Who said Cardiff was welcoming to visitors? Arriving at the Central railway station, these days, should you gaze in a particular direction, you might just get the city’s version of the middle finger salute! Though clearly it is coming from the brain, not the heart!
More likely, this is Brains Beers latter day middle finger salute to beer lovers.
It’s a shame really, because there was a time when the local Brains beers deserved the regular accolades and awards they received. Then came the end of the 20th century rush to corporate mediocrity. Whereby quality is sacrificed for quantity (of profits, that is).
The final site of the old brewery is about to become the centre of a new development… yet more of the planners fashion for identikit mixed use residential and commercial extravaganzas (if that’s the plural of an extravaganza?).
This will become the Central Quay, apparently… they’ve overplayed the number of quarters, with probably at least 5 in the central area of Cardiff. Whatever happened to simple mathematics in the corridors of municipal power these days? Anyway, it seems it’s time to move onto ‘quays’ instead… reuniting the city with its waterfront, so the blurb goes.
Until we speak again, feel free to raise a glass to waterfront reuniting, whatever that might entail. But, also to the demise of what was an award winning beer (albeit decades ago).
Once upon a time, Cardiff led the world… as the centre of coal trading in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To mark such an auspicious position the Exchange Building, otherwise known as the Coal Exchange, was built in 1888 in Mount Stuart Square… down the docks as us locals refer to it.
As in any ‘exchange’, frantic activity would take place with all kinds of guys (as it was always guys at the time) gesticulating and bargaining, as the global price of coal was set right here in the Grand Hall. Then, one day in 1904, the very first £1,000,000 transaction was made. Yes, financial history was made right there on the trading floor of the Coal Exchange in Cardiff!
So, it has been a shared ambition with my local drinking friend, to dine in the grand old building when the long awaited Culley’s restaurant had opened. Not being early adopters, we have let a year or more drift by before achieving said ambition. But, it’s a grand way in which to honour that cheque from back in 1904… assuming that the prices don’t honour the historic event!
Apart from a ubiquitous olives and red wine (Argentinian Malbec) introduction to the place, we were drawn to the Scotch Egg and the Black Pudding Bon Bon starters. Small plates they may be, but the delicate tastes complemented the majestic surroundings.
As for the main course, we both just had to respect the tradition of Welsh supremacy (even if it was just briefly experienced more than 100 years ago). After all, there is a culinary delight that Wales has long been one of the world’s leading providers… Welsh Lamb. With squash and dauphinaise potato adornments, this was a fine way with which to honour that moment back in 1904.
Until we speak again, in the absence of any randomly available £1m cheques drifting my way, I’m more than happy to indulge a Welsh tradition… eating not sh____ing sheep, that is! You may enjoy those visions of spring with lambs gamboling about sunny hillsides. Me… I prefer them decorating my plate any time of the year.
Cricket is such a tedious game… which is why you can read on, as this post (like all the others) has nothing to do with the summer sounds of leather on willow… yawn, yawn. No, this is about achieving a so-called milestone. Though the effects of ageing can make it seem like a millstone on some days!
The first decision on approaching such a milestone is where to achieve it? Somewhere I’ve never been before might be a good idea. Having arrived at 40 in New York, 50 in Key West, 60 in New Orleans, my travelling companion made it very clear that America was off the agenda! OK, Europe it is, and having taken some expert advice, Mallorca it would be.
After all, it needed to be somewhere with well established bathing traditions…
And, a clear view of where your food is being prepared goes a long way to establishing culinary confidence…
With an abundance of interesting places the capital city of Palma provided a welcome introduction…
A wooden train set provides a unique way to get to from Palma to the place of choice for the actual milestone…
Port de Soller provided the perfect backdrop for ending the ‘When I’m 64’ Beatles year-long soundtrack…
An important celebration demands an experience of quality, and so I trusted online reviews of a restaurant 5 minutes walk away around the stunning bay…
And the choice of Agapanto certainly didn’t disappoint…
Until we speak again, Palma & Port de Soller are high on the list for must-do return visits. That milestone has taken 8 months to report! With OAP status fast approaching I must fly, in more ways than one…
After a hard day sleeping… I’d have a nice cool glass of Prosecco… if I could be bothered!
