It just takes a little local know-how to discover it – and Jane Cook, the award-winning blogger behind Hungry City Hippy knows just where to look.
In the past couple of years, Cardiff’s food scene has undergone a quiet revolution. Across the city, independent outfits are improving the foodie fortunes of this buzzing capital. Flexible and dynamic by their very nature, it's worth the effort to seek out these plucky newcomers.
Tommy Heaney, the Northern Irish star of the BBC’s Great British Menu ran a highly-praised restaurant in Bridgend, until a vacant spot in Cardiff proved an irresistible lure. Within weeks he’d crowdfunded £40,000 to refurb his new 50-cover restaurant and cocktail bar. Heaneys opened to rapturous reviews in 2018. Expect small, sharing plates throughout the week, and on Sunday, a full roast dinner with all the trimmings.
Milkwood is the result of a dream shared by three friends - a dream to run their own cosy neighbourhood restaurant. After years spent working for other people, they made their dream a reality in 2017. Since opening in leafy Pontcanna, this little gem has charmed ardent foodies and locals alike. Cerys, Tom and Gwyn’s offer - seasonal produce cooked simply with flair - hits just the right notes. Out front, Andrew makes a terrific host, too.
The Classroom is a short walk from Cardiff Central station. On the top floor of the Cardiff and Vale College, the Welsh chefs of tomorrow are busy honing their craft. The Classroom is a working restaurant, but primarily it’s a training ground for the college’s catering students. The dishes coming out of the kitchen are always seasonal, creative and stylishly plated, and the unrivalled views from the panoramic windows make eating here a truly memorable experience.
The ‘Spanish Quarter’
There's a trio of excellent Spanish eateries based around Westgate Street: Asador 44, Bar 44 and Curado combine to make an afternoon of bar-hopping, sherry-sipping and tapas-nibbling a very real possibility in this affectionately nicknamed corner of the city centre. For a special occasion, Asador 44’s ambiance, service and show-stopping Rubia Gallega chuletón steaks are hard to beat. Meanwhile, tapas-to-share is a date-night favourite at Bar 44, while casual snacks (known as pintxos in the northern regions of Spain) are the speciality at the laid-back Curado Bar.
If Catalan cooking floats your boat, check out La Cuina on the outskirts of the city centre, too.
Tucked away in an arty out-of-town outdoor marketplace, surrounded by old industrial warehouses, lies Dusty Knuckle. This indoor-outdoor restaurant serves some of the best pizza in the country from its quirky courtyard. It’s all down to owner Phill’s unrivalled focus on provenance, and his commitment to making pizza which is as authentically Italian as possible (his frequent trips to Naples pretty much guarantee it).
The ‘International Food Mile’
A few years ago, a group of passionate Cardiff culture vultures made a plea for Roath’s eclectic City Road to be rebranded as the city’s ‘international food mile’. This part of town is where local foodies craving far-flung flavours come to feast. Covering cuisines that range from Japanese to Mediterranean, Asian to Egyptian, a trip to City Road is an invitation to eat your way around the world.
From the same owners of the aforementioned Milkwood comes The Grange, a community pub rescued from dereliction in the most fantastic way possible, picking up CAMRA’s Cardiff Pub of the Year award a little over a year after re-opening. The winning combination of hearty, unfussy food, real ales, old-school pub games (and not a single flat-screen TV in sight) was one they knew they could trust – sister pub The Lansdowne also won it in 2017.
Cardiff Central Market
For more than 100 years Cardiff Central Market has housed butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers and bakers, as well as a number of ‘grab-and-go’ stalls serving quick and tasty lunches for city centre workers.
In the last couple of years, the market has enjoyed a new lease of life. Eco-conscious shoppers are shunning the supermarkets and coming back to the market to buy local produce that is far less likely to be covered in plastic packaging. Meanwhile, a wave of new, artisan producers and micro-cafes have moved in to call this impressive Victorian building their home.
Hard Lines Coffee, who roast just outside the city centre, serve excellent coffee from their Cardiff Market outpost. The most recent addition, Ffwrnes, run a pizza cafe on the first floor balcony, serving freshly cooked, wood-fired pizzas for little more than five pounds.
The Early Bird Bakery
The eat-in menu at The Early Bird Bakery, an independent bakery and cafe includes dishes like the ‘Nutella Fitzgerald’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ - but don’t let the playful names fool you, these guys are all about quirky style and substance. Everything on the menu is made in-house, from the brioche buns to the baked beans; they even roast their own coffee on site, and offer them with a range of homemade flavoured syrups. When it comes to take-away treats, the custard-filled doughnuts are a must-try, and they’re always made using locally milled flour, organic Welsh dairy and free range eggs.
Harder to find
The Deep and La Pantera
By day, Sully’s Cafe is a good old traditional greasy spoon, established in 1970 and known for great value breakfasts and mugs of tea. At night, Sully's (now situated in the old Cafe Jazz building) transforms into The Deep, a jazz-themed restaurant/bar/micro-club, inspired by the night café culture of European cities and with a heavy focus on vegan food, situated on St Mary's Street. The Deep's entrepreneurial young founders previously ran the Blue Honey Night Cafe on Quay Street, in a brightly coloured building where you'll now find Cardiff's very own raucous taco joint, La Pantera.
Frenchman and finalist of the television series Bake Off: Crème-de-la-Crème, Laurian Veaudour has created Cocorico Patisserie, a little slice of Paris right in the middle of suburban Whitchurch Road. Chic glass cabinets run the length of this white, modern and minimalist café; within, treats like salted caramel tarte au chocolat topped with glistening ganache are not to be missed. Brunch is also a must here: think smoked haddock bubble & squeak with wilted kale and mustard cream, or merguez sausage hash, avocado, onion and poached egg.
Kings Road Yard
Head down this gated alleyway on a residential street in Pontcanna to discover independent businesses worth writing home about: Alex Gooch, an artisan bakery famed for its organic sourdough bread; Lazy Leek, a vegan street food shack serving up huge plant-based burgers with interesting toppings and Lufkin Coffee, a small-batch coffee roastery and minimalist cafe.
Every Saturday morning, the alleyway also transforms into a farmers’ market (packed to the gills with local produce.
The DIRT Supper Club
When the Good-Food-Guide-recommended Arbennig restaurant shut after five successful years, many wondered what would become of talented head chef and owner, John Cook. Turns out, he’d discovered a passion for vegetarian food, and decided to indulge it with a monthly ‘DIRT’ supper club which pops up at venues up and down the country. Keep an eye on @DIRTpopup on Twitter to find out where he’ll be next.
More than 150 local and international cheeses are on offer at the Madame Fromage deli and restaurant, spread across two opposite units in Castle Arcade. The Friday night cheese and wine tastings sell out on a weekly basis; full, happy diners spill out into the picturesque arcade at closing time, clutching armfuls of cheeses they’ve failed to resist from the deli counter.
Gin and Juice
The shelves in Gin and Juice, a cosy drinking den, groan under of gins. Situated at the entrance to Castle Arcade, the location attracts a varied crowd and is perfect for a spot of people-watching. Alternatively, head to the dimly-lit snug at the back for an ambience which begs for whispered conspiracy and shared secrets.