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.

Wales 2026 World Cup Bid

Dear Zed Lister and fellow Sweet FA delegates,

I feel it is time that I launched the Wales bid to host the 2026 World Cup. After all, you have provided Qatar as the clearest of blueprints for success. Listening to my cortege of footballing pundits I could have been mistaken for thinking this once every four years prestigious tournament was a true spectacle of the peoples game put on as a festival of entertainment for the delight of the people of the world. However, you have enlightened me to the true realities that it is a complex front for your eminence and fellow crooks, sorry administrators of the game, to engorge yourselves in luxury at the expense of the ordinary spectators. Why didn’t I see that earlier, it is just like the life us cats weave for ourselves on a more permanent basis in the homes of our servants.

As leaders of the world game I am sure you will be steeped in its history, so I will launch the Wales bid on an example of the selfless generosity of its historical contribution to gamesmanship. We clearly surpass Qatar in our our World Cup pedigree and history. They weren’t even in Sweden on that 1958 day when we generously allowed Brazil a quarter-final 1-0 win for them to go on to eventually win the cup. We realised at the time that Brazil may never be good enough to grace the World Cup stage again, whereas we would undoubtedly become permanent attenders at all future tournaments.

The most important element of any worldwide competition has to be the official mascot… what else does anyone remember a few days after it has all finished? Qatar are unlikely to fool anyone with their diamond studded pot of gold mascot, whereas we have the ghost of John Charles

     to strike fear into all, and leave a memorable image of the gentle giant for the kids of the world to dream of emulating. Gareth Bale was in contention, but concerns publicly expressed by Harry Redknapp that “he spends most of his time working on his barnet” led my bid committee to be concerned about his availability outside of salon opening times. As for the constant playing with his hands and that heart thing… will someone just give him a mobile phone to play with!

    

As paragons of virtue and intelligence I thought you at the ‘Sweet FA’ were perfectly placed, in your plush Swiss offices, to be fully aware and on top of the necessary considerations about summer temperatures of 40-50 degrees. You offered Qatar and the football loving world a perfectly reasonable choice… an unnatural and phenomenal expense to provide an innovative green cooling system to reduce temperatures in all stadiums, or cause massive disruption to football leagues the world over by staging the tournament in winter. I promise you that here in Wales the summer temperatures are frequently 40-50 degrees, but a plan is in place to provide spectators with complimentary plastic macs and jumpers in their national colours, with the addition of the Welsh flag emblem as a gesture of multicultural friendship. I apologise unreservedly if this deprives you of an opportunity for skimming off the top any lucrative backhanders resulting from the need to impose grotesquely over-inflated and costly solutions to unnecessary problems. However, along with other cost-savings I will outline in our plan, this creates greater opportunities for us to lavish our expenses on you and your wives.

What about the cost of developing stadia? In the middle of the Qatari desert billions are planned to be spent on state of the art stadia, while here in Wales we will save all that money by playing most of the games at the Millenium Stadium, where the roof can be kept closed against the potential for steel rod like rain dampening the motivations of the young billionaires on the pitch. It is close to the railway station for teams and their supporters flying into the UK and then getting the train. It is also next to the river Taff, so we can extravagantly transport you and your delegates by Cardiff Bay pleasure boats from your hotel direct to the stadium.

Millenium Stadium 4

Cardiff City Stadium [1]

More lowly ranked countries can play at the nearby Cardiff City Stadiumparticularly those who are unsure what colours they should be playing in, and to avoid the sight of empty seats through smaller crowds in our national stadium. However, your presence would not be required at such a small venue… it would be so undignified in relation to your overblown image of yourselves.

Player accommodation at the St Mary Street Travelodge allows the majority of them to walk to the stadium; but an extra bus can be put on the route to the Cardiff City Stadium for players of teams who are not used to walking further than to their parked Ferrari’s. Of course, you at the ‘Sweet FA’ as world administrators of the beautiful game will be accommodated at the St. David’s Hotel and Spa at no personal expense.

St Davids Hotel [8]For your many unnecessary visits we will meet you at the rebranded Wales International Airport, at Heathrow, and pay all of your fees at the Severn Bridge toll booths. During the competition all players and spectators will be directed through the clapped out Cardiff Airport, not to burden you with the need to meet or speak with the lesser subjects of your sport.

All of the money-saving initiatives are carefully designed to increase the pot available for bribing, sorry, entertaining you the world leaders of the professional game at the ‘Sweet FA’. As highly respected visiting delegates you will be provided with free use of the City Sightseeing Bus, with commentaries about all the cities in warmer climates where you would currently prefer to be. Your wives will be offered free gifts from their personal choice of stall in the Cardiff Central Market, with free shoe repairs while they wait thrown in for good measure. As a re-think on the Bale heart thing, commemorative hearts will be cast in gold for each delegate and their wives… wrought from the iron ore of Merthyr Tydfil, smelt by the power of purest Welsh steam coal, and borne of the sweat and toil of our working man, if he can be found or isn’t on a health and safety imposed permanent tea break. In this event there is always Plan B… a plastic replica made in China (helping to secure their vote). Free bags of Welsh cakes will be available throughout the period of the bid and tournament, but only to ‘Sweet FA’ personnel and their families.

We are fully aware of the tactics needed to win the strategic votes from around the world… a Welsh Baptist Minister in Patagonia is working on the Americas vote, with South America in the bag, and dispatched to target the bible thumping mid-west. Threats to sue over the title New South Wales should bring in the Oceania vote. The Cardiff City FC connections with Malaysia should easily secure the Asian vote. Craig Bellamy‘s predicted role as a future African President will guarantee the African vote. Europe as our home region initially appear a stubborn convert… but when we seduce Scottish support with our plaque at Cardiff City Stadium the vote will surely follow.

Cardiff City Stadium [8]It is surely to our credit that we have many useless sporting administrators here in Wales, which should endear us to your core philosophy and ways of thinking; and with further mentorship from your delegates we should proudly ensure that nothing deviates from the main ethos established in your corrupt, sorry open and transparent, commitment to leadership. What we have learned most from the experience of Qatar is that we don’t need any relevant history in the game, or existing stadiums full of passionate supporters, or a climate suited to sporting exertion, or even respect for the ordinary fans. Whatever the available budget, as long as we demonstrate that the majority of it is directed to the comforts of you, the world administrators of the ‘Sweet FA’, and your shopping obsessed wives, then we can fill our boots and have ourselves a tournament. Where in Switzerland do I send the suitcases of unmarked bills?

I have been Juno, demonstrating my bid-leading credentials, and I am open to any bribes, I mean constructive suggestions, before I speak with you again.

Extreme Sailing

What have Muscat (Oman), Singapore (S.E. Asia), Qingdao (China), Istanbul (Turkey), Porto (Portugal), Nice (France), Rio (Brazil) and Cardiff all got in common? No, its nothing to do with eating cats or dogs… they are the eight venues for the World Series of Extreme Sailing. Yes, take that NY Yankees… a real World Series!

Lining up to start

 

In the interests of self preservation this cool cat considers a few planks of wood topped off with a tablecloth to be extreme enough, but these things are great big catamarans with sails up to sixty feet in height.

Mermaid Quay background

 

So it’s the August Bank Holiday, and a number of Olympic sailors have descended on Cardiff Bay, the largest bay in Europe, for the sixth leg of the 2013 World Series, with the Land Rover sponsored Team Wales representing the UK in the event. All the action is on the water, and us cats can watch water all day long, but I sure as hell am not getting too close to the stuff… in my world it is for drinking, so I am going to stick to the safety of dry land.

