So the July/August lull seems to be here. The sun has finally put in a consistent appearance in Wales – with intermittent Met Office yellow weather warnings; the kids are halfway through their break – yes I am actually ticking off the weeks; I’ve switched comforting casseroles for summer salads – yes it is a cry for help (from my bathroom scales), and personally a much needed holiday is just around the corner (sod what the bathroom scales think).
In view of this, July’s Krak’en Bites remains close to home, primarily to appease the Bank Manager. If you happen to have missed the June edition of Krak’en Bites you can catch up here. But for now, I hope this month’s round-up provides some inspiration on where to dine out in Cardiff.
Hot battered Sri Lankan spicy cuttlefish | £7
THE COCONUT TREE MANTRA
Don’t expect a napkin…it’s a roll of paper towels;
Do expect an explosion of flavours in our dishes and sweet & fiery Cocotails;
Do expect candles in half coconuts;
Don’t expect a massive food bill…but do expect to spoil yourself with drinks;
Do expect meats, fish & veggies (lots);
Do expect warm Sri Lankan hospitality;
Don’t expect the volume to stay down too long.
As manifestos go, The Coconut Tree’s is one I’m happy to get behind; after all supporting and shouting about tasty dishes that are good value for money, from restaurants that offer a welcoming customer experience, pretty much sums up the definition of this blog.
With The Coconut Tree already established in Cheltenham, Oxford and Bristol, this month saw the fifth kitchen arrive in Cardiff. Located on the city’s busy Mill Lane, the restaurant’s stripped back ‘street style’ interior with upbeat playlist, appears at home with the surrounding bars. There is a good choice of drinks and lively Cocotails to quench your thirst and get you in the party mood, while you then (attempt to) focus on the array of Sri Lankan street food on offer from the tapas-style menu. Dishes are priced from £2.50 for parippu dhal to £8 for Sri Lankan mixed fried rice, although if you’re struggling to decide, there is the option of a choice from The Coconut’s Tree’s favourite plates including a hopper for £20.
Hospitality is accommodating and attentive throughout, which is perfect for an unfamiliar menu where recommendations are a prerequisite to dining. The street food concept ensures that dishes arrive at speed; an advantage if you’re hungry, albeit that some inevitably cool while you tuck into others. The infamous signature dish of a breakfast egg hopper – a crispy bowl-shaped coconut milk pancake served with caramelised onions and coconut sambal, is a must for first timers…and second timers. It’s my kind of comfort food, that would and should, not be limited to the first meal of the day.
The deep-fried hot battered spicy cuttlefish are tender and beautifully cooked, and also satisfy the chilli fiend in me, as does the squid and prawn curry with turmeric, cardamom and black pepper. If you like heat than this is the place to go, but rest assured you will be asked about your spice preferences, so dishes can be toned up, or down, to your liking.
Yet while the seafood dishes impress, unfortunately on this occasion the two meat dishes don’t quite hit the mark. Black pork is one that I believe is going to divide opinions; personally after two attempts I am going to park it in the probably won’t eat again box. I’ve put some interesting things in my mouth over the years, but in terms of the acrid smokiness and combination of the 18 secret spices including cloves and a lot of black pepper, I simply can’t get on with the dish. And, while I’m “promised to taste the goodness of Jaffna’s fresh ground spices, sun-soaked shores and centuries of home-cooking, which has been perfected in the Jaffna goat curry with potato”, the meat is a touch overdone, and on this occasion I find the curry a little bland.
The Coconut Tree achieves its mantra, whether the new kitchen has quite bedded in as yet, only time will tell; but overall the restaurant offers a pleasant dining experience with a team that are enthusiastic and eager to please. It is cheap and resoundingly cheerful, and if you’re looking for something different in Cardiff, worth a visit.
Beef Onglet | £6.50
I have to admit when someone says let’s head to Victoria Park, dining out is usually not the first thing that springs to mind. In my world it’s synonymous with wet, screaming (with joy) children from the splash pad, and remnants of drying grass working their way back into the crevasses of your car seats afterwards.
Yet, the idea of being able to relax in a quiet corner of this beautiful park holds appeal.
The Canton/Pontcanna area is quickly gaining a reputation for being a food hub in Cardiff, drawing people from all over to experience the array of restaurants it now has to offer. And recently a more than welcome addition is that of Chef Grady Atkins, who has taken up a weekend residency in Bloc Coffee – a transformed Victorian toilet block.
If you were looking for delicious, value for money French dining within an intimate, slightly quirky venue, then Paysan should be your next meal out. Previously raved about by Gourmet Gorro, Friday nights see Paysan take on French-influenced classics with a set two or three course menu for £24/£28; while on Saturday you can amble in after a leisurely stroll around the park, from 4pm-8pm for Plat Paysan.
A single blackboard awaits with dishes ranging from £2 to £6.50 – the description is simple, the dish far from. I fell in love with this Chef’s cooking a long time ago in his previous restaurant; as it turns out, nothing has changed.
I have heard rumours that Honest Burgers’ onion rings are the way to go, but until they grace Cardiff with their presence in September – my personal, somewhat bold view, is that Grady Atkins’ confit onion rings with paprika and cornichons will be the best you have ever tasted…I promise; while cloud puffs of chickpea gnocchi with pickled beetroot, and tender beef onglet with shallots and preserved ceps are quite simply grin-inducing, outstandingly brilliant dishes.
If there is one place you choose to dine out in this summer, I highly recommend Paysan.
You will not be disappointed.
Tiffin Sea Bass | £16.95
In the current climate, there is something to be said about a restaurant that after eight years, continues to attract customers back time and time again, fills tables and consistently produces, and delivers inspired and delicious dishes. On second thoughts forget ‘said’, read ‘celebrated’.
Situated in Canton, Purple Poppadom has been accomplishing this feat for just shy of a decade. A vibrant haven above the hustle and bustle of the city street below, you can’t fail to relax and leave your worries at the door as you climb the flight of stairs.
Originally from Kerala, Chef Anand George has certainly made his mark on Cardiff’s food scene and beyond. With a career that, so far, spans India, London and Wales’ capital, the multi-award winning and highly acclaimed Indian restaurant is testament to his hard work over the years.
Dishes offer an innovative modern twist on authentic Indian food, with a focus on using traditional ingredients and spices. Think again if you’re after a chicken tikka masala, this is not your local curry house. Instead you’ll find an array of regional variations of Indian cooking woven throughout the Purple Poppadom menus, from the fragrant home-style Keralan beef curry to the tender slow-cooked lamb in the saag gosht; not forgetting the Chef’s signature dish of Tiffin Sea Bass, which is still a firm favourite after being awarded the prestigious House Of Commons UK Tiffin Cup in 2008.
In a city of change, Purple Poppadom has been the constant when it comes to modern Indian cuisine. Supporting independents has never been as important as it now. The list of Indian restaurants Cardiff has lost (continues to lose) is a sobering thought, yet thankfully, Chef Anand George and his team continue to push forward and succeed in delivering an imaginative Indian ‘fine dining’ experience.