Cool at One

How time fly’s when you spend most of the day either sleeping or licking your nether regions. There I was, deep in meditation…

Chillout cat

… when my ‘kidnapper of culinary dreams’ decided it was time for a literary celebration. It seems that a year has already passed since the resident ‘Nonsense-in-Chief’ decided I would become a star of the blogosphere. No, I haven’t got a clue what that means either. To my personal dismay I am told I have been a Cool Cat for precisely one year… this of course is complete tosh; being a lady I’m not giving away my age, but I assure you I have been a Cool Cat wherever I have been for the whole of my life!

As for this celebration thing… there are limits, and a point when a head down the loo or offering a simple view of a fury rump out of a nearby box have their merits. Or it is just time for the more sophisticated among us to get a grip…

Olive branchApart from you humans, the point at which a year arrives is as good as any to do a bit of reflective thinking. Whereas all you lot seem to have achieved at one year is the ability to scream and wail, and project nasty stuff in all directions from both ends!

So, what should you have learned about this Cardiff place from my first year of imparted wisdom? Firstly, they have a strange way of doing architecture. When the brief says “a sophisticated blend of the old and new” I’m not sure that this is what the commissioning people exactly had in mind:

Architectural wonders

But, when it comes to combining architecture with food, and if food really is your religion,  the locals can come up with interesting new ideas for accommodating the likes of multiple feeding bowls and litter trays:

Chapel [2]

As for those moments when you left your shopping list at home, and you are sure that a violin, a Dalek, and a good cup of coffee were prominent amongst the essentials of the day, then the Castle Arcade is the place of your dreams:

Castle Arcade 6

 

Many a fellow feline in London told me before I moved that they communicate differently in that Wales place, but I was still unprepared. For example, they take health and safety of children very seriously, to the point of being very clear of the dangers of tree-climbing:

No tree climbingAs an indigenous population many of these cats may not travel very far (or is that Americans I am thinking of?), but they like to keep busy. So, there is no shortage of signs telling you were to go… in the politest sense of the phrase of course (unless you happen to be more obviously English):

Places to go [1]

Before, during and after a busy day having been told where to go, you will be in need of refreshment. So, this is when in Cardiff you really have to use your Brains! However, refreshment is also where the true multi-cultural legacy of the capital city comes into its own:

4. Brains journey [1]

The local brew is often to be found in its most splendid clarity (with Chris at The City Arms offering me free beer for the publicity… Not!). But, beware of local historians, all too eager to share their rose-tinted time warp stories of when Brains SA was the real deal.

A pint in the City Arms

However, with all of the zeitgeisty nonsense about immigration going on around these ancient lands of Perfidious Albion, it is the demands of the time warp fraternity that are at the centre of allowing interesting brands of low cloud in from the regions of England. The original multicultural port of Cardiff, giving rise to the infamous Tiger Bay, is now succeeded by little more than multi-regional representation in the brews that local people are prepared to fall over from, as a result of joyous consumption.

Just don’t ask about the local football team… you are a season too late on that one. And as for the historic local rugby team… my coughing and spluttering has nothing to do with choking on a furball. Suffice to say, this is a city that wears its sporting failures with as much ‘anonymity’ as it can muster. They even provide convenient masks lying around in public places in order to avoid being easily identified as a supporter:

Fallen headSo, it has been one year of me filling your bowl with quality morsels, and tugging on your tail about the issues that matter in this adopted city of mine. As I preen my whiskers at the thought of 84 posts in the bag, my final thought before we speak again is “are you looking at me?”

You looking at me?

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A ray of sunshine

What do you think when I suggest ‘Portugal‘ to you? Sunshine, Atlantic breezes, seafood, Lisbon, Porto, fine wines and ports? Am I the only one that thinks ‘Cardiff‘? A bit of lateral thinking maybe, but come on people, get with the programme. I might have travelled here at the behest of my resident fur-ball from my familiar home in London, but at least I am making an effort to acclimatise to their triumphant homecoming. Azure blue skies, white walls bathed in sunshine, and the prospect of mouth-watering Portuguese dining… it can only be Cardiff.

Madiera [1]

 

Here is a pub quiz question for you… where is Madeira? An archipelago located off the Portuguese Atlantic coast you geographical geniuses recite, with the confidence of the world traveller informing the majority of Americans who are busy searching their world atlases that only stretch from Washington State to Florida, and Maine to California. Well, my eccentric informant tells me it is to be found on Guildford Crescent in downtown Cardiff somewhere close to the archaeological site of a local swimming pool best known for its indoor version of lido style changing rooms facing directly onto the poolside.

In the case of the Madiera Ristorante, the adjacent Masonic Hall and Thai House provide the wider urban vista in place of the more usually expected Atlantic panorama. But don’t simply turn up at this place. Since 1998 it has built a reputation for a relaxing atmosphere, fine dining, and the sight of your food dripping from the ceiling! This is somewhere that definitely needs a booking, and it is popular for all sorts of groupings. If you are an intimate pair of cats with designs on mutual purring over dinner be prepared to unashamedly shout your sweet nothings back and forth… as you could easily find yourself located in a darkly lit corner only to be joined by large and small groups of contestants practicing for a foghorn blowing competition…

Madiera [2]The menu reads like your holiday memories from those lovingly remembered trips to the Algarve… plenty of the swimmy flappy things that us cats so love to play with eat raw (a bit like the Japanese in that sense). Caranguejo (crab), lulas (squid) and Gambas (prawns) are to be found in shoals. But, if you like to put plenty of meat on to your fury rump there is no shortage of Carne dishes, both of the conventional (steaks) and adventurous (portuguese twists to familiar favourites). Then there is the creative use of space… why have your skewered delights laid out across your plate when you can simply hang it from the ceiling over your table?

Madiera [3]Espetadas are a Madeira speciality that come in pork, beef, lamb, chicken, monkfish or combinations; and are simply deliciously cooked kebabs hung from hooks above your table, with the option of garlic dripping down through the whole skewer. However, if you are a vegetarian, try being one of the fish eating variety, or else your range will be limited to what you normally buy in the supermarket!

Once again, I have had to stay at home Olive branchguarding the ancestral pile, while those who don’t know how to wrestle a fish around the floor, pawing its head against a handy skirting board, are enjoying gastronomic delicacies and delights. Until we speak again this Juno will be planning to hideout in the bin store behind the Madeira Ristorante… just perfecting the right pose to catch any falling fish.

A World Cup Feast

There was a time, or so I am told by people I live with who are simply ‘old’, that the infamous Tiger Bay in Cardiff docklands would have been able to offer representative cuisine of not only the World Cup finalists, but pretty much all of the nations represented in the qualifying rounds. The six blocks around the Loudoun Square of old would no doubt have put on some special barbeque for a final in said square. Then a combination of prejudice, politics and misplaced town planning ideals improved/changed/destroyed the lot of the UK’s very first truely multi-cultural community. The result of so-called progress is that now you will struggle to find representation of the 32 finalists alone across the whole of the city.

So, I decided, based on very little empirical research and a huge amount of unapologetic bias, to relocate the whole of the 2014 World Cup tournament from Brazil to Cardiff, and to play it by culinary rules that make no sense to me… after all, how else is Wales going to have any representation on this world stage? If FIFA continue to be happy with their decision-making regarding Qatar and Russia, I am perfectly happy to run the whole tournament on the basis where you can eat something, so good luck to you if you understand any of the following nonsense!

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon.

Viva Brazil [1]With the wealth of Croatian and Cameroonian delicacies securely hidden from sight in Cardiff, this group becomes a straight Latin American bun fight. Viva Brazil takes on the longer established MexicoChiquito for a place in the last eight.