You see, it’s this travelling thing that just takes it out of me. Take Venice, for example… “Do I really need a few days surrounded by water and crumbling old buildings?” I wondered. Not the right kind of thinking to share aloud with my travel companion, who just happens to think it’s the best place on the planet!
So, what’s so good about visiting Venezia? Whisper it quietly… I wouldn’t want a certain someone to think I’m fully agreeing with their personal recommendation! I guess, to begin with, messing about on the water has many attractions:
Then there are the expected architectural attractions that most people think of when the idea of Venice is raised:
Unassuming cats can’t resist investigating behind any open door… and stunning interiors await the discerning inquisitor:
But, perhaps it’s the bright and colourful side of the surrounding islands or those amazing stain-glassed windows:
Thinking of the culinary side of Italy… pizza has to be the first idea that comes to mind. As good as some pizza’s definitely are, look further, as there are so many more culinary delights on offer! Octopus starters and seafood risotto offered delicious distractions for this unashamed carnivore… tuna, calamari, but exquisite meat-based dishes such as pork cutlets proved just as succulent and irresistible:
With so many wide-eyed big picture attractions at every turn… trust the locals to know that the devil is in the detail:
Then again, perhaps it’s best to leave it to Venice to describe just how fabulous it is… with a sharp intake of breath a one-word description may just accompany that continual feeling of incredulity:
As for me, perhaps in the end, the appeal of Venice starts and finishes with thoughts about liquid:
Until we speak again, the availability of fabulous wine was proving to be somewhat overwhelming… time to curl up and contemplate simply ignoring that earlier bottle of Prosecco?
Take a picture of this… it’s 1964 and the BBC teleprinter bangs out the football scores. To my amazement there is a team called Stenhousemuir! I must go and see them… my 7 year old self decides, not knowing exactly where it is, and with no means of getting there!
Fast forward 58 years of occasionally checking out their results (usually poor!), and, well…
… it’s what dreams are made of, isnt it! The media are hyping up the OldFirm match in Glasgow between Celtic and Rangers, but I’m off to where dreams come true… it’s StenhousemuirvStranraer, and a 58 year wait is about to come to a conclusion.
90 minutes of nail-biting excitement and ‘my team’… TheWarriors of Stenhousemuir win 3-1. Key celebrations… pigging out in a very Scottish way.
Was it worth the wait? I could say ask me in another 58 years time, but the pig-consuming activity would have long taken its toll by then… so, yes, they did me proud.
Until we speak again, Stenhousemuir has all bases covered for pig enthusiasts… either you take the healthier route, or they accommodate the other next door?!!!
Once there was a bistro… mediocre at best, but upmarket for the traditional surroundings associated with the infamous Chippy Alley of Caroline Street in the centre of Cardiff. Few tears were shed at Juno HQ as Pierre met his demise during the Covid lockdowns of 2020… but, what would replace it? Summer of 2021 gave rise to a hint of refurbishment, and in recent weeks the curtain can be raised on a new Thai restaurant. Busaba emerges to taunt those who only have time for a bag of chips… the eternal staple of the street food warriors of Caroline Street (myself included on occasions of haste).
It passes the first test… the menus are not overly complicated, and certainly don’t need to be made of wipe-down plastic (a surefire sign of *********** well, fill in the blanks with your own commentary). However, step two created a problem… even though the menu had ‘starters’ and ‘mains’ as categories, the whole lot arrived in one go!
Makes for an exciting looking table, but something’s going to get cold… not least the stare from my discerning culinary companion!
Some things were definitely going to need replacing with freshly cooked dishes (and the restaurant staff duly obliged without any fuss).
Matchstick Chicken provided crispy bites of flavour without the expected fiery burn back. Yam Pak CrispyDuck salad provided a substantial leg, covering a fabulously tasty crunchy assortment of loveliness with a hint of peanut sauce. The Chicken Green Curry provided that wonderful Thai combination of coconut and lemongrass. The Tamarind Duck Breast was accompanied by that slight fiery tang originally expected from the Matchstick starter.
But, pride of place goes to that smallest of bowls (top right of the photograph). Calamari… described on the menu as their signature wok-tossed dish in ginger and green peppercorn sauce. Or, described by me as WTF… that’s the best Calamari I’ve tasted… ever!!
Until we speak again, they describe their restaurant as “Eating in balance… at Busaba you’ll find fresh authentic flavours with an innovative twist.” I say: “Bon Voyage mediocre French joint… I want more of that Calamari… NOW!”
At least it was the 25th! A family Christmas shape shifts as the numbers change with time. My last family Christmas meal was four years ago, when five people sat around the table, but now it’s just two, as the tragic heartfelt losses mount up.
So, for my sister and I, that at least meant we could decide to check out an old favourite Cardiff restaurant, dispense with the usual Christmas Day paraphernalia, and even dispense with celebrating in December! Neither of us can trust many restaurants not to downgrade their great menu’s by replacing them with Christmas mediocrity throughout the month of December. So, whether that applies to the Bayside Brasserie or not we don’t know. What we do know, is that the same high quality experience is there for the savouring.
Whilst the menu prompted a majority of tempting memories, the power of asking for what you want was also easily accommodated by the staff. Previously, Pork Belly was a starter but now it only appears as a main. The old adage is… if you don’t ask you don’t get; so, asking for Pork Belly as a starter was not only agreed, but met with results to exceed expectations.
Perhaps it’s the sense of getting something that wasn’t there that makes it taste even better! But, though the Crispy Squid looked tempting, this Pork Belly was all mouth-watering meat with a crispy crackling covering… and that melt-in-the-mouth feeling just simply can’t be resisted.
Two or three plates of this starter alone would easily have sent me off with that satisfied feeling of a meal well-deserved… you really don’t have to be anointed as a saint to be deserving of such riches in life! But, there were other memories to be tested and satisfied, not least the vegetarians nightmare… Fillet Steak! A food that should only be allowed by law to be served with chips and peppercorn sauce. A little foliage and extra fungi provides fancy dressing for any pernickety critic.
Who needs dessert after such a meat feast? Yes, I know… the very question puts me top of the list of many of your for a cactus emema! But, for me, those glasses of a lovely Argentinian Malbec are dessert enough… but then again a properly prepared macchiato serves to bring a great early Christmas to a gentle close.
Until we speak again, have a great Christmas… whenever, wherever, and with whoever you choose to celebrate it. After all, for me and a longstanding reader of these lyrical meanderings, a great Christmas meal has even been enjoyed on a balmy night in June (for the record… Fillet Steak was also eaten there.. in Blackheath, south-east London). So, the gift of the cow is really a gift of great memories as well.
Buy up their favourite wine and bring it back to the UK!!
So, what has a week in Malta got to offer, to get you doing that Covid bureaucracy added to the new travelling experience? History? Well yes, plenty of that…
Interesting old architecture, including those distinctive wooden balconies everywhere…
A surplus of blue? Definitely, in many shades and varieties…
But, for all the enjoyable walking and water-based sight-seeing, it’s the evening that easily provides the enchantment of Malta. When the weather maybe cooking up a storm (literally on one evening), try some of the local delicacies, either under cloth in the street, or indoors. Merchant Street in Valletta offers a wide range of choices, but La Pira was the outstanding pick of the bunch…
I do like a small menu, it hints at expertise, and there is nothing so off-putting as having to read a book before you get to your starters! On this occasion, I feel drawn to the Maltese traditional options, so Maltese Special is my immediate choice. As for the discerning company, there is the challenge of serving up Calamari Fritti to a calamari aficionado! Both dishes provide the kind of satisfaction that distract you from the rain hammering down on the open tent structure we are sitting in.
