Test, Track & Taste

Food Reviews

  • Dark
    Push your culinary boundaries with some nose-to-tail eating, or just get a delicious looking doughnut!

    Have you ever asked yourself how many photos of doughnuts were too many photos of doughnuts? Yeah, me neither...πŸ˜†

    Welcome to this evening’s post of Dark that I had the pleasure of visiting this afternoon. Located in Castle Arcade next to the likes of Greazy Vegan and Fabulous Welshcakes, this 20-odd seater restaurant is the latest creation of Phil Lewis, the entrepreneur behind some of Cardiff’s favourite eateries including Dusty Knuckle, Hoof and Nook in addition to the very successful Bite festival.

    Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had struck up a conversation with Phil along with his lovely team whilst enjoying my lunch. A cross between Paul Rudd and Ozzie Man Reviews, Phil is a down to earth individual with an undeniable passion for food.

    Phil’s concept for Dark is ‘Nose to Tail’ eating, essentially wasting nothing, be it animal or vegetable. This ethos might be ajar to some diners who don’t like the idea of eating chicken hearts, livers, etc. and would rather not be too culinarily challenged. There are alternatives at Dark for those less adventurous however it’s great to hear from Phil that more and more Cardiff diners are embracing this way of eating that pays homage to an animal that gave its life, ensuring that none of it goes to waste.

    I’m told the menu on Mon-Wed is more subdued than you’d find on Thurs-Sat but nonetheless delicious. I ended up having the Vegetarian Tempura kebab topped with sesame aioli, herb sauce and fermented chillies. This extremely generous serving (think Leyli Joon & Co's Bab Haus size on steroids) defeated me which is really saying something! The mix of flavours and textures were a delight from start to (almost) finish, from the soft fluffiness of the kebab bread, to the crispness of tempura topped off with the great kick from the chilli.

    The chocolate doughnut was a joy to behold, a joy to shoot and an even greater joy to eat. If an Italian bombolini ever met a chocolate scotch egg, this would be the result!

    I’m running out room so I’ll finish off by saying go and challenge your idea of eating by trying these guys out. If you chicken out you can at least treat yourself to an amazing doughnut! πŸ˜‹

  • Franks
    From the people that brought you The Two Anchors comes a wonderful American hotdog stand located in the Cardiff Central Market.

    I know I’m a little behind the 8-ball, but yesterday I finally got around to visiting FRANKS.

    From the people who brought you The Two Anchors, Franks is an amazing new(ish) hotdog venture located in Cardiff Central Market.

    Simple in concept but a knock-out in execution, Franks’ hotdogs pack an enormous punch both in terms of flavour and presentation. Whether you’ve ordered the outdoor reared Gloucester old spot pork or their smoked tofu dog, you can immediately be assured you’re eating a superior product.

    When it comes to toppings and condiments there are 11 options to dress your dog, so whether you’re a traditionalist who likes to keep things simple or someone who loves to go to the extreme, there’s something to suit almost everybody!

    For me, I chose the pork dog with ketchup, mustard, grilled onions, pickles and crispy bacon for a bit of crunch, whilst my partner went for the smoked tofu dog with ketchup, mustard and kraut.

    Both of these dogs were just the dirty guilty pleasure of deliciousness we’d been hoping for! The brioche buns sourced through Friends in Knead would easily make a tasty snack in their own right, but in combination with the frank they come together to create the perfect collaboration.

    With such great food currently available in Cardiff Central Market, and with Dosaa opening soon, there’s never been a better time to head into the centre of town to go visit! Grab yourself a Frank and explore all the wonderful things the market has to offer πŸ˜‹

  • Matsudai Ramen
    Pop up Japanese ramen comes to Cardiff.

    Last night my partner and I enjoyed a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner with Matsudai Ramen at Blue Honey Local.

    It’s so great to see how popular Matsudai’s ramen has been in Cardiff. The atmosphere at Blue Honey Local was abuzz with ramen and sides flowing frequently from the busy kitchen.

    I ended up ordering the Hakata, the house tonkotsu ramen. This consisted of a rich pork bone soup, shio tare (salt seasoning), thin hakata noodles, garlic & ginger pork oil, chashu pork belly, half soy egg, spring onion and benishoga (red pickled ginger). You can have it as described or, for an extra £1, get the spicy version that I ordered.

    I’ve eaten my fair share of ramen over the years and this ramen rates amongst some of the best, and definitely the best in Cardiff! James has clearly put a lot of time, care and study into creating these amazing bowls and their popularity speaks for themselves.

    To compliment the ramen, we also ordered two small plates of Chicken Karaage and Vegetable Gyoza respectively. I loved the coating and curry mayo of the Karaage and the dumpling had a wonderful potsticker characteristic.

    Cardiff’s street food and pop-up scene continues to bring this city exciting and, in my opinion, much needed diversity of cuisines. Matsudai is another great addition and a must try for all who value good food.

    (Disclaimer: This was not a paid review, however I was invited back to Matsudai after my partner and I paid to try them in mid-December. We had a minor problem with our ramens and James was kind enough to invite us back once he was sure he had rectified the issue.)

  • The Little Viet Kitchen
    I absolutely love Vietnamese food and this was some of the very best I've found in London, hands down!

    On the recommendation of my old martial arts teacher (who just happens to be the owner’s uncle), I went to visit The Little Viet Kitchen in Islington this afternoon.

    This place is incredibly cute and has a really calming atmosphere about it all. Everything feels like it has its place and is curated to perfection. The staff were lovely and informative and upon sitting down I was brought some cucumber water to start with which was a wonderful refreshing touch.

    Having followed their Instagram and seen their website I mostly knew what I wanted. The real question was whether I’d have enough room for dessert? Spoiler alert, I did! πŸ˜‚

    Their lunch menu is great value, taking into account the quality and location. Starting at £14.50, this included a selection of starters and mains, whilst if you wanted dessert too, it was £18.50 for the 3 courses.

    I started with the Pork Spring Rolls which has the most amazing crispness to the wrapper whilst the filling was delightful parcel of flavours.

    Next came their Famous Organic Beef Pho. This comes with a supplement of £5 but I can tell you hands down that it’s well worth it! The broth was mind blowing! So rich and delicate at the same time and immersed with flavour. The addition of so many wonderful fresh herbs, chillies and lime gave the pho an amazing array of colour giving it both beauty and deliciousness to match.

    Without much arm twisting, I ordered the LVK Cheesecake for dessert. This is described as a coconut cream and soft cheese with a coconut biscuit base. It comes with a choice of 3 toppings including salted caramel (yes please!), mango and strawberry.

    I don’t know what to say really other than it was so beautiful to look at and I needed to find the self restraint to put the camera down and pick the spoon up. The cheesecake is delicate and light with a lovely subtle tones of coconut. The combination of cheesecake, drizzled salted caramel and the chocolate soil made for a spoonful of pure joy. I especially enjoyed the candied hazelnuts which I’m told are usually left uneaten?!? 😱

    As I’m running out of room, I’ll finish by saying if you’re in London, you must try this place. It’s worth every penny! πŸ˜‹

  • Duck & Waffle
    24 hour restaurant with amazing views of London from the 40th floor of 110 Bishopsgate.

    Special occasion lunch at the Duck & Waffle, 40th floor of 110 Bishopsgate. Don’t be jealous, I don’t get to eat like this all the time!

    Wanting to try as much as possible, we ordered the Spicy Ox Cheek Doughnut, Lobster Roll, ‘Nduja & Gruyère bread and their signature Duck & Waffle. Wanted to fit in dessert but we were stuffed!

    I’m amazed by this 24-hour restaurant. It has fantastic views of the city (weather permitting) within a welcoming and intimate setting. Food tasted as good as it looked and service was excellent.

    With so many great eating options in London it’s easy to get spoilt for choice. Needless to say, if you need a restaurant for a special occasion that has amazing views without all the over the top pretentiousness that sometimes comes with it, you can’t go past Duck & Waffle! πŸ˜‹

Food Favourites

  • Brother Thai
    R, O, T, I, you ain't got no alibi, eat their rotis!

    I dare say Roath is going to be culinarily poorer now that Brother Thai has left Sticky Fingers Street Food 😭 I’m a huge supporter of Southeast Asian cuisine and believe businesses like Brother Thai have been champions in enlightening more and more people to be adventurous and push their culinary comfort zones.

    I look forward to still seeing these guys around the street food scene but will definitely miss the proximity of my weekly roti! πŸ˜‹

    Here are two of their specials from the weekend:

    Satay Chicken: Fried chicken on rice with their ajat slaw and satay sauce.

