Butetown Beauty

It sounds like a horse entered into the Architectural Handicap at Chepstow races. There are certainly many runners and riders that should be restored to their formative days of being stallions and mares of great repute, only to have been left in the knackers yard by indifferent owners.

Butetown is a significant area of Cardiff locally known as ‘down the docks’; the part that also enclosed the famous Tiger Bay. In the last post I outlined the precarious existence of the area’s true jewel in the crown, the Coal Exchange. But what is left of this great industrial powerhouse of the early 20th century deserves to be seen as a crown, with many trinkets of architectural beauty crying out for Welsh visionaries (with more than a little cash in the back pocket).

As a nation, Wales is once again at a cross-roads challenged to define what it is. ‘Pride’ is a word that we locals like to frequently purloin when describing what it is to be Welsh. We have an opportunity in Butetown to put our rhetoric into practice; but on the surface it looks like we have been talking not walking for many years!

In developer-speak we have Merchant Place, a prime development opportunity… Aka: bring on a high enough wind to blow down the rotting carcusses that blight the sensibilities of the financial Masters of the Universe. In reality we are talking about the Cory Buildings and Old Post Office

Corys Buildings [3]

Corys Buildings [2]

Old Post Office

On nearby West Bute Street a classic old bank has stood idle for 20 years…

Old Bank entrance

Old Bank on West Bute Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

And how more welcoming can a sight be to a weary traveller, than the eponymous Cardiff Bay Station (see previous blog post comparing this landmark to the understated presence of St Pancras Station in London)!

Tumbleweed junction [4]

Tumbleweed Junction 9

Cadogan House [2]

 

Meanwhile, nearby Cadogan House seems trapped in a bygone era when air conditioning was in its more experimental phase!

Until we speak again, spare a thought for all of those poor buildings under threat of being ‘listed’… a blessing or a curse… discuss.

Advertisements

Architectural assault

Where was the first £1 million deal struck in the world? Threadneedle Street in London… think again. Wall Street in New York… nickels and dimes. It was right here in Cardiff, the Coal Exchange to be exact…

Interior [1]

From the fledgling years of the 20th century, when ‘coal was king’ and the Port of Cardiff dominated world trade, the floor of the Coal Exchange buzzed with the chaotic sounds of commerce. Even beyond the age of heavy industry in South Wales this iconic location was set to become the home of Welsh Government at the end of the 1970’s.

Interior [2]

Despite functioning as a home to a few small offices and a brief life as a concert venue, years of neglect and indifference took their toll:

Coal Exchange [1]

Coal Exchange [6]

References to the need to find a new purpose for an icon are difficult to accept as being anything more than a cynical cover for patient neglect to the point where the building could possibly be demolished…

Coal Exchange [2]

It appears that the City Planning Department lacked any vision for the jewel on their doorstep. A 15 storey residential block seemed to be the height of corporate ambition! We don’t need to look far around our city to see that money lies in throwing up blandly mediocre residential and office developments, whilst simultaneously allowing historic buildings oozing character to fall into disrepair. This serves to remind me of the good decision I made to abandon a career in Town Planning 33 years ago while it was still in its infancy!

Coal Exchange board sign

With huge acknowledgements to Nick Broomfield and BBC4 for the striking programme ‘Going, Going, Gone…’ (for the source of internal photographs used here), we know that parts of the building are far from dangerous, but those that are can be restored and put to good use…

Exterior Decay

Interior decay

In fact, large parts of the building appear in excellent condition, just calling out to be seen and used again…

Interior [3]

Interior [8]

With details to be loved as much now as they undoubtedly were by their creators…

Interior [5]

Interior [4]

Interior [7]

Civic pride from public authorities means nothing in these days of corporate greed and power. We have seceded architectural virtue and the values of beauty and historic appreciation, bowing to the whims of the money-tocracy, as the privileged few profit on the backs of the many.

Rumour has it that plans are being discussed to restore the Coal Exchange building on the basis of housing a boutique hotel. This would be a welcome development by the many who appreciate the importance of this building, provided some areas are opened for wider public access. Talk is one thing, but this is an icon that is in desperate need of action… NOW!

Until we speak again lets all hope that talking is matched by walking for this beauty. Then there is the issue of halting the local avalanche of historic building neglect that could then transform the city centre and bay areas of Cardiff into a mix of historic and contemporary pride (pigs are flying as I gaze out of my window across the aforementioned areas).

My Thai

Is it a religion? Is it a form of martial arts? Or is it a flippant reference to the other half? No, it’s time to satisfy that hunger with some exotic cuisine. When you’ve exhausted your mental and physical faculties sitting down and watching a couple of rugby matches in the Millennium Stadium you can really work up an appetite. So, the question is whether you follow the neanderthal hordes to the nearest burger van, or maybe hit Cardiff’s infamous chip alley down Caroline Street?

Those of us with an ounce of forward planning capability realise that restaurants will be full, unless that is you book in advance. And if you book in advance why not go that exotic extra taste bud or two. The Thai House is a well established Cardiff institution, conveniently located close to a range of other unique eating establishments that eschew (that’s a nice word borrowed from the TLF blog!) the chain mentality. If you like your eatery to have a Portuguese flavour then you will have to walk a whole 3 yards to that place below draped with a Welsh flag. If you like your nosh with a touch of the art insulation, or even a religious backdrop, then you will have to muster up the energy to walk a further 20 yards (all of which are reviewed in other posts on this site).

