Dear Jay Rayner: A letter from Cardiff

Jay Rayner doesn’t think Cardiff’s got much to offer when it comes to food. Is he right? 

There's no dish that can't be improved by the liberal application of bacon (especially when it's from Charcutier Ltd.)
Some Cardiff food. Being Ace (Dusty Knuckle if you’re wondering).

Dear Mr Rayner,

You’re a cracking food writer. Along with Giles Coren you’re one of only a few that I like to read. You really know your stuff, and you can crack a funny with the best of them. The fact that you look a bit like a time-displaced musketeer is also a bonus.

But (there’s always a ‘but’ after the nice bit isn’t there?) I think you’ve been a teensy bit disingenuous with your latest article about Cardiff. I’m happy that you enjoyed The Classroom though, and I’ll have to check it out.

Lots of us were a bit miffed to hear you talking down our fair city. It’s not that we can’t take criticism – we moan about Cardiff plenty ourselves. Given the Welsh weather complaining is a bit of a survival mechanism round here, and for the love of god don’t get us on to the subject of parking. Also, remember bingate? Christ.

And some more, from Porro this time.
And some more, from Porro in Llandaff this time.

Anyway, as a Cardiffian who loves his grub, I’m happy to admit we’ve got some flaws in our food scene. We have a real problem with boring chains – they’re popping up every five minutes in the city centre and the bay like angry zits. There’s also an appalling number of awful fast food places selling grotty looking mystery-meat kebabs – and not the ‘interesting’ kind you’ll find on any must-eat lists.

You’re also bang on about the seagulls. God I hate those noisy little feathery sods.

But you’re dead wrong in saying there’s no good food here. Part of the problem is the criteria you’re judging our hometown by. It certainly reads like “there wasn’t a swanky restaurant open late on a weeknight next to my hotel so there’s no good food here” to me.

It’s not that I don’t get where you’re coming from. A long time ago I used to be in a band. We were, I’m sure the others won’t mind me saying, pretty dreadful. But I do know what it’s like trying to find something decent to eat when you’re gigging.

Weirdly I was much thinner when I only ate things made by Ginsters.
Ah, those were the days. Weirdly I was much thinner when I only ate things made by Ginsters.

You’ve generally not got time for anything more inspiring than a soggy petrol station pasty, what with running back and forth for soundchecks etc. It can get grim. I once ate a kebab in Haverfordwest that I’m fairly sure was made from either horsemeat or human.

But the thing is, I didn’t feel the need to write a snarky 500 word review for the Guardian saying how crap Haverfordwest’s food scene is based on one dodgy kebab from the only shop I could find within five minutes of my gig venue. And I certainly didn’t get all huffy when the people there got a bit annoyed with me for doing it.

Forgive me if I don’t feel left out as I stuff my face at Hangfire’s Cardiff pop-ups…

I think maybe what you’re getting at is that there aren’t many ‘high end’ restaurants around here, rather than there’s no good food. That’s true enough – though there are a handful.

But the thing is, I don’t think we actually need very many of those.

We’re not a city of bankers, financial experts and Russian oligarchs (though we do have a Malaysian one knocking around). We’re a city of postmen, admin assistants, plumbers and librarians. Most of us don’t have a spare couple of ton to drop on Thursday night’s tea. There’s the odd Beeb exec and Assembly Member with a few quid for sure, but we’re hardly lousy with billionaires.

In Cardiff we tend to reserve posh meals for special occasions. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations – not days that end in a ‘y’. There just wouldn’t be much of a market for it.

So instead, we do our own thing, and we do it really bloody well. We’ve got fantastic food here – you just don’t have to wear a suit to eat it. We’re ace at affordable, quality grub. And I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with that.

Another little stunner from Little Bao Peep.
One of Little Bao Peep’s banging buns.

Cardiff is a pocket battleship, a featherweight champion. I’ve been told by numerous Londoners how great our streetfood scene is. You can pick up produce in our markets that wouldn’t be out of place at the high-falutin’ London restaurants you’re more accustomed to. Our pizza is some of the best in the UK too – just ask the Sunday Times.

Cardiff’s beer is brill as well – Crafty Devil‘s Not So Safe As Milk was genuinely one of the best tipples on offer at Cardiff Brewfest this year, even when stacked up against big names like Beavertown and Siren.

You wouldn’t get Chai Street‘s finest at a Michelin Star place. Still bloody great though.

So this is my proposal Jay; come down to Cardiff for the weekend, not just for a few hours on the way to the next gig.

We’ll head over to Crafty Devil’s Cellar or Pipes for a few jars, and then check out some of the stalls at Streetfood Circus. If we get there early Hangfire will still have some ribs left, and we can get Science Cream for afters.

We’ve just done out the spare room so we’ll pull out the sofabed and you can kip over.

We’ll check out Bully’s on the Saturday after breakfast pastries from Brød, then trough an epic Sunday lunch at Arbennig before popping by Riverside Market for some munchies on the way to get your train back to the big smoke.

I’ll even buy you a bacon double cheeseburger if you ask nicely.

Jay and anyone else who’s interested can let me know what they think in the comments or on Twitter at @fuudblog


  1. I’m a little guilty of concluding Cardiff’s not got much to offer either, so happy to read your entertaining blog, and get some pointers. Inspiring stuff!

    1. I think that’s the most flattering thing you could possibly say about this post. Thanks so much

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *