I was a big fan of last year’s inaugural Street Food Circus pop up in Cardiff city centre and when I heard rumours of an even bigger shindig at Sophia Garden’s I was even more excited. I’d been to a few food fests this year or festivals with a bit a food section but I was missing the street food scene as I’d not even visited Depot this year yet.
The Street Food Circus 2016 residency that at Sophia Garden’s kicked off on Thursday 18th August and is parking it’s ass there till 25th September right next to the new (ridiculously situated!) National Express station and a short walk from Cardiff Castle.
I wasn’t planning on attending the opening weekend as I had a calendar full of events that weekend but had my arm twisted to pop down for some hangover food on the Sunday. I wasn’t quite feeling it but thought the fresh air and stodge might shake some life into me so didn’t have to be asked twice.
The weather was a bit crap to be honest and nearly put my welly’s on had it not been a good half hour walk from my current location so that on top of the pneumatic drill going off full pelt in my head didn’t put me in the best moods there but i soldiered on scouting out the stalls when i first got there. There were a few familiar faces and instantly realised Hangfire Smokehouse weren’t in attendance and learned they will only be attending Friday and Saturday’s for the duration of the Street Food Circus residency.
I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted and nothing was really jumping out at me not even my festival staple wood fired pizza as none of golden, crisped dough toppings were whafting their tantalising scents in my direction in fact they sounded a bit boring.
It then started to rain and found a bit of shelter in the Asian section called Singha Street in the top left hand corner and it’s there were started to explore what was on offer as they sounded a bit more appealing.
Tukka Tuk by Purple Popadom
Kerala spiced fