The foodie link for this post is tenuous as hell. I mentioned in my recent review of Canteen on Clifton Street that the neighbourhood it lies in, Adamsdown, has an amazing set of street names. Oh, and I also sometimes do my food shop on Clifton Street, so I guess that’s a second weak connection.
I don’t want to try and romanticise the place. My house isn’t even within it, but over the main road. It’s an inner-city area of close-packed terraces like many others I’ve lived in or near.
Some streets are cleaner, some dirtier, a few are strewn with broken glass. People go about their business, guys with big dogs stroll around. There are shops and street-corner pubs, little grassy squares and some interesting old houses near the town end. If you Google it, you’ll see entries like this one which give it a pretty bad rep, but (not to tempt fate) I’ve never felt threatened walking there at godly or ungodly hours.
Anyway, as you pass through Adamsdown towards the city centre, you come across a network of streets which are all named on an astronomy theme. Orbit Street, Meteor Street, Planet Street, Eclipse Street, Constellation Street.
I’ve no idea why I find these names so appealing. Maybe it’s because they sound so futuristic and full of optimism, stuck on and around weathered Victorian houses. I especially love the lights like little twinkling stars around one of the signs on System Street.
If anyone has any further info or history to add on this topic please comment or drop me an email.
So I meet a friend, Tom, who’s unexpectedly been in town for the Six Nations, in Cardiff city centre. It’s Sunday afternoon, he’s been for a run and wants to go get a cheap bite before catching the train back to Sheffield.
Despite claiming to writing a blog about exploring the city for its best budget eats, I’m too hungry and scatty to think of anywhere good as there are just too many food outlets all around us, most of which will probably be overpriced and disappointing.
At that moment, my mate Sian approaches and helpfully points us in the direction of the New York Deli in High Street Arcade, which is a fairly standard take-out joint inside but has some nice old benches where you can sit out front. Both Tom and I are salt beef lovers, and are overjoyed to find this place sells the stuff by the yard.
I order a pretty damn gorgeous bagel also containing cream cheese, horseradish and gherkins. He opts for a massive hoagie that is too heavy to pick up with one hand. I spend £3.70; Tom drops about a pound more than that. We go our separate ways stuffed and super happy.
Cardiff Devils hoagie: far larger & tastier than an iPhone
Yes, more salt beef
Last week I hitchhiked from Cardiff to the North Wales coast for a feature I’m writing, a piece loosely inspired by recent reports from the Guardian, Telegraph and others about the pros and cons of installing high-speed rail links to Manchester and Leeds.
As Wales has neither motorway nor railway joining the north and south, I reckoned it’d be interesting to see how the supposedly dying art of thumbing a free lift stacked up against the train (four to six hours via England, £70 walk-on price).
Some things I learned:
- Hitching out of urban centres is a total nightmare. Getting to Merthyr Tydfil took three hours; another three and I was in Snowdonia.
- Making a decent sign, having a shave, making eye contact with and smiling at drivers will get you a long way.
- Standing by the side of the A470 in the Taff Valley with trucks pounding past is a bit scary.
- There’s no particular type of person who picks up hitchers. But all my drivers combined kind motives with boredom and the desire for a bit of lively company.
- Taking a hearty pack-up helps give you the stamina to provide your chauffeurs with the banter they crave. Keep up your end of the conversation and they’ll spill all kinds of interesting dirt.
It took me seven hours from breaking out my sign at Gabalfa, north Cardiff to hitting the Menai Straits at Caernarfon. The fish and chips I had there weren’t really seaside quality, but they still tasted pretty sweet.
Food miles: the most well-earned fish and chips ever
In which I continue my quest to give props to lentils and the like. Cos I really love eating them.
Spinach and lentil curry
This one had its basis in Anjum Anand‘s Indian Food Made Easy and is hands-down my favourite dal recipe – it’s dirt cheap, quick and simple to prepare, goes well with rice or breads, and tastes AMAZING. Nuff said.
You will need:
- 150g skinned & split yellow mung lentils aka moong dal
- 750-900ml water
- A thumb-sized bit of ginger cut into small pieces
- Several chillies left whole
- 1tsp turmeric
- 2 or 3 regular toms, chopped
- 200g spinach leaves
- 2tbsp oil
- 1 onion, sliced thinly
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed & roughly chopped
- 1 rounded tsp coriander powder
- cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- Put the lentils, water, ginger, chillies & turmeric in a pan, boil & simmer for 10mins.
- Put in the toms & cook for another 20mins then add spinach & salt.
- Cook for another 10mins or so – sometimes it comes out thicker, sometimes more soupy. Depending on how macho your guests are, you can leave the whole chillies in or fish them out at this stage.
- About the same time you put the spinach in, heat the oil in a fry pan and cook the onion on quite a high heat.
- When it starts getting crispy throw in the cumin seeds & garlic, then after a minute the other spices. Give it a good stir then chuck the lot into the lentil pan & mix it up. Ready!
Serves 2-3 as a main.
I like walking through Adamsdown on my way to town. The terraces are a different colour, but it reminds me of my walk into town in Preston as a teenager. The Royal Oak is a fantastic old boozer to pop into for an early evening pint. Oh, and the area has the coolest set of street names I’ve seen anywhere.
I had spotted Canteen on Clifton Street on one such stroll and had been keen to try it out for ages. As a meat eater who also cooks plenty of veggie food, I was intrigued by a place willing to stand or fall on the strengths of a vegetarian selection, while also offering the olive branch of a single carnivore-friendly dish per menu. Plus it was tailor-made for this blog for the following reasons:
- It’s in an area that probably isn’t first on most people’s lists if they are thinking of going out to eat.
- Despite some glowing online reviews, surprisingly few people I know have heard of it.
- On paper it offers strong value for money, clocking in at £12.50 for two courses or £14.50 for three.
The Canteen itself is basic, functional and homely, sitting on a stretch of Clifton Street where most of its neighbours are chicken joints and late-night shops. The menu changes approximately every three weeks – owner / chef Wayne Thomas reckons this gives the small kitchen enough time to be effortlessly turning out dishes like a well-oiled machine, but not so much that they get bored with them.
As the new menu had just come on, I wondered if I would be in for a slightly hit-and-miss experience. What I got instead was probably the best meal out of my short time in Cardiff. Starters of gnocchi with squash and mushrooms, and a vegetable purse with onion jam and cucumber “noodles” were richly flavoured and of exactly the right size to take the edge off an appetite, without blunting the desire to stuff main courses into one’s face.
The solitary meat dish, a beef rendang, was an ace bit of slow-cooked comfort food and got dispatched accordingly. Sticky toffee pudding could have been a couple of degrees stickier but was sauced-up enough to make this only a teensy gripe.
If you’re after dining in refined surroundings or having swanky bars to move onto afterwards then Canteen might not float your boat. If however you want to eat adventurously and without slaying your pocket, I’d recommend a trip down Clifton Street.
Writing a blog on eating good food, cheaply, I’ve long been trying to stave off mentioning truly lazy standbys. However, I’m going to cave on this occasion, because:
- I just ate Heinz Barbecue Beans for the first time, so *news*…
- It’s an excuse to plug Encona hot sauce, which is a product I am addicted to and would happily be sponsored by, and…
- If the likes of Nigel Slater can write recipes on how to make sausage sandwiches, and have people buy their books, then I’m in good company.
The Ultimate Beans On Toast
- Encona hot sauce, to taste
Toast your bread and butter it (obvs) >> slug hot sauce into your beans as they heat >> arrange cheese on toast & pour beans on top >>allow to melt for a few seconds then scoff greedily.