Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Bute Park, Cardiff

We are about to explore Bute Park/Parc Bute, Cardiff.

Yesterday, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) on North Road was bustling with its new intake of students. Lunchtime specials were a tomato, red pepper and truffle soup; chicken, ham and mushroom pie; fish pie; and a pasta and tomato gratin.

You can enter Bute Park and Arboretum from North Road next to the RWCMD during daylight hours. Cross the bridge over the feeder stream and turn left. This area of Bute Park is called Cooper’s Field. After a short distance, take the right fork in the path. This curves across the park through the trees (with the giant warthog emerging from the ground on your left).

Although Capability Brown originally landscaped Bute Park in the late eighteenth century for the first Marquess of Bute, the park in its present form is the result of landscaping done in the late nineteenth century for the third Marquess of Bute. The arboretum was created in 1947, when the existing trees were supplemented by a diverse planting of species. There are now many Champion Trees (e.g., trees noted because of their size, rarity or historical significance), which are pointed out on guided walks organized by Cardiff City Council.

Among the events held in Bute Park is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Spring Show. The show was in its eighth year in 2012.

Just before the footpath reaches the River Taff, turn to your left:

Summerhouse Kiosk
Bute Park and Arboretum, Castle Road, CF10 1BJ
The Summerhouse / Tŷ Haf is a coffee shop and sandwich bar that, despite its name, is open all year round; serving take-away with plenty of outdoor seating, some of it under a covered veranda. Yesterday, there were cyclists, walkers and parents with young children taking a break and enjoying the winter sunshine.  Serves breakfast; sandwiches, paninis and baguettes with a wide range of fillings; salads; jacket potatoes (e.g., chili con carne filling); flowerpot muffins and home-made cakes. Current best deal is for cake with a hot drink. Does a good trade in ice cream during the summer.

The Summerhouse was built in the style of the original Bute Summerhouse, designed by William Burges (architect to the third Marquess of Bute), which was removed in the 1970s and is now in the National History Museum at St Fagans.

The footbridge across the River Taff by the kiosk takes you to Sophia Gardens (on a different part of our tour). You can also catch the Water Bus near here, which takes you down the River Taff to Cardiff Bay. The service was not running yesterday due to high flow levels on the river.

Walk past the Summerhouse, toward the Millennium Stadium and the city centre. One of the city’s best herbaceous borders runs alongside this footpath (visit again next spring or summer), with the river a short distance away on the other side.

The Gorsedd Circle you will see on the lawn to your left was erected here in 1978, after that year’s National Eisteddfod; although I believe the large flat central stone (Logan stone) may date from the 1938 National Eisteddfod.

The building by the exit to Castle Street is the West Lodge:

Pettigrew Tea Rooms
West Lodge, Bute Park and Arboretum, Castle Street CF10 1BJ (2023 5486)
The West Lodge was built in the 1860s. It was recently restored by the Bute Park Restoration Project, with funding from Cardiff Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. David Le Masurier opened a traditional tearoom in the building in late March 2012 (just in time for the RHS Spring Show). David chronicled the stages, from leaving his previous job until the café’s opening, on a popular blog: I Want to Bake Free. There have been many satisfied customers since; this morning Pettigrew Tea Rooms was ranked #1 of 511 restaurants in Cardiff on Tripadvisor (98 reviews). The Tea Rooms are named after Andrew Pettigrew, Head Gardener to the third Marquess of Bute, who landscaped Bute Park from 1873.

I stopped by yesterday for a pot of Earl Grey tea and a large slice of carrot cake (see photos). The cakes are home-made and taste every bit as good as they look. The tea menu includes  Assam, Lapsang Souchong, green teas, chamomile, white peony and pink rosebuds, lemon and ginger and, for the real connoisseur, Darjeeling 2012 First Flush from Selim Hill Estate (“bright taste, a floral aroma with a smooth finish and a hint of musk…”).  There is a typical range of coffees, luxury hot chocolate, and the Fentimans range of soft drinks (including their classic ginger beer). Tearoom Classics (cakes and tea) include a Welsh version with bara brith, and the de luxe Pettigrew Afternoon Tea has just been given a seasonal make-over.

Other food available at lunchtime includes soups; sandwiches (including a finger sandwich collection); ploughman’s, farmer’s and fisherman’s lunches; and salads. Cups, plates and décor are old and characterful with a Victorian and Edwardian feel. There’s a gift shop next door, and additional seating in a room upstairs that doubles as an art gallery. The Pettigrew Tea Rooms are open 9am-4pm Monday to Friday, 9.30am-5pm Saturday, and 10am-4pm Sunday.

The gates to Bute Park close half-hour before dusk. Therefore, during the winter the park closes relatively early (yesterday it was 3.45pm). This affects access to footpaths running through the park (to the annoyance of bicycle commuters) and entry to the Summerhouse and Pettigrew Tea Rooms (which may therefore close earlier at this time of year). If you do get locked in, then head for where we started at the RWCMD and go through the exit-only turnstile.

