneration Unit (RRU).

A food co-op is a non-profit operation that gives people access to affordable, fresh fruit and vegetables on a weekly basis, at a local community venue. Volunteers meet each week to bag up food that has been sourced from a local supplier. Bags are ordered a week in advance, with cash up front to pay the supplier on delivery. The supplier sends potatoes, carrots and three or four other best-value seasonal items. Deliveries are shared equally and the cost of each bag is £2.50 (organic £4.50).

The RRU is a social enterprise scheme funded by the Welsh Assembly government. The funding is to enhance diet in communities, via a supply of affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, and (through Rural Affairs funding) to promote local produce.

There are around twenty food co-ops in Cardiff and five in Penarth supported by the RRU. A new food co-op in Tennyson Road in Penarth already has volunteers packing around 40 bags weekly.

The first step in starting a food co-op, via the RRU route, is to talk with a regional representative. They will approach local businesses, to see if they have any objections, and then talk to potential local suppliers.

Today, I joined Geraint Roberts, who is initiating the process for setting up an organic food co-op in Dinas Powys, in a meeting with Hannah James, the RRU's Food Development Worker for South Wales. She talked us through the process. We were impressed by the level of help available from RRU in setting up a food co-op. Through Welsh Assembly funding, for example, the RRU supplies the reusable green bags for the food, along with some other equipment and promotional literature.

The initial meeting went well. I will keep you posted on developments and will share our experiences of setting up a local food co-op.

Rural Regeneration Unit:

New food co-op in Penarth:

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Clark’s Pies, Cardiff

Clark’s Pies operate from a corner-shop in Grangetown, Cardiff. The history of Clark’s Pies can be traced back to the early years of the 20th Century and they are a Cardiff institution. The meat pies are nicknamed “Clarkies” or “Clarksies”. This week (Monday 19 Sept) a brand-new Clark’s Pies flavour was launched: Beef Tikka.

I went along to their shop today to get a selection of pies for dinner. They are all oval-shaped with a thick shortcrust pastry casing. The four flavours are now distinguished by an extra bit of pastry on top: square for Chicken and Mushroom, a circle for the Chicken Balti and a flower for the new Tikka. The Clark’s Original (available in small and large sizes) has a plain pastry top. Ever since 1934, every pie has the word "CLARPIE" stamped into the pastry on the bottom (“If it doesn’t have CLARPIE – it’s not a genuine Clarksie!”).

Clark’s Pasties - the Original (small, medium and large) and vegetarian Cheese and Onion - and a range of drinks are also for sale in the shop; along with Clarks Pies T-shirts, baseball caps, bottle opener key-rings, lanyards and other souvenirs (did I tell you it was a Cardiff institution). The actual bakery is out back, where they start baking at around 5.30am.

I was told that it was best to heat the pies for around 15-20 minutes in a hot oven; “they’re not the same in the microwave.” We ate them with chips, baked beans and some buttery cabbage.

First up was the Clark’s Large Original (it’s also sold in a smaller size), which comprises minced beef with potatoes in a gravy base. Apparently, it has remained largely unchanged for many years. It is a very tasty beef pie and got a big ‘thumbs up’ from everyone.

Next was the Chicken and Mushroom. Our youngest does not like mushrooms, so she passed on this one. The filling is thicker, and side-by-side I preferred the taste and gravyness of the Original.

The Chicken Balti pie was launched earlier this year. Clark’s describe it thus: “Chunks of chicken with tomatoes and onion in a spicy balti curry sauce…. with spice base of cumin, paprika, chilli, coriander and garlic”. The filling is like something you would serve on rice. It is very tasty. This would be good if you fancied a pie that was a little different.

Finally, the brand-new Tikka flavour. This is the original beef recipe with a spicy tikka flavouring. Described as “Tikka with Gravy” by Clark’s, this has the plus factors of the Original with a tikka flavouring, which is nicely understated. This was a hit with everyone here.

On the night, the Clark’s Original came out top, but if I was watching sport on a cold winter's day and wanted a warming pie I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the Tikka.

All the pies are characterized by a thick pastry casing, so they don’t require a tray. They are therefore very practical to eat on the move. Needless to say, many Clarks’ Pies are consumed in Cardiff on football and rugby match days.

Clark’s Pies have been made in Cardiff since around 1912. They gained in popularity during the 1920s, enabled Mary Clark to open the first Clark’s Pie shop in 1928, at 110 Paget Street in Grangetown, just around the corner from their present location (on the corner of Paget and Bromsgrove). For a history of the company and the family that has run it for four generations see the Clark’s Pies website: http://www.clarkspies.co.uk/

Dennis Dutch, grandson of Mary Clark, opened the Bromsgrove Street shop in 1955. Here is his story on the We Are Cardiff blog:

There is a film and accompanying items relating to Clark’s Pies in the Cardiff Story museum. See my previous post on the museum: http://sfnottingham.blogspot.com/2011/04/cardiff-story.html

This video on YouTube was filmed recently during a Clark’s Pies eating challenge at a Cardiff Blues game in the Cardiff City Stadium:

Clark’s Pies, 23 Bromsgrove Street, Grangetown, Cardiff CF11 7EZ
Shop opening times: Monday to Saturday 10:00am till 1:30pm

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Unusual Vegetables

It has come to my attention (via Luigi Guarino) that Dr Michael Mazourek (Professor of Plant Breeder at Cornell University in the USA) is engineering all manner of new fruits and vegetables, such as black-and-white cucumbers, pear-flavoured melons, and miniature vegetables with vivid polka dot patterns.

However, these innovatives are not the result of a genetic engineering program, but the clever use of traditional and cutting-edge plant breeding techniques.

The Farmer's Daughter honeydew melon was bred for mildew resistance and for easy harvesting, as it slips off the vine when ripe, as well as its pear-like flavour. It is the result of six years of selective crossing.

The black-spined white-skinned 'Salt and Pepper' cucumber, the result of a cross between white spine and long green varieties, proved to have an unexpectedly sweet flavour.

Mazourek’s lab has also released a mild habanero pepper - the Habanada - for those who like the flavour without the hotness, and a miniature butternut squash called the Honeynut.

His current experiments with purple snap peas and miniaturized vegetables with vivid colours, stripes and polka dots are being conducted with the aim of producing vegetables that appeal to children, and thereby improve their diet.

There is also a market for unusual vegetables among celebrity chefs in top-end restaurants, keen to introduce their customers to new food experiences.

Mazourek's vegetables are bred for high nutritional content, disease and pest resistance, and suitability for growing under organic and regional growing conditions. He has a keen eye for novelty, which adds extra value to the fruits and vegetables produced at Cornell. It's a good illustration of the power of plant breeding.

Read more:

Luigi Guarino, Agricultural Biodiversity roundup:

Stacey Shackford, Cornell University news:

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Steve Garrett on Cardiff's Castle Quarter Farmers' Market

Steve Garrett is quietly confident that Cardiff’s weekly Castle Quarter Farmers’ Market will carry on after its initial 12-week trial period. Steve is the founding director and special projects manager of the Riverside Community Market Association (RCMA), which runs the market. “The trial so far has been a real success - in spite of some very rainy Thursdays,” he says.

Today’s sunshine certainly suited the outdoor street market much more than last week’s rain. A guitarist entertained shoppers with some appropriate tunes (“parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme”) and more people were stopping to sample the cooked foods on offer. “Customers have said that the top of the High Street on Market Day is like a 'piazza' - with the Castle as a backdrop and a lovely buzz of people and smells from all the stalls,” relates Steve, “This is just what we wanted to achieve”.

This particular Farmer’s Market has a good range of cooked food for customers to eat, as well as plenty of breads and cakes to take home. In addition to last week’s stalls (see last week's post), this week saw the return of The Parsnipship, selling an interesting range of pies and breads made in flowerpots, and there was a first-time appearance for Hungry Planet, selling artisan sourdough loaves.

Steve stressed that “local businesses are mostly happy with the new footfall that the Market is drawing to the area, and the Central Market is benefiting from a guest stall that we offer one of their traders each week to help promote them as well”.

“All the indications are that the Castle Quarter Farmers’ Market will continue on after the trial period” says Steve, “and we have some exciting Xmas food market plans for the location later this year as well.”

Previous post on the Castle Quarter Farmers’ Market:

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Two Loaves

I bought a couple of sourdough loaves recently deserving of comment: one made in Bristol and one made in Dinas Powys.

Mark’s Bread is Bristol’s smallest independent bakery. They deliver around south Bristol by bike, but every Wednesday Mark drives a van across the Severn Bridge, and along to Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff (4-6pm). They sell a selection of their wild yeast breads (sourdoughs), bakers’ yeast breads, and spelt and rye loaves. Last week's Special at Chapter was a Fig and Black Pepper loaf.

The first picture is a small South Bristol Sourdough, a sort of signature bread for them. They make their loaves using sourdough cultures, without commercial yeast, and prove them slowly in linen-lined wicker baskets. They mainly use organic flour from Shipton Mill, Gloucestershire, and don’t use improvers or additives (this is definitely Real Bread, as defined by the Real Bread campaign). The ambient yeast and bacteria in sourdough cultures naturally differ from one area to another, bringing subtle differences to the finished bread. So ‘South Bristol Sourdough’ is distinct from sourdoughs made elsewhere.

Geraint Roberts, another Real Bread advocate, bakes all his bread using sourdough cultures, at the Hungry Planet (Hupla) Workers' Co-op in Adamsdown, Cardiff, and at his home in Dinas Powys.

Geraint sees Bread Subscription Schemes as a way forward for micro-bakeries. He is planning to start a subscription scheme for Hungry Planet, with people paying a month in advance for their bread. From his home in Dinas Powys, he teaches bread courses and does a smaller weekly bake to order. Bread subscription schemes give more security of market and reduce waste, because you only bake exactly what is required. More money also goes directly to the baker than if the bread was being sold wholesale through shop outlets.

Last week’s home-made sourdough loaf (second picture) was a Multigrain Wholemeal, made with Bacheldre organic stoneground flour (87% wholemeal, 13% white), polenta, buckwheat groats, wheat flakes, millet flakes, oatmeal, organic natural salt and water. This was moist, tangy and flavoursome.

Mark’s Bread, North Street, south Bristol:

Geraint Robert’s website:

The Real Bread Campaign:

A previous post on sourdough:

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Castle Quarter Farmers’ Market, Cardiff

The Castle Quarter Farmers’ Market in Cardiff, on Thursdays between 11am and 3pm, is now mid-way through its 12-week trial period. It may become a permanent feature on the recently-pedestrianized High Street in central Cardiff. The council will make a decision in October or November. Stall-holders are keeping their fingers crossed for a positive outcome.

The farmers’ market is run by the Riverside Community Market Association (RCMA): the same organization that operates farmers’ markets in Riverside, Rhiwbina, Roath and Llandaff North. The Castle Quarter Farmers’ Market started on August 4, with 16 stalls. This number has apparently been relatively consistent, although this week the miserable weather meant that only 12 stalls were up and running. The market operates with the full support of the existing Cardiff Central Market and other adjacent businesses.

For me, a farmers’ market has to sell fresh fruit and vegetables to be worthy of the name. Blaencamel Farm bring plenty of their fresh organic produce to this market. Local artisan food products are another key area, and most of the stalls fit this bill. The stall selling artisan bread, buns, brioche and pizza was doing a brisk trade; although the rain was doing the Olive Bar and the cake stall no favours.

There was plenty of prepared food to eat or take-away today. Falafel Wales had a selection of Middle Eastern options; the Samosa Co were selling spicy Indian snacks; Seasons Farm Foods had a range of pies and other baked savouries; while Madgett’s Farm were cooking up duck burgers and hot dogs, and selling poultry products (I have a half-dozen duck eggs).

Collette Crewe of Elm Tree Foods, based near Newport, was selling pies and pasties, as well as honey from their farm. I had an Elm Tree Pasty (Cornish-style). Trealy Farm were selling smoked cured and air-dried meats, including salami. The other stalls today were Splott-based Inner City Pickles (“have a taste”), and a stall from the pet suppliers in the indoor market.

The Castle Quarter Farmers’ Market brings a range of food products to shoppers in the city centre, which supplement those available in other local eateries and shops. It also brings a vibrancy to the streets in this pedestrianized area. Long may it continue.

Riverside Community Market Association:

Previous post on Cardiff's Riverside Farmers’ Market:

Friday, 9 September 2011

Mill Lane, Cardiff

It’s all change on Mill Lane in Cardiff.

On the corner of St Mary Street and Mill Lane, Peppermint Bar and Kitchen has taken over the premises previously known as Zync. Peppermint has an extensive menu and also operates as a late-night bar.

Next come two businesses established in 2009. The Mocka Lounge is a popular café and club; while at No. 3, Flavour Eurasia offers rotisserie, noodles, salads and a range of Asian-style food.

Sodabar is currently moving into No. 4 Mill Lane, with the large venue occupying several of the original units along the lane. Refitting work is well underway, changing the decor from something period French into something brash and modern. There will be a range of event evenings and a roof terrace. The original sodabar operated on St Mary Street (between 2002-2008).

Next door to the new sodabar is Retro: “home of the 90’s vibe”. A place to party rather then to eat. I won't lie to you, it's the “home of Stacey’s Hen Night”.

Nestled between The Bridal Centre and the sex shop Private is the recently refurbished Las Iguanas (at No. 8). With another location in Cardiff Bay, Las Iguanas’ Latin American cuisine is proving very popular in Cardiff.

Juboraj comes next, part of the small Juboraj group of restaurants serving high-end Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine. They have been in Cardiff for around 20 years, also having establishments in Rhiwbina and Lakeside with another restaurant in Newport. The Mill Lane restaurant has undergone extensive refurbishment in recent years.

The nightclub called No 10 has recently been replaced by the "stylish strip club" Sugar at No. 10, one of several Gentlemen's Clubs that have opened in Cardiff recently. Next door to this doorway is The Ladybird, a brand-new nightclub whose façade has just been painted a fetching bright purple.

Gios (10-11 Mill Lane) and Ask both serve Italian food. On the ground floor of Gios is an "Italian Deli Restaurant", with lounge and bar rooms upstairs. Ask is a classier-than-average pasta and pizza chain.

Across the other side of the Wyndham’s Arcade entrance from Ask, the quirky Rebel Rebel outlet (and tattoo parlour) has moved and the unit is being turned into a new café bar/restaurant, with further details coming soon (it says).

At the St David’s end of Mill Lane was the King’s Cross pub. The owners (Mitchells and Butlers) have just closed this popular gay pub, despite protest from regular customers. They are currently doing massive refurbishments and are reinventing the place as a gastropub: The Corner House.

So, Cardiff’s self-styled Café Quarter is still clearly a continually evolving and vibrant place, although whether all the changes are for the better is debatable.

Peppermint Bar:

Mocka Lounge:



Las Iguanas:



Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Copenhagen Food Diary

The most obvious thing to say about food in Copenhagen is how expensive it is: over twice as much as in the UK. The bill at an averagely-good restaurant can resemble a top-end establishment, such as The Crown Social here in Cardiff.

Therefore, an inclusive hotel buffet comes in handy, especially for putting away a large breakfast to set you up for the day. Luckily, our hotel (The Tivoli) had plenty to choose from each morning: a variety of breads, including the popular Danish rye bread; fresh and dried fruits and nuts; hams and cheeses; smoked salmon and herring; warm egg, bacon, sausage etc; and Danish pastries.

At the top-end of Copenhagen restaurants is Noma. We didn’t eat there, as it requires booking a year in advance and, in our case, would probably have involved re-mortgaging the house. Noma was recently voted “the best restaurant in the world” by British food writers (something the locals don’t let you forget). It’s Nordic Cuisine, with an emphasis on foraged (e.g., fungi, berries), fresh and seasonal ingredients prepared using traditional methods.

A stone’s throw from the affluent waterside development in Christianshavn, where Noma is located, is Christiania: an alternative society founded in 1971 when young squatters took over an abandoned military barracks. It says a lot about Danish society that this “free city” still exists and maintains a high level of autonomy. Eateries in Christiania centre on the Nemoland bar. We had Shwarma sandwiches and ta’ boulah salad in this busy al fresco location.

Meanwhile, in the Tivoli pleasure gardens in central Copenhagen we opted for pork and beef sandwiches. The good news is that, though nothing edible is cheap, the cheaper food is generally of a high quality in Copenhagen.

I ate a lot of salmon and herring (sild). A popular dish is smoked herring prepared in three ways (e.g., curried, pickled and in tomato sauce); my favourite method being curried. I also had some excellent poached salmon with dill and smoked salmon (for breakfast, open sandwiches at lunchtime and in starters for dinner), while the smoked halibut was also very good.

Our main extravagance was a meal in Restaurant Vingården (it was a special occasion) in the Indre By district. For starters, I had a salad that included smoked salmon, crab meat, prawns, a large mussel and rocket, followed by a fillet of sole with king prawns in a white wine sauce with risotto and vegetables. Good stuff (just don't think of the bill!).

The Nyhavn area is a popular outdoor eating area. The canal tourboats start from here. There was also a boat selling a wide range of apple varieties, as part of a Danish apple promotion. The Danes like eating outdoors, and it is customary for blankets to be put out on the seats for use when the sun goes down.

There is some great art to be seen in Copenhagen, at the Staten Museum (National Gallery) and Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. The highlights for me were the French impressionists at both galleries, the Danish and Nordic art galleries in the former, and the Degas and Rodin sculpture in the latter. The Winter Garden in Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is a pleasant place to eat and they do fine salads and sandwiches.

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek was founded by Danish brewery magnate Carl Jacobsen, and named after his brewery. Carlsberg is still the dominant beer in Copenhagen, although microbreweries have sprung up in recent years to provide alternative styles of beer.

Finally, I attach a picture of the Rådhus, familiar to all fans (myself included) of the Danish thriller The Killing.

The Killing:
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek: