Ready Player One: Kong’s Cardiff

Cardiff’s food and drink scene just got a power-up from another Bristolian import – but is it any good?

It’s on like Donkey Kong… 

We didn’t have much money when I was a kid. My parents, who are amazing, supportive people with massive hearts, scrimped and saved as much as they could to spoil me every Christmas and I didn’t want for much, but there were always a few things that were never going to appear under the tree.

That Optimus Prime I asked Santa for never did turn up, and while all the other kids were running around with psychedelic blue hedgehogs or blowing up the Middle East on their Sega Mega Drives, I was typing in line after line of code on my antiquated Commodore 64 to make a red ball bounce up and down for a few seconds.

Can’t imagine why it took me so long to get a girlfriend… (picture borrowed from Lemon64.com)

Then, one Christmas – ’93 or maybe ’94 – I unwrapped a SNES, my first ever games console. Most of the other kids were already hoarding their pocket money for a new Playstation, but I couldn’t have cared less – I was over the moon with my little two-tone grey box of fun.

Streetfighter 2, a game where a diverse cast of moderately culturally insensitive characters beat seven shades of pixelated crap out of each other in exotic locales, soon became my favourite. Before Christmas Day was out I had mastered my favourite character – the mighty fireball hurling martial arts master Ken.

Quite why the makers of Streetfighter 2 chose to give their superhuman karate expert a name more fitting for a recently retired roofer from Pontyclun escapes me, but either way, I was soon dragon punching friends and family into next week.

Ryu is extremely unhappy with Ken’s quote for the dojo roof.

Now, thanks to Kong’s Cardiff I can recreate the excitement of that Christmas morning with the added bonus of getting pissed at the same time without my parents getting in trouble with social services.

Kong’s is the latest in a series of venues making the jump across the Severn (see Society Standard, Small Bar). Their business model is pretty simple – chuck craft beer, burgers and retro arcade games in a blender and see what happens.

Bloody Bristolians, coming over here, invading our space…

Given the hipster-friendly concept, it looks exactly as you’d expect inside – after passing under a huge pixelated neon Kong’s sign, you find yourself in a suitably post-industrial main bar space lined with glowing arcade cabinets. Think Tron, only set in Shoreditch instead of The Grid.

The booze selection isn’t up there with the likes of Small Bar or Brewdog but it’s certainly respectable – Beavertown and Wiper and True are particularly well represented, and there’s a good few Tiny Rebel brews lining the fridges.

“Half an elephant doing a handstand and a bag of scampi fries please fella”

From a gaming point of view all the usual suspects are present and correct – Double Dragon, Outrun and Streetfighter 2 all take pride of place, plus Mortal Kombat in case you’re in the mood to messily eviscerate your friends and loved ones. There’s even ping pong if you enjoy that ‘physical activity’ nonsense.

Games are a quid per go, which, to be honest, feels about 50p too much – can’t help thinking some kind of token system would work better and cut down on faffing about looking for change, but hey-ho, it obviously works for them in Bristol.

Not pictured: desperately bashing all the buttons while trying to remember how to do that thing where you rip someone’s spine out with your bare hands.

But as much fun as the games are, the food is the real standout.

As a nerdy 12 year old, the playground banter over Sega vs Nintendo regularly escalated to physical violence, and people are much the same when it comes to their burger affiliation. Telling a Got Beef aficionado that you’ve been chowing down at the Grazing Shed or Time and Beef will guarantee a swift exit from their Christmas card list. But be prepared for a major shake up to the ‘Diff’s burger status quo – Burger Theory has landed.

All your burgers are belong to us…

As well as frequenting a host of festivals across the UK, Burger Theory are also the resident pop-up at the original Kong’s on Bristol’s King Street, and have followed their hosts to sunny Cardiff.

I know what you’re thinking – ‘oh great, another sodding burger place’ – but these really are quite special. BT bill themselves as ‘the creative burger people’, so as you might expect their menu is suitably inventive, with 17 different sandwiches on offer including the Christmas specials.

I’d normally raise an eyebrow at a menu that extensive, but the three burgers I tried (it was an elasticated waistband kind of night ok?!) were utterly faultless.

The first, with (I think) bacon, jalapeno and spicy mayo, was the real stand out. So often when a burger place tries to pack too many different things into a bun you’re left with a soggy mush that’s somehow less than the sum of its parts – not so here.

Contrary to this photograph, I do have opposable thumbs.

You can taste every damn thing in there – the first hit of surprisingly sweet, smoky, crisp bacon blanketed in thick gooey cheese; the heat of the jalapeno cutting through the deep savoury meatiness of the beef; the creamy yet tangy sauce.

Add to that the fact that it’s juicy to the point where you’ll wish you’d packed a spare pair of jeans, and you’ve got a pretty spectacular burger. Bonus points for the sturdy yet soft buns too – no danger of the sudden catastrophic collapse that’s ruined many a good burger.

I also managed to nab tasters of one of their fried chicken burgers (moist, tender chicken, lovely crisp batter) and a more traditional old-school cheeseburger that packed a hefty punch of onion and the result was pretty much the same; bliss in burger form.

Burger Theory’s version of a KFC makes the Colonel look more like a Corporal.

Their menu is strikingly veggie friendly for a burger place too – there are no less than four different options for herbivores, all based on either tofu or halloumi. I didn’t get to try one of these myself, but renowned carnivore and Cardiff food blogging don The Plate Licked Clean raved about the one he tried.

A lot of folks are going to be rethinking their burger allegiances over the next few months.

In short, Kong’s is the youth club of your fifteen year old dreams, and I very much mean that as a compliment. Instead of soggy microwaved pasties, warm orange squash and staff who were unlikely to pass a criminal record check, you’ve got a solid craft beer selection, some of the best burgers in town and a bunch of classic games to beat up your friends on. What’s not to like?

Does beer, burgers and gaming sound like a killer combo or is Kong’s a donkey? Let me know in the comments below, over on Twitter at @fuudblog or by pressing up, down, left, right, A, B and start…

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