Saturday, 24 April 2021

Ren Japanese Food, Vale of Glamorgan review

Overseas travel seems like a very distant prospect at the moment. If we make it to West Wales, Somerset and Cornwall for this year’s planned trips then I’ll be absolutely delighted.

One consolation for the lack of jet setting is being able to eat food in Cardiff from different countries around the globe. It makes the world feel a much smaller and brighter place.

I was fortunate to travel to Japan back in 2005 and it’s pretty much my favourite country I’ve ever visited - from the jaw-droppingly beautiful shrines of Kyoto and the free roaming deer of Nara to the zany modernity of Harajuku, everything is so damn cool.

So, it’s fair to say that whenever there’s an opportunity to broaden my Japanese food horizons, I’m keen to get involved.

Yuko Harris’s Ren Japanese Food has been on my radar for a number of years. Yuko has previously organised a series of sell-out supper clubs at Waterloo Tea in Penarth.

Based in Barry, Ren Japanese Food has a changing monthly menu available to pre-order via email or text message. Service takes place only on Saturday evenings with collection or delivery available (up to 10 miles from CF63 2PL for £5). Ren’s menu features meal sets such as chicken karaage and yakitori, sushi sets, katsu curries and desserts.

A misokuze salmon set (£15) saw a flaky fillet of fish bathed in a savoury-sweet miso and mirin crust. It was joined by a bevy of sides including light-textured Japanese omelette, charred spring onion, broth cooked carrot and mushroom, and crisp lotus root salad.

Vegetarian fotomake saw a nice mix of cucumber, pepper, carrot and avocado coated in well-seasoned loosely packed rice.

Kakiaga tempura was an absolute belter - a mix of finely shredded sweet onions and carrot were coated in super crisp and light batter.

A non-vegetarian sushi set (£15) was commendably fresh across the board. Fatty salmon, sweet prawns, salty fish roe, pert sea bream, crisp cucumber, and big flavoured smoked salmon and mackerel inside out rolls were all joined by more of that well-seasoned rice as well as soy, pickled ginger and wasabi.

Desserts were enjoyably different - the skewered dango mochi with sweet soy sauce on the menu also caught my eye. 

A slice of matcha chocolate cake (£4.50) had a fudgey brownie like texture with a good note of grassy green tea and sweet chocolate. Whipped cream twanged with red beans and a chocolate shard added an extra dimension.

Ichigo daifuku (£2.50) saw a soft and slightly elastic glutinous rice flour ball filled with sweet red bean paste balanced by the clarity of fresh strawberry. I really liked it but Mrs G wasn't a fan of its elasticity.

We really enjoyed our dinner from Ren Japanese Food and it certainly transported me across the globe for the duration of our meal. If I was based in the Vale of Glamorgan, where there are limited Japanese food options, then I think I'd be a regular. 

The Details:

Saturday, 17 April 2021

A few of the best sandwiches in Cardiff

With 31% of working adults in Great Britain doing their jobs from home, it’s understandable that sandwich shops are having a hard time of it. No longer are office workers queuing in their droves for a jambon beurre baguette or a steak bake whilst on their lunch break. Instead they’ve been usurped by a homemade sarnie and an episode of Bargain Hunt (at least in our house).

In solidarity with Cardiff’s independent sandwich makers, I’ve spent the past few weeks working my way around some of the city’s finest. A few are mainstays of Cardiff’s sandwich scene whilst others are more recent additions.

It would be remiss of me to not mention Fresh Baguette, arguably Cardiff’s finest sandwich maker. This tiny shop in the Royal Arcade serves up some awesome specials including sweet and spicy crisp-crumbed General Tso’s chicken and their iconic Indian spiced chicken baguette with mango mayo, onion bhajis and toasted cumin seeds.

Meanwhile New York Deli, peddlers of mahoosive hoagies, are still open for takeaway and delivery across Cardiff. Hanoi 1991 have also just reopened their doors to serve their fragrant and spicy Vietnamese banh mi. 

However, here are the places I’ve checked out recently:

La Mina, Albany Road, Roath

Whenever I visit Mina’s on Albany Road there’s always an eclectic queue of families, workers and very hungover people. Its hard to go wrong with a Mina baguette; they’re always warm out of the oven, laden with filling and good value for money.

Our perennial orders are coronation chicken (£3), which is well-coated with curry spiced mayo.

And minted lamb (£4.90), which is packed with shreds of meat in a punchy mint sauce twanged mayo.

The Bagel Place, Senghennydd Road, Cathays

The Bagel Place in Cardiff University Student Union is apparently the only place in Cardiff which bakes their own bagels. Made fresh throughout the week, they’ve got a range of flavours (including poppy seed, sesame and plain) and fillings as well as a couple of cute resident dogs.

The bagels are tasty with a decent chew and they’re good value too. An everything bagel with butter (£1.79) was laden with sesame, poppy and onion flakes.

A spring salmon special (£4.59) was generously topped with smoked salmon and a good schmear of cream cheese. Balance was provided in the form of punchy capers, red onion slices and a good squeeze of lemon.

Inma’s Continental Stores, Penarth Road, Grangetown

The old skool Inma’s Continental Stores in Grangetown sells a compact range of sandwiches alongside Spanish and Italian meals such as paella, tortilla, lasagne and meatballs. But there’s one thing for which they’re well known - their garlic chicken baguette.

For a very reasonable £3.30, you receive a crisp white baguette stuffed to overflowing with hot crisp crumbed chicken, mayo and fresh salad. I could barely detect any garlic but it still hit the spot.

Cegin Oriel, Cathedral Road, Pontcanna

If you’re looking for a carvery sandwich then it’s probably a good idea to head to someone with the credentials of Oriel Jones butchers. 

Cegin Oriel is the cooked food offshoot of Oriel Jones and it sells a range of sandwiches, pies, sausage rolls and traditional puds such as sticky toffee pudding and bread and butter pudding.

But, it’s their breakfast and carvery sandwiches which get people queueing.

A blushing pink roast beef bap (£6) was tender of flesh and topped with a good dollop of decadent and warming peppercorn sauce.

Yielding roast pork (£6) combined well with soft paxo-esque stuffing and chunky apple sauce. It was just the ticket before a three hour yonk along the Taff Trail.

Gathering Ground, Wedal Road, Roath

I would never have ventured into Gathering Ground on Wedal Road if it wasn’t for a recommendation from a trusted source.

This dog friendly cafe has a rather appealing takeaway menu featuring sandwiches such as fish finger with tartare sauce and glamorgan sausage with chilli jam as well as soups and all day breakfasts.

A club sandwich (£6.50) was a textbook example and probably the finest of its type I’ve had in Cardiff.

Soft toasted white bread was filled with tender char-licked chicken breast, thick cut bacon (the fat could have been a little crisper), mayo and fresh salad. It was a hefty number and lovely eaten in the nearby sunshine of Roath Park Rose Garden.

Triple cooked chips (£3) were very good too - golden, crisp, fluffy rustlers they were accompanied by a generous dollop of mayo.

There’s a lot to love about Cardiff’s sandwich roster from the old to the new. If you’re working from home then get out and show them some love.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Cafe Portugal, Cathays, Cardiff review

I’ve got a lot of love for piri-piri chicken, having enjoyed this fiery Mozambican-Portuguese speciality on trips to both Lisbon and Faro. A plate of barbecued chicken and chips with an ice-cold cerveja in the sunshine really is a match made in heaven.

So, with summer temporarily putting in an appearance on Easter bank holiday weekend, it felt like an opportune time to visit Cafe Portugal, one of Cardiff’s newest openings. Portuguese owned and run, Cafe Portugal's head chef has cooked in a number of restaurants across Portugal. 

Located in the student stronghold of Cathays, Cafe Portugal’s concise menu features peri-peri chicken as a mainstay alongside a roster of daily specials such as octopus with potatoes, duck rice, caldo verde and espetadas. Everything’s well-priced with mains weighing in around the £7.50 - £10 mark and sides £2.50 (or £2 when ordered with piri-piri chicken).

Having pre-ordered in advance, I was pleased to see the chicken being cooked over charcoal when I arrived to collect my order. 

Our whole peri-peri chicken (£12) really looked the business. Nicely licked with char, it was well-basted with spicy, zingy, garlicky piri-piri oil. The thighs, wings and drumsticks were impeccably juicy but the breast was a bit dry in parts. Overall, it was still very tasty. 

Hand cut chips (£2) had a light crispness - they reminded me of a french fry crossed with a chip shop chip.

Bean rice (£2) had more than an air of Jamaican rice and peas about it. Distinct grained rice was seasoned with flavour-packed savoury stock and flecked with tender kidney beans.

Migas (£2) was enjoyably different, comprising of a mix of cabbage, bacon pieces, black-eyed beans and soft soaked breadcrumbs. The whole thing tasted rather porky and so was my kind of vegetable dish.

Mixed salad was perfectly fresh (£2) but fairly run of the mill.

For dessert, it would have been rude not to order one of Cafe Portugal’s pastéis de nata (£1.70). It was a fine example, combining crisp puff pastry, egg rich wobbly custard and a lightly charred top.

Hearty, comforting and good value, we enjoyed Cafe Portugal - if you’re looking for sunny Portuguese food then it’s worth giving this Cardiff indie a go.

The Details:

Address - Cafe Portugal, 99 Wyeverne Rd, Cathays, Cardiff CF24 4BG
Telephone - 02921 324431

Sunday, 4 April 2021

The Plate home supper club, Oasis Cardiff, Splott review

Guzzling tasty food is pretty much my favourite thing to do in the world. It’s trumped only by guzzling tasty food in support of a good cause.

The Splott-based Oasis Cardiff works with refugees and asylum seekers to help them integrate into the local community. From their centre, they run a range of activities including English language classes, advisory sessions, advocacy groups and cultural trips and have clients from around the globe including Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan and El Salvador.

For much of the last year, Oasis has run The Plate home supper club with a different dish from around the world available each week, many introduced to Oasis by their clients. There’s been savoury pies from Bolivia and Algeria, Nigerian stews, and Ethiopian platters amongst others. Most of these national cuisines are only available in Cardiff from Oasis.

Each week there’s a vegan main (£11), meat main (£12) and dessert (£3) available for pre-order through Oasis’s website with collection taking place from the centre on Fridays between 6 and 8pm. Collection is quick and efficient and everything is piping hot and ready to eat.

The week I visit, Egyptian cuisine is on the menu.

I’ve been yearning to try koshari, Egypt’s national dish, for a long time. A triple carbohydrate joy, it combines fluffy rice, lentils with a little bite, caramelised angel hair pasta and macaroni.

Topped with a really fresh and fruity tomato sauce with a delicate thrum of chilli and crispy onions, it’s a comforting as heck combination.

A tender bone-in chicken thigh and leg is delicately fragranced with seed-studded dukkah. I’d perhaps like a bigger spice hit.

Acidic cut through is provided by decent earthy pickled beetroot.

Dessert is Umm ali, a top drawer Egyptian bread and butter pudding. Puff pastry soaked in thick vanilla fragranced custard retains a good crispness and flakiness on top. Juicy raisins and the crunch of pistachios, coconut and almonds add extra interest.

Umm ali

I really enjoyed dinner from The Plate and I’m looking forward to exploring more national cuisines through their excellent initiative. If you’re ever over in Pontcanna then they’re also currently collaborating with Kemi’s on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to run a pop-up world food takeaway cafe with dishes from countries including Iran, Ethiopia and Gambia; it also looks like a must visit.

The Details:

Address - Oasis Cardiff, 69b Splott Rd, Splott, Cardiff CF24 2BW