And then there is the first taste of that local wine that just cries out to be taken home…
Malta does come up with the occasional surprise tradition… not the least being their favoured dish. “What’s up, doc?” Move over Bugs Bunny, this place IS your worst nightmare! For some reason, rabbit is the delicacy set out as their dish of choice. One previous tasting of the dish is located so far down in my food memory that it doesn’t particularly register… other than the ubiquitous ‘it tastes like chicken’, which is something that applies to so many ‘its not chicken’ foods. Local Rabbit seems like the only choice to me… I don’t like my rabbit to have been travelling too far in pursuit of my plate! As for the seafood fan, Pan Fried Octopus was the favoured selection, after a quick quizzing of the waiter about how it was prepared and cooked. Suffice to say, the rabbit tasted of a superior chicken, but beware these critters come with many bones in all shapes and sizes. As for the octopus, it was delicately flavoured without the feared chewy rubbery consistency occasionally attributed to the dish.
Until we speak again, the experience was so enjoyable, a second visit to La Pira only confirmed our initial appreciation… with a return for the tastiest of Calamari rounded off with mains of Summer Squash and Swordfish Ravioli, rounded off with a local Chardonnay…
Having clearly failed the honest reporting test… as my last post had been somewhat unfairly likened to culinary hate mail, by a disappointed punter who was unable to join the inaugural Black Salt adventure. There was only one possible solution to what otherwise could have become a tense Mexican Dine-Off on an ordinary Friday night in a favoured local boozer (big shout out to the Flute & Tankard!).
A reunion with culinary confusion was duly arranged with said punter, and the previously failed search for the mythical Wine List and Greek Salad amongst a sea of battered vegetables was accepted. Not least, so that the gauntlet of challenge can be retrieved from the litter-strewn pavement of Whitchurch Road.
On my approach, I did wonder if there was a cunning tactic at play… paying unemployed hospitality sector employees to pose in an open window idly chatting with interested passers-by. Could this be the new way of making places look busy and in demand?
Anyway, the time arrived when the afore mentioned gauntlet needed grasping… and before I could even raise a patronising clicked finger demanding to see the previously extinct Wine List, there it was, already laid out on the table, taunting me back into a pose of relative British consumer timidity.
The road to redemption is clearly signposted, so my next decision is delicately poised… what starter to tempt the palate? ‘Safety first’ shouldn’t be the determining factor when it comes to culinary adventures; but, sod it, that Halloumi with Chilli and Honey was just too good to be missed!
Then came the prime purpose of this visit, to see if a Greek Salad really could accompany a steak on the same table at the same time. It may sound like a simple request, but on the previous occasion we mere mortal diners had committed the cardinal sin… asking for a Greek Salad to REPLACE the signature oceans of fried batter that unquestionably accompany everything that had walked or swam in a previous incarnation. Lessons have been learned… just ask for Greek Salad alongside everything else. And lo, before our ravenous eyes, two Greek Salads duly arrived ahead of Daisy’s delights.
Only one challenge was left, in order to redeem my reputation as a serious investigator of all things Fillet. Could the true centrepiece of the visit stand alone, unimpeded by the burden of shouldering an onion ring the size and consistency of a tractor tyre? Again, there is a simple solution presenting itself in gluttonous obviousness… why have 8oz when you can have a 12oz beast of medium rare succulence? Even accompanied by a mega slice of cooked tomato, this animal has no intention of lurking in any shadows! And yes, those chips were very tasty when dipped in a pond of peppercorn sauce. [For any overseas readers, chips and oz’s are what Brexit might have been fought over, whilst still being a completely ridiculous idea!].
Until we speak again, yes… it’s a French Red Wine, a St Emilion. But in my defence, I didn’t order it! Personal redemption, it seems, comes with a price tag. ‘Black Salt II ~ The Redemption‘ was worth extending the glove of friendship, at least to resolve any unnecessary continuation of the Mexican Dine-Off. Trilogies, however, well, that’s a whole different culinary affair!