From the Pettigrew Tea Rooms, exit the park through the arch and turn left. Walk along the famous Animal Wall, which was carved by Thomas Nicholls and was originally erected in 1880 in front of the castle. It was restored in 2010. Toward Cardiff Castle: pelican, anteater, racoons, leopards, beaver, vulture, hyena, wolf, baboons, sea lion, bear, lioness, lynx, and a pair of lions (on the gates by the clocktower).

Entry is free if you are only visiting the café and gift shop, otherwise buy a ticket to visit the grounds and castle (or get a Cardiff resident's Keycard for free entry to the grounds).

Cardiff Castle
Castle Street CF10 3RB (2087 8100)
This site was first fortified by the Romans in the first century AD. The Norman Keep is still impressive, and you get good views from the top. Once through the main door, turn right for the Bute Café (and the gift-shop). The cafe serves good-value breakfasts (9-11am), and a range of sandwiches, light lunches and specials (11.30am-3pm); as well as teas, coffee and Welsh cakes throughout the day. Yesterday’s specials were steak and ale pie and a risotto.

I highly recommend a tour of the castle, which takes in the ornate gothic rooms designed by the architect William Burges for the third Marquess of Bute. The Banqueting Hall is still in demand as a banqueting venue, for civic and corporate events, wedding receptions and parties.

The Great British Cheese Festival
Cardiff Castle CF10 3RB
The Great British Cheese Festival has been held inside the walls of Cardiff Castle every September since 2008. It claims to be the biggest cheese market in Britain, with over 400 cheeses on offer. In addition to the Big Cheese Market, where you can sample most of the cheeses, there is a Best of British Market selling other food and drink products. A programme of workshops, talks and demonstrations runs through the weekend, along with entertainment (on the council’s mobile bandstand). The evening before the festival, the industry’s British Cheese Awards are held (in 2012 they were in the National Museum of Wales).

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Creating a Community Garden 4

In a series of posts (links below) I am following the creation of a Community Growing Area in Dinas Powys, on an abandoned play area between Sir Ivor Place and Nightingale Place.

This project was initiated by Elizabeth Millard (Chairperson of the Dinas Powys Residents Group) and Councillor Keith Hatton. The project is supported by Creative Rural Communities (Vale of Glamorgan Council), with Rob McGhee being the Rural Regeneration Officer involved. More specifically, the Dinas Powys Community Growing Area falls within the Community Foodie initiative, which aims to identify, develop and support community food growing activities.

Rob (pictured) came to Dinas Powys on Saturday (20 Oct) to give an update on progress. The meeting, in Youldon House, was attended by over 30 people. Keith outlined the history of the project and introduced Rob, who summarized achievements to date (see previous posts) that include identification of the site, fund-raising, community engagement, and an initial plan for the site that takes into account all skill levels and includes raised beds for those with restricted mobility. He also talked about successful community growing projects in other parts of Wales.

Funding is in place and a contractor (Gerald Davies) is due to start clearing the site later this month. Security fencing will be erected, top-soil put down, and water pipes extended into the site. A communal shed will be erected near the electrical sub-station.

A tour of the site was followed by a discussion back at Youldon House, in which everyone stuck post-it notes with ideas on the proposed plan (pictured below). Suggestions included a brick BBQ, the use of wood from the felled trees to make benches, water butts, communal compost, solar lighting, increasing the proportion of raised beds, establishing links with schools and the recently-established Food Bank in Dinas Powys, a play area for young children, and a skills database.

The meeting was used to identify those who want to serve on a Growing Group, which will help to drive the project forward. Further meet-ups, including a clearance day, will be held on-site in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.

This well-attended meeting was a significant step forward in raising awareness and channelling enthusiasm for the project. Elizabeth’s vision of turning this ugly derelict area into an attractive community gathering and food-growing area, where she can come to sit in the sun and read a book, became a step closer to reality.

As a footnote, an upcoming date for your diary: Paul Mobbs (author of ‘Energy Beyond Oil’) will be speaking in Lee Hall Dinas Powys on Thursday 22 Nov (7pm). There will be a small entrance fee to cover costs. Greater community self-reliance, in which growing areas play a significant part, is a key theme of the Transition Town Movement that is planning for the post-oil future. Linda Ware, the organizer of this talk, has initiated another community growing project in the village - the Dinas Powys Orchard Project.

Previous posts on Dinas Powys Community Garden:

Aug 2012
Feb 2012

Jan 2012



Friday, 19 October 2012

filini, Radisson Blu Hotel Cardiff

I went along to filini at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Cardiff this week for a ‘Taste of Italy experience’.

The new ‘Amazing Grazing’ menu has been designed to be served both in the restaurant and in the nearby bar and lounge areas.
Executive Chef Mattias Wenngren invited us into the kitchen, where he demonstrated how some of the dishes are made. He even got us cooking.
Anti pasti are served on oak boards and are for sharing. Here Mattias applies the finishing touches to a meat and vegetarian version. Ingredients include roasted vegetables (e.g., aubergine, courgette), buffalo mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, olives, rocket and parmesan. This starter is accompanied by chunks of great-tasting bread with an olive oil/balsamic vinegar dip.

This sausage dish was made using, among other things, chunks of Sardinian sausage, passata, fregola (round pasta beads from Sardinia), chicken stock, chilli flakes, toasted pine nuts and butter. Rich comfort food indeed.
The risotto had al dente rice and was topped with wild mushrooms and truffle oil; garnished with rocket and a shaving of parmesan. A small portion delivers a big hit of flavour.
Hanger beef is used as the main meat event. This cut from the underside of the animal is not often seen on restaurant menus, but is full of flavour. Here it is cooked rare and succulent, with plenty of pepper.
I helped make the two salads that accompany it. The first has onion (chopped, though it was supposed to be sliced!) in balsamic vinegar mixed with strips of roast red pepper. The other salad is grated courgette mixed with lemon juice and grated parmesan. Simple, but very effective.
On the Amazing Grazing menu you’ll also find minestrone soup, sea food (Fritto misto di mare) and desserts (including tiramisu). Caesar salad, burgers and pizza are also always available at filini (they like their lower cases).
The set price for the Amazing Grazing menu includes wine, beer or a soft drink. Prosecco is on tap – a first in Wales.
Hotel restaurants can find it difficult getting non-residents through their doors. In part, this is due to an outdated image of what constitutes restaurant food and a reluctance to negotiate hotel lobbies.
Filini specializes in a distinctive style of Italian food. The versatile Amazing Grazing menu should appeal to those who fancy some back-to-basics Italian food. And filini is not hard to find, it’s just up the stairs by the front door to the first floor.

The Amazing Grazing menu: Two courses with a drink £18.95 (three courses plus drink £22.95).
Radisson Blu, Meridian Gate, Bute Terrace, Cardiff CF10 2FL
Tel (029) 2045 4777

All food and drink kindly provided free of charge by Radisson Blu.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Andrew Buchan, Albany Road, Cardiff

It is not often you find a new bar just serving drinks. The trend seems to be for new pubs to look more like restaurants than traditional “locals”. The opening of The Andrew Buchan last month (Sept 2012) therefore bucked the trend.

This real ale bar is the first Rhymney Brewery pub to open in Cardiff. Rhymney Beers are on draught (Rhymney Bitter, Rhymney Dark, Hobby Horse, Rhymney Export, Bevan’s Bitter). Ciders, wine and other drinks are available, but food is pretty much limited to packets of peanuts.
Alcohol licences have become harder to obtain in this area. In their Premises Licence application (to convert the old Choices Video Store), Rhymney Brewery stressed that the bar would not be aimed at young people and that there would be no loud music. They stated that there would be no alcopops and no pool table, just good beer and good conversation; recreating a good old-fashioned “local”.

Their stated target audience is the over 50s. This appears to be based on the age of clientele in three of their existing bars: The Winchester in Merthyr Tydfil, The Prince of Wales in Aberdare, and the bar at their new brewery and visitor centre in Blaenafon. However, among the objections submitted against the application (mainly concerning drink-related anti-social behaviour in the area), one questioned the likelihood of the over 50s being the customer base on the Albany Road. 
I must admit, as a member of their target audience (just), this was my sort of bar. The beer is good and the welcome genuine. Children and U21s are discouraged. The lack of clattering cutlery (and not waiting while someone makes a complicated food order before you can get a pint) is a pleasant change.

Will The Andrew Buchan become a good old-fashioned “local”? In many respects the signs look good. However, the large TV screens showing Sky news and, presumably, sports, do not correspond with my memories of good old-fashioned locals; they are certainly not conducive to good conversation, and the place risks becoming a sports bar. Call me old-fashioned, but I think a rack of newspapers and some well-chosen background music provides for a more relaxing drinking experience.
Of course, to be a good old-fashioned local you need to have locals and also I believe be a focus for some community activity (such as a village pub has a darts or soccer team). It will be interesting to revisit The Andrew Buchan in the years to come to see how well it’s carving out such a niche.

The Andrew Buchan, 29 Albany Road, Cardiff CF24 3LH
See also:
A walk along Albany Road:

The Andrew Buchan is named after the founder of the original Rhymney Brewery in Merthyr Tydfil in 1839. By the 1850s, it was the biggest brewery in Wales. Andrew Buchan died in 1870, aged 77.
Rhymney Brewery:

Friday, 28 September 2012

Food on Film: El Bulli

The Documentary El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (2010) came out on DVD in the UK this week. It was on the top of my DVD rental list and I have just devoured it.

Director Gereon Wetzel filmed for a year (2008/09), following dishes from initial conception through to completion. El Bulli, which was located in the small seaside town of Roses in Catalonia, closed for good in 2011, so this is a valuable document of the restaurant at its peak.

The film starts in October, when El Bulli closes for six months. Ferran Adrià and his core team of head chefs (Oriol Castrol, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas) move to a laboratory in Barcelona where they experiment. By the time the restaurant opens in June, they have created a whole new menu of astonishing and innovative dishes.
The documentary is refreshingly free of voice-over. We are mostly watching chefs working, punctuated by Ferran Adrià addressing his core team and staff at various stages. The documentary gives a great insight into how Adrià directs operations from start to finish. In one sequence, filmed in July, he eats his way through the tasting menu, making copious notes – always striving for perfection.
A percussive score by Stephan Diethelm, which probably had its origin in kitchen utensils being hit, threatens at times to become irritating, but ultimately delivers on an emotional level, especially during the climax of the film. Here, we are shown a montage of stunningly photographed dishes from the 2008/09 menu. Earlier in the film, some of these dishes were just ideas being batted around by the chefs. A concept lies behind each dish. Water is jokingly noted as an underlying theme for that year’s menu ("What did they serve you at El Bulli? Water"). This really is serious fun.
Each dish has to pass Adrià’s “magical test”. These are some that did: Tea shrimp with caviar anemones, needle tree, blossom with its own nectar, coconut sponge, pumpkin meringue sandwich with almonds and summer truffle, oilwater osmanthus, rabbit brain in its own ragout, rabbit rib in its essence, vanishing ravioli, sweet potato gnocchi, minted ice lake, minted apple phylo, frozen rose, chocolates.
I highly recommend this DVD to anyone interested in both modern food and modern art.


Selected ‘ Food on Film’ posts:
Ratatoille (Ferran Adrià involvement)

I am Love
See also:
Narbeth, Sospan bach, Ultracomida and El Bulli Beer


Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Barley Mow, Graig Penllyn

The Vale of Glamorgan pub tour continues with The Barley Mow in Graig Penylln. We visited on a dismally wet September evening, though The Barley Mow soon cheered us up.

My whitebait starter was about perfect; lightly-breaded, with good-sized fish so you got both the fish and the crunch - not just the crunch of some pub whitebait. It was served with a ramekin of home-made tartar sauce, a beetroot-leaf salad drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and a piece of fresh lemon to squeeze.
Brie in Light Batter Parcels was my partner’s choice. Three deep-fried brie parcels were served with a ramekin of cranberry preserve.
I had the Rump of Black Welsh Beef, cooked medium-rare, served with a couple of sautéed mushrooms, and some salad leaves.
Our other main was Lamb Steak, served with a rich jus and roasted vegetables. There was also plenty of meat on this plate.

With the mains, I went for new potatoes and my partner the chips. I usually prefer the new potato option, but the chips at The Barley Mow are very crisp and very good – I recommend you opt for them!
There is a sizeable wine list, although we opted for beer and cider. I had Bishop’s Fingers (Doom Bar and an IPA were also on draught).

Local sourcing has a high priority. The potatoes used to make the chips, for instance, come from nearby Windmill Farm. Beyond that, there’s also a Scottish feel to the menu (I’m guessing the owners may be from Scotland), with smoked salmon, black pudding and other quality Scottish ingredients.
We made use of a Groupon voucher on this occasion: one of our more successful Groupon experiences. This characterful village pub is definitely one of the “hidden gem” contenders on this Vale of Glamorgan tour.

By car, leave the A48 just to the west of Cowbridge at the Penllyn turn (in Penllyn you’ll see The Red Fox). Carry on northwards through Penyllyn until you reach Graig Penllyn.

The Barley Mow
Graig Penllyn, Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan CF71 7RT

Tel: 01446 772558

The Vale of Glamorgan pub tour:
The Merrie Harrier, Llandough

The Pelican in her Piety, Ogmore
The Farmers Arms, St Brides Major

The Bush Inn, St Hilary

Lamb and Flag, Wick

Blue Anchor, East Aberthaw

Six Bells, Penmark

Blacksmith’s Arms, Llanmaes

Plough and Harrow, Monknash



Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Huntsman Restaurant, Dinas Powys

The Huntsman Restaurant can be found in the centre of Dinas Powys, to the rear of The Star. The pub is owned by Brains, while the Huntsman is an independent restaurant that has been owned and run by Hilary and Peter Rice since 1993.

Peter always offers a very friendly front-of-house welcome, while Hilary is Head Chef. The food is traditional, with classic dishes having a definite local Welsh “country farmhouse” flavour and the occasional modern twist.
We opted for the same dishes on our last visit: starters of Welsh Rarebit with Crisp Salad and Rhubarb Chutney, and mains of Roast Pork Tenderloin with Apples, Cider and Honey. We drank a house white (a French wine called La Cabane).
The rhubarb chutney was a good complement to the rarebit; it added up to a substantial and well-balanced starter.
The pork, which was everything we hoped for when ordering, came with four different vegetables between us: potatoes roasted in goose fat, sliced potatoes baked in cream and garlic, braised red cabbage, and mange-tout and carrot. We put these on our plates from serving dishes as required – so the plating in the photos is not necessarily the restaurants!
Portions are large, so The Huntsman is not a restaurant you are likely to leave still hungry.
There is a pleasant ambience in the 23-cover dining room, in a homely barn conversion. It’s a quiet and relaxed place to dine.
The seasonal menu changes every three months. Starters (in the July-Sept 2012 menu) range in price from £4.95 to £7.25, while mains are priced between £12.50 (Mushroom and Pinenut Stir Fry) and £23.95 (Welsh Fillet Steak with choice of sauces). Other options currently available include Salmon and Prawn Bake, Rack of Welsh Lamb with Plum and Port Sauce, and Roast Breast of Duck with Cumberland sauce. Puddings are generally £5.50.
Most of the cost of our meal was covered by a voucher won at a Dinas Powys Voluntary Concern (DPVC) fund-raising Jazz Night earlier this year. I always go for the restaurant vouchers as prizes at raffles!
The Huntsman contributes recipes to Depend, a newsletter published by DPVC that is delivered for free to every house in Dinas Powys. Contributions to recent issues have included Wild and Tame Mushroom and Stilton Tart (see link below to online version), Rich Chocolate Brandy Cake, and Smoked Salmon and Dill Mousse.
We are putting the finishing touches to the Autumn 2012 Depend (I have contributed pieces on the resources available at Dinas Powys Library, the Llandough Hospital extension, and the new Vale Foodbank in Dinas Powys). You’ll have to wait and find out what The Huntsman’s contribution is going to be this time!
A team of volunteers will be putting Depend through every letterbox in Dinas Powys in October, while everyone else can read it via the DPVC website (link below).

The Huntsman Restaurant
Station Road, Dinas Powys, Vale of Glamorgan CF64 4DE
029 2051 4900

Depend (Summer 2012):



Thursday, 13 September 2012

Wales on the Menu

Recently, I interviewed Simon Wright for a profile that was published in the Buzz Food & Drink Guide 2012 (link below).

In a wide-ranging career, Simon has been a food critic, author, restaurateur, consultant and broadcaster.  In May this year, Simon opened Wright’s Independent Food Emporium, with his wife Maryann. This shop in Nantgaredig sells a range of Welsh products, including meat, cheeses, and fresh fruit and vegetables, and has a café at the heart of the operation. Last year, Simon was involved in the planning stages of Sospan, a new restaurant in Llanelli.

Simon is currently presenting the fourth series of Wales on the Menu, which started on BBC Radio Wales last Saturday lunchtime (1pm). In the programme, he challenges home cooks to put their speciality dish on the menu of a top restaurant.

In the first show, amateur chef and food blogger Bill King tried to get his salmon quiche up to standard for the menu of Y Polyn, a restaurant near Carmarthen that the Wrights at one time co-owned. Among the judges was food blogger Ed Gilbert (a.k.a. Gourmet Gorro). The quiche sounded good, but was judged not quite good enough to meet Y Polyn’s high standards.

The Wales on the Menu team are looking for keen cooks from across Wales who would like to participate in future challenges. If you are interested you can email them on

There is also a Wales on the Menu Facebook page, where you can find recipes, behind the scenes photographs, and further details of how to apply to take part in the series either as a novice cook or a judge:

If you miss the programmes themselves, you can find them on the BBC iplayer.

Buzz Food & Drink Guide 2012. The Wright Taste (pp. 28-29):

Y Polyn:

Fellow Bloggers on Twitter:
Bill King @billking
Ed Gilbert @gourmetgorro

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Vale Foodbank in Dinas Powys

One of the big under-reported stories of the summer has been the impact of government austerity measures on individuals, families and communities. The recent figures have been shocking. For instance, 13 million people live below the poverty line in the UK; while here in Wales over one in ten people of working age are now out of work, a level of unemployment not seen for almost twenty years.

Communities can act to combat local poverty and hidden hunger by supporting schemes such as foodbanks. The Trussell Trust acts as an umbrella organization for foodbanks across the UK. The Vale Foodbank was established under this umbrella in October 2011. It is based at Coastlands Family Church in Barry, and aims to open food distribution centres around the Vale of Glamorgan to help people who are struggling to make ends meet.

A Vale Foodbank distribution centre opened today in Dinas Powys, in the Bethesda Chapel. It will open for an hour every Wednesday. Free emergency food supplies will be exchanged for vouchers given to people particularly identified as being in need by social workers, doctors, police and other community groups (in total 40 partners across the Vale). One voucher can be exchanged for enough food for three days.

Mike Grove from Bethesda Chapel welcomed people to the official opening this afternoon. Susan Lloyd-Selby, the Vale Foodbank co-ordinator, then talked about the success of their first year, in which they have managed to feed everyone who has been referred to them. When they started they expected to feed 800, but in fact have fed 1,643 people since October 2011.

Of those referred, 30% have been plunged into crisis due to delays in benefit payments. Others are referred due to low income, while there has been a dramatic rise in the number in debt. 68% of the food distributed has gone to feed children under the age of 16.

Sue related some stories of the real people behind the statistics: a man who hadn't eaten for two days, a woman homeless after leaving home due to domestic violence, a couple suddenly plunged into debt after an accident. She stressed that it was not just about giving food, but providing wider support and advice through contact with the regular volunteers. Sue thanked these “lifechangers” (with reference to Olympic “gamesmakers”), and also thanked all the people who donated over 115 kg of food during the past year. Future Vale Foodbank plans include free money management courses.

Photo: Councillor Val Hartrey (Chair of Dinas Powys Community Council), Jane Hutt AM, Mike Grove and Susan Lloyd-Selby (the cakes spell "Vale Food Bank").
Jane Hutt AM opened the Dinas Powys distribution centre today, just as she opened the first Vale Foodbank in Barry last year. An active supporter, she noted that action needs to be taken to stop so many people falling into poverty, especially through reasons such as delays in benefit payments and loss of tax credits. Jane also stressed that Foodbanks provide a framework for offering wider help and support, to give people back some dignity and restore hope.

The food given out at the Vale Foodbank is donated by businesses and individuals. You can donate to the Bethesda Chapel during Foodbank opening hours. Individuals are asked to give dried and tinned foods (see contact details below).

In addition to making donations of tins and packaged food, Jan and Tony Mapstone of Valley View Fruit Stores in Dinas Powys also donate fresh fruit and vegetables (they wear dark blue in the photo below).

To those who have questioned why a relatively prosperous community in the Vale of Glamorgan needs a foodbank: wake up, this is the reality of life today.

The Vale Foodbank
Coastlands Family Church, Tennyson Road, Colcot, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan CF62 9TN

The Trussell Trust:

Reference for Welsh Unemployment:

We noted the Olympics earlier. Therefore, just room to note that ATOS, partners for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, are the firm charged with assessing disability benefit payments in a government money-saving operation. Removal of benefits is fuelling the need for foodbanks. Currently, at least one new foodback opens every week in the UK.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

An Olympic Diet: Final Part

One of the ironies evident on visiting the Olympic Park during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was that sponsorship restrictions helped create an environment largely devoid of branding. It was very refreshing to see such a brandless environment at a major sporting event, both inside the venues and around the food areas (e.g., World Square, Britannia Row, Orbit Circus).

The Locog catering operation, headed by Jan Matthews, was said to have been the largest attempted in the UK during peacetime. They succeeded in offering a dizzying range of dishes to competitors and visitors.
Outside the obvious sponsor outlets, all the food stores were labelled generically (and usually offered three simple menu choices). This “calling-a-spade-a-spade” catering had a certain charm.

Among the outlets were: Fish and Chips, Pies, Pasties, Cornish Pasties, Deli, Traditional Roast, British Bakery, Gourmet Sausage, Hog Roast, Jacket Potatoes, Fresh Salad Bar, Speciality Coffee, Bar, Ice Cream, and the Champagne and Seafood Pavilion.

World cuisine was represented, for example, by Asian, a French-style Brasserie, Indian, Italian, Mexican and much more besides.

The three Asian options, for example, were Thai curries, Singapore noodles and Vegetarian stir fry. Our Thai Curry was pretty good. Other things we sampled (e.g., bacon roll) were basic. Most of the food we ate was from the Deli outlets, where reasonably-priced sandwiches could be obtained with minimal queuing.

Some feared that it would be branded burgers and fizzy drinks, and little else, for sale on site. In reality, there was plenty of no-nonsense food and drink choices; even some healthy salads if you sought them out!

Finally, what a great atmosphere there was on the Olympic Park and I am sure everyone who visited will remember the experience for a long time to come.

See also:
An Olympic Diet: Part Two

An Olympic Diet: Part One



Thursday, 6 September 2012

Tesco Express Dinas Powys: Day 266

The impact of a Tesco Express opening in Dinas Powys is being monitored on this blog. It’s Day 266 (6 Sept 2012) and the first shop has closed as a direct result of competition with Tesco.

The Spar convenience store on the opposite end of The Parade shops in Castle Drive closed for the final time last night. It has been trading from this site for around 40 years. The Spar was locally owned and run. Less of Tesco’s profits will remain in the village.

Tesco created between 20 and 25 jobs when they opened. With the closure of Spar, 14 jobs have been lost. Job creation claims by large supermarket operators should be viewed in the light of possible job losses elsewhere in a community.

266 days may sound like a long time, but it’s not really because closures often coincide with lease renewals. Ultimately, the Spar could not compete with a modern Tesco Express. The Spar looked dated in comparison to Tesco, for instance, and did not have an effective enough strategy to compete.

The closure of Spar is not overly surprising, but the shuttered empty unit is a very sad sight.

There are many independent local businesses in Dinas Powys: butcher, greengrocer, pharmacy, florist and others. Use them or lose them folks.

See also:

Farewell to The Castle Oak:

Tesco Express Dinas Powys: Day 1

Tesco Express Dinas Powys: Day 25

Tesco Express Dinas Powys: Day 100


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Welsh Wines: Ancre Hill Estates

We are drinking Welsh wines on the Food Blog. That is more of a challenge than you might think, because there are now around twenty Welsh vineyards producing a range of different wines.
Only about 1% of wine consumed in the UK is home-produced. However, climate change (milder winters and extended summers) is favouring wine production. Meanwhile, in Wales at least, local and regional produce is increasingly sought-after in restaurants and shops. Therefore, the market for Welsh wines could significantly expand in the future.

This week, we have been drinking White and Rosé wine (both 2010) from the Ancre Hill Estates vineyard, supplied by Fine Wines Direct (Penarth Road, Cardiff).

Ancre Hill Estates was the first wine to be recognized in the Wales the True Taste Awards. In 2010-2011 (Wine, Spirit and Other Alcohol category), Ancre Hill won a Gold Award for their 2009 Medium Dry White and a Bronze Award for their Rosé.

The White (11% ABV) is made using Seyval Blanc and Madeleine Angevine grapes. We found it to be dry, sharp and crisp. The taste was particularly clean, with pleasing citrus (limey) and elderflower notes. A good wine to pair with fish.

The Rosé (11% ABV, £12.79) is made from Seyval blanc and Triomphe grapes. We found it sharp and very fruity. I detected lots of strawberry. There were also floral and citrus notes. This was particularly refreshing when well-chilled. I usually consider rosé to be almost an aperitif, but this one stood up very well to mildly spicy food.

Both the White and Rosé sell for £12.79 a bottle.

Ancre Hill Estates also produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sparkling White and Sparkling Rosé wines, on a south-facing slopes in the Wye Valley just outside Monmouth. You can visit the vineyard during the summer months for lunch and tours.

The high quality of Welsh wines, such as Ancre Hill Estates, may surprise you if you've not tasted them before. Now is a good time to start checking out what the emerging wine nation of Wales has to offer.

Ancre Hill Estates
Richard and Joy Morris, Ancre Hill Vineyard, Monmouth NP25 5HS
01600 714151

Fine Wines Direct
242 Penarth Road, Cardiff CF11 8TU
029 2078 7500
Welsh wine:

Previously, on the Food Blog
Cock Hill from Bryn Ceiliog Vineyard, Vale of Glamorgan:

The Ancre Hill Estates wines reviewed here were supplied free of charge by Fine Wines Direct.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Welsh Menu Live, Swansea

The Welsh Menu Live (25-27 August 2012) is the first food festival to be staged in Swansea for many years. Swansea Market ("established 800 years") used to hold a food festival. This modern revival similarly champions local produce and independent local traders. I attended this afternoon (Sunday).

The Welsh Menu Food Theatre is located in The Dragon Hotel. Here, I saw Luke Thomas cook Welsh lamb with summer vegetable fricasse, braised lettuce and goats cheese. For the past six months Luke has been Head Chef at Sanctum on the Green in Berkshire; at 18 he's the youngest Head Chef in Britain. He passed on some useful tips. Wine Merchant N.D. John paired his food with a Martinez Lacuesta Rioja Crianza (plenty of oak, I do like a good Rioja).

A late addition to the programme proved to be my highlight of the day: Andrew Hanson (pictured) from the nearby Chelsea Café cooked poached salmon, risotto, scallops, asparagus and buerre blanc. Fish is a key feature of his restaurant's menu. There were generous portions for the audience afterwards; it tasted great. I'll definitely be cooking my salmon and scallops more delicately in the future.

The programme of chef demonstrations tomorrow (Monday) includes Bryan Williams and Anand George (from Cardiff's Purple Poppadom).

Elsewhere, the event centred on Castle Square (pictured). There was live music of a nostalgic variety (below the big screen showing the Aviva Athletics from Birmingham) and several food stalls.

I had a gourmet burger from the Got Beef bus: a Soprano (with chorizo, bacon, jalapeno mayo and mozzarella cheese). Some of the ingredients in their burgers (e.g., pesto, beetroot puree) seemed a bit "out there" (although fried onions and relish usually does it for me), but there was no doubting the quality of their Welsh black beef. Other "Live Street Feast" caterers offered hog roasts, a Taste of Persia, and ice cream.

The relatively small number of producers in the festival's pavilions was a little disappointing. However, there are lots of competing events and markets this weekend. The meats, seafood, cakes, cider and wines that were on offer looked good. Wales’ largest indoor market is nearby.

The Welsh Menu Live food festival marks the launch in June of the Welsh Menu Website, which promotes local and regional food and drink within Wales.

The Welsh Menu

Swansea Market / Marchnad Abertawe

Hanson at the Chelsea

Got Beef



Friday, 24 August 2012

Entrecôte Café de Paris, Cardiff Bay

The deep-fried pigs’ ears were complimentary, with some gherkins. A sophisticated take on pork scratching and with a spicy coating, but I am afraid we did not consume all these.

This was in Entrecôte, which opened earlier this summer in Mermaid Quay. There’s an impressive view of Cardiff Bay from its upper floor location. Owner Babak Arabestani has created a traditional French dining experience in his Café de Paris.

My starter (entrée) was Parisienne-style gnocchi with Mornay sauce and air dried ham. This type of gnocchi is made using choux pastry and parmesan, the resulting dough being briefly poached and then oven-baked in Mornay sauce (an egg yolk and Gruyère cheese enriched béchamel sauce). It was a rich and satisfying gratin.

Hot goats cheese crottin, ficelle bread and artichoke purée was my partner’s choice. This was an attractive construction, with the French bread shadowed by a dark olive tapenade and with a sprig of lettuce decorating the pyramid of crottin (a French goat’s cheese) and vegetable purée.

My main (plat principal) was the Slow-cooked salmon with pommes purée, buerre blanc, capers and samphire. Disappointingly, the samphire was replaced with three green beans; although it should still be in season. There could be no complaints about the fish, however, which was moist and full of intensified flavour. The creamy potato bordered on vegetable.

The Braised shoulder of lamb, Toulouse sausage and cauliflower purée, which was my partner’s choice, looked intriguing. The meat was shredded and reconstructed into a tower. It had a great flavour. There was a rich jus and some couscous. We both agreed that the noble Cauliflower does not deserve to be puréed.

Entrecôte made a pleasant and enjoyable change for us and it seems to do what it does rather well, although this style of cooking is not really our thing. We prefer our vegetables, for instance, plentiful and less processed. There is too much puréeing going on here for our taste. We have noticed this before in sophisticated French restaurant (home-style French cooking is, of course, a different matter).

With a couple of glasses of merlot and coffees our bill came to £54.78 (including the service charge).

You could seriously splash-out in Entrecôte, especially if you happen to be on an expense account (like some of our fellow diners). You can buy sevruga and ossetra caviar (£65 and £85 per 30g, respectively), for instance, with champagne to accompany (£19.50 up to £295.00 for Louis Roderer Cristal Vintage 2004).

On the other hand, if you’re on a budget, you could come here for breakfast or a lunch deal to enjoy the relaxed ambience and a taste of Paris.

Entrecôte Café de Paris, Upper Unit 9, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay CF10 5BZ


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Creating a Community Garden 3

In a couple of previous posts (links below) I outlined how to go about turning an area of wasteland into a Community Garden. In particular, our project involves taking an abandoned play area in Dinas Powys (between Nightingale Place and Sir Ivor Place) and turning it into the Dinas Powys Community Growing Area.

The project was initiated and is being steered by Elizabeth Millard, Chair of the Dinas Powys Residents’ Group, and Councillor Keith Hatton (Plaid Cymru). Rob McGhee of Creative Rural Communities (Vale of Glamorgan Council) is project-managing:  that’s him on the left in this picture of the trio photographed on the site this week.

I previously reviewed the type of grants available in the Vale of Glamorgan for this type of project (they may be similar in other parts of the UK). A couple of weeks ago the project was awarded £28,000 by Tidy Towns Wales, a Welsh Assembly government initiative that funds community projects aiming to improve the quality of the environment.

Earlier this week, Emma Hancock met Rob, Elizabeth, Keith and I on the site. Emma is a Landscape Architect working within the Planning and Transportation Department of the Vale of Glamorgan Council. Among her tasks will be to look at Utility Plans (e.g., to decide on the best route to bring water pipes to the site) and to oversee the work of contractors.

A contractor - Gerald Davies - has been chosen from among those who put in estimates/bids for the work. The company has experience of similar work around the Vale.  Work can start after the bird nesting season, and the contractors are expected to be on the site by the end of October. Firstly, part of a wall will be taken down to allow vehicle access from Sir Ivor Place (the wall will be rebuilt afterwards). The rubber and concrete surfaces will then be broken up and removed, topsoil will be put down, and a security fence erected around the site.

Before the contractors start work, however, there will be an initial clearance day to cut back overgrown hedges etc. This will be held on Saturday 20 October, starting at nearby Youldon House around 10.30 am. Everyone is welcome (bring tools!); it will be an opportunity for those interesting in having a plot on the community garden to meet and find out more. Creative Rural Communities will be there with plans of the garden, which will include communal areas and individual plots. It will also be the first step in forming a Management Committee for the long-term maintenance of the community garden.

The Dinas Powys Community Garden has the backing of Community Foodie, a project under the umbrella of Creative Rural Communities and the Vale of Glamorgan Council, to identify, develop and support community food growing. Their aim is to strengthen communities by increasing the amount of food produce grown and consumed locally, to develop skills (e.g., local schools will be invited to participate in the project), to promote healthy lifestyles, and to bring people together. With a bit of luck, the Dinas Powys Community Growing Area will achieve all these things.

I will post again shortly, with a more detailed look at the plans for the site.

Previous Dinas Powys Community Garden posts: