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 our buzzing capital. Flexible and dynamic by their very nature, it's worth the effort to seek out these plucky newcomers.
Try these stand-outs
If it’s fine food and an evening to remember you’re looking for, these top notch eateries are well worth a visit; there’s something to suit all budgets.
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 tasting menus throughout the week, and on Sunday, a full roast dinner with all the trimmings.
In the mood for something more casual? Head next door to Uisce (also owned by Tommy and team) for nibbles, seafood-focused small plates and an impressive list of wines by the glass.
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. It's a working restaurant, but primarily it’s a training ground for the college’s catering students – and priced accordingly. 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.
Nook is a cosy Michelin-recommended ‘small plates restaurant’ on Cowbridge Road East, in Canton, which prides itself on showcasing the best of seasonal, local produce. It also offers a wide selection of natural and low intervention wines, which are available to take away too. The menu puts seasonal produce at its heart, and is mostly vegetarian, with usually one meat and one fish dish each week.
Thomas by Tom Simmons
After gaining plaudits for his food at his restaurant at Tower Bridge in London, Tom decided to open a place in his native Wales. Here at Thomas he cooks French-inspired dishes made with the freshest local Welsh ingredients. It's beautifully presented, cooked with real passion. The restaurant is a wonderfully calm and sumptuously plush, while the downstairs bar is more relaxed and informal. If the beef or vegan wellington is on the menu, try it. It's utterly delicious!
If the beef or vegan wellington is on the menu, try it. It's utterly delicious!
Fancy something more casual?
For something more low key, full of flavour and fun, how about one of these?
This raucous taco and tequila joint calls itself ‘the home of the inauthentic taco’ – priding itself on coming up with flavour combinations that no one would expect – like sweet balsamic fig and rosemary roast potato. A vast range of mezcals, a thumping glamrock playlist, and technicolour walls adorned with Mexican wrestler masks and associated artwork gives La Pantera an eclectic atmosphere like no other.
Nestled within The Boneyard Studios – a community of artists and makers in trendy Canton – lies Dusty’s Pizza. Their shipping container kitchen serves some of the best pizza in the country, best enjoyed in the open air of The Boneyard’s quirky courtyard. Owner Phill’s unrivalled focus on provenance compliments his commitment to making pizza which is as authentically Italian as possible (his frequent trips to Naples pretty much guarantee it). Dusty's also has a base at The GoodSheds in Barry.
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, comforting produce cooked simply with flair - hits just the right notes. Out front, Andrew makes a terrific host, too.
From the owners of Milkwood also 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.
The Early Bird
The eat-in menu at The Early Bird, an independent bakery and café 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 takeaway 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.
Choose a new destination
Some areas are becoming destinations in their own right for foodies, offering all sorts of options no matter what you fancy.
The Spanish Triangle
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, slow-grown, Rubia Gallega chuletón steaks are hard to beat. Meanwhile, tapas-to-share is a date-night favourite at Bar 44, and casual snacks (known as pintxos in the northern regions of Spain) are the speciality at the laid-back Curado Bar. Be sure to pop next door - to their cosy and intimate little bar Vermut - for a nightcap.
If Catalan cooking floats your boat, check out La Cuina on the outskirts of the city centre, too.
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, restaurant by restaurant.
Kings Road Yard
Head down this gated alleyway on a residential street in Pontcanna to discover a clutch of 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 Pipes Microbrewery and their zesty vegan beers.
Every Saturday morning, the alleyway also transforms into a farmers’ market, packed to the gills with local produce.
Cardiff Central Market
For more than 100 years, Cardiff 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. More recently, 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 cafés have moved in to call this impressive Victorian building their home.
Ffwrnes run a pizza café on the first floor balcony, serving wood-fired pizzas for little more than five pounds; Franks specialises in American-style loaded hotdogs in locally made buns; The Greenery Kitchen offers plant-based versions of street food dishes from around the world. Meanwhile, Cardiff Bakestones can pass you a bag of still-warm, traditional Welshcakes straight from the hot plate. This is city-worker lunch break heaven.
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.
Sip and graze in the Arcades
A gaggle of ornately decorated passageways off St Mary Street, Cardiff's Arcades are home to bustling cafés and brilliant bars - as well as great shopping from independent makers and curators.
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 and 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.
This lovely, family-run Vietnamese café in Royal Arcade serves the tastiest of Banh Mi (filled baguettes) and steaming bowls of noodle soup (pho) packed with fresh herbs. And then there's the Hanoi 1991 egg coffee - yes that's egg yolks, and sweet condensed milk whipped into a shot of coffee. The ultimate sugar and caffeine combo!
In Castle Arcade, Bulles is a sleek wine shop and bar specialising in organic and biodynamic wines. This is a place to sip and savour the vino - all the wines are carefully selected by the owners and if you like what you taste, you can buy a bottle or two to take home. Too early in the day for wine? Mec coffee also operate a snug little coffee pop-up from the same space.
Gin and Juice
The shelves in Gin and Juice, a cosy drinking den, groan under myriad bottles of gin. 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.
For more Cardiff foodie inspiration follow Jane on her blog Hungry City Hippy.