Saturday, 27 December 2014

We ate the reindeer on Christmas Day

We ate the reindeer on Christmas Day. Well, we ate the reindeer pâté I had bought back from Sweden. Still, the kids were shocked that we could eat Sven - Rudolph’s temporary replacement as ‘most lovable reindeer’ (Note to those without children under 12: he is the reindeer in ‘Frozen’). It was a very gamey venison pâté (that worked well alongside a milder and sweeter Ardennes pâté).

There is a reindeer farm in Wales, at Poundffald Farm on the Gower (see links below). However, they are not eaten; they earn their keep as a visitor attraction and by being hired out, for instance, to the annual Swansea Winter Wonderland. Robert Owen, the farmer, started the herd in 2006 to accompany his Christmas tree business (Gower Fresh Christmas Trees). The herd is now 19 strong and includes 12 breeding cows. In a recent Wales Online story, he describes how, in addition to grazing, he feeds them on specially-formulated food pellets and reindeer moss (the lichen Cladonia rangiferina) imported from Sweden.

In northern Sweden reindeer are herded by Sami communities, while there is also a large elk farm. Reindeer and elk are commonly eaten in Scandinavia. You can buy reindeer and elk burgers in the UK from the touring ‘Exotic Burgers’ business. This often puts down in Cardiff during the ‘Cardiff International Food Festival’. However, I encountered it last outside Tate Modern in London earlier this month. The vendor does not eat meat himself, and says he tells the burgers apart because they all look a little different when cooked (possibly due to different fat contents etc.). Here’s a photo of their Christmas menu:

The menu was a bit lighter on the deer and antelope than compared to last summer in Cardiff (when I had the springbok). I had an elk burger to see me along the wintery South Bank, where I saw ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ again on the big screen at the BFI (the film starts with our ancestors killing antelope).

There are over 100 types of deer worldwide. Many of these are semi-domesticated in parts of their range and their meat (venison) is eaten: different deer are eaten in different countries. There are six deer species in the UK and venison in the UK could potentially come from five of these: Red deer, Fallow deer, Roe deer, Sika deer and Muntjac (you are unlikely to be eating Chinese Water Deer). Most farmed deer meat comes from the native Red deer, the largest of the UK species, with Fallow deer being the only other species farmed commercially. Consumption of venison in the UK is on the increase. In the 12 months prior to June 2014, one survey found that retail sales of venison were up over 400%.

Wales’ only reindeer herd:

We are eating more deer:

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Smoke Haus and some notes on the cooking of meats

In which I ponder about burger trends and “pulled” pork, but first I eat some slow-cooked meat.

The Smoke Haus is a south Wales-based American diner. It has locations in Swansea and Cardiff (Mary Ann St, Cardiff CF10 2EN); the latter, and more-recent outlet, was the destination for our lunch for three.

I had the ‘Smoke Haus Pulled Pork Hoagie’, billed as a “smoked shoulder of pork slow-roasted for 12 hours, pulled and served in a hoagie roll with dry slaw, baby gem lettuce and apple sauce.” As with everyone on the sandwich menu, it was served with ‘slaw and skin-on fries. My companions had the ‘Slow cooked brisket deli sandwich’ (“served in toasted bloomer bread with red onion, cheese, sweet mustard, pickles and Russian sauce”) and the ‘Philly Cheese Steak’ (“pan fried wafer thin top side of beef topped with melted Emmental cheese, sweet fried onions served in a hoagie roll”). Other US-themed sandwich choices included the Reuben, the Elvis Po Boy and the Texas Link Po Bo. I rated mine the best; though it was all very tasty meat. The Smoke Haus is a very welcome addition to the Cardiff food scene.

The American influence at The Smoke Haus extends to portion size. You are likely to get served more than you can eat. The table next to us were making good use of ‘doggy bags’. You don’t have to treat it, as their website encourages, as “a challenge not for the fainthearted”. There are Brits we know living in the United States who assume they are going to get fed twice when they go into a restaurant: once at the table and again at home from the take-away left-overs (though some people apparently do feed their pets). I did eat most of my lunch at The Smoke Haus, and just demoted my next meal to a light supper.

The “challenge” at The Smoke Haus extends to the desserts. If you look past the ‘Mississippi mud pie’ and ‘Chocolate oreo sundae’ on the menu, you will see ‘The Smoke Haus Ultimate Dessert’, which comprises “a huge bowl of Vanilla ice cream, banana ice cream, marshmallows, doughnuts, chunks of pecan brownie, fresh banana topped with  squirty cream, chocolate and toffee sauce.” We passed on this.

And talking of donuts, The Smoke Haus has contributed to the growing trend for pushing the burger boundary with its ‘Donut Burger’. Admittedly, some of the buns that fast-food burgers are served in are very sweet, but the Donut Burger (as served by The Smoke Haus, though it is also served in other burger joints) takes the burger in a different direction in that the donuts are glazed and the cheeseburger patty with grilled streaky bacon is served with a sweet sauce. This breakfast, dessert or stupid burger variant, depending on how you view these things, attracted some (not unwelcome) media attention. The thick stacks of the other The Smoke Haus burgers come with (not always helpful) US-themed names, such as ‘New Orleans’, ‘Southern Comfort’ and ‘The Hog Father’.

Also in the news recently was the ‘Yorkshire Pudding Burger’, served by the north of England based Rift & Co chain, described by the Independent as just the latest in a line of “stupid burgers”. It was inspired by the Donut Burger. I am wondering where the Welsh burger needs to go from here. Should the lamb patty lie between bara brith or Welsh cakes? Incidentally, an indie burger outlet has opened in Scotland called ‘The Silly Burger’, though the burgers it serves are very sensible and down-to-earth.

The Smoke Haus menu features pulled pork and pulled lamb. The term ‘pulled’ was originally restricted to pork, to describe the process when a potentially tough cut of meat (e.g. shoulder) is slow-cooked at low temperatures so that it becomes tender enough to be pulled or easily broken into small shreds or pieces using, for example, a fork. This process can also be called shredding. Its recent prevalence on menus is due to modern US-led marketing initiatives. In addition to pork and lamb, you can now see pulled beef (i.e. shredded beef brisket), pulled chicken and pulled duck on menus. In fact, KFC have predicted that 2015 will become “the year of pulled chicken”. I suspect that other critters will soon also be “pulled” (e.g. goat and rabbit have been cooked this way for centuries). As shredded meats feature in all the world’s cuisines, the possibilities for jumping on the pulled bandwagon appear endless. However, as the innuendo element is lost when you pull anything other than your pork, I think its marketing value may have climaxed.

Christopher Hooton in The Independent on "silly burgers":

Felicity Cloake on KFC and pulled chicken in The Guardian:

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Barrack Lane, Cardiff

When the Food Blog was last on Barrack Lane, in June 2012, work had only recently started on the nearby Admiral Building and only the unit nearest the building site was occupied (Cafi BARICS). Barrack Lane, part of Cardiff’s Retail Enterprise Quarter, is owned by Linc-Cymru, who specialise in the affordable housing, social care and health sectors. Along with 27 small residential apartments, there are 9 retail units along the lane. These are now all occupied by local businesses. Four of them are dedicated to food and drink.

The Grazing Shed
1 Barrack Lane CF10 2GS
After Cafi BARICS closed, this end unit was taken by The Grazing Shed, which opened in Sept 2013. This independent burger joint uses local suppliers and has an innovative ‘Super Tidy Burgers’ menu. The burger menu splits into beef, chicken and a smaller vegetarian section. It was my first visit, so I started near the top with a Spicy Uncle Pedro (pictured), though tempted by the Rasta Hen and other creative burger options. The bread is locally produced in an 'artisan bakery', making for a superior bun, and the sauces are homemade. The burgers are more rustic than gourmet, of a piece with the cobbled-together wooden décor. Ideal if you want quick alternative fast-food (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Feb 2014).

The Magic Wrap
3 Barrack Lane CF10 2GS
The Magic Wrap is a local business founded in 2008 by Ed Jones. It specialises in wraps of a heathy nature, using Lebanese khobez bread and plenty of salad in the fillings. The website describes the bread as ‘made with unbleached flour, light, soft and low in salt and without any added fat, artificial colourings or flavourings. It is also suitable for Vegans’. You can make up your own combinations or go for one of their suggestions. The current favourites listed on the website include Falafel, The Bilbao, Brie and bacon, Spicy Jamaican, Piri piri chicken and the Chinese-style The Emperor with mixed-herb chicken. The Magic Wrap also has an older outlet in Cardiff University Student’s Union (just along from the Sherman Theatre) and a recently-opened outlet in Cardiff Bay (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Jan 2014).

The Gravity Station
9 Barrack Lane CF10 2FR
This ‘take-away bottle shop and tasting bar’ is owned by the Waen Brewery of Llanidloes, which was started in 2009 by Sue Hayward and John Martin, and has that breweries ‘hand crafted in Wales’ beers on tap and in bottles. The Gravity Station stocks the regular T.W.A. (3.7% ABV) and the ever-changing range of seasonal Waen beers, which currently include Snowball (7.0%), which is a chocolate, coconut and vanilla stout, Chilli Plum Porter (6.1%), Blackberry stout (3.7%) and Pamplemousse (4.2%). I sampled some Mistletoe & Waen from the tap, which contains fortified wine and has a pleasing chocolate-port-like flavour. There are bottles from a range of other Welsh breweries available to take-way, including Celt, Otley, Pipes and Untapped, along with a well-selected range of beers from Belgian (include Trappist ales), Germany, Holland, England, Scotland and the USA. As well as some Waen brews, I took away a bottle of Scottish brewery Harviestoun’s ‘Old Engine Oil’. Live acoustic music can be heard here on the last Friday of every month (they had Harri Davis on the bill last week).

9 Barrack Lane CF10 2EF
This small independent Italian café does good Italian coffee and cake. Founded by Daniela Francesca Ferrari and opened in July 2013, the emphasis here is very much on home-made food: traditional breakfasts and lunchtime pasta dishes, with daily-changing sauces, along with soup and paninis. Outdoor seating in a sheltered and relatively quiet corner of Cardiff city centre, which is just around the corner from The Hayes (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. July 2013).

Loyalty cards are available in all four of these local Barrack Street businesses. I suspect they all have their regulars. It's good to see this street flourishing now the Admiral Building has opened. Indeed, with FED soon to join The Smoke Haus along Mary Ann Street, this part of Cardiff is definitely on the up.

Previous post on Barrack Lane:

Saturday, 22 November 2014

European Week of Waste Reduction 2014

A blog post of two halves today, firstly with information about a European initiative to reduce food waste and then a look at how food waste is collected here in the Vale of Glamorgan (Wales).

The European Week of Waste Reduction (EWWR) starts today (22-30 Nov 2014). This initiative aims to raise awareness about sustainable resources and waste management. In particular, it encourages people, either through a group (e.g. public authority, NGO, business, educational establishment) or as individuals, to take actions to promote waste reduction. The annual EWWR was first launched in 2009 and has been co-funded by the European Commission’s LIFE+ Programme.

The EWWR’s Prevention Thematic Days 2014 focus on the issue of food waste and how to prevent it. Around one third of the food produced globally is lost or wasted, which makes no sense economically or ethically, and represents a massive loss of resources: land, water, energy and labour. Over 100 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the EU (2014 estimate), a figure that is expected to rise if active measures are not taken.

A number of EWWR food waste factsheets can be downloaded, which cover areas such as food donation campaigns, gleaning and eco-restaurants:

The Eco-Restaurant concept, for instance, aims to optimise a restaurant’s performance in all environmental aspects, including waste prevention, reducing energy and water consumption, and reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions. In terms of food waste, customers are encouraged to take left-over food away in paper ‘doggy bags’, customers should be offered tap water (in preference to bottled water), and more consideration should be given to different plate sizes on the menu.

The information for a Zero Waste Lunch aims to help you dramatically reduce the amount of food and packaging that ends up landfilled or incinerated. Avoiding unnecessary shopping and buying in bulk, making use of reusable bags and containers, reusing left-overs and composting food waste all contribute.

Food can be composted at home or via a local authority food waste collection scheme. Here in the Vale of Glamorgan, kitchen waste is collected weekly from the kerbside. Residents in the Vale can go along to the farm where it is processed near Cowbridge (Cowbridge Compost Ltd) and pick up some of the compost for free. We spread a load of it around when we established the Nightingale Community Garden in Dinas Powys.

The recent background paper on Waste Planning, part of the Vale of Glamorgan Local Development Plan 2011-2026, stated that the Vale handles 59,780 tonnes per annum (2012-13) of municipal solid waste, of which 5,459 tonnes per annum is food composting. It aims to increase the amount of food and garden waste being processed, and use some of it to generate bioenergy, through the creation of a new Anaerobic Digestion (AD) Treatment plant, in a joint venture with Cardiff Council.

In an announcement, unfortunately coinciding with the EWWR, the Vale of Glamorgan Council have said that it is to ration the biodegradable green bags they supply to households for food waste (Penarth Times, 20 Nov). This will make substantial annual savings, they say, because some people request unfeasibly large numbers of them. Although the local FOE group have attached the Council for this decision, it does make sense to issue a limited number of free bag rolls to households with the option of buying more.

The Vale’s kitchen waste system can seem a little overcomplicated. It involves a small caddy in the kitchen, into which biodegradable bags are inserted and a larger caddy to put roadside with the sealed bags in it. What I learnt recently is that you don’t really need the little biodegradable green bags at all, because you can just line the bigger caddy with newspaper and chuck everything straight in there. So don’t get too hung up on the little bags, just get as much kitchen waste recycled as possible!

Friday, 31 October 2014

Jerusalem artichoke – breaking news

So, what’s new in the world of Jerusalem artichoke, I hear you ask.

Well, Helianthus tuberosus has made the headlines on a few occasions recently. The Daily Mail, that repository of informed opinion, for example, reported on the case of Lyndsey Glassett, who returned home after a weekend away and was devastated to find that her Jerusalem artichoke plants had been sprayed and had died. The 67-year old liked to slow-cook the tubers in wine or grate them raw into salads. She watched the CCTV of her garden, and discovered that her sister, who lives across the road from her in Broxbourne, Kent, had done the deed. They have been at loggerheads for several years, apparently, and she accused her of killing the plants out of spite. She claims, rather unconvincingly in my opinion, that she was doing it because they looked like weeds. The case went to court:

It was National Chocolate Day this week, and Glamour magazine (again, not my usual reading I must admit) somehow managed to lump Jerusalem artichoke in with a bunch of ingredients du jour. “Beaming Superfood Cookie…  you won't believe all the other good stuff that's in this sweet treat: applesauce, Beaming Protein with greens (hemp protein, chia seed, yellow pea protein, brown rice protein, maca, mesquite, lucuma, vanilla, Jerusalem artichoke, coconut, sugar, cinnamon, Himalayan pink salt, chlorella, blue green algae, spirulina), coconut sugar, vanilla, sea salt, vegan chocolate chips, and sliced almonds.” It’s pretty unbelievable, I guess, but I did cut-and-paste it, so it must be true. For more healthy chocolate ideas:

Jerusalem artichoke have become a little bit fashionable again in restaurants, after many years of being neglected. This may continue this winter, as they are just coming into season again. For example, writing of a visit to Norse in Harrowgate this week, Elaine Lemm enthuses about “poached baby globe artichoke, pickled pear with Blacksticks blue, chervil root puree and chilled chervil broth as the first dish. For seconds, pan-fried plaice, Scottish mussels, salsify and sea veg with burnt cream and smoked Jerusalem artichoke.”  For more:

My Jerusalem artichoke have grown pretty well this year, but I don’t dig any until they have been subjected to a hard frost. As it has been positively tropical for late October here in Wales, I can’t see them being harvested for a while yet.

My advice when eating them is: a little goes a long way. Don’t overdo it. For a hint why, see my previous blog post on Jerusalem artichoke, which was entitled: ‘Why do Jerusalem artichoke make you fart?’ All is revealed at:

I extracted information for that blog post from a book I wrote, with Prof. Stan Kays from the University of Georgia (USA), called ‘The Biology and Chemistry of Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)’. This is currently ranked 3,237,947 on the Amazon bestsellers list:

Now, I know that can’t be good, because I get (or don’t get) the royalty cheques. However, I think the price the publishers charge for academic books like this might have a bearing.

Google books do a section for books where you can read selected pages (I don’t remember signing up for that one). Unfortunately, they have not selected any of the racy pages or even any of the interesting pages (the meat of the book concerns the Jerusalem artichoke’s USP – the inulin it lays down instead of starch):

Must sign off on this now, to deal with some 'trick-or-treaters'. Another Jerusalem artichoke news update coming soon, in a couple of years.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Personal taste

In recent posts, I have written about the environmental factors that influence how we perceive food and drink.  To complete this mini-strand, I offer a few words on the genetics of taste perception.

Back in 1931, a chemist called Arthur Fox was carelessly working with a powder called phenylthiocarbamide (TCP). His colleague complained that some of the airborne powder tasted bitter, but Fox could not taste anything. Studies to date have confirmed that around 75% of people can taste TCP and 25% cannot. With increasing knowledge of genetics, this ratio strongly suggested that a single dominant gene was involved in TCP perception; though the fact that people vary in their sensitivity to it suggests that other factors are also involved. In 2003, geneticists identified the gene – TAS2R38 – coding for the TCP receptors.

TCP does not occur naturally, so what is the significance of this? The answer was once life or death, of course. The TCP receptors are just part of the structures on the tongue that detect bitter substances. There are now around 30 genes linked to such bitter taste receptors. Your ability to taste TCP is positively correlated with your ability to taste other bitter substances, most significantly toxic compounds in plants that you might want to try eating.

I was reminded of this at Green Man this summer. One of the University Science Department stands in the Einstein’s Garden area of the festival was conducting simple genetic test, including the one for TCP perception.  As on previous occasions, this confirmed that I can taste TCP. Though this leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, it is a good thing (and they did supply sweets afterwards). It means I have a better chance of detecting bitter toxins in my food than people who cannot taste it, or it would if we all still lived in the age before supermarkets.

The genetic component for the perception of the other four basic tastes is thought to be less strong, though recent research has revealed that the perception of sweetness is partly inherited. This research is being done with a view to understanding obesity. Genetics may have little bearing on how we perceive salty and sour, while less is known about unami generally.

There are a number of technical terms to describe medically-related conditions involving taste perception, but these are more linked to environmental factors, particularly the onset of certain diseases, than genetic factors. For example, people can have ageusia (complete loss of taste), hypogeusia (partial loss of taste), dysgeusia (distorted sense of taste) and hypergeusia (abnormally heightened sense of taste). While ill, I have experienced mild versions of a couple of these and it certainly makes you appreciate your food when you recover.

One of the many environmental factors influencing how we perceive taste is aging, with older people often having reduced sensitivity to salty or bitter tastes. Acquired tastes are preferences that develop over time. These can override any genetically determined aversion to bitter or unusual tastes. Coffee, Marmite, broccoli, goat’s cheese and Brains Bitter, for example, are acquired tastes. It all goes to show that taste can be a very personal thing.

See also:
Crossmodal sensory perception

Pete Brown on beer and music

Some archived posts you may be interested in:
Genetics at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales


Raw Vegan Rock and Roll

Monday, 29 September 2014

Crossmodal sensory perception

In a recent post I wrote about a beer tasting session with Pete Brown at the Green Man Festival, in which he talked about how the music we hear may influence our perception of flavour. In the UK, much of the influential research in this area comes from the Crossmodal Research Laboratory in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford.

The Laboratory was founded in 1997 and the team there study the integration of information across the different sensory modalities (hearing, vision, touch, taste, and smell). This is an area of research that is changing the way we view our senses. Traditionally, vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste have been studied in isolation. However, recent research has shown sensory processing within a single sense is modulated by information from the other senses.

One area of interest to the Oxford laboratory is how our understanding of multisensory perception can be used by the food industry to improve the perception of foods and drinks. Professor Charles Spence, who heads the Crossmodal Research Laboratory, was interviewed for a recent Guardian article by Amy Fleming (link below). She notes that much of the lab’s work is funded by Unilever, while Prof Spence sits on the scientific advisory board of PepsiCo.

Therefore, this is an area of research that people should be aware of, in order to make informed purchasing decisions. For example, it has been found that ‘crunchy’ correlates with fresh, so food manufactures are making crisps and so forth that sound crunchy even though they are not so fresh. The information also informs product design and marketing. More beneficially (for us), food manufacturers are using crossmodal perception research findings to gradually reduce the salt and sugar content of foods (to meet Government guidelines). One of the early results of crossmodal perception, for instance, was that product colour affects perceptions of flavour and sweetness.

Charles Spence has written a book with his colleague Betina Piqueras-Fiszman called ‘The Perfect Meal’ (published next week in the UK), which presents the laboratory's recent findings on crossmodal perception for general readers. It is structured around the dining experience in a restaurant. It looks at the factors that influence flavour perception, including visual, tactile, cognitive and aural stimuli. For example, the subtle effects of the colour of the plates, the shape of the glass, the names of dishes, and the background music. So, for instance, whisky tastes better in a “woody” room, while food plated to resemble a work of art tastes better than when it is indifferently put on a plate.

A signature dish for crossmodal perception is the ‘Sound of the Sea’ served at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant. This seafood and fish dish plays on taste, aroma, sound and the overall nostalgic experience of the seaside. It is served with an iPod (inside a conch shell from which headphones emerge) playing seaside sounds, specifically waves crashing on a beach. The flat glass plate on which the food is served is placed on top of a rectangular box containing a bed of sand, while edible sand (made from tapioca), pieces of edible seaweed, and a wave of salty sea foam (vegetable and seaweed broth) surround the fish and seafood. Charles Spence collaborated with Heston Blumenthal on the creation of this dish, which is based on work concerning sound and flavour done in the Oxford laboratory.

So, if your waiter comes across all Derren Brown, there may be crossmodal perception at play. When it comes to food advertising, packaging and the perception of processed food products, however, you (the consumer) are not supposed to be aware of the psychology being applied. So, now is a good time to read up on what’s being cooked up in the lab (links below).

For instance, a recent paper from the laboratory found that the perception of green, yellow, and orange drinks was influenced by the shape of the glass in which the drink was presented, and the authors advised that for advertising and product packaging the appropriateness of the glassware be carefully considered. Another paper confirmed that fruit juices were considered 'sweet and low in sourness' were consistently matched with rounder shapes and speech sounds, and lower-pitched sounds, and were generally liked more; meanwhile, those juices that were rated as tasting 'sour' were consistently matched with angular shapes, sharper speech sounds, and sounds with a higher pitch, and were liked less.

The Oxford team have also found that the sounds of a food product’s name are generally associated with both sensory and conceptual attributes. This forms part of a wider area of study, looking at how retail spaces can provide non-verbal cues to improve sales.

Further reading:

Pete Brown on beer and music

Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford

‘Charles Spence: The food scientist changing the way we eat’, by Amy Fleming

Make your own 'Sound of the Sea'

‘Beverage perception and consumption: The influence of the container on the perception of the contents.’ Wan and Spence, 2015 (in press). Food Quality and Preference 39: 131-140.

‘Do you say it like you eat it? The sound symbolism of food names and its role in the multisensory product experience.’ Favalli et al., 2013. Food Research International 54: 760-791.

‘Retail atmospherics and in-store non-verbal cues: an introduction.’ Grewel et al., 2014. Psychology and Marketing 31: 469-471.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Queen Street, Cardiff

If you tell people about the interesting buildings along Queen Street you might get a funny look. That’s because at street level it looks like any other pedestrianised high street in the UK, with the generic shop fronts of familiar UK-wide chains. Therefore, I have pointed the camera toward the street art and the upper parts of buildings to capture the more Cardiff-specific parts of Queen Street.

On the near corner:

2 Queen Street CF10 2BU
Cornershop convenience store (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. April 2012).

At the entrance to Queen Street is the statue of Aneurin "Nye" Bevan, founder of the National Health Service (link to an account of his life below).  The statue was made by Robert Thomas in 1987, who was subsequently commissioned to do a series of sculptures along Queen Street.

Across the road, and one the other corner:

Pizza Hut
3a Queen Street CF10 2AF
Basement dining (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. June 2013).

Back on the other (south) side of the street:

There used to be a plaque commemorating Robert Drane (who once owned a Chemist shop here) on the wall where Thomas Cook is now. This was bronze plaque originally, but was replaced by a slate plaque put up by Cardiff Naturalists’ Society in July 2000. It is no longer there. I would welcome any information regarding the whereabouts of this plaque.


There is a slate plaque on the north side of Queen Street (no 11) commemorating Eric L Dutton MBE, and the community work he did in the city, which was unveiled in July 2002.

13 Queen Street CF10 2AQ
Founded in the early 1990s, this is the original chain of £1 discount stores. Poundland has around 520 shops in the UK, and in the wake of Woolworths demise, it and its many £1 shop competitors have expanded rapidly to colonise every high street. Food producers make special sizes so Poundland can sell them for £1. For example, Walkers crisps sell in multiples of 6 or 12 in mainstream supermarkets, but Poundland sells five-packs. Rather than keep quoting from the recent excellent article in New Statesman, I have given a link to it below (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. Jan 2014).


12-14 Queen Street CF10 2BU
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. May 2014).

20-22 Queen Street CF10 2BU
This used to be called Chopstix Noodle Bar. Like Chopstix, it serves stir-fry oriental food in waxed boxes. You can eat in on two dining levels (“over 100 seats”) or take-away (Food Hygiene Rating 2: improvement necessary. May 2013).

Opposite the Queens Street Arcade entrance:

Little Waitrose
15 Queen Street CF10 2AQ
Convenience store and one of several examples in central Cardiff illustrating how the major supermarkets are moving back onto city centre high streets (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. March 2012).

29 Queen Street CF10 2PB (2039 5074)
Pillars Restaurant and Coffee Shop is a Cardiff institution. The kids taken by their mothers here during shopping breaks are now here with their own children. British food, from buffet-style serving counters. Breakfasts, cold selection, hot selection, vegetarian and children’s menu. Hot selection includes roast chicken, casserole, curry, and fish and chips Good-value food in large portions (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. Feb 2013).

At the entrance to the Dominions Arcade, look inside. Of the several food businesses operating in the arcade in recent years, only one remains:

Sandwiched in the City
2 Dominions Arcade CF10 2AR
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. June 2013).

Opposite on the south side of Queen Street:

46-48 Queen Street CF10 2GQ
Just down the pedestrian cul-de-sac of Frederick Street / Heol Frederic:

3 Frederick Street CF10 2DB
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Dec 2011).

Continue along Queen Street:

British Home Stores
50-54 Queen Street CF10 2AF
(Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. Feb 2012).

On your right is the entrance to St David’s shopping centre (a previous location on the walking tour. Opposite the entrance to St David’s is Ann Summers (51 Queen Street).

36-38 Queen Street CF10 2RG
Boots the Chemist has increased the space it gives over to ‘meal deals, and other lunchtime food and drink options in recent years (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Oct 2010).

Marks and Spencer
72-76 Queen Street CF10 2XG
Café and Coffee Shop at front on first floor, visible within the modern glass extension (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. Nov 2011) and Food to Go on the ground floor (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. March 2013).

As you walk down Queen Street, you will encounter other sculptures by Robert Thomas (1926-1999), including Mother and Son, The Miner and (just around the corner in Churchill Place) The Family. There are information boards near these, if you wish to find out more.

At the corner with Charles Street:

Burger King
78 Queen Street CF10 2GR
"Seats 120 upstairs" (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Feb 2013).

Across Queen Street is the start of Park Place, which we will explore later. Then:

Thorntons Chocolates
91 Queen Street CF10 2BG

Churchill Way is off to the right here.

The short-lived New York Milkshakes was here on the north side (105-107 Queen Street CF10 2BG) late summer 2012 for about a year.

Chef’s Choice
109 Queen Street CF10 2BH
A stall selling fresh fruit in the entrance to the alley (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Feb 2014).

125 Queen Street CF10 2BJ (2037 3622)
The largest of the Starbucks on Queen Street, with outdoor seating (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. Feb 2014).

127 Queen Street CF10 2BJ
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. May 2012).

129 Queen Street CF10 2BJ
One of the older supermarket located in the city centre - it never left (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. July 2013).


The Capitol Centre (CF10 2HQ) on the final south block of Queen Street opened in 1990. It’s owned by the Moorfield Group. Fashion stores have been the mainstay, with H&M anchoring. A Virgin Megastore used to be prominent in the building’s prow, and this is now an Easygym.

Food-related businesses in The Capitol Centre:

Tesco Metro

Caffe Nero
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Nov 2012)

The Gourmet Spaniard
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. July 2013).

Soho Coffee Co

Pret a Manger
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. March 2013).


Café Caribe
This café on the first floor is currently promoting ‘superfood’ smoothies and juices, with ingredients including spirula algae, almond milk, goji berries, beetroot and South American maca root, to entice health-conscious people coming out of the Easygym (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Jan 2013).

The Capitol Centre went through a period of decline, with competition from the extended St Davids Centre, but has been revitalised over the past couple of years with the opening of a Tesco Metro, the arrival of more coffeehouses and the announcement just this week of the reopening of the original cinema that closed in 2001 (see link below).

I’ll see you outside the front door next time.

See also:

Aneurin Bevan

‘In for a pound’ by Sophie McBain. New Statesman 23-29 May 2014

Cinema to reopen in Capitol Centre

Previously, on the Walking Tour of Cardiff:

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Green Man 2014: The Welsh Beer

The Green Man Festival does not invite commercial sponsorship. From this decision, much that is good follows. There is little in-your-face commercial branding, for instance, and the bars are not obliged to sell just sponsor’s beers  – as happens at festivals sometimes (wrongly) considered to be equivalent to Green Man. Instead, Green Man organises a Beer and Cider Festival, in The Courtyard Bar, with 99 real ales, ciders and perries from independent Welsh producers (and a few from just across the border).

Here you will find beers from a dozen innovative breweries, with distinctive brews like Artisan Brewing Co’s Baltic Porter Espresso and Smoked Lager, Great Orme Brewery’s Welsh Black and Heavy Industry’s Pigeon Toed Orange Peel, alongside traditional ales of all types.

The house beer at Green Man is Growler, available in nearly all the bars for several years now; brewed by the Wye Valley Brewery, whose Butty Bach is also popular in these parts.

The Babbling Tongues programme got underway on Friday lunchtime with Pete Brown, who has been voted Beer Writer of the Year on more than one occasion by the British Guild of Beer Writers. In his talk, he light-heartedly matched some of the 99 beers and ciders with bands playing at the festival, while introducing some scientific thinking about how music might alter our perception of flavour. He did a version of this talk at last year’s festival, but on Sunday afternoon when most of the beers he wanted to mention had run out. This early slot ensured most of the audience got to sample the six drinks, while listening to selected tracks from festival bands.

Pete started by noting the long relationship between beer and music, with pubs from the 1840s incorporating stages. Some of these venues became so popular that the stages were expanded and music hall was born. Through to the present day, countless singer-songwriters and bands have started out playing pubs.

Artisan Brewery Co’s Bavarian Wheat beer was matched with (Fisherman’s Blues era) The Waterboys (folky); Great Orme Brewery’s Celtica was teamed with First Aid Kit (summery); Williams Brother’s Splanky cider was tasted while we listed to some early Mercury Rev (acidic sharpness); and Waen Brewery’s Chilli Plum Porter (“dark fruit, rich toasty flavours with green chilli tingle”) was matched with Anna Calvi.

A key point was the difference between taste and flavour. Taste is fairly basic, with the interplay of sweet, salty, bitter and sour, to which umami can be added. However, flavour is far more complex and subjective, with aroma playing a major part. In fact, the smell before ingesting and retronasal olfaction (odour molecules using a back entrance from the mouth to the nose) are crucial for the perception of flavour. It is flavour that can be influenced by environmental factors, including music.

Cognitive priming is a non-conscious form of human memory concerned with perception. Particular sounds, for example, can prime us to perceive flavour slightly differently. Pete Brown quoted research that demonstrated people giving a higher rating to wine if classical music was playing. The differences in perception can be surprisingly large in these experiments. Furthermore, the same vocabulary can be used to describe flavour and music (e.g. sharp, rough, smooth, jazzy etc). The type of music we are listening to therefore may alter our perception of the beer we are drinking.

Other scientific findings may also have a bearing on our perception of beer in different environments. Cross-modal perception involves interactions between two or more different sensory modalities. The shape and colour we see matter, for instance; people find food sweeter on round plates and fizzy soft drinks sweeter if more red colouring is added. In terms of beer, this has relevance to the straight glass vs tankard debate, for example, and to beers with distinctive hues.

Ambitiously, Pete tried to "blind test" us with two beers and two styles of music. Two tracks by Toy, one angular electronica and the other much more melodious, were tasted with what we later learned were Heavy Industry’s Nos Smoked Porter and a contrasting brew from Great Orme Brewery. The test was inconclusive, but thought-provoking.

Pete Brown even suggested the prospect of ‘beer and music terroire’, comparing the brews (e.g. Old Tom) and music (e.g. Joy Division) of Barnsley, for example, as indicative of the character of the town at a particular time.

How do you attempt to sample 99 real ales and cider over a weekend? My approach is to focus on one brewery at a time. This year, apart from the Growler, it was Brecon Brewing offerings, with Jazzy Beacons (“unofficial beer of the Brecon Jazz Festival”), Welsh Beacons (golden-hued Welsh Pale Ale), Three Beacons (CAMRA’s Champion Bitter of Wales 2014), Red Beacons  (red-hued IPA) and, in particular, Orange Beacons (a wheat-style beer brewed with fresh oranges that was awarded People’s Choice at Green Man 2013). Next year, another brewery!

Pete Brown’s lively beer and cider blog (from where you can also purchase his books):

My review of the music at Green Man 2014 for newsoundswales:

Green Man 2014: The Food

See also:
Green Man 2013

Green Man 2012

Green Man 2011

Friday, 22 August 2014

Green Man 2014: The Food

Most reviews of festivals like Glastonbury, Latitude or WOMAD focus exclusively on the music. However, the best British festivals offer far more than just music. The Green Man Festival this year, for instance, offered cult cinema, comedy, literature talks, theatre, circus and more. Moreover, the choice of food and drink at festivals is turning them into something approaching local food festivals. It’s all a long way from the limited burger-based diet at festivals a couple of decades ago. This post looks at what food was available to visitors to Green Man 2014.

Approaching the main site near the main (Mountain) stage, you will encounter the volunteer-run Green Man Trust Café selling hot drinks, bacon and sausage rolls with profits benefitting local organizations and projects. The meat is made from animals that roam the Glanusk Estate – the site of the Green Man Festival. Also in this area, the Ethical Chef (the Carmarthenshire vegetarian chef Deri Reed) was making his first Green Man appearance, fresh from winning the People’s Choice and a Sustainable Green Traders Awards at this year’s Glastonbury Festival; his award-winning chilli was served here. Also, in this area, you can visit the fresh fruit and smoothies stall, maple-smoked pulled pork stall (also ribs, frankfurters etc.) and a Vegan and Vegetarian food outlet by the steps over the wall into the main arena.

On entering the site near the Mountain Stage the first food stands you encounter are Soup-a-Juice (say it out loud), Hall’s Dorset Smokery (see link below) and Pasta Pizza; all fairly self-explanatory. Next to these is The Mountain Bar. Up the steps, through the terraces looking down on the main stage, you will some of Green Man’s most popular regular food outlets.

At La Grande Bouffe (or The Big Nosh) this year I had the excellent tartiflette (cheese/cream potatoes) topped by a French sausage with white wine gravy, all cooked in their large pans. We also purchased some tasty food next door at Pura Vida Mexican Vegetarian Restaurant: enchilada and burrito, in its second year at Green Man. Also returning for a second year was Mac’n’Cheese, bringing southern US-style street food to the Mountain’s Foot area.

Shepherd’s offered its usual wide range of Welsh ice cream flavours, though the queues were not as long as during last year’s hotter and drier Green Man weather. Moving along the top terrace, the Chai Shop Organic tent, with its carpets and low tables, again had one of the best ambiences for sitting down and eating; not for the first time, I had some of their handmade falafels. Newcomer Harefield’s Bakery and Roast, with its London street-front façade, offered British carvery baguettes and roast dinners; it’s owned by Davey Chambers, a previous Great British Bake-off contestant. Next door, Joho Soho, operated by the Cinnamon Kitchen, was specialising in slow-roasted lamb and other Indian dishes. The ever-popular Jamon Jamon again offered Valencian and Seafood paellas, and like many stands also did a good line in breakfasts (my best meal of last year’s festival was bought here – see link below).

Across the way, at the top of the hill by the house, is The Table Top, a pop-up Welsh Coffee Co outlet, making its first appearance at Green Man. Walking towards The Courtyard, there are some notable regulars on your left. Poco is a café operated by Bristol-based eco-chef Tom Hunt; with fish grilled outside the tent. Here you have a choice from a distinctive menu that includes mackerel wraps, halloumi, kebabs and salads, with an emphasis on Moroccan cuisine. Next door is the Pieminister van. My Pieminister pie this year was The Free Ranger. Meat was to the fore at the Taste of Wales van, with burgers and breakfasts among the offerings.

Turning into The courtyard, first up is Superstew, with simmering pans of good-looking spicy stews. There also a Coffee and Donut van, before the bar selling 99 Welsh beers and ciders (later).

The Walled Garden, where you can find the Green Man Pub and Walled Garden stage, hosted a good mix of food outlets. First up was the Grilled Cheese Sandwich stall operated by London’s Morty and Bob. Next door was the Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company, specialising in lobster, crab and freshly-made flatbreads. I had a cockle and bacon flatbread with laverbread, a pleasingly different and substantial beach food. The Roaming Patisserie has roamed between different sites at Green Man over the years, but has found its perfect location here; breaking up a whole roast chicken between friends is what it’s all about. The Welsh Venison Centre, based nearby at Beacons Farm (about a mile down the road), does a great job of selling venison as the burger of choice to festival-going foodies. Beyond the Green Man Pub: The Hippy Chippy van, selling chunky chips. Also in the Walled Garden, were vans selling Shepherd’s ice cream and homemade chilled drinks.

Walking towards Babbling Tongues, you pass two of Green Man’s most popular perennial food stalls. The Goan Seafood Company ("Goan recipes, Cornish fish") I have written about previously (see below).  Moorish: North African & Arabic Souk Food supplied the best food I ate at Green Man 2012, namely spicy lamb in a deep-fried filo-pastry parcel. You expect to see queues at both of these, festival regulars know what they want.

In the Babbling Tongues area (book-related talks and comedy), The Tea Stop is a converted red double-decker bus selling breakfasts, teas and cake. The Speak-Easy Bar in this area specialises in cocktails and gin.

Walking up the hill to the Far Out zone you enter the final grouping of food outlets. French & Grace do flatbreads and salad boxes; we were impressed by vegetarian flatbreads here last year. New to us was the wonderfully-named Spanish Stew and the Wild Dogs from Monmouthshire. Chorizo stew with made from local Trealy Farm produce, but on this occasion I had a wild boar hot dog with the hot festival pickle. The silver trailer of The Flaming Cactus was parked next door, serving Mexican dishes. Next up was a vegetarian café. Barnaby Sykes Piemaker had plenty of pies for sale, from traditional steak and ale, more unusual steak and stilton, and the vegetarian spicy butter bean and mature cheddar. Manna was selling Asian street food, with Cambodian chilli pork, Vietnamese lemongrass chicken and beef Osaka tofu among the tempting dishes. The Casa Portuguesa was offering Portuguese-style BBQ, including piri piri chicken, and all-day breakfasts. Turning around the block at The End Up Bar, you will see another Pasta and Pizza outlet in the Chai Wallahs tent. Down the other side of this block, you’ll find hot grilled wraps at Wrappers' Delight, with the accompanying Smoothie Delight next door. The Grazing Shed offered “super tidy burgers”. The Seacow traded in good old-fashioned fish and chips.

I have probably missed a few stalls (apologies), but you get the picture. You can eat your way around the world, but there is a focus on local food suppliers. Early risers will have seen the vans coming in from St Mary Bakery, the dairy, butchers and other local businesses. This is a festival out to support the local economy. See you there next year – I already have an idea of what I want to eat!

My review of the music at Green Man 2014 for newsoundwales:

See also:

Green Man 2013

Green Man 2012

Green Man 2011

Hall’s Dorset Smokery

Goan Seafood Company

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Nightingale Community Garden links with local foodbank

At an open meeting on the morning of Saturday 5 July 2014, Nightingale Community Garden officially linked up with Bethesda Foodbank in Dinas Powys. Part of the Vale Foodbank, and under the Trussell Trust umbrella, the Bethesda Foodbank opened in Sept 2012 (see link below).

Mike Groves of the Vale Foodbank talked at the meeting about the excellent work that the Vale Foodbank does in helping to feed people who suddenly find themselves without sufficient resources (e.g. due to benefit cuts) to feed themselves or their families.

This summer, gardeners are donating surplus produce from their Community Garden plots to the Foodbank. For the past couple of weeks, donated veg placed in a basket in the wooden shed at the back of the garden has been taken over to the Bethesda Chapel around midday on Wednesday.

Rob McGhee of Creative Rural Communities, who played a key role in getting the garden established, talked about the success of the Community Foodie scheme in the Vale of Glamorgan. A network of gardens in the Vale has got people growing more of their own food, while helping to bring communities together. Also in the photo above are Cllr. Keith Hatton and Elizabeth Millard, the co-founders of Nightingale Community Garden (for the full story follow the links below).

There was another good turnout for a garden meeting. Robin Harrison was again present to answer gardeners’ questions. This time, he bought along some fragrant plants – of which I took home a sage and a lemon verbena. The gathering enjoyed free tea, coffee, lemonade and biscuits.

Nightingale Community Garden, though only opened last spring, has been looking mature and productive during this hot July. I’ll let these recent photos speak for themselves.

See also:

Vale Foodbank opens in Dinas Powys

Previous posts on Nightingale Community Garden in Dinas Powys

May 2014

Sept 2013

June 2013

April 2013

March 2013

Feb 2013

Jan 2013

Oct 2012

Aug 2012

Feb 2012

Jan 2012