Action

 

At the final turn

 

On the subject of ‘extreme’, my surrogate daredevil started talking about their experiences with parachutes, gliders and motorbikes when they were young (a lot younger I must add). “Nothing“, I said, “try doing what I did with mice and other stupid creatures when I was allowed out!” There are all kinds of images of extreme sports around (though nothing involving my ideas about mice), but my favourite just has to be Extreme Ironing… what’s that all about? Didn’t you just know that such an idea had to originate in England!

On the subject of smooth… this fabulous coat of mine takes some looking after, but if my personal groomer was to come anywhere near me with an iron there would be some extreme consequences for their health and well-being. Here is a link to help those of you who don’t understand the joy of ironing, and another link to things you could do with a bicycle other than let a fish ride it (did I tell you about my ideas on things to do with fish…).

Coming to the finish

 

If only things happened at a more leisurely pace… perhaps I will establish the new sport of extreme sleeping:

Juno 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the meantime, to all those of you who believe in your extreme ways, may all of your injuries be minor and your rewards come with the maximum rush. I am still Juno, and I will speak with you again soon, but not until I have had a lie down and a good sleep.

Rio de J’Cardiff

Strolling northwards at the lower end of St Mary Street I pass under the railway bridge drawn by the magnificent site of the Victorian thoroughfare ahead. I try to ignore the modern overpowering hotels to my right and left because us cool cats have an appreciation of history and what it has brought to a place. Suddenly I feel a shimmying movement in my legs (four are always better than two, so I am told), as I involuntarily respond to the sounds and smells of Brazil.

I drift back in my memory to a previous life when I was a panther able to bring down and devour wild beasts, but fortunately for the afternoon shoppers and early city centre revellers, I come across a restaurant of infinite potential and delight… I am greeted by Viva Brazil.

Viva Brazil [2]I decide this is a must for my human carnivore and friends. On their return they are so full of the experience they don’t even stop to thank me for the tip off. I dive behind the sofa before they turn into a demented bunch of Samba cats themselves. All I hear about is ‘the meats’, ‘the non-stop skewers of freshly cooked meats’… and here am I looking into that bowl of rocks that is supposed to pass for cat food again.

‘Churrascaria’, I meow at them… don’t you people understand the cultural nuances when you go out to eat! The 15 or so meats are slow barbecued in this Portuguese/Brazilian style, and when you sit at your table they will be brought to you on skewers by the ‘passadores’ who will cut the meat at your table while you hold the slices with tiny tweezers provided on the table. This is known as a rodizio style of service, and you just eat as much as you like. The red and green sided beer mat on your table is not for standing drinks on, it is your signal to the meat-wielders whether your stomach is open for business, or you are just stuffed. I am told that one good tip is not to eat much at all earlier in the day, as this stuff is not just plentiful but beautifully cooked on the charcoal barbecue.

Load up as often as you like from a central salad bar with so many delicious Brazilian stews, with salads, fruit, breads, and rice dishes. Isn’t it nice when you can taste so many different flavours without generally having a clue what exactly you are eating… well, looking at my cat bowl I wouldn’t know about that. I also drink a lot of water so you don’t have to… and judging from my samba compatriots here, it doesn’t look like they drank much water either. But they are a bit fussy about their wines, and seem to be moaning on a little about how they could have made better choices for gargling considering the range of wines and cocktails the place had on offer.

They say another tip is to book, as this place gets busy, often. A good sign if I ever heard of one. But it is cheaper if you sit down to eat before 17.00. So, if you are there on a less busy early evening they are lenient about you staying beyond an allotted two hours, otherwise you might feel a little time-limited for such gastric wonders. Then again, you can always pay the evening price and go for broke.

Next time my personal food fascist leaves me with the delights of scientifically prepared cat crunch, and goes on another Latin American excursion around the corner, my suggestion is to ditch the much overused doggie-bag idea and get with the programme on cat-suitcase-sized take-outs. I’ve been Juno so you can be a little wiser… and I’m watching you.

Black Cat

The above image is from http://www.catimages.com/