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.
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 Chiquito 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.
Notwithstanding 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, whereas 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 much, 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. Beware 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.
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.
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 expectations 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 Wetherspoons 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.
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.
Who 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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!!
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.