Monday, 30 December 2019

A few great places to eat and drink in York

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting a great deal from York’s food and drink scene.

Having visited the city a number of times in my childhood, my enduring memories were of the realistic pooh smell at the Jorvik Viking Centre, the magnificent Minster and the Diagon Alley-esque Shambles rather than of a gastronomic destination.

But, with a little bit of research (#YorkEats on Insta was particularly helpful), it quickly become apparent that this compact and beautiful city has a wealth of innovative small plates, filthy street food and A-list craft beer. 

Here’s a run-down of what Mrs G and I guzzled and imbibed in a greedy 72 hours. If you’re into your food and booze then I can’t recommend York highly enough.

Le Cave du Cochon

The younger sibling of Josh Overington’s acclaimed Le Cochon Aveugle, this cosy wine bar and bistro serves modern French-influenced small plates and delicious wines by the glass. 

I guzzled a fruity Beaujolais (£9) whilst Mrs G kept it hip with a funky-nosed orange wine (£7.50). 

Everything we ate was huge flavoured and seriously delicious.

A signature boudin noir macaron (£3.50) made perfect sense. A crisp and squidgy unsweetened macaron shell was loaded with unctuous black pudding and tangy richness-balancing plum chutney. 

A sweet-fleshed dainty slip sole (£9) was bathed in a Vadouvan spiced curry sauce. Buttery and heady with aromatic spicing, it was cleverly cut through with citrus. 

The brilliantly buttery meaty ooze of bone marrow (£10) was taken up a notch by piling it with slow cooked ox cheek, acidic sauerkraut and warming horseradish. 

A deep-fried aged-beef mince pie (£3.50) blew my mind. A thin and crisp cocoon of pastry was stuffed with sweet, aromatic and tender salt beef mincemeat with a silky-fattiness; there was no beefiness to it whatsoever. Genius. 

Shambles Kitchen

Located on York’s most touristy street, Shambles Kitchen has no right to serve delicious food. They could churn out overpriced rubbish to one-time-visiting-tourists with no repercussions. But, a Shambles Reuben (£7.50) was the kind of sandwich I’d come back for time and time again. 

A crusty anise-fragranced caraway seed bun was loaded with juicy and yielding house-smoked fat-on pastrami, aromatic kraut, sweet and tangy house sauce and a blow-torched melt of cheese. This is as good a Reuben as I’ve eaten on these fine shores. 

House of the Trembling Madness

This ramshackle taxidermy-adorned medieval ale house has a history which dates back to 1180 AD. It’s the kind of place where you’d expect to drink badly-kept room temperature real ale rather than an impressive range of A-list modern craft beer. 

Mrs G and I guzzled thirds of hop-loaded Fuerst Wiacek and Verdant IPAs, Northern Monk grapefruit soda IPA and a big bruiser of a North fig and almond Imperial Stout. 

Spark York

Spark is York’s answer to the wave of street food market halls which are spreading across the UK. Part box-park and part circus big top, they have a range of delicious traders from ramen and bao buns to sloppy burgers and pizza. 

Bar No. Nine served a good range of Northern craft beer including a silky and tart Goose Willis gooseberry fool sour from Brew York. 

Clucking Oinks’
buttermilk fried chicken tenders (£7.50) were absolutely bang on. Juicy of flesh, well-seasoned and gorgeously crisp of crumb, they were accompanied by flavour-packed blue cheese, sriracha mayo and buffalo dips (3 for £2). 

Doner Summer
may have the best name of any street food vender in the UK. But, with a great name comes great responsibility. Thankfully their Berlin-influenced vegan kebabs and currywursts more than live up to the hype. 

Our Doner Teller (£7) saw a mountain of properly-crisp golden fries loaded with a cornucopia of delights - nicely spiced and tender vegan doner meat (which was a more than convincing imitation); fresh and cleansing red cabbage, carrot, tomato and spring onion; poky scotch bonnet sauce; honking aioli; and the crunch of crispy onions. 

A face-meltingly good chocolate chip cookie from Lotte the Baker was served straight from the oven - crispy, buttery and oozing soft dough, it was loaded with gooey melted dark chocolate chips. 

Drake’s Fish and Chips

They don’t make fish and chips like they do up North. Take the Magpie Cafe and Colman’s as cases in point. 

Drake’s is another belting fish and chip shop with four branches across Yorkshire. When I arrived at midday the place was packed with people making the most of good value senior specials.

I ordered a regular haddock and chips (£11.45), including a pot of tea, buttered white slice, creamy tartare sauce and proper homemade mushy peas. I also added a pot of thick curry sauce (£1.10) for good measure.

Both the fish and the chips were absolutely top notch - a golden bubbly-battered cocoon sheltered perfectly flaky fish whilst a good mound of chips were very crisp and very fluffy. 


It’s impossible to visit York and not make a pilgrimage to Betty’s, a Swiss-Yorkshire tearoom with a history which dates back to 1919 and a permanent queue outside its doors. On previous visits I’ve guzzled their Fat Rascals (a fruit and nut studded scone), Sachertorte and Engadine Torte. 

This time, I just had a Yorkshire Curt Tart to take away (£2.50). Enjoyably short pastry was filled with citrus-fragranced currant-studded cheese curds. 


The window display at Appleton’s pork butchers and pie makers is a sight to behold. From pork and black-pudding pies to steak pies and scotch eggs, everything looks deliciously bad for you. 

A sausage roll (95p) was buttery and flaky of pastry with juicy, well-seasoned sausage meat. It was a serious step-up from Gregg’s for just a few pence more. 


You can read my full write-up of Tommy Banks’ Roots here. Like its older sibling the Black Swan at Oldstead, Roots’ focus is very much on local and seasonal produce.

A high end take on fried slice saw nutty fried rye bread topped with a breath-devastatingly good wild garlic and charcoal emulsion, nuggets of crispy pork crackling and a wafer thin slice of fatty and porky lardo. 

A staggeringly clever and tasty carrot and chicory tiramisu (£9.50) combined bitter chicory caramel, crunchy shortbread, dehydrated and rehydrated carrot with the texture of fruit pastilles, sweet carrot custard and aerated chicory custard. Wow.

We stayed at the Lawrence (£175 for two nights), a lovely row of loft apartments overlooking a private courtyard which are located just a short walk from the city centre.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Ten of the best things I've eaten in Cardiff in 2019

Please allow me a moment to indulge myself.

After nine years of writing this blog, I’ve finally racked up three million page views. It feels like a huge milestone and validation that my writing is vaguely useful to people looking to find out about Cardiff’s independent restaurants.

Since starting this blog, Cardiff’s food scene has improved immeasurably. From street food, tapas and small plates to belting burgers and killer kebabs, things continue to get better and better.

In the last twelve months I’ve eaten far too much delicious scran in Cardiff. Here are some of the best dishes I’ve eaten:

Sunday roast - Bar 44, Cardiff city centre

My first Bar 44 Sunday roast was a road to Damascus like experience. Before, I was never fully convinced by the merits of going out for a roast. After, I realised the error of my ways and how truly incompetent my efforts are compared to the chefs at Bar 44.

From their truffled cauliflower cheese, to red wine gravy, uber-crisp bravas roast potatoes, jamon-slathered hispi cabbage, chorizo-spiked Yorkshire puddings and 40-day aged sirloin of Hereford beef, everything is absolutely on the money.

The Almighty Hoof - Hoof, Sticky Fingers, Roath

Cardiff has a new burger King. The Almighty Hoof (£9.50) combines a juicy Welsh and Longhorn beef smashed patty in a light yet robust Alex Gooch challah roll. It’s topped with a terrifically filthy combination of rich chicken liver pate, savoury truffled mushroom duxelle, crisp streaky bacon, smashed hash brown, oozy cheese, tangy burger sauce, cleansing pickles, shredded lettuce and white onion. I’m drooling at the mere thought of it.

Afternoon tea - Cocorico Patisserie, Cathays

Ridiculous amounts of flavour and technique go into everything that this team of Bake Off: The Professionals finalists make at their Whitchurch Road patisserie.

At fifteen quid including a drink, their afternoon tea is an absolute bargain. From mini chicken, leek and mustard pies to spiced apple tarts, praline stuffed giant ferrero rochers and a selection of macarons, everything is excellent. If you’re looking for Cardiff’s definitive afternoon tea, this is it. 

Crumpet - Uisce, Pontcanna

2019 was the year of the luxury crumpet according to Waitrose and Tommy Heaney has a next level version at Uisce, his wine and small plates bar.

Whilst his lamb and salsa verde crumpet is mega, his duck version is double mega. The squidgiest of crumpets is heaped with a mountain of long cooked yielding duck, light and crunchy kimchi, a savoury and silky miso emulsion and a glossy meat sauce flecked with the herby complexity of salsa verde. 

Menemen with sucuk - Longa Turkish Cafe, Cathays

This sibling owned Turkish cafe on Whitchurch road makes some of the prettiest food in Cardiff from simit bagels and manti dumplings to table-topping breakfast spreads.

It’s their menemen which is the star of the show for me. Golden runny yolked baked eggs are muddled together with soft green peppers, onions, fresh tomatoes, discs of crisp and fatty spicy Turkish sausage, and chopped parsley. Accompanied by a basket of freshly baked bread, there’s no doubt this is one of Cardiff’s best breakfasts. 

Confit of beef - Paysan, Bloc Coffee, Victoria Park

Cardiff culinary legend Grady Atkins’ Paysan pop-up has built up a seriously good reputation since opening in early 2019. His weekly changing menu of hearty yet technically accomplished French cooking includes dishes like cod cheek meunière and pan-fried skate wing with red pepper coulis.

On the night we visited I gorged on a heroically good confit of beef, which was crisp of crust, seriously meaty, yielding of flesh and coated in a thick and glossy beefy reduction. It was served with a filthily good bowl of cabbage coated in a rich cream and mustard sauce. 

The Parm - Hard Lines, Canton

From their striking aesthetic, to their delicious comfort food and killer coffee, Hard Lines’ Canton diner is one of Cardiff's coolest openings of 2019. Their Parm sandwich combines crisp-crusted, soft and airy toasted focaccia stuffed with meaty grilled aubergine, light and fresh marinara sauce, oozy melted mozzarella, grated parmesan and crucial richness balancing pickled red peppers. 

Chicken shawarma sandwich - Shawarma Laziz, Roath

If there’s a better three quid to be spent in Cardiff than the chicken shawarma sandwich from Shawarma Laziz then I’m not sure what it is. A delightfully soft freshly baked samoon bread pocket is stuffed with heaps of meat, fresh salad, and chilli and garlic sauce. 

Tandoori chicken - Salkaara

Tandoori chicken is normally a pretty vanilla order as far I’m concerned. Not at Salkaara, a Southern Indian restaurant in Llandaff North which is run by Santosh Nair, former executive chef of Mint & Mustard.

Served on the bone, the bird is gorgeously tender, crisp-crusted in places and coated in an almost buttery and smokey marinade. A pot of rich and tangy tomato based curry sauce is a lovely bonus. 

Ox cheek and confit potato - Heathcock

I’ve already bored you a lot by banging on about how much I love the Heathcock. This Llandaff pub serves unfussy, flavour-packed, seasonal cooking which takes inspiration from British institutions like St John and Anchor & Hope.

On a recent visit to celebrate Mrs G passing her PhD viva, I loved a decadently rich and spoonably soft ox cheek with celeriac puree, a thick reduction of onions and red wine, and shavings of truffle. 

Of course, I ordered a side of crisp, tender and buttery confit potato too.

Honourable mentions

I could easily pick another top ten awesome dishes I’ve eaten in Cardiff over the last twelve months. Highlights include Matsudai’s ridiculously chickeny Torikotsu ramen, Bearded Taco’s Better Call Seoul Korean BBQ pork tacos, Franks’ brilliant gourmet hot dogs, countless pizzas from Anatoni's and Da Mara, Nomad Kitchen’s bobby-dazzling KFC burger and Babhaus’s flavour-packed Korean fried chicken kebab.

Pontanna’s Milkwood continues to impress with their modern Welsh cooking. A cracking value set lunch (3 courses for £19) included confit creedy carver duck leg with haricot bean and kale stew, and pistou.

Nook's small plates and natural wines are another cracking addition to Cardiff’s restaurant line-up. Glossy and smooth milk chocolate mousse was served with a heap of thick and rich soft toffee, tangy crème fraîche and a light dusting of zingy lime zest.

Happy eating in 2020.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Hard Lines, Canton, Cardiff coffee shop and diner review

"Good things come to those who wait" is more than an appropriate turn of phrase when it comes to Hard Lines' new Canton coffee shop.

More than a year after they successfully raised £15,000 on Kickstarter, Hard Lines finally opened their new diner and coffee roastery on Cowbridge Road East at the end of November.

They already make a cracking cup of joe at their outposts in Cardiff Market and Riverside Market but now they’ve added a menu of vegetarian and vegan comfort food to their repertoire. It’s the kind of restorative stuff which could soothe even the most intense hangover.

The aesthetic of the new place is on the nail. With its bespoke booths and riot of beige, it’s part Scandi minimalist and part American diner. 

If you’re going to go to the trouble of roasting your own coffee, it better bloody well be good. An Ethiopian Aeropress (£3) was packed with juicy blueberries without a hint of bitterness whilst an Iced Black (£3.50) was smooth as you like. 

A breakfast bap (£4.50) saw a sturdy yet pillowy soft Alex Gooch roll stuffed with coarse textured hash brown, tangy cheese, a runny fried egg and a good squirt of tommy k. 

Huevos Rancheros (£7) combined warm and properly corny tortillas with an earthy black bean stew, punchy and vibrant salsa roja, fried egg, zingy pink pickled onions and a good squeeze of lime. 

The star of the show was a whopper of a Parm sandwich (£6.50). Crisp-crusted, soft and airy toasted focaccia with a delicate chew was stuffed with meaty layers of hot grilled aubergine, light and fresh marinara sauce, oozy melted mozzarella, grated parmesan and crucial richness balancing pickled red peppers. There’s no doubt this is one of Cardiff’s best sandwiches. 

Stuffed, Mrs G and I ploughed on with dessert.

A bronzed Friends in Knead doughnut (£3) was super light and well-dusted with sugar and cinnamon. 

A slice of legendary Inner City Pickle pecan pie (£4) saw thin and crisp pastry laden with crunchy nuts, a thick slick of toasty caramel and a retro squirt of cream. 

We loved our brunch at Hard Lines. From their cool aesthetic, to their delicious comfort food and killer coffee, it’s one of Cardiff’s most exciting new openings of 2019. With their roster of all-star suppliers and pop-ups on the cards from exciting ventures like Matsudai Ramen, I can’t wait to see what else the Hard Lines team have in store for us.

The Details:

Address - Hard Lines Cafe and Roastery, Ground Floor Unit, St Cannas Court, Cowbridge Rd East, Cardiff CF5 1GX