How to spend a culinary weekend in Cardiff, Wales

From its signature beef pies to vegan dishes and Spanish specialities, the Welsh capital is a dynamic dining destination that never stands still.

By Ross Clarke
Published 21 Sept 2021, 12:22 BST
St Mary Street, Cardiff.

St Mary Street, Cardiff.

Photograph by Getty Images

Once one of the world’s busiest port towns, Cardiff has transformed itself into a vibrant, cultural hub — a young capital with a youthful energy, palpable on the streets and in bars and restaurants. During its industrial heyday, it attracted people from across the world, who brought with them an array of international culinary traditions. The result is a diverse dining scene; walk down busy City Road and you’ll find Syrian, Moroccan, Lebanese, Polish and Chinese restaurants standing shoulder to shoulder. Over the past 20 years, the city has seen plenty of changes, not least around its docks, which have been transformed into Cardiff Bay — a good starting point for food-lovers. And while larger chain restaurants once dominated the centre, more and more independents are popping up, offering everything from homemade pizza and custard tarts to stand-out coffee and stellar vegan options, changing the face of the city’s dining scene and making Cardiff a true gourmet hotspot.

Day one: Pontcanna

Pontcannahas the feel of a village, thanks to its narrow streets, pretty houses and selection of independent and family-run business. Start the day with a visit to Brød. This Danish bakery offers freshly baked goods with a side of hygge — think stone walls, a cosy, gently lit interior and a nice welcome. Grab a flat white and a creme snegl — a doughy swirl filled with custard, topped with chocolate icing — plus a Holger Danske (sourdough white rye loaf) for later.

Suitably fuelled, spend some time exploring the area’s quirky shops, such as Beti Biggs for vintage furniture and curious gifts or Al Ponte Deli for artisan food. And, if you’re here on a Saturday, visit Pontcanna Market for homemade preserves, Welsh charcuterie and Keralan Street Food.

Lunchtime (or ‘dinnertime’, as it’s known in South Wales) is best spent at Milkwood — a cafe-bistro serving simple, flavourful plates using great Welsh produce. Try the smoked haddock, poached egg, wilted spinach and mustard sauce, or perhaps bacon, cockles and laverbread on toast, for a true taste of Wales.

Tommy Heaney plating up in the kitchen.

Photograph by Getty Images

After lunch, take a stroll around Llandaff Fields park or back along Llandaff Road, the border between Pontcanna and neighbouring Canton — another great area to explore. Stop at Chapter Arts Centre, on the Canton side of the road, for exhibitions or an indie film matinee.

Cardiff is known for its nightlife, and as the sun sets, enjoy a locally brewed beer at the city’s first micropub, St Canna’s Ale House, which is both super-informal and the size of a living room. It might be a bit of a squeeze, but the regularly changing draughts and bottles are worth it, and there’s often live music.

Dinner means choosing between two Toms. Chef Tommy Heaney’s tasting menu at Heaneys features innovative dishes made with Welsh ingredients, such as Wye Valley asparagus, smoked cod’s roe and game broth. Meanwhile, round the corner, at Thomas, chef Tom Simmons gives local produce an international twist, creating dishes such as St Brides Bay crab tartlet with sweetcorn, curry and coriander.

Day two: Castle Quarter

This little corner of Cardiff city centre has emerged as a dining destination in recent years, with a mix of hip bars, first-rate small-plate restaurants and boutique grocers.

On the corner of Castle Arcade — one of the capital’s many Victorian covered streets — you’ll find Coffee Barker. Formally a men’s clothing shop, this Parisian-feel cafe is the place to order an expertly brewed coffee and a slice of chunky toast with jam and watch the city come to life. With tables lining the arcade, you can still sit ‘outside’ even if Cardiff’s inclement weather decides to put in an appearance.

A Victorian manor, a Norman keep and Second World War air raid tunnels are contained within Cardiff Castle; the city's top attraction.

Photograph by Getty Images

Next, check out one of the city’s top attractions: Cardiff Castle. Contained within imposing Romanesque walls are a splendid Victorian manor, a Norman keep and Second World War air raid tunnels that could shelter up to 2,000 people. Don’t miss the Animal Wall, designed in 1866 by architect William Burges and featuring 15 carved stone figures, including a hyena, lynx, pelican and vulture.

Head to Quay Street for lunch at La Pantera. Launched in 2020 by a group of friends eager to bring tacos and mezcal to the denizens of Cardiff, the brightly coloured, delightfully informal restaurant has a continuously changing menu of ‘unauthentic tacos’, with fillings such as sea bass, fried chicken, braised lamb belly and bubble and squeak.

Walk off lunch around The Castle Emporium, on nearby Womanby Street. This hub of indie shops sells everything from plants to art and skateboards to zines. If you fancy an afternoon pick-me-up, sidle over to Nata & Co for Portuguese custard tarts, or swing by Cardiff’s indoor market for Welsh cakes, hot from the bakestone.

If that puts you in the mood for booze, visit Pennyroyal, where the cocktails are as eclectic as the decor is dimly lit and mysterious. For dark and bitter flavours, try a coffee batanga; it’s laced with the three Cs — coffee, Campari and cola — among other things.

For dinner, head around the corner to Spanish grill and bar Asador 44. Lauded by the likes of Tom Parker Bowles, it serves leg of Castillian milk-fed lamb and salt-aged Welsh flat iron steak, masterfully cooked over a charcoal grill and accompanied by wine or sherry from an impressive list.

Three of the best places for coffee in Cardiff

1. Hard Lines
This small-batch coffee roastery only uses sustainably sourced beans to make its blends, and its cafe in Canton is inspired by the classic Welsh-Italian cafes in the Valleys; expect great hospitality, sizeable portions and leatherette booths. Don’t miss the tacos, banana bread or cool, branded merch. 

2. Lufkin Coffee Roasters
Rather than relying on automation, the team at Lufkin trust their instincts to know when their coffee is toasted to perfection. You can buy 250g bags of single-origin roasts from Brazil, Peru, Ethiopia and Uganda online or in their coffee shops in Grangetown, Canton and Pontcanna. 

3. Quantum Coffee Roasters
This family-run roastery/coffee shop in Cardiff Bay uses ethically sourced beans for its roasts, which you can receive via a weekly or monthly subscription. Alternatively, pick up a bag of their signature blend, Tiger Bay, at the café. While you’re there, try a cup of silky-smooth ‘nitro cold brew’. 

Castle Arcade — one of the Cardiff's many Victorian covered streets.

Photograph by Getty Images

Vegan and vegetarian food in Cardiff

Vegans and vegetarians are well catered to in Cardiff. The city has plenty of exclusively plant-based places, as well as meat-free menu options elsewhere, with more cropping up all the time.

On Albany Road, in the Roath area, you’ll find Anna Loka (meaning ‘food planet’ in Sanskrit). Founded by Adam El Tagoury, a Hare Krishna monk, it serves 100% vegan food, including hot dogs, burgers and doner wraps. If the weather’s fine, try to snag a seat in the garden.

Meanwhile, in Pontcanna, family-run The Lazy Leek serves up excellently named dishes, such as Finding Nori (a beer-battered ‘tofish’ burger) from a tiny takeaway shack.

Alternatively, at Blanche Bakery, in the popular Cathays neighbourhood, you can grab a box of extremely photogenic, small-batch donuts or made-to-order vegan cupcakes and pastries to go, or sit in with an oat-milk flat white and a KFT (Korean fried tofu) sandwich.

After something a little fresher? Head over to The Greenery, at Cardiff Market, for the Thai Bowl, comprising lemon grass sesame tofu, steamed broccoli, spicy slaw and toasted coconut brown rice. Alternatively, pop down to Herbivore, at Eartha, on City Road. This lush jungle of a shop/cafe works with local makers and growers. Try the black olive doughnuts and white bean-and-sage bruschetta in its garden or yurt.

Elsewhere, Madhav, in the Riverside neighbourhood, has become something of a local institution — a no-nonsense Indian street food cafe and supermarket, where everything on the menu is vegetarian, from masala dosa to spicy biryani.

Five of the best food experiences in Cardiff

1. Eat the perfect pizza
At The Dough Thrower, the dough is made using flour from Naples, Himalayan salt, picual olive oil from Spain and honey. It’s one of several topnotch pizza spots in Cardiff, alongside the likes of Dusty Knuckle and Ffwrnes Pizza. 

2. Take a food tour
The Cardiff Tasting Tour, run by Loving Welsh Food, combines sightseeing and history with stops for cheese, cawl, cider and more. 

3. Try a Clarkie
Officially known as the Clark’s pie, this beef-and-potato pie is famous for its sturdy shortcrust pastry. Available city-wide, but worth trying at the sole-surviving Clark’s pie shop, in Grangetown.

4. Go Spanish
Cardiff’s stand-out Spanish bars and restaurants include tapas joints Bar 44 Cardiff, Santiago’s Tapas and Curado Bar, plus Vermut (a stylish vermouth and sherry bar).

5. Shake things up
Speakeasy-style bars are big in Cardiff. The Dead Canary, in the centre, serves potent concoctions in quirky surrounds, while at The Alchemist, try its augmented reality experience — sure to trick your eyes and taste buds.

More information

Find My Dine is a Cardiff-based listings site that features everything from food stalls to Michelin-starred restaurants and dining events around Wales.

Gourmet Gorro is a blog run by self-confessed glutton Ed Gilbert, whose food reviews are mainly Cardiff-focused, covering everything from chip shops to chop houses. 

Hungry City Hippy is the award-winning blog of Jane Cook, who shares tips on Cardiff’s food scene, with an emphasis on sustainability and nature. 

Cardiff Brunch is an Instagram account with enticing images, showcasing the best bites in Cardiff.

Published in the Wales guide 2021, distributed with National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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