 

For prominence of location at the top end of St. Mary’s Street this is a simple win for Brazil. Mexico opting for a subterranean location in the Brewery Quarter only makes itself immediately visible to people more attracted by the ‘Brewery’ connotation.

Group B: Spain, Holland, Chile and Australia.

SpainNotwithstanding the abject humiliation experienced by Spain at the hands of Holland in their true World Cup opening game, in my version there is a reversal of fortunes. At least Spain can muster up a restaurant in the form of La Tasca, Hollandwhereas Holland merely offer what this cat can only describe as a wafer thin snack in the form of a Pancake House.

Chile rely on a dish similar in name with a base of hot beans available at low cost in numerous outlets; while Australia rely on a national cliche of a capacity to drink copious tinnies rather than eat muchAustralia, in the solitary hope that progression to the next round might pitch them against kindred spirits in England. Such misguided planning results in Australia going truly Walkabout, as Spain progress to the last eight.

Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece.

Whilst Colombia start out as group favourites, a dependence on coffee presents a setback for this culinary cat. ColombiaBeware if you are asked “one shot or two”, particularly as this passionate football nation managed to shoot a previous returning captain for the failure of the team in the World Cup tournament.

 

Japan

 

With Ivory Coast failing to offer much of a dining experience in downtown Cardiff, this group becomes a penalty shootout between the Wagamama chain representing Japan, and Pipi’s Restaurant representing Greece.Greece

With an attempt to broaden the appeal, Pipi’s tries to advertise the distinctly un-Greek panini and baguette, with the result that Japan go through to the last eight on simple honesty alone.

 

Group D: Uruguay, Italy, England and Costa Rica.

This is the group where normal expectationsCaroline Street would be sky-rocketing for a certain country that claims to have invented the ugly game, before others (notably Brazil) made it beautiful. But this tournament is taking place in Wales, so England might even struggle against Costa Rica! The customary line-up of 
fish and chip shops with a side of WetherspoonsWetherspoons puts England at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to a game requiring fitness, stamina and skill.

Costa Rica and Uruguay struggle to find a foothold in the Welsh capital, out-coffee’d and out-beaf’d by illustrious geographical neighbours.

Italy

 

So, it is left to Italy in the shape of Giovanni’s to take the group by storm and progress to a relatively easy birth in the last eight.

 

 

 

Group E: Switzerland, France, Ecuador and Honduras.

FranceWho needs the customary culinary arrogance when your group is nothing more than a stroll in the park? The Swiss offer nothing more than a cheesy performance; while Ecuador and Honduras fail to adapt to the Welsh culinary climate. This leaves France to Bistro their way into the last eight c/o Pierre, but will the ease of their progression result in previously witnessed complacency on their part?

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzogovenia, Nigeria and Iran.

Rumour has it that if you can sweet talk Miss Bosnia-Herzogovenia (Cardiff Branch) you might get an invite to her mother’s Sunday lunch; so the chances of a culinary sweep of this group fade as quickly as a 1970’s chat-up line. Iran employ National Guard type tactics, so nothing tasty there; and Nigeria suffers from the downbeat reports of Tribe Tribe and other African cafe restaurants around Cardiff. The door is wide open for Argentina to sweep through the group, but theirs is a hesitant progression, as they have to rely on Viva Brazil as an introduction… otherwise any steak that is not Welsh or Scottish, but is expensive just might be Argentinian! Argentina limp meekly into the last eight of the tournament, with very little of taste to suggest they could go further.

Group G: Germany, Portugal, USA and Ghana.

Ghana suffer from the poor culinary representation of all African nations in Cardiff. However, this is not so for ‘Obesity Central’ (USA) whose mother ship has definitely landed with widespread representation in the form of ‘King Mac of Kentucky’ franchises blotting most culinary sensibilities. On volume of supply USA would surely be going through from this group, but their all-round reduction of the beautiful game to a waddling spectacle undermines any claim to quality.Germany

The decisive challenge comes from a straight European match-up of culinary contrasts. The German offer suffers from an unusual unobtrusiveness… apart from a full-on christmas market for a small part of the year you have to find an upstairs location in Wally’s Delicatessen for your intake of bratwurst.

Madiera [1]

 

 

 

By contrast, Portugal are prominently represented by the perennial sunny outlook of the Madiera restaurant at the bottom of Churchill Way. So, Portugal go through to the last eight.

Group H: Belgium, Russia, South Korea and Algeria.

This is the quintessential ‘group of death’, not in usual football terms of many teams having an equal chance of progression… more because you are likely to die of starvation before you find any relevant sustenance. If you are looking for something distinctly authentic from any of these teams you should probably visit a suburb of Cardiff known as London. As most of these games are likely to result in a stalemate it falls to a number of female supporters to call it… the importance of chocolate ultimately tips the group in favour of Belgium, as they progress unconvincingly to the last eight.

Quarter Finals

1. Brazil v Spain… Las Iguanas

A late Brazilian substitution, bringing in parts of the Las Iguanas menu, fails to find any response from Spain. The competition favourites progress to the semi-finals.

2. Japan v Italy…

Japan provide a strong contest through the introduction of Yakitori#1 at Mermaid Quay to take an early lead.

But the wily Italians have been here before, and feel very comfortable adding to their range of usual chain offerings (Pizza Express, Zizzi’s, Carluccios and Bellini’s) with Cafe Citta as one of the most widely rated top restaurants in the city.

Mixed starter<br />

Italy go through to the semi-finals with the help of the depth of their squad.

3. France v Argentina… France take an early lead through the introduction of a tried and tested chain favourite (though not in this household apparently).French restaurant in Cardiff Mermaid Quay

Argentina had struggled to reach this part of the competition, and with nothing in reserve they meekly succumb as the French stroll through to the last four.

4. Portugal v Belgium…

Belgium offer little threat of any culinary extravagance on the Cardiff stage, so Portugal are able to achieve a straight forward victory by their judicious use of Nando’s to appeal to the masses.

Semi-Finals

1. Brazil v Italy…

A longstanding great football rivalry comes to a head in this semi-final. The Italians suffer from a lack of creativity, as what you get in one seems to be pretty much what you get in them all. A ‘pizzeria’ leaves little to the 21st century Cardiff imagination. Brazil dazzle the locals with the mesmerising challenge of the ‘churrascaria’ and the fusion with other Latin American countries cuisine in their own restaurant and the broader Las Iguanas offer. Brazil go through to the culinary World Cup final as a result of their greater creativity and sense of the unknown.

2. France v Portugal…

An all-Eurpean semi-final sets Mediterrean v Atlantic cuisine on collision course. The French rely too heavily on their usual fare and expectation of superiority, while the Portuguese are continually looking to mix things up with their blend of flagship Madiera restaurant, Nando’s chain, and then drawing on another cafe style restaurant, Almada in Canton, and the Benedito’s deli in Splott. The match goes into extra-time, but the strength and depth of the Portuguese sees them through to the final.

2014 Culinary World Cup Final: Brazil v Portugal

Linguistically at least, it is an all-Portuguese final. The menus for Viva Brazil v Madiera line up for a quality contest deserving of a final. On my personal gastronomes number of visits it appears that Viva Brazil takes a lead (2-1); but this is also based on the Madiera being more difficult to book at certain peak times of the week, with 3 previously unsuccessful attempts; so Portugal equalise the ear;ly lead established by Brazil. Then on ‘Trip Advisor’ ranking for Cardiff restaurants the Madiera takes the lead (55th > 93rd). Madiera [3]

But, is this to be the battle of the skewers? The Madiera goes for an audacious hanging skewers from the ceiling above the table; but Viva Brazil storms back to equalise with no less than a range of 9 different skewers brought to your table for personal carving of as much of what you like.

2-2 with only a few minutes of the final left to play… both restaurants miss easy late chances as a result of the over-bearing noise from boisterous neighbouring tables. As time is running out it comes down to quality of service… the Madiera offer friendly but not particularly attentive service, while Viva Brazil rely too much on the waiters frequently serving skewers at tables and diners helping themselves to the salad bar.

The match goes into extra time, and with quality of food being on a par it is going to a penalty shootout, unless one team can pull out something entirely unexpected. With the clock running down into its final minute Viva Brazil throw the curved ball of vegetarian options! With an extensive range on the creatively stocked salad bar, and the offer of a freshly prepared cooked vegetarian skewer a surprise lead is established. The Madiera can only respond with a small range of omelette, pasta and mushroom stroganoff options; and despite claims to extensive fish dishes the final whistle blows!

Having taken the beautiful game away from the beautiful exponents, and setting it in the beautiful city of Cardiff, Brazil still win the World Cup!!

Viva Brazil description [2]

Until we speak again this is one Juno who intends to stop relying on personal reviews of these eateries brought home by the resident nosh monster… its high time that I get to taste all of this fabulous stuff myself. Who said immigration didn’t do anything good for this country? May the Ukip rump long continue to enjoy their boiled beef and carrots.

Animals and the city

My in-house DJ seems to be regularly blasting an album by Muse at me over recent months, and one track called Animals keeps attracting my reluctant attention. Whilst the actual track is a damnation of the bankers who have recently brought the world to its financial knees, I have had cause to link it more specifically to the mental state of the self-professed musicologist who seems to think it is ok to address more attention to their living soundtrack than the more obvious priority… me!

X-ray eyes

 

Whilst I consider myself to be somewhat superior to your average mammal, I see no particular reason to desert the inevitable challenges and travails of living in a predominantly human oriented urban environment. Why would I want to go scavenging and scrapping for territory and food, when I can just look cute and get it all brought to me on a plate (well in a pathetic bowl, if I am honest)?

So, you will understand my dismay to see all of this local evidence of my animal friends plotting their escape out of Cardiff. Firstly there is The Bear Shop, a Cardiff smokers institution since 1870…

Bear shop [3]

 

 

… yet only now does theBear shop [1] locally famous occupant decide to take a run at the window in an audacious attempt to experience the new largely smoke-controlled environment outside. He must have heard that a million beagles can’t be wrong (but you have to be above a certain age to understand that animal liberation tale).

   And as if dog emancipation wasn’t enough to tax my powers of compassion, I am then reliably informed that a couple of monkeys in the city centre are constructing some form of time-machine, with the aid of English saboteurs from Leeds, to facilitate their potential for escape:

Strange animals 2

 

What did Cardiff ever do to Leeds? Well, apart from claiming to trigger the massive plummeting of their football team from the brink of Premier League football glory in 2002 to third tier ignominy in 2007.

However, nothing could prepare me for the massive animal jail break out of Cardiff Castle. Perhaps it is just a local animal amateur dramatics society re-enactment of the Colditz escape. The William Burges design for the Third Marquis of Bute in 1880’s provides a popular sight for locals and tourists alike around part of the castle wall, but now it seems poor unsuspecting shoppers and tourists would be powerless to evade the ensuing stampede…

Meanwhile, down the Bay, perplexed sea-gulls circle in anguished patrols, determined that their preferred fish suppers remain on the menu, as news gets out that some of the aquatic types have sussed ways of escaping through the barrage:

Cardiff Bay sweep 7Barrage [1]

But, once again, if you are looking for success, even in the arena of escapology it seems we all have to look back to my previous home city of London. Rather mystifyingly, my ‘resident numpty‘ tells me there is terrifying evidence that a super-sized hamster has gone missing!

London Eye [7]  
 London Eye [11]

Personally, I think the only hamster that is really missing is the one that was supposed to be driving the wheel operating the brain of my surrogate scribe! Until we speak again this Juno may be contemplating her own escape, in search of a saner environment.