Castle Arcade is the first of Cardiff’s celebrated Victorian and Edwardian arcades to be visited on this walking tour. Its L-shape connects the High Street with Castle Street. It was built in two stages, between 1882 and 1887; three-story for the most part with a two-story section at the Castle Street end. There are small businesses (e.g., violin maker, wig consultant) and offices (e.g., Friends of the Earth) on the balcony level. All the food businesses are on the ground floor.
On your left as you enter the arcade is Barker menswear (1-5 Castle Arcade). They are currently having a closing down sale. I bought a shirt. Along the arcade or through a door at the back of the shop:
7-13 Castle Arcade CF10 1BU (2037 1491)
It started out as an independent clothes shop in 1970, but doubled its size back along the arcade to include a café. Will the café soon extend to the High Street? A possibility. Robert Barker founded the original designer clothes store, while Charlotte Barker now manages Coffee Barker. Stylish and a little quirky, Coffee Barker is a popular place for brunch and lunch. Brunch includes combinations of bacon, sausages and duck eggs (e.g., scrambled with mustard seeds), alongside muesli and porridge. Soup of the day is served with rustic bread and the sandwiches are large. There’s an attractive cake selection and, of course, all the usual tea and coffee options. Coffee Barker is one of Cardiff’s notable indie alternatives to costabucks; and a good place to relax and catch up with the papers. I recently had an enjoyable bacon and egg croissant with coffee, while admiring the décor (e.g., old tiling, art deco glass, brickwork). A dalek and Homer Simpson looked in at me through the window: they keep guard outside The Joke Shop across the arcade.
On the bend in the arcade:
21-25 & 18 Castle Arcade CF10 1BU (2064 4888)
Madame Fromage was founded in 2004 by Karen Cunnington; originally in Duke Street but it soon moved to its current location. It’s a family-run café, specialist cheese shop and deli. The café has extended across the arcade (no. 18) into the opposite corner unit; the cooking has tended to focus on Welsh and Breton cuisine. Around 150 cheeses are typically available, predominantly from Wales, England, France and Italy. If you are of a certain age, reading the cheese labels (e.g., Y Fenni, Teifi with laverbread, Stinking Bishop, Bomber, Gorgonzola dulce, Gruyère, Wensleydale) may put you in mind of the Monty Python Cheese shop sketch, although Madame Fromage probably stocks all the cheeses requested in that sketch; with the probable exception of Venezuelan Beaver Cheese (“Not today Sir, no”), which was the only made-up cheese name (though online cheese shop Venissimo claims to stock it!). We are also partial to Pieminister Pies here on the Food Blog, so it was good to hear that since the start of this year Madame Fromage is now stocking them (I left with Heidi and Hamhock). A catering business also operates from here.
37 Castle Arcade CF10 1BW (01633 662684)
Celtic Cakes is on your left as you carry on down the arcade. Here you can order celebratory cakes. The window display is always worth a look: dragons, rugby players and fairytale castles are perennially in fashion.
Opposite are offices of National Theatre of Wales (no. 30), next door to which is Pizza Express (32-34 Castle Arcade). Pizza Express extends through to the High Street, where it has a front door.
Troutmark Books (very good selection of second-hand books) is across the arcade, while on your right toward the exit to Castle Street:
40-42 Castle Arcade CF10 4BW (2034 1794)
Music lover, chef and former owner Marcello Genesi retired in 2010, after running Café Minuet for 24 years (est. 1986). New owner Nadine Lodwick worked in this Italian restaurant for 20 years, so knows the much-loved recipes and is carrying on the Minuet tradition. Café Minuet recently changed its name to Restaurant Minuet. Classical music informs the décor and the menu descriptions. The menu features pasta, pizza, salads, spinach compositions, meat (mainly chicken) and fish dishes. It’s a small cosy space, with seating extending out into the arcade. Arrive early for lunch, there may be a queue; no table bookings are taken (11am-4.30pm). Certain menu items (e.g., slipper sandwiches, mini pizzas, calzoni) are available to take-away – via the new take-away hatch off the kitchen.
On your right, as we exit to Castle Street is a newsagent. The unit opposite (formerly Cegin y Ddraig and then a florist) is unoccupied.
Exiting Castle Arcade, turn left and walk along Castle Street:
9-11 Castle Street CF10 1BS (2023 6689)
This Havana-themed bar, restaurant, and nightclub is a popular party venue. Rum and cocktails to drink, and with a large food menu that includes burgers, pizza, flatbreads, pasta, steaks, fish and chips, salads and sandwiches.
15 Castle Street CF10 1BS (2023 9253)
Irish pub owned by Brains Brewery, with a plaque proclaiming it the oldest pub in Cardiff (former names include The Globe). Meals are served at lunchtimes and early evening; with some Irish-influenced pub food washed down with Guinness. There’s an upstairs function room, and the Four Bars music venue (e.g., jazz every Tuesday and Wednesday)