With the almost monthly opening of new cocktail bars on High Street Cardiff, it was a welcome addition to have the Head of Steam bar opening up next door to Beelzebubs on Church street this week.
There’s lots of change going on down that neck of the woods in the city centre, with a lot more planned with the redevelopment of the old pound stretchers and the adjoining vacant buildings on Church street too.
Head of Steam has taken over from the recently vacated Harvester restaurant and will be the companies 16th venue in the UK. I was asked to pop along to the soft launch last night to sample some of the 150+ beers and food on offer.
I’ve passed the venue twice a day on the way to work since they’ve been giving the place an overhaul. The bar now covers two floors, instead of just the ground floor that Harvester was limited to.
The ground floor features a central bar with a mixture of movable tables and chairs and also booths to choose from. Large flat screen TV’s nestled around the wall’s rotate through the endless list of beers available.
Upstairs is reserved for mainly food, with no bar and table service. Theme throughout the venue is meandering towards the locomotive industry, hence the brand name “Head of Steam”. There’s references throughout to local railway trivia, but not too in your face.
As mentioned there’s over 150 beers available on draught, bottles and cans. You’ve got your standard pub offerings for those who aren’t too fussy about craft. There’s a couple of local beers from Cardiff favourites Pipes Brewery, then there’s Magic Rock and Beavertown, which I had the 6.7% Lupoloid that was very tasty.
They have a heavy focus on Belgian beers too, which is something i’m not too well versed with, so that should be something new to work through too for me.
I was quite impressed with their gin collection too. I counted 45+ that were in plain sight. Some of the regulars you would find in most bars like your Whitley Neil and Bathtub, then a fav of mine Scapegrace at the more premium end. There were a few new one’s I hadn’t tried too such as the Manchester Gin.
Around the other side of the bar were the darker spirits like rum and whisky. A few firm Scottish favourites such a Ardbeg and to my delight a few Japanese ones too from Nikka and Suntory. I’ve tried quite a few of the Nikka range so I’m trying to work my way through the Suntory. They had the new Hibiki blended Harmony, which I haven’t tried since the aged 12 and 17 year expressions have dried up. I opted for the Suntory Yamakazi this time though, as i’ve seen it about, but not tried it before.
I think their selection of cider was the weakest link in the chain to be honest. The only true apple cider they had was on tap and that was Symonds but the rest were all fruit varieties, which I find way too sweet. They had Rekordelig on tap, a cola cider, which I did have a taster of but found it just tasted like cola and not much in the way of cider. I’d have struggled with more than a half. They you had some bottled fruit options such as rhubarb, mango and a strawberry one at around 4% so you can take a guess as to how sweet they were.
There’s plenty of good cider makers around in South Wales, so I’d recommend having at least one alternative to Symonds considering they have such a vast selection of beers but the rest of the ciders, I’d class as alcopops due to the lower abv and gut rot sweetness. Beezlebubs next door have around 6 draught ciders including Llantwit Fardre’s Gwynt y Ddraig.
The food menu is split into two, with around 14 starters or tapas options either priced individually or 3 for £12, with the option to upgrade to a tasting flight with 3 x 1/3 beers for £15, which I thought was a nice touch.
We opted to go for 6 of the tapas options between the 3 of us with a side of fries too. Not knowing what the portion size was going to be like, we had all intentions of having a main after it but we had eyes bigger than our bellies. I think if there had been 4 of us to share the plates as in one set of 3 for each, that sounded more doable.
We opted for:
- Red pepper hummus with garlic corriander naan
- King prawn tortilla
- Sweet paprika chorizos in honey glaze
- Japanese inspired squid with salt and pepper coating and teriyaki dip
- Hot and spicy wings with chiptole mayo
We did ask for deep fried whitebait but got a second helping of the squid, sweet potato fries and go these plus standard fries and both flavours of the wings so there was a little mix up with the order. It was the opening night / soft launch and we were invited there for complimentary food so I wasn’t going to kick up a fuss.
I thought the food was of decent quality and there was nothing that arrived that I didn’t enjoy. The small plates are just £4 each so i’m not expecting michelin star quality here but what you do get was lovely. Proper beer food and I liked that they suggested a paired beer with each plate or for those opting for the beer flight with it just as I did.
The problem was, we had about 8 plates and 6 beers, so I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to be drinking with what. It was only a suggestion though and I just had a taste of everything with everything. I loved the mini chorizo sausages in the honey glaze though, they were lush and the cherry beer that came with the flight.
Having had an extra few dishes by surprise, main courses were off the question. We did decide to have a sharing plate of the pulled salt beef nachos for the table to pick on though. The tortillas were pilled high, with a lovely rich and smokey beef topping with melted cheese. The dips came in a big bowl rather than making the chips soggy, which was a nice change. No complaints for the nachos, and again, perfect beer food.
If we had gone for mains, there were choices of beef and coconut curry, sirloin steak and chips, Moroccan Harrisa salmon, pie and mash, a decent selection of mammoth sounding burgers or hotdogs. Price wise, i thought these were reasonable too, with mains around the £11 mark apart from the steak, which will set you back £16.95.
We went for a sharing board of 3 desserts to finish up, which consisted of chocolate brownie and ice cream, sticky toffee pudding and waffles with berries and ice cream. At £10 for all three, I thought they were a bargain.
They aren’t trying to be something they are not, in terms of food and offer good, hearty food for a very reasonable price. With starters or tapas at 3 for £12, mains around £11 and £3.33 for a dessert if you went for all 3.
There’s a lack of places in town for a reasonably priced, good bit of grub with some decent beers to go with them. I can definitely see myself coming back, especially as they are dog friendly too. This is downstairs only mind and they have a couple of chairs and tables outside, so I’d probably park myself outside with the mutt, with a beer and couple of small plates on our rounds around town on the weekend.