Sunday, 29 June 2014

St David’s 3, Cardiff

This is the strand on this food blog in which we are slowly walking around Cardiff, checking what's current on the Cardiff food scene and reaching occasional conclusions about food trends.

We previously left Eastside in the St David’s centre, and are now outside looking up at the new Admiral Building (South Wales-based insurance company), which is being erected in front of you. Turn right, and negotiate your way past the building work to:

Mary Ann Street CF10 2EN
15-screen cinema, where there is still time to buy fizzy drinks, coffee and popcorn in the foyer before the film starts. Includes Gala Electronic Casino (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. March 2012).

Across the road:

Motorpoint Arena
Mary Ann Street CF10 2EQ
Formerly the Cardiff International Arena (CIA), this large concert venue also hosts conferences and events. My next scheduled trip here is to see the Peter Gabriel 'So' tour later this year (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. June 2013).

Opposite, the Flaming Dragon Chinese restaurant on the corner is closed. Across Mary Ann Street:

Park Inn by Radisson
Mary Ann Street CF10 2JH
Hotel with the RBG Bar and Grill, offering a range of British classics, pasta and pizza etc, with an outdoor café/bar terrace (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. June 2013).

Follow Mary Ann Street around, walking away from the Motorpoint Arena.

Heard the one about ‘Location, Location, Location’? US-based Hooters haven’t. They opened their second UK outlet along here in 2011 (the first is still open in Nottingham), in the worst location in Cardiff city centre. The Sports Café and Bar that replaced it closed within months. Pass this empty unit. We are now at the back of the St David’s 2009 extension.

Tesco Express
Mary Ann Street CF10 2EN
A convenience food store, with a convenient cashpoint outside.

Pass on Boots, on your right, which has its main entrance inside through the entrance into the Grand Arcade where we were last time. On your left is anchor store John Lewis. Head toward the new library building and keep right, following the building round to:

Jamie’s Italian
69-70 Lower Ground Floor (outside), St David’s, The Hayes CF10 1GA (2002 7792)
I remember watching Jamie Oliver’s TV series on Italian food and thinking he had nothing particularly original or interesting to say on the subject. In hindsight, the TV production company was forking out for what was effectively a research trip for this venture. With the right business partners and chefs in place, Jamie’s Italian has been a big success. In addition to this one in Wales, there are nearly 40 Jamie’s Italians in England and Scotland, and others in countries around the world (though not Italy).

Cardiff’s Jamie’s Italian doesn’t feel like a traditional Italian restaurant, with its industrial design and retro British music. There are no pizzas, instead the approach is to adapt to British tastes and mainstream regional Italian dishes less known in the UK (e.g. turkey Milanese, arancini, Caprese and Bresaola salads, porchetta, crispy squid). Planks remain popular here: long wooden boards for shared platters, which you can buy on the way out (if you so wished).

We lunched here last week. I drank the Liberta lager, brewed for Jamie’s by the Freedom Brewery in Staffordshire (a understated lager brewed for food from a 'microbrewery' that appears to now be a fairly big brewery), while my dining partner had a refreshing home-made lemonade. For starters, we ordered the homemade breads from the ‘nibbles’ section: rosemary focaccia, sourdough, music bread and grissini, with olive oil/balsamic vinegar and a sun-dried tomato/olive tapenade. A good choice: the most interesting being the thin crispy Sardinian music bread (pane carasau), laden with seeds and ‘aniseedy’ flavour. Grissini, incidentally, are good old-fashioned breadsticks (why don’t they say so!).

My partner had the wild rabbit casarecce (a pasta shape similar to fusilli), with the rabbit ragù slow-cooked with garlic and herbs, mascarpone and lemon. I had the fish-of-the-day special: pan-fried hake with butter/parsley sauce, steamed mussels, roasted vine-ripe tomatoes and chargrilled asparagus tips, which was most enjoyable. The crunchy salad is very like coleslaw.

A shared frangipane tart (almond tart, akin to bakewell), with peach being the day’s seasonal fruit filling, and coffees concluded our meal.  Look out for the £10 off vouchers on a leaflet as you go in, which keeps the bill manageable (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Nov 2011).

Starbucks Coffee
Lower Ground Floor, St David’s, The Hayes CF10 1GA (2034 1814)
Starbucks arrived in the UK in 1998 (a 'game-changer' as the annoying phrase goes), via the acquisition of Seattle Coffee Company stores. This one has the usual range of coffees, and some prime-location outdoor seating. I have not been in a Starbucks for years, so really cannot comment further.

Since we were in The Hayes last, the Hayes Island Snack Bar has been joined in the central square by a Sidoli’s ice cream stall for the summer, selling a good range of flavours produced by this family-owned Welsh ice cream company.

Turn right at the corner, into Hills Street:

Cosy Club
1 Hills Street (upstairs) CF10 2LE (2020 5998)
Go through the doors and up a rather OTT staircase, where you will find a bar and a dining area. Cardiff blogger Pint of 45 has already noted that this is not cosy and it’s not a club. It is an expanding chain though. The Cardiff Cosy Club, which opened in November 2012, is the largest of the seven Cosy Clubs to open so far (stretching all the way from Exeter to Cheltenham). The food is very British – pork belly, Cornish fish pie, duck’s shepherd’s pie, steaks, mussels, spinach and cheese soufflé. Brunch served most of the day and they cater for vegans. The burger range encompasses falafel, salmon and crayfish, and possibly even beef (Food Hygiene Rating 3: generally satisfactory. July 2013).

1a Hills Street, CF10 2LE (2037 2249)
Started in London in 2004, by Daniel Spinath, there are now around 13 crêpeaffaires, in the UK (and Hamburg). Ten sweet and fourteen (4 of them veggie) savoury pancakes on the menu, along with breakfasts (including the Londoner breakfast crêpe) and waffles. Savoury crêpes served with salads for lunch, or can be taken in specially-designed triangular boxes. There’s a focus on the coffee (Food Hygiene Rating 3: generally satisfactory. July 2013).

Red Hot World Buffet
3-6 Hills Street, CF10 2LE (2034 2499)
I was here for opening night in October 2011, and have been back on several occasions since. It’s good when you are in a group, especially with people having very different tastes in food. It’s the longest buffet in Wales, designed by Red Hot’s corporate chef Deepak Bahuguna; serving around 300 dishes from around the world, including Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Cajun, Tex Mex, Italian, Mediterranean and British. You can spot the first timers – plates piled high with foods that should never be seen on the same plate. Red Hot World Buffet started in, you guessed it, Nottingham in 2004, and there are around eight now in the UK (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. June 2013).

Walk back down Hills Street to The Hayes, and I will see you there next time.

See also:

Red Hot World Buffet opens in Cardiff:

Previously, on the Walking Tour of Cardiff:

St David’s 2
St David’s 1
Queen Street Arcade
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

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The proposed 'Garden Bridge' in London

The ‘Garden Bridge’ project in London seems to be getting an easy ride in the media. Maybe it’s the involvement of designer Thomas Heatherwick and the actress/campaigner Joanna Lumley, who thought it up, two people who have done much in recent years to deserve our respect; or the support of Boris Johnson, who is inexplicably popular in London.

The proposed pedestrian bridge will cost around £175 million. It will link the South Bank (near the National Theatre) to the north bank (near Temple underground station), a section of the Thames already well served by bridges. It is therefore totally unnecessary. The Garden Bridge Trust have already been promised £30 million by the Government, £30 million from Transport for London, and £30 million from private donors, according to the Evening Standard (below). Current plans aim to have it built by 2018.

What particularly annoys me is when Heatherwick and the Garden Bridge Trust team invoke the spirit of guerrilla and community gardening, and projects like the High Line in New York, as inspiration for and in justification of the project. The ‘garden bridge’ is the opposite of those things, and that’s what this blog post is about.

Let’s be clear, the ‘garden bridge’ is not a green project. It is a massive concrete engineering construction project, with oversized planters on top. Crucially, the projects is a top-down initiative; exactly the opposite to guerrilla and community gardening, which are bottom-up and community-led initiatives.

In a Guardian article (26 June 2014, link below), Heatherwick says, “It feels like we’re trying to pull off a big crime” and describes the design evolution as a form of “guerrilla gardening”. The team may be pulling off a crime, but not the one they think they’re pulling off. Here is a definition of Guerrilla Gardening (from Richard Reynolds’ book ‘On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries’, Bloomsbury, 2008): “THE ILLICIT CULTIVATION OF SOMEONE ELSE’S LAND.”

The most celebrated guerrilla gardens, of course, become legitimate because they are embraced by the communities they spring up in. They become officially recognised and much-loved community gardens and allotments. Nevertheless, people enter into guerrilla gardening knowing they are beautifying or producing food in a temporary neglected space over what is likely to be a relatively short period of time. This is the spirit of guerrilla gardening. So, hardly a corporate construction project.

Let’s look at the specific example of the High Line in Manhattan, a mile-long elevated linear park so beloved of architects like Heatherwick, who invokes it as an inspiration. The important point to get is that the High Line was once a railway viaduct built in the 1930s, which was abandoned in the 1980s. It’s a great example of urban renewal. In the years after the last train used the railway, local residents noticed that drought-resistant grasses, shrubs and trees were thriving. It was urban explorers and guerrilla gardeners who first saw the potential for turning this derelict structure into an elevated garden and park. The High Line was very nearly demolished, but community organisations, in particular the non-profit Friends of the High Line, prevented this from happening. Gardens cultivated with the help of community groups alternate with the native flora sections along this very popular urban park; the first section of which opened in 2006, while the third and final section is due to open later this year.

The High Line itself draws some of its ideas from the Promenade Plantée in Paris, which was the world's first elevated park, and was also built on an abandoned railroad viaduct. A London project truly inspired by these highly successful urban renewal schemes would take an existing London bridge, pedestrianise it, and turn it into a green oasis.

Building something from scratch at vast expense to mimic what others have done on derelict urban infrastructure just does not add up. The spirit of the Olympic Games has been invoked, but the Olympic construction at its best rejuvenated a large contaminated derelict area (At worst, of course, it built a car park over local community allotments).

Allotments and community gardens owe everything to enthusiastic local people who garden them. They fulfil a real community need. What would £175 million (the estimated cost of London’s ‘garden bridge’) buy in terms of grass-roots greening projects?

The desire to garden in an urban environment is very strong. There are waiting lists for allotments in towns all over the UK. In Dinas Powys, we established a Community Garden on an abandoned play area, which had become overgrown and was the focus for anti-social behaviour. This is now a highly productive local food growing area for around 30 families and is a community hub in a very positive sense. Recent plans include promoting pollinating insects in the area and donating food to a local Food Bank.

It cost around £35,000 to create the Nightingale Community Garden in Dinas Powys (£28,000 was obtained from the Welsh Assembly government’s Tidy Towns initiative and £5,000 from the Vale of Glamorgan’s Creative Rural Communities initiative). So, £175 million could alternatively be used to create 5,000 such Community Gardens around the UK. Given that there are 936 towns listed for England, and around 170 in Wales, this could create a veritable network of community-led local food production. Linked to an education programme, it could represent a revolution in terms of food self-sufficiency, environmental and health benefits (better and cheaper food, health benefits arising from active gardening and social interaction, knock-on effects in health-care spending, reduced crime due to urban renewal etc.).

Finally, I suspect that the maintenance costs of the ‘garden bridge’ have been wildly underestimated. Being a top-down corporate project it cannot expect the level of dedication from community groups and volunteers that make grass-roots community gardens so successful.

See also:
Oliver Wainwright in The Guardian:

Evening Standard:

How the 'garden bridge' intends to redefine 'public space' for the surveillance age (added Nov 2015):

Creating a Community Garden (the Nightingale Community Garden in Dinas Powys) as an example of what could be done around the country instead:
July 2015:

July 2014

May 2014

Sept 2013

June 2013

April 2013

March 2013

Feb 2013

Jan 2013

Oct 2012

Aug 2012

Feb 2012

Jan 2012