The Vaults: Bute Street's desolate grandeur conceals Cardiff's best parties
Before I leave the subject of Cardiff behind, I’d been intending to run down the things I rated about the city before I moved away. I failed to do so, but if I went back I’d still love the following – all are (loosely) food and drink-related; all offer the maximum bangs per buck ratio that justifies their inclusion here:
Backroom Cardiff: I really regret not finding this earlier, cos I only got to go to two of these parties at the Vaults on Bute Street (where the finest buildings in the city sit decaying, as if to form an exclusion zone between Butetown and Cardiff Bay). Other promoters in Cardiff are doing ace things, some of whom I wrote about at the end of last year, but no-one else is booking DJs like Levon Vincent to play raves in a disused bank. Needless to say I didn’t eat here, but you can drink until 5am.
- The Royal Oak: My former local, which I also didn’t spend as much time in as I should have done. A handsome, laid back old pub selling flat-as-fuck but tasty handpulled Brains – though it could do with a couple of other decent beers.
- Chai Street: The final meal out I had in Cardiff, reviewed last time around.
- Bar Cwtch: Nestling just shy of the sterile waste of space that is Mermaid Quay, entertainingly hit-and-miss cellar bar serving decent pizzas and very good cocktails (when they remember to have ice). Be warned: if more than 20 people are there you may have trouble getting to the bar.
- Canteen on Clifton Street: the only place I went to eat at three times, reviewed on the first occasion. Not everything they make tastes amazing, but trying to cook imaginative veggie food from a small kitchen while also throwing a bone (sorry) to the carnivores deserves a tip of the hat.
- Gwdihw: A venue masquerading as a cosy living room, and packing a decent range of beers considering the bar is only about six inches long. Hearty, well priced food and varied music are on offer too.
- New York Deli: featured back in March, and juxtaposing the city centre’s prettiest arcade with the meat-packing, chilli dripping delight that is the Cardiff Devils Hoagie. Next time I’m in town, I’ll be there.
- Inner City Pickle: One-woman cottage industry aka Eira Ellis-Evans, collecting, cooking and distributing Cardiff’s finest preserves via her Adamsdown kitchen.
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.