Thursday, 17 April 2014

Queens Arcade, Cardiff

There is seemingly a line running through Cardiff City Centre. It runs down from St Johns Street to The Hayes. On one side are ornate Victorian and Edwardian Arcades, small local and independent businesses, centuries-old pubs, and the indoor market, with its local butchers, veg and fishmonger. On the other side are modern shopping malls, where the chain stores and restaurants cluster. This is a little simplistic, of course, but we will see a slightly different side of Cardiff today as we cross that line.

Walking south down St John Street, keep left of the church and enter Queens Arcade (no apostrophe in the branding – it does not belong to a queen).  Queens Arcade connects through to Queens Street, by a left fork ahead at the atrium, and into St David’s shopping centre, by a right fork. A different management operates in Queens Arcade to the much larger St David’s. Queens Arcade is owned by Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a major UK property investor. They have a Cardiff office in One Kingsway. Today’s Queens Street Arcade was opened in 1994; it was built on the site of the demolished old Queens Street Arcade.

As the tour moves through the modern undercover shopping areas, it will give us the chance to explore the latest fashions and fads, to test the 2014 zeitgeist, if you will; and ponder what future mall archaeologists will make of the British diet based on the evidence they unearth.

Just inside the entrance:

Le Rendez-Vous
48 Queens Arcade CF10 2BY (2034 1345)
This café has undergone modernisation. The old canteen-tray café has gone, and the counter area is now only in the centre of the mall. This is all shiny coffee machines and attractively displayed sandwiches and cakes. The seating is in the main unit to the side, by the escalators and, very pleasant in summer, outside (although this can be a bit of a smokers’ zone at times). I had a breakfast latte and a very good cinnamon Danish pasty here recently. This independent café, with friendly and efficient service, specialises in filled baguettes and Italian coffee, and remains very popular with Cardiff’s shoppers (Food Hygiene Rating 2: improvement necessary. June 2013). Incidentally, this is one of the Cardiff businesses to have exercised its right-to-reply on their Food Hygiene Rating: “inspecting officer returned since inspection [June 2013] and has signed us off on the points raised. Our refrigeration units now running properly and being monitored more regularly. All the other points raised have also been dealt with and procedures put in order to ensure they are carried out correctly in future.”

Turning left at the atrium, head for New Look and take the escalator up to the section of Queens Arcade that exits to Queen Street. As if entering from Queen Street, to your right:

Queens Arcade CF10 2BY
Uncle Sam is outside pointing at you; inviting you inside to stock up on candy like it’s some sort of patriotic duty. Everything here is “Made in America” (they mean the USA): Hershey Bars, Oreos, M&Ms, Pop Tarts, Reese's Pieces, Pez sweet dispensers, Twinkies, Cheetos, Mountain Dew. There are pick-and-mix novelty candies (false teeth and so on), while Angry Birds is the branding in fashion at the moment. The price tags suggest these chocolates and candies are luxury goods in Wales. There is another Americandy in Mermaid Quay, down Cardiff Bay (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. July 2013).

Over the way:

Unit 14 Queens Arcade CF10 2BY (2037 4489)
The focus is on quality teas in Whittard of Chelsea; with a good range from around the world, in loose leaf, pyramidal teabags and instant teas (a bit of a Whittard speciality). There’s also coffee, and some hot chocolate and ‘flavoured drinks’. ‘Sale’ signs up, but mainly on teapots and mugs. Whittard have also opened a ‘pop-up’ shop in the modern part of St David’s (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Feb 2013).

Millie’s Cookies
Unit 15 Queens Arcade CF10 2BY
Millie’s Cookies are purveyors of Unites States-style cookies, muffins, cupcakes and ice cream. They trade on their cookies’ fresh “just out of the oven” smell and the “chewy, soft in the middle, crunchy on the outside” bite. They do giant cookies, which are like cookies but very big, mini cookies (half the size), and cookies on a stick. There are 12 regular cookie flavours, including Double chocolate, Praline, White Chocolate and raspberry, Coconut, Jaffa, and Salted caramel and pecan. Millie’s Cookies is owned by the SSP Group Limited, whose head office is in London (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. May 2013).

In the central area of Queens Arcade, stalls trading in the latest trends set up shop. A couple of years ago it was people sitting around with their bare feet in aquariums, while fish fed on those flaking plates of meat. Luckily, these fads tend to come and go. Currently, we have electronic cigarettes and Bollywood eyebrow threading. Electronic cigarettes, the latest nicotine-delivery device, were first sold in the UK in 2005. One report suggests there are now over 2 million users in the UK. Recent press reports have revealed a tendency for them to explode, a rising number of small children being poisoned by them, and cynical industry campaigns marketing them at youngsters, both to get around the smoking ban and to normalise nicotine use in a new generation. Eyebrow threading:  I’m not going there. However, the latest food and drink related fashion here is:

bubble base
Unit 35 Queens Arcade CF10 2BY
Wales' Bubble Tea Specialists operate from a kiosk in the upper floor atrium, serving ‘authentic Taiwanese Bubble Tea’ and four flavours of Fat-Free Frozen Yoghurt. This is an independent local business, owned by Kishan Varsani, who had the inspired idea of bringing a modern Asian tea trend to Wales for the first time. Bubble teas started in the 1980s in Taiwan, originally as a tea for children, and spread around Asia, and now the World. Ordering a tea at the kiosk is a surprisingly complicated process. Firstly, you have a choice of three tea brews (Ceylon black, green jasmine tea and a red oolong), and then whether to go milky or not. Thirdly, choose whether you want it hot, cold or slushy, and finally you choose your toppings (jellies and pobbles). The Taiwanese drink that started it all had black tapioca balls and this is the standard here, from which they have diversified with all sorts of different flavoured agar jellies. You drink and suck these up through a fat straw. Personally, I do not like bits in my tea, though bit-free green tea flavours like lychee and peach do sound appealing. It’s well-worth trying for yourself (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. May 2013).

Back downstairs, and heading towards the St David’s Centre:

Cafè Mattia
Unit 43 Queens Arcade CF10 2BY
Italian café with a pleasant ambience; away from the entrance, and the busy mall thoroughfare, it’s surprisingly quiet and relaxed, and it has comfy chairs and settees. Cafè Mattia advertises itself as ‘fine dining’, though presumably that is in the context of shopping mall cafés. The best thing is that all the food is made freshly to order. They do salads, baguettes, paninis , wraps, jacket potatoes, soup of the day, crepes, and there are some very good-looking cakes. This week, I had a quick lunch here of a salmon and cream cheese bagel, with a large latte. The food arrived on a triangular plate: nicely toasted bagel, a decent amount of smoked salmon and the cream cheese was not overdone, as is sometimes the case; with a small side salad (red onion, slices of tomato and cucumber, water cress and rocket). Cafè Mattia is licensed, so you can have a glass of wine with your light lunch (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Oct 2012).

Simply Shakes
Unit 44 Queens Arcade CF10 2BY
This kiosk is popular with kids. It sells milk shakes, with a speciality of blending ice cream and your favourite chocolate bar ( it sounds pretty creative), smoothies, soft drinks, novelty sweets (e.g. candy made to look like a packet of sandwiches), and even some healthy-looking fruit in cups to take away (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Nov 2010).

One theme that immediately emerges (and I believe this might apply to shopping mall food generally), is that it often caters to children, and to adults who still like the types of snacks and drinks they enjoyed as children, whether for nostalgia, a sugar rush, get down with the kids, or whatever reason.

Shopping malls have a reputation for being generic, whatever city you are in some say you could be anywhere. However, thus far this feels very much like Cardiff and nowhere else, with local businesses, bilingual signage on the Post Office, and in many other respects.  

So, with our St David’s map in hand and sweet tooth firmly in place, we’ll explore deeper into the labyrinth next time.

Previously, on the Walking Tour of Cardiff:

Duke Street Arcade and Duke Street

High Street Arcade

Church Street and St John’s Street

Cardiff Market

Wharton Street and Trinity Street

Morgan Arcade

Royal Arcade

The Hayes

The Old Brewery Quarter

Caroline Street

Mill Lane and Wyndham Arcade

St Mary Street

High Street

Castle Arcade and Castle Street

Womanby Street and Quay Street

Westgate Street


Cathedral Road

Pontcanna 2

Pontcanna 1

North Canton

Cowbridge Road East 3

Cowbridge Road East 2

Cowbridge Road East 1

Bute Park

Cathays Park

Cathays Terrace

Salisbury Road

Woodville Road

Crwys Road

Wellfield Road

Albany Road

City Road

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