So you’ve chosen to visit Cardiff? Llongyfarchiadau (congratulations) on a decision well made! And yes, as a resident I may be a little biased – but whether you’re planning ahead, or currently sat in Wales’ capital – you are about to discover and explore a fascinating city. A vibrant and cultural capital; it is rapidly becoming one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations. And with a range of landmarks to enjoy, heritage and history to delve into, restaurants and bars to experience, shopping and various sporting events, festivals and concerts taking place throughout the year – it is easy to see why.
How could you possibly experience it all? Fear not…
If you’re looking for something different to do in Cardiff, a top tip would be to take a city tour. And what better (and might I say delicious) way, than by checking out one of the Loving Welsh Food tours. Perfect for visitors and locals, you’ll discover the best places to eat and drink, meet the producers, and that’s on top of learning about our wonderful Welsh culture.
Our guide for today is Sian Bassett Roberts, an announcer and presenter on Radio Wales and S4C. Sian is also a passionate advocate of Welsh food, culture and language; and it as turns out, as we head off on stage one of our tasting tour, a ‘fountain of knowledge’ when it comes to Cardiff’s history and its culinary scene.
Located at the main entrance to Bute Park in the heart of Cardiff City centre, the quaint Pettigrew Tea Rooms is the perfect spot for the first stop on our tour. Awaiting us, a welcome cup of loose-leaf tea and a tiered-cake stand celebrating two traditional Welsh delicacies.
Using locally sourced produce and giving a big shout out to the art of home baking, a wedge of bara brith (speckled bread) or essentially Welsh fruit loaf, is beautifully moist and served with Welsh salted butter. While a savoury laverbread scone, topped with cream cheese and a sweet chilli jam (ok…yes I’ve gone all Cornish in my method – let the arguments commence), is a truly tasty and inspired combination.
Suitably full (for now), it’s time to set off again. As a resident, it is easy to become complacent when you live in an area. Yet whether you are a visitor or a local, it’s evident that even after a brief walk around the Welsh capital, there is an abundance of beauty in this city. From the rich autumnal hues in Bute Park, to the iconic Civic Centre and the historic building and arcades, it really is a case of blink (or in Cardiff’s case)…look up, or you’ll miss it.
And it’s the Royal Arcade, in which we find ourselves for our next stop. Dating back to 1858, this is the city’s oldest arcade – originally starting life as a retired slum house before being brought back to life by The Cardiff Arcade Company as the first full scale shopping centre in the city.
And while Wally’s hasn’t been ‘in situ’ quite as long, David would have you believe that he has been there since 1864! In fact, he has worked in the delicatessen since it opened in 1981. And as he produces a charcuterie board of Milano salami, frankfurters and Serrano ham, we learn a little of the fascinating background to this Cardiff favourite, which has expanded across the city to include a Kaffeehaus, Liquor Cellar and more recently ‘Wally’s Spirits from Wales’ kiosk in St. David’s Shopping Centre.
Following a further selection board of the finest Welsh produced cheese, including the Black Bomber from the Snowdonia Cheese Company, which quite frankly should come with its own health warning for being completely irresistible; we’re off to our third stop.
From its humble beginnings back in 1882, Brains has developed into Wales’ leading brewer. Renowned both throughout the country and beyond, a food tour of the Capital would simply not be complete without a visit to one of its pubs.
As we step into the Cardiff Cottage on St. Mary’s Street, this cosy traditional pub with a warm, relaxed atmosphere is the perfect pit stop for an alcoholic beverage. And what better way to showcase award-winning Welsh producers than with samples of the famous beer – Brains Dark and one of my own personal favourites – Gwynt Y Ddraig Orchard Gold Welsh Cider.
Speaking of favourites as we exit back out to the bustle of the Saturday shopping crowd, our next stop is one of my more regular hang-outs, and certainly ‘a must’ if you’re in the city centre.
A beautiful Victorian building located in the Castle Quarter, Cardiff market is home to two floors of stalls, ranging from hardware to haberdashery and clothing to clocks. Yet it is also the perfect inclusion for a food tour; and while on this occasion we have just the three stop offs, if you have an extended visit I would highly recommend taking time out to explore all of the offerings.
E. Ashton Fishmongers
Our first trader is Ashton’s the fishmongers, who it is said have been trading in the market since 1866 at the Trinity Street entrance. If you’re like me and a seafood lover (there is, potentially, a plausible reason for my blog being called The Octopus Diaries) and subsequently looking for fresh quality produce, then stop four will be your idea of heaven.
Having started off the tour with laverbread scones, it’s now time to experience this seaweed delicacy in all its glory. Topped with fresh, salty cockles and a drizzle of vinegar, I can honestly say that the Welsh have it right when it comes to their traditional breakfast. And while texturally or even taste-wise it may not be to everyone’s liking, nothing beats this marriage of local ingredients for evoking memories of blissful days on a beach in Wales.
The Market Deli
Another longstanding trader is The Market Deli, a small family run business trading for over 100 years, and located at the same stall since 1928. And as we wander through the market, it’s the aroma of the Welsh favourite of home-made faggots that calls us towards our second stop. A meatball of pork liver and herbs coated in rich, glossy gravy awaits us, closely followed by a Cardiff native – the Clark’s Pie. Originating back in the early 1900’s, the exact recipe of the meaty pie filling is still a closely guarded secret.
Our final stop in the market is what can only be described as the ultimate in picnic snacks. Taking the humble Scotch egg to epic levels; hot, crisp, golden bread-crumbed exteriors wrap around perfectly cooked fillings and gloriously runny spheres of sunshine.
A new addition to the Cardiff Market scene; Holy Yolks have certainly set the bar high. While we opt for ‘Pork Fiction’; creations such as the vegetarian ‘Ferris Bhuna’s Day Off’ with chana dal and Indian spices, and ‘Honey I Shrunk the Pigs’ with pork, smoked bacon and honey, are just two of the choices on this menu that will leave you craving more.
And with this oozy delight signifying the final savoury sample, we head out of Cardiff Market and into Castle Arcade, to discover some of the sweeter things in life.
Put simply, any food tour in Cardiff would not be complete without the inclusion of a Welshcake. Also known as bakestones, due to the traditional cast-iron griddle cooking method – these flatbreads of deliciousness have been popular in Wales since the late 19th Century.
Our penultimate stop is therefore (thankfully) the wonderful Fabulous Welshcakes. Located opposite Cardiff Castle, not only are these cakes with a view, but with both traditional choices and flavoured options including lemon, white chocolate, lime and coconut they really do live up to their name.
And with a warm welshcake, fresh from the griddle to go, it’s time to savour each bite as we head towards our final tour destination; although not before taking in a few more of the city’s landmarks.
Our final stop is one of my favourite restaurants in Cardiff, due to the choice of quality Spanish produce and tapas available…oh and not forgetting the sherry! On this occasion, as we sit and reflect on our tour, we are treated to rich dark chocolate truffles with either the option of a well-earned coffee, or if you’re more inclined (like me) a glass of Cava.
If you’re keen to check out the culinary offerings of a new city on arrival, then the Loving Welsh Food Tasting Tour is the perfect way to learn more about the Cardiff food scene, while discovering some of the city’s key landmarks. And while the tours generally run on a Friday and Saturday, there are options to have private tours. Vouchers are also available; so if you are debating what to give that foodie in your life for Christmas, they are a perfect and unique gift.
Helen (‘The Octopus Diaries’) is a blogger on a mission to explore the Cardiff food scene and beyond. Championing independents; she is a fan of restaurants that are run with passion and an insatiable desire to offer people a different dining experience, value for money and great food.