    Sticky Beef Boat Noodles: Thai beef broth cooked with herbs and spices in a bowl of thin rice noodles, bean sprouts, greens, fried garlic, pork cracking and sticky spicy beef.

    The satay chicken won it for me. That satay sauce had a lovely smooth texture with an underlying layer of heat that was very welcome considering the rubbish weather outside. The chicken was fried perfectly, moist, tender and flavourful and the accompanying ajat slaw provided the freshness to balance out all the flavours.

    Though they didn’t win my favourite vote, the Boat noodles were still also a very good dish. Sticky beef, noodles, broth and pork crackling? What’s not to love? The silky rice noodles floating on a bed of Thai beef broth made for a very homely, comforting meal and the addition of sticky beef gave that subtle sweetness that we’ve come to know and love from their rotis.

    Though we’ll always enjoy their rotis, it’s their specials that have continuously peaked my curiosity. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing what Andrew and his team come up with week after week and look forward to seeing what they come up with next to tempts us in the future! πŸ˜‹

  • Blanche Bakery
    Making Vegan cuisine as sexy as hell!

    Located on Mackintosh Place in Roath, this recently refurbished bakery is probably the closest thing in Cardiff that reminds me of being back in Melbourne. Stylish decor, friendly staff and food to die for, what’s not to love?!

    This bakery is entirely vegan but don’t let that stop you non-vegans as the food is amazing! For lunch my partner ordered the Mac & Cheese topped with boconut bacon bits while I indulged in the Korean Fried Tofu Burger with seasoned fries. Neither of us are vegan and we loved every bite!

    The desserts we indulged in were their Strawberry Cream Bun and French Toast doughnut 🀀 Both of these were ridiculously good and I can’t wait to try the others! The latte art is super cute too! 🐻

Food for thought

  • Eateries and The Middle Men
    Food for thought when it comes to ordering in during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Without a doubt, this pandemic has had an impact on individuals and businesses alike. Hospitality businesses have had to close or try and adapt around the Government lockdown restrictions. This hasn’t had much change to places like takeaways that have always worked this way, but for restaurants and cafes they’ve needed to rethink their strategy.

    For those businesses who have successfully been able to channel their operation to a collection and delivery only system, it hasn’t been too bad. Support and goodwill from the community has helped many keep their heads above water but the real winners throughout the pandemic have been The Big 3: Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Just-Eat.

    These three food delivery giants are metaphorically raking the pounds in without having to do all that much. Since lockdown (and probably even just before) they would have had applications coming in from all over the place while businesses scrambled to change their business models from eat-ins to deliveries. While these three offer greater exposure on their platforms, for the businesses that apply to them, there’s a steep cost.

    As consumers, the convenience of having a platform that lists multiple restaurants we can order from is brilliant. What might not readily come into our minds while we’re eating our favourite Indian, Turkish, Chinese (etc) is the amount of commission that our favourite eateries are paying to these companies for every order. These can range from anywhere between 13%-33% depending on whether businesses use their own drivers or not and, when you then take into account that the business ALSO needs to pay VAT on top of this, that’s when things get interesting/depressing.

    Here’s a hypothetical example: Say a restaurant sells a dish for £14 and it costs them £5 to make it, giving them a £9 profit. They’ve signed up with with one of the Big 3 and get them to deliver it to their customers at a rate of 33% per order. Of that £14, £4.62 that goes straight to the Big 3. The restaurant then pays HMRC £2.80 in VAT. So that’s £4.62 + £2.80 = £7.42. From their original £14, we minus the £7.42 in commission/VAT and we’re left with £6.58, but it cost them £5 to make it, so really they’re left with a profit of £1.58.

    Now, that was obviously just a hypothetical and eateries will usually spend less to create bigger profit margins. Even so, once eateries add their monthly overheads costs on top of this, it’s no wonder why a lot of them have just chosen to close and ride the pandemic out rather than try and do deliveries as it’s really not worth their while.

    Supporting small, independent businesses during this pandemic has been a major rallying cry on social media throughout this pandemic. Let’s try take it one step further though. If you’re looking to support your favourite eateries that are still open during this lockdown, call them and collect the orders (from a safe distance) if you can. If you rather deliveries, ask whether they have their own drivers. If they do, consider ordering directly through the business rather than through one of The Big 3 platforms as this will help them bring home more of the profits that they’ve worked so very hard for.


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