Strangely, this is a Thai restaurant that boasts a Rugby addition to the menu, but this is no time for a theme park trough. Dynamic flowing rugby needs to be followed by something a little more exquisite.

Thai House [1]

The Thai House menu is a navigational challenge in its own right. But after you have spent 10 minutes with the verbal gymnastics, guzzling a Singa Beer for inspiration, you pluck up the courage to order using the Thai wording; only for your ethnic waitress to look at the menu and ask if you mean 4, 9, 21, 22, 51 and 54! The Sate (tender pork and chicken) and Tord Mun (Spicy Thai Fish Medallions) both offer delicately spiced and succulent starters…

Thai House [2]

Then it’s time for something that no burger van or famous fish and chip shop in the world is likely to serve up. The crispy duck comes with an even more crispy kale, to offer contrasting assaults on the taste buds. Then the Emperor prawns deliver an unexpected undressing challenge, to remove the hard shell in order to reveal a juicy sacrifice within; made all the more rewarding when enveloped in a spicy coconut sauce, with lime and mushroom additional flavours…

Thai House [3]

Don’t go here on a busy day expecting rapid service. This is a place you come to to absorb the culinary offerings in a more relaxed mode. Neither Juno or Bella were enamoured with my liking for the prawn. But I’m sure that duck and the earlier fish and meat combinations would have taken some swiping off unguarded plates.

Until we speak again I will be taking a tour of fields way beyond Cardiff, sharing some Cardiff Cool Cat reflections on ‘elsewhere’.

 

An Easter Message from Cardiff

Don’t think for one moment that I’m going to get all religious on you. This cat is a resident of the universal suburb of Agnostica! No, I’m going to share with you a challenge too far… a story they never thought could be told. A story of one man’s battle against all the odds.

Picture the scene, a place called Splott! A place where open air cinema has taken on a whole new dimension…

Splott Cinema after fire

A place where religion is taking great strides to get back to its roots…

Splott Road [2]

Splott is an area of central Cardiff where offices dare not go; so the former Maltings Building is reduced to advertising a location for virtual offices in a vain attempt to provide a veneer of economic activity…

The Maltings, SplottThey say that some things can only be loved by a mother; well step aside matriarchal sacrifice, because Splott is a love too far! Or is it, hang on a mo’, just when I was calling time on the place that even the Luftwaffe avoided, I am drawn to a message of redemption…

Jesus loves Splott!

X-ray eyes

 

Until we speak again this Bella will remain hyper-vigilant for further miracles dressed up as religious artifice.

Food history

Call this food!So, what are my credentials for talking to you about the history of food? After all, as a true cat I appoint others to do the hard graft for me!

Blue Anchor [9]

 

 

The President of my predecessor’s (Juno) fan club was recently celebrating a birthday, the number of which sounds to me like like something out of history. It’s one of those numbers where you people can easily tend to get lost; who knows where she is going here? Are the loos down there? Or is this a subterranean dining experience going on?

Blue Anchor [1]I digress, the thing here is about how history and food came together… at least in my mind anyway. This train of thought came together when my ‘appointed food taster’ said they were off to a Blue Anchor, or somewhere nautical that is actually miles from the sea (strange ideas happen when it comes to naming pubs, inns, restaurants).

Blue Anchor [2]

 

 

 

But this one is old, very old, 1380 old! And it seems from reading a brief history about the place like it has always been an inn, always into the beer and food groove. So I guess they must have learned to do some things right by now. It’s a cold and bleak winter’s day, so you need something to take the chill away, and this place certainly oozes that cozy old inn vibe…

Blue Anchor [3]

Blue Anchor [4]

Apparently the Blue Anchor is well known amongst the beer aficionados for its small but well-kept range of the amber and pale nectar. And I’m told the lotion more than adequately complemented the nosh. As for the eating, where do you start? Ham Hock sounded like some ancient vittles, but I’m informed it was a thick and tasty starter, though who knows what the green stuff was up to hiding under the

Blue Anchor [5]

This being a Sunday, my instructions were to go for the traditional roasts, and my compliant diners duly obliged…

Blue Anchor [6]

Whilst these Yorkshire puddings take up space the beef (and those going for lamb) reported a very tasty meal. The real test is the vegetables, and they came through as lightly cooked and crunchy… “just right” I said. So my local fans have found another place well worth re-visiting; and being around since 1380 this place isn’t going away anytime soon. The place is East Aberthaw in the Vale of Glamorgan, and until we speak again I’m Bella, and my advice is ignore history, go now!

Degrees of difficulty

Seems that the good burghers of Grangetown in Cardiff don’t hold out the warmest of welcomes for posh people!

Grange [2]

But revenge looks sweet, as the owners are no doubt members of the landed gentry; and my guess is they decided if we are not getting in then nobody is getting in!

Grange [3]

Call this food!

 

Until we speak again this Bella hopes that all of your preferred lotion is accessible!

Greggs appeal

You looking at me?My ‘resident gastronome’ frequently warns me to curb my inner sausage roll! Strange conversations we have at times, and despite giving the hard look I’m suddenly finding reasons to change my opinion…

I was strolling near a Greggs baker’s in the city centre just the other day when my attention was immediately drawn to a worrying addition to the queue (or is it the latest delivery of the new filling recipe?)…

Greggs appeal

Seems it’s not just the luke warm grease ball effect for holding flaky pastry in place that I should consider then. Until we speak again this Bella is listening to the sound of “I told you so” from the Michelin dude (until I crap in the corner instead of my litter tray!).