Where to find the best Welsh dishes in Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff Bay reflect the city's past and present and the city's cuisine does the same, writes Tim Richards.

If you think Welsh food doesn't extend much beyond Welsh rarebit and leeks, you're not alone. That's all I could envision before arriving in Cardiff, perhaps with a slice of Caerphilly cheese on the side.

There will be Welsh rarebit in the near future, as it turns out. But for the moment my wife and I are sitting in Ffresh, a beautiful contemporary restaurant in Cardiff Bay, considering the merits of Welsh lamb.

And the bay area seems just the right place in which to consider Wales' 21st century cuisine, reflecting as it does the city's past and present. 

Once a gritty and busy dockside district which hummed with the commerce of the British Empire, this corner of the Welsh capital now been transformed into a district of restaurants and extensive public spaces.

Ffresh itself is situated within the Millennium Centre, an imposing performing arts hub adorned with a vast legend in Welsh and English: "In these stones horizons sing." For viewers of the BBC TV series Doctor Who or Torchwood, it's a readily recognisable backdrop for the many episodes set in the city.

Factor in the restaurant's view towards Roald Dahl Plass, a square with a Norwegian placename recognising the Nordic heritage of the famous Welsh writer, and Cardiff seems more complex than I had expected.

As is its dining. Our waiter turns out to be from Quebec, and he tells us the restaurant's style is basically French but using plenty of locally sourced ingredients. 

Guided by his suggestions, for entree I choose a courgette and tomato tart glazed with Perl Wen ($10), a brie-like Welsh cheese whose name means white pearl. It has a citrus tang and adds bite to the dish.

It's followed by rump of lamb with minted new potato cake and runner beans ($30). Lamb is the meat to choose in Wales, so I'm told, and this pan-fried example is tender and tasty.

Advertisement

Narrelle has the duck and green peppercorn rillettes ($10) followed by pan-fried sewin with sautéed potatoes, samphire and shrimp butter ($28.50). Sewin is the Welsh name for sea trout, and it's served pan-fried, with a rich buttery flavour.

We end the meal with a platter of Welsh cheeses ($14), including Y Fenni. This borrows the Welsh name for the town of Abergavenny, and is a rich cheddar suffused with mustard seeds and ale. It's utterly delicious, and instantly my new favourite cheese.

Our next experience with modern Welsh dining is at lunchtime the following day in Cardiff's city centre, a pleasant walkable area with an old-school covered market and Victorian shopping arcades.

The venue is The Potted Pig, which opened in 2011 in an ex-bank vault. The space still has something of a functional feel, with exposed brick walls and simple timber tables beneath brick arches. It's a friendly, informal space, and the restaurant describes itself as serving modern British food with an emphasis on produce from local suppliers.

This is where my Welsh rarebit comes in, though it's a few steps up from the classic cheesy pub snack. This is a truffled Welsh rarebit ($9), super-tangy and delicious with a dash of Worcestershire sauce. It's followed by an excellent 28-day aged Abergavenny sirloin steak with a green sauce involving parsley, basil, mint and capers ($40.50).

Narrelle satisfies her curiosity about laverbread, a Welsh foodstuff made from boiled seaweed. Served with cockles and bacon on toast, it's a robustly flavoured starter. The main, a tasty pan-fried mackerel, arrives with peas on a bed of lettuce. Her entire meal is a steal, coming as it does from the separate "Two courses for ($22)" lunch menu. 

My elderflower panna cotta with summer fruits ($11) is an impressive dessert; though topped by Narrelle's "Rum 'n' ting": lime and mascarpone ice cream, ginger, biscuits and a shot of rum ($11).

Our final excursion into modern Welsh cuisine is the most localised. The Fig Tree, a restaurant perched above the Bristol Channel at Penarth, tries to source all its food from within a 48-kilometre radius of the restaurant. 

We're looking forward to a meal with a water view, and there's a sense of adventure to boarding a train at Cardiff Central for the short trip south of Cardiff Bay. After a pleasant walk downhill through Edwardian-era Alexandra Park, we emerge by the historic Penarth Pier with its attractive pavilion.

The Fig Tree is housed within another survivor of the past, a former Victorian beach shelter which has the air of a restored boathouse with its elegant wrought-iron railings. The waterfront here must be bustling at the height of summer, but on this drizzly evening it's relatively quiet, the channel grey and England only vaguely visible across the water.

The food, however, makes up for the weather. I start with a delicious Welsh ham hock terrine ($11), made from Carmarthenshire pork pressed with parsley, and served with house-made piccalilli. It's followed by hake ($31), a superior piece of fish served with capers, new potatoes and marsh samphire, a coastal plant which was mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear.

Narrelle has the fig and Perl Las tart ($11), a creamy and sweet combination, with a shoulder of lamb ($33) for main course. Slow-cooked, it's tender, rich and flavoursome.

For once, we can't imagine fitting in a dessert. But as we wait for a taxi with the Bristol Channel at high tide in front of us, water almost sloshing over the embankment, we're taking away a new respect for Welsh food. 

Tim Richards was hosted by Visit Britain and Visit Wales.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

visitwales.com

GETTING THERE

Qantas flies from Sydney and Melbourne to London. Cardiff is a two-hour train journey from London Paddington. See qantas.com.au; thetrainline.com.

STAYING THERE

Radisson Blu Hotel, Bute Tce, Cardiff, is a modern hotel on the edge of the city centre, an easy walk from the main train station. Rooms from $140 a night. See radissonblu.co.uk.

DINING THERE

Ffresh, Wales Millennium Centre, Bute Place, Cardiff,  see wmc.org.uk; The Potted Pig, 27 High Street, Cardiff, see thepottedpig.com; The Fig Tree, The Esplanade, Penarth, see thefigtreepenarth.co.uk.

Comments