Legends in their own lunchtime: Cardiff’s hidden lunch gems

 Life’s too short to eat Al-Desko. Grab your coat, we’re going out for lunch. 

I... I might have licked my screen a bit just then. Sorry.
The Masala Dosa from Gina’s Cafe. You’re drooling, you know.

Weekday lunches can be a right royal pain in the arse can’t they? Instead of lunchtime being a little oasis of happiness in the workday slog, it so often ends up being a joyless compromise.

Let’s face it, your homemade sandwiches are rubbish, mainly because you had to assemble them with one eye open at 7:25am while ironing that shirt you were meant to do last night with the other hand.

You could take in your leftovers from last night and reheat them, but then you’ll end up stuck behind that guy who insists on baking a sweet potato the size of a baby in the microwave for twenty minutes EVERY SINGLE DAY (true story). Oh – and if you dare to bring in anything remotely spicy, be prepared to incur the passive aggressive ire of the office grump/borderline racist who doesn’t like ‘foreign food’.

There’s only one way to actually enjoy lunch at work – don’t. You’ve got to escape the office/factory/shop/whatever. Thankfully Cardiff has a ton of less ordinary lunch options, but given the human brain’s propensity towards failure when confronted with too much choice, you’d be forgiven for just going to Greggs and choking down a soggy Tuna Crunch.

Which is why, in a staggering act of public spiritedness, I’ve been munching my way around some of The ‘Diff’s more interesting lunch spots. Is that a listicle I smell?! Here are four places you should be eating lunch in Cardiff.

1. Gina’s Cafe, High Street

A dosa - essentially what would happen if Pancake Day and your favourite curry house had a baby.
Apologies if you’re crying into your cup-a-soup after realising that you could have had one of these instead.

Gina’s Cafe is a tiny little South Asian/Arabic eatery just opposite Cardiff Castle. It’s apparently been cursed with invisibility by a vengeful sorcerer – I’ve literally never heard anyone mention it, which is bizarre given that you can get a banging streetfood-style feed for well under a fiver. The staff are super-friendly, and happy to explain the menu to chumps like me who have no idea what to order too.

But don’t worry about the rest of the menu, you want a Masala Dosa. It’s basically what would happen if your favourite Indian takeaway and Pancake Day had a baby – spicy potato cooked with curry leaves and mustard seeds wrapped in a crisp, golden pancake shell. That’d be enough on its own, but the dipping pots of homemade tomato chutney and dhal really take it up a notch.

For best results wash it down with some Chai Karak – the house special Indian tea is as strong and sweet as the Incredible Hulk stroking a kitten. With a bit of luck it’ll stop you falling asleep in your 2pm meeting.

2. Nata & Co Portuguese Bakery, Castle Street

Nata and Co - single handedly rebuilding Wales relationship with Portugal
Nata & Co –  making up for Ronaldo one pastry at a time.

It’s fair to say that Wales and Portugal have had a complex relationship over the last few weeks.

First we Brexit all over the place, then Ronaldo takes his bid to become the least likeable sportsman in history to the next level by bringing Wales’ Cool Runnings-esque Euro 2016 adventure to a heartbreaking conclusion.

Thankfully, Nata & Co have been doing their best to generally keep up international relations while giving us Taffs a little taste of Portugal.

While they’re arguably more focused on knocking out spectacular looking loaves, sweet pastries and their famous custard tarts, you can definitely grab a decent lunch here too. The soup and sandwich lunchtime combo comes highly recommended, though I’ve not tried it myself yet – I prefer to save hot soup for cold rainy days. Like the ones we have in August.

Not your Grandad's rissoles (really glad autocorrect didn't mangle that)
Not your Grandad’s rissoles (really glad autocorrect didn’t mangle that).

I have tried the rissole though – if you’re Welsh then you’re probably having flashbacks to those cricket balls of deep fried mystery meat your Grandad used to get from the chippy. If you’re not Welsh, you’re probably wondering what the hell a rissole is.

I don’t have time to get into that now, but suffice to say the Latin version is a damn sight more tasty, swapping over-salted corned beef for perfectly seasoned minced meat and what was either a splodge of potato or polenta (I scoffed it a bit too quick for further inspection). For the carnivorously challenged they do a mean savoury spinach muffin too. It’s almost enough to make up for that header.

Almost.

3. Thai Asian Delish, Cardiff Market

If they'd left out either 'Thai' or 'Asian' they could have spelled delicious properly.
If they’d left out either ‘Thai’ or ‘Asian’ they could have spelled delicious properly. Just saying.

Yep, Cardiff Market is pretty much the last place I’d think to visit for Thai food too. The wonkily-named Thai Asian Delish doesn’t look like much (the font on their menu made my eyes bleed) but they knock out a killer pad Thai for less than a fiver.

Word has it that lots of local Thai folks are fans, and I can see why – that sauce is the proverbial bomb. Cleverer people than me have failed to describe exactly what tamarind tastes like. It bounces around your palate like one of those bouncy balls you had when you were a kid – hot, sweet, sour, a bit umami – but suffice to say it’ll make your mouth happy.

There’s a generous helping of juicy chicken breast and spring onion along for the ride too, and a sprinkling of crushed peanuts on the top adds a bit of texture.

Best enjoyed perched on a wall outside the market praying you don't end up with noodles down your white shirt.
Best enjoyed perched on a wall outside the market praying you don’t end up with noodles down your white shirt.

It’s not quite as fancy-pants as the pad Thai you’d get in a restaurant, but the flavours are all there and it’s cooked fresh in front of you in a third of the time you’d wait for it in Wagamamas – and for about half the price.

Be warned though – it’s a serious feed, and not to be attempted if your job will require you to move within an hour of having lunch. Maybe not one for members of the emergency services.

4. Bomber’s Sandwich House, Guildhall Place

If this blogging stuff doesn't pan out I might consider a future in hand modelling.
If this blogging stuff doesn’t pan out I might consider a future in hand modelling.

For all the exciting, exotic lunch options on our doorstep, there are those days when you just need the big bready hug that only the Great British Sarnie can provide.

That’s where Bombers Sandwich House comes in. Once again, if you’re looking for a hearty portion (hehe), you’ve come to the right place; their Big Boy rolls are so massive they have their own gravitational field. I’d go for the more sensibly proportioned Inbetweener unless you’re sharing, or have just been rescued after six months on a desert island.

The menu changes constantly, but hot and spicy chicken is where it’s really at here – there’s usually two or three kinds on offer including jerk, sriracha or the house special ‘perkbomb’ made with ghost chillis.

It’s all cooked in-house – time it right and it’ll still be sizzling as they load up your sofa-cushion sized super-bap. Light years away from the beige blandness of soggy supermarket sarnies.

Do you have a hunch on a good place to munch lunch during the working week? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @fuudblog – oh, and remember to vote for me in the #TDCawards! That’d be tidy.

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