Sunday, 24 June 2012

Caffi BARICS, Cardiff

When it opened earlier this year, Caffi BARICS seemed to have chosen a curious location: around the back of St David Centre’s on the corner of quiet Barrack Lane. There’s a particular reason for this location (see below). The staff admit to a certain amount of thumb twiddling since it opened, but things will certainly be looking up. Across the road, building work has started on the new Admiral Building. This 12-storey office block will transform this area by spring 2014, from backwater to busy business hub.

Last week we went for lunch at Caffi BARICS to see what was on offer. There was plenty of seating inside (and outside when the weather improves), while the café also does take-away. Our fellow customers were construction workers and staff from nearby shops. There were plenty of staff working in the café, and service was very efficient and very friendly.

My partner had the lunchtime meal deal; choosing the jacket potato with chilli con carne, served with coleslaw and green salad, with a mug of tea or coffee included for price of £3.95. The chilli was good, home-made rather than homogenous, with a creeping hotness. Lunchtime meal deals start from £2.50, with a range of sandwich, baguette and panini options. The carved roast beef bap with chunks of roast potatoes looked tempting. Soup of the day when we visited was Tomato and Basil.

I had one of the freshly made all-day breakfasts, which are a feature of the café. The Sizzling Seven comprises bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, beans, fried egg, black pudding and toast; with tea or coffee included in the £4 cost. I had a mug of coffee.

Nothing fancy here, but good food and certainly good value. There’s a hint of nostalgia in the décor, which is traditional British café. The Union Jack bunting is still up from the Diamond Jubilee (maybe it’s permanent) and there was free samples of Victorian sponge cake by the till.

You may be fooled into thinking, given the competent branding, that Cafi BARICS is part of a UK-wide chain. However, Cafi BARICS is a one-off (although success may spawn others). It’s location on Barrack Lane is also highly significant. Barrack Lane is part of Cardiff’s new Retail Enterprise Quarter. The lane, which falls within the St David’s Centre development, is owned by Linc-Cymru, who specialize in the affordable housing, social care and health sectors. In Barrack Lane, Linc-Cymru manages 9 retail units, of which Caffi BARICS is the first to open, and 27 small residential apartments.

Cafi BARICS is therefore a Social Enterprise business. As they say on their website: “We are a socially responsible business that reinvests any surplus (profit) back into the café for the benefit of our customers rather than directors or shareholders.” In addition: “Whenever possible we support the local economy by sourcing products, goods and services from local businesses and suppliers in South Wales.”

Out of the café window, the view of the Motorpoint Arena will soon be replaced by one of Admiral HQ. Caffi BARICS will be a good place to watch the building go up and to contemplate, over a coffee, the ongoing reinvention of Cardiff.

1 Barrack Lane
Cardiff CF10 2EF
Tel: (029) 2035 9059

Open Mon-Sat. 8am-5pm.


Twitter: @caffiBARICS


Barrack Lane Retail Enterprise Quarter:

Admiral HQ plans (with a drawing of how the completed building will look):

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Handy for Sherman Cymru: Café Sunrise

It was Sunday afternoon and I was taking my youngest to see Petit Mal at Sherman Cymru in Cardiff. Where could we eat in this student area that was not a pub or a chain fast-food joint? Our answer: Café Sunrise.

Café Sunrise serves Middle Eastern food. I believe the owners are Lebanese. The menu features houmous, baba ghannouj, tabbouleh and other regional favourites, in the form of baguettes, pittas, wraps and salads. It is mainly vegetarian, although meatballs are on the menu. We both went for falafel. Café Sunrise are currently making a big deal about baking rather than frying their falafels (though a microwave also seems to be involved); possibly with an eye on the health-conscious student market. I like falafels any which way, and these were good falafels. I had them in a baguette, while my daughter had them in a Mexican-style wrap. There seems to be the potential to get more falafels in a wrap. Garlic mayonnaise is one of the favoured condiments.

Drinks on the menu include Turkish coffee and mint teas. My coffee was good; my daughter had a chilled oasis blackcurrant drink. Our total bill was £8.60.

There is seating for around 16 in the café, which also does take-away. The kitchen area is basic, but Café Sunrise has a good (4 out of 5) Food Hygiene Rating (food hygiene is not all about large kitchens and shiny new equipment).

The owner seems good with children. He talked directly to my daughter and asked her what she liked. This was also the case recently in Pasta Pot, another Cardiff independent. It's appreciated. It doesn’t happen at fast-food chains.

Café Sunrise is open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, and for coffee and snacks through to the evening. It’s only a couple of minutes walk from Sherman Cymru.

As to Petit Mal (three guys from Finland do oddball acrobatics), if you find Aki Kaurismaki movies uproariously funny then they may be the circus act for you. The manic trampoline routines were particularly impressive and there were several moments of inspired surrealism. Some of the dry comedy set to a soundtrack of Bob Dylan was more of an acquired taste though.

This strand of posts on eating places handy for Sherman Cymru is not suggesting that the food in the Sherman is no good. Far from it, the baguettes and tapas I have eaten at the Sherman have been very good. I am just making some recommendations for frequent visitors to this theatre, like myself, who like to vary it a bit.

Café Sunrise
94 Salisbury Road CF24 4AE

Also handy for Sherman Cymru:


Sherman Cymru

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Nick Otley and The Kings Arms, Pentyrch

Dating from the 16th century, The Kings Arms in Pentyrch is steeped in history. A handsome refurbishment has recently secured its future. The Kings Arms is owned by Brains but, in a significant move, it is to be run by Nick Otley and his team from the Otley Brewing Company.

This weekend marks the pub’s official opening, with a Beer Festival, BBQ and live music. At an event on Friday (15 June), Nick Otley (managing director of Otley; pictured) said, “we wanted to make it into a community pub again, but at the same time bring a bit of modernity and a contemporary feel to it.” The sympathetic renovation has incorporated many original features of the Grade II listed building, including the flagstone floor, fireplace and oak beams. The contemporary feel extends to the food and drink on offer.

The menu showcases Welsh produce, and dishes cooked using beer. Ingredients include Welsh mussels (e.g., sautéed mariniére style with home-made bread), Breconshire lamb (e.g., slow-braised shank in Otley ale, with laverbread and new potatoes), Welsh sirloin steak (from W.J. George Butcher in Talgarth), and Madgett’s Farm free-range chicken (e.g., with chorizo and Otley ale jus). Expect pheasant, locally-produced sausages, duck and other meats to feature seasonally. There is a Goan beef curry and deep-fried Pollock fillet (in Otley ale beer batter) on the current menu; while vegetarian dishes include Ratatouille of Charred Mediterranean vegetables (e.g., with pasta or grilled polenta, and Cardiff-grown tomato compote). Desserts include Welsh gold home-made ice cream. The head chef is Ken Bell.

My selection from the BBQ was the line-caught “Chesil beach” Mackerel (pictured), served with bread, tapenade and selected salads. Own-label chutneys were to hand. The mackerel was large and meaty. The salads were varied, with some flavour surprises (star anise?) and excellent olives, and the home-made bread was light and very good.

Nick Otley led a beer tasting in a marquee in the pub’s garden, as the wind outside played havoc with the adjacent awning. He talked, in particular, about the Otley ales Croeso and Thai-Bo.

Croeso (ABV 4.2%) was described as a really good session beer, refreshing and easy-to-drink, with “a good hop presence and a lot of citrus notes,” by Nick. “You’re going to get grapefruit, some people say lemon, others grass – green grass, cut grass, that sort of thing,” he said. Nick noted that we were drinking a “green beer” that was “fresh-to-cask” (casked 2 weeks previously), so it also had a sulphurous nose (known as “Burton snatch”) that naturally disappears. Nick described Croeso as “having an open palate food-wise,” although it won’t compete with strong food flavours. Croeso (Welsh for “welcome”) has become one of the company’s bestselling main product beers.

Thai-Bo (ABV 4.6%) was first launched as a speciality beer in summer 2001, but its success may result in it becoming available year-round. “It was born out of a conversation I had in London with beer writer Melissa Cole”, said Nick, “it’s a golden ale flavoured with lime peel, lime leaf, lemongrass and galangal – flavours you would normally associate with a Thai green curry.” It’s a combination (with Sorachi Ace hops) that you wouldn’t normally expect to work; but they have done it rather well, with the right amount of understatement. “You have sharpness of lime leaf and lime zest there, giving a clean flavour, the subtlety of galangal, giving a little bit of warmth to the back of the throat, and lemongrass in the aroma”, said Nick. “It is well suited to food, although we are still searching for the perfect food match.” It may not be Thai green curry, according to Nick, as the clash may not be to the benefit of either beer of curry.

Other Otley ales showcased at the Beer Festival include Motley Brew (ABV 7.5%), a seasonal IPA beer named after head brewer Matthew Otley.

Ffion Jones from Brains Brewery led the tasting of two of her company’s beers. The first was the classic Brains SA (ABV 4.2%), which has been brewed in Cardiff for over 50 years. “It’s made from a trio of hops - Challenger, Fuggles and Golding - and has a note of spirit in its aroma that adds a bit of mystique,” said Ffion, “and it goes especially well with chicken dishes.”

The other beer was the first product from the Brains Craft Brewery, which opened less than a month ago on their main brewery site in Cardiff. “The Craft Brewery is a 10-barrel plant for trying out different techniques, flavours and hops,” explained Ffion, “basically to let our brewers loose on experimenting.” All at Sea (ABV 5.2%) is a traditional-style IPA, made with Admiral and Bramling Cross hops. “The hops give it a bit of an appley taste, with spice notes. It’s different from anything Brains has done before”, said Ffion.  I thought this relatively strong beer benefited from the presence of food; that’s a glass of it in the photo, appropriately enough, next to my mackerel. The second release from the Brains Craft Brewery will be Barry Island IPA (ABV 6.0%), created by “Barry boy” Simon Martin using hops from the USA.

Brains Craft Beers will be available at a range of their top cask pubs, including The Albany in Roath, Goat Major and City Arms in Cardiff city centre and, of course, The Kings Arms.

The Otley Brewing Company’s first pub was The Bunch of Grapes in Pontypridd, not far from Cilfynydd (where the brewery was founded in 2005). The Kings Arms is their fourth pub, and the nearest to Cardiff.

The Kings Arms looks set to flourish as a local community pub, and is certain to attract beer lovers from miles around to sample the latest ales from Otley and the Brains Craft Brewery. The collaboration between Brains and Otley here raises the enticing prospect of a future collaboration between artisan brewers from Otley and Brains Craft Brewery. Watch this space!

The Kings Arms
Church Road, Pentyrch, Cardiff CF15 9DF
(029) 20890202

Otley Brewing Company


All food and drink mentioned in this post provided free by The Kings Arms.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

An Olympic Diet: Part One

The London 2012 Olympic Games will provide a fantastic showcase for British Sport, while an ambitious arts programme has been attached. However, as a showcase for British food culture it will be a massive lost opportunity. Visitors from around the world will think we are a nation colonized by multinational fast-food outlets and foreign beer. Local food and drink products will be conspicuous by their absence.

This is the first impression that you might get when reading about London 2012. The only branded food and drink products allowed at Olympic events will be those of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Cadbury and Heineken. Meanwhile, Brand Police working for Locog (The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) have already been very active in keeping it that way. They are clamping down on businesses making unauthorized use of Olympic symbols, and local cafés along the Olympic Torch route offering “Olympic breakfasts”, in a very heavy-handed way (e.g., see link below).

However, in addition to the corporate sponsor’s offerings, Locog will be mounting their own massive catering operation during the games to feed the athletics in the Olympic village, and some of this food will be available to spectators. So, will the simplistic picture painted in the opening paragraph come to pass, or will the organizers work around the ubiquitous branding to present visitors with some real British food culture? I’ll be reporting back from Olympic and Paralympic events in Cardiff and London during the summer to try and answer this question.

The Olympic Torch Relay has been bringing communities together, with locally-made food often to hand. The torch passed through Dinas Powys 7.00-7.10am on the morning of Saturday 26 May. It seemed like the whole village was lining the streets. Afterwards, the local school was serving bacon rolls and Danish pastries, with teas and coffees.

The previous evening, we attended the Olympic Concert in Cardiff (Friday 25 May). I must admit, I ate beforehand with my youngest daughter. We went to Pasta Pot (see link below). I had penne with salmon, prawns, samphire and creamy dill sauce; my daughter had pasta shells with Bolognese sauce topped with olives and sweetcorn (it’s a serious choice for kids, all those pasta shapes, sauces and toppings). We picnicked on the grass in the Druid’s stone circle, before the main area. I dwell on this, of course, because a pot of Pasta Pot is exactly the sort of locally branded product you are not going to get at (or into) an Olympic event. In fact, all food and drink was confiscated; including bottles of Coca Cola.

Inside the event, Coke and Olympic beer sponsor Heineken had the soft and alcoholic drink options sown up, respectively (in tents on opposite sides of the area). However, this was very much a Coke event, with McDonalds not represented. Local catering company First Cafés was therefore given the food gig. There was a greater variety of food available than I thought there would be.

Cardiff-based First Cafés (established 2000) operates mobile food vans under the “Posh Fast Food Company” brand. Several of their vans were at the Olympic Torch concert, including Posh Fish and Chips, Posh Pie and Mash, and Posh Sausages, Burger and Chips. There was also a Festival Pizza van, a Noodle Bar, Paella stall and more besides. The vans were doing good trade, rather than roaring trade; possibly because people (like us) assumed there would not be as much food choice inside.

During the actual Olympics, Locog’s massive catering operation will be run by multinational catering firm Aramark. It will involve over 800 chefs cooking around the clock for the athletes in the Olympic Village. In the main dining hall, which seats 5,000 people, around 65,000 meals a day will be served from four “pods”: Asian, African-Caribbean, Mediterranean and Western, and “Best of British”. Around 1,300 dishes will be on offer. The emphasis will be on getting regional dishes tasting authentic and, especially, on food hygiene (with up to 130 qualified environmental health inspectors on site). In addition to the main dining hall, there will be coffee carts around the village offering breakfasts, sandwiches and salads. One of the only independent caterers in the Olympic Village, Café Môr from Pembrokeshire will be serving seafood in a dedicated Street Food area.

Locog’s caterers will also be offering food to spectators, alongside the corporate giants and acting within their strict stipulations (e.g., fish and chips outlets cannot sell chips on their own). Jan Matthews, head of catering at the games, has said that they wish to create a food festival with some of the atmosphere of London’s Borough Market. Stalls will offer British cheeses, seafood and other products. (Guardian article by Robert Booth used as the main reference for these two paragraphs is linked to below).

In terms of food, the Olympic site will be dominated by Europe’s biggest McDonalds and the products of the corporate sponsors will be everywhere. American-style fast-food will be the main choice. However, the Olympic Games may not be the complete disaster for British food culture that some at first envisaged. I’ll be sampling the food on offer later this summer and will keep you posted!

Pasta Pot:

First Cafés:

London 2012: Olympic organisers' pettiness risks undermining goodwill. Owen Gibson (Guardian Blog 24 may 2012):

London 2012: Why feeing Phelps and Bolt will be an Olympian feat. Robert Booth (The Guardian 25 May 2012):

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Royal India, Dinas Powys

The opening of a new Indian restaurant and take-away may not be a big deal where you live, but Dinas Powys has relatively few places in which to eat out.

The Royal India occupies a former pub (The Swan) on the Cardiff Road. Notices proclaiming “Opening Soon” were displayed for about six months, with delays caused by the planning process. Local residents expressed concern about curry smells, but a state-of-the-art odour extraction system has been installed. The Royal India finally opened its doors for business on Wednesday (30 May). We were there (along with many familiar faces) to check it out.

We ordered main courses and side dishes. Starters were typically small portions of curry, kebab or bhajee (that also feature as mains) served alongside salad on long rectangular plates.

I had the Chicken Tikka, which arrived sizzling in an iron dish, with onion and fresh coriander. The large chicken pieces, cooked in a tandoori oven, were succulent and subtly spiced. It came with a very British side-salad (lettuce and tomato), which was a little unexpected.

My partner had Lamb Dhansak. This was a satisfyingly hot and sour lentil-based curry, with a curiously shaped piece of cucumber in the centre of the bowl. Quality lamb chunks were present. It was a little hotter than expected, which might generally be the case here if you’re point of comparison is standard take-away Indian.

We had two vegetarian side dishes (there are also several vegetarian mains). The Baingan Bartha was rather good; a generous amount of very tasty roasted aubergines mixed with spicy tomato. Saag Aloo complemented this, being a substantial little plate of new potato and spinach with spices, garlic and coriander leaves. We shared the dishes, and also a Pilau rice and Naan bread. The rice was a little disappointing in its plainness, but the Naan was light and well-cooked. With the good-looking range of vegetarian side dishes, I will probably order those instead of rice next time.

There was a dessert menu, which the few children present appeared to be perusing (so I’m guessing ice cream).

A range of India bottled beers were on offer (I had a large followed by a small Kingfisher), along with Fuller’s London Pride (though unfortunately nothing on draught), as well as bottled cider and a small wine list; most people on the first night seemed to be drinking beer. Our total food and drink bill came to around £33.

The Royal India is the latest venture from the owners of India Gate in Whitchurch, a restaurant established in 1987, and Gate of India in Rhiwbina, a catering and take-away service established in 1995. This suggests that The Royal India is designed for longevity. The owners also looked at The Castle Oak in Dinas Powys (now a Tesco Express), but The Swan was the right choice: it’s a better building altogether. The restaurant area feels light and spacious, with even the old skittle alley providing an attractive side area. The bar, with its comfy chairs, could become popular for an after-work drink while waiting for a take-away.

There were first night problems. The service was very poor. It was 90 minutes from sitting down at table to being served our food. We were not the only ones. The table next to us decided to leave after starters and before their main course because of the long wait (and that party included the critic for a popular curry magazine!). One of our menu choices was unavailable (they were polite and apologetic), there was general confusion about which table dishes were for, and we had to query the bill for double-charged drinks. The decision to launch straight into a full opening, rather than a softer one, may have been over-ambitious (the restaurant was full with around 60 covers). However, I am sure the management will swiftly rectify all these problems.

The owners also need to do more homework. On the take-away menu, for instance, Eastbrook should be one word (not two), while Dinas Powys is in the Vale of Glamorgan (not Cardiff). The website does not have a holding page yet. Little advertising has been done locally. The Royal India will need to reach out to the local community a bit more if they want to fill this restaurant on a regular basis, because early word of mouth will not be enough.

The Royal India is a very welcome addition to the food scene in Dinas Powys. The menu looks promising and they have created a pleasant dining environment. Next, we’ll be seeing if the take-away food is restaurant quality. The prices are reasonable and there are interesting options to try. We’ll report back!

Finally, The Royal India is located on a bend notorious for traffic accidents, just as you enter Dinas Powys from the Cardiff direction. Do take care.

Opening hours:
Lunchtimes: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
Evenings: Monday, Wednesday through Sunday.

The Royal India
Bar & Brasserie
213 Cardiff Road, Dinas Powys CF64 4JW
029 2051 3800