The Husband and I escaped to Cardiff for a night this weekend. Too late to book ourselves into any of the great places to eat that had been recommended to us, we decided to embrace some of the ‘chain’ restaurants present in this fantastic city – and we weren’t disappointed.
I visited Cardiff once before, quite a long time ago. With the Husband (although he’s been back since). In fact, we went to see the last England v Wales international at the much loved and now obsolete Arms Park. As I remember, Keiran Bracken’s thighs featured quite heavily (for me at least), as did a man dressed as a leek. Actually, there were quite a lot of men dressed as leeks, and I was quite disappointed not to see even one man-sized leek when we returned to our adopted homeland’s capital on Saturday. What was noticeably prevalent was the rampant goodwill amongst Welsh & Springbok supporters, a general atmosphere of happiness and optimism. Not surprising really, because Cardiff is a lovely city – wide streets, a mixture of old fashioned department stores and arcades and ultra-modern architecture.
When I say we embraced chain restaurants, we did have an initial foray into the independent food scene, visiting the New York Deli, as recommended. Situated in one of the gorgeous little arcades, as well as enjoying the food, if you sit in the window you can also be intrigued by the barbers/tattoo parlour opposite...
Bagels, hoagies, sandwiches heavy on the salt beef and swiss, I enjoyed a delicious Cardiff Devil’s Hoagy – cream cheese, salt beef and gherkins, smothered in a pungent horseradish and tabasco sauce.
I’d specified heat of 4-5 (out of a scale of 1-10) and it was just fine, and set me up perfectly for an afternoon at the Laguna Spa that the Husband had booked me in for (yes, while he watched the rugby, but you know what – each to his or her own, and I was pretty happy with my part of the bargain).
Emerging into the early evening, jubilant Welsh crowds fresh from their win over the ‘boks, we decided we were in the mood for cocktails, and found ourselves initially in 10 Feet Tall.
Packed to the gunnels we pushed on through, found a table and settled down to a mojito and a long island iced tea. Very good they were too, but “…very young and hip…” as Twitter advised me. We didn’t feel like it was overly young & hip, but it was quite noisy, and the crowd was
drunker at 6.30 than we were ever going to be getting lively, so by definition
we were probably too old to be there, and took the advice of Twitter to
hightail it over to the newly opened Wahaca, and their cocktail bar.
Now I’ve long wanted to eat at Wahaca, Thomasina Miers’ Mexican streetfood chain, and the fact that there was a cocktail bar where we could wait for our table made it a no brainer. The more I eat Mexican food, the more I love it: fresh flavours of lime and coriander, beans and tomatoes, avocados, smoky spices. It’s the smoky spices that I really love – chipotle and all that.
We were duly assigned a mobile phone-like pager and an estimated table time of 8, and headed upstairs for a tamarind margarita. Wahaca in Cardiff is in a big modern unit, spread over 3 floors and from the top you can see all the way down. There’s plenty of plate glass giving views of John Lewis opposite, and a relaxed but ‘buzzy’ vibe to the bar. It wasn’t heaving either, so we got served pretty quickly and settled down to enjoy our cocktails and the snacks – tortillas and delicious guacamole. I loved the tamarind margarita – the lemony flavours combined well with the lime and the high grade tequila they profess to use. In fact it slipped down far too easily, as did the Husband’s Wahaca Mule, after which I had a Mojito DF and the Husband had something with hibiscus in which was too flowery for me, but he enjoyed it…
I could have stayed there all evening, quaffing delicious cocktails and nibbling tortilla and guacamole, but perhaps fortunately, we were called to our table, where ‘Jack’ welcomed us. Now, Wahaca operates a little like Wagamamma, whereby the menu is printed out on a table mat/piece of paper, and the waiter or waitress will scribble over it as you give your order. ‘Jack’ was clearly following his script which was a little irritating, explaining how we should order, writing his name on the menu - in case we forgot? But we managed to let that go, ordered mainly from the street food and sides menu, and pretty quickly had some totally delicious morsels in front of us. And another cocktail.
The first morsels were the fennel pork scratchings with more guacamole. You can take the girl out of the North of England, but you'll never rid me of my love of pork scratchings, and this were divine morsels of fennell-y saltiness. Perfect with the guacamole. Even more so than the tortillas we'd eaten earlier.
After that, it wasn't long before we were presented with: pork pibil tacos, black bean tostados, chicken taquitos and chorizo & potato quesadilla. And spicy slaw, 'greens' (lush lush lush - tenderstem brocoli drizzled with chilli garlic oil and lime - I could have eaten kilos of it), and the sauteed sprout special. It is nearly Christmas after all...
If you ask me, Mexican served this way is pretty much the perfect food to eat when you’re happily tipsy and feeling full of goodwill: cheerful food, bright and vibrant, and really fresh tasting. Wahaca may be a chain, and I haven’t eaten in any of the other Wahacas, but it was lovely. I also liked the way that they used British ingredients like Lancashire cheese where appropriate. Wahaca has won a sustainable food award a couple of times, and I wondered if they might be able to use Welsh cheese in the Cardiff Wahaca – but that’s being really petty because the food was fantastic and, deprived country girl that I am, the view was pretty good too.
To be utterly honest after the lovely ‘main courses’ we didn’t really fancy any of the puddings on offer, churros and hot chocolate and various ice creams, so we decided to do some ‘urban foraging’ for a fix of lemon tart. But that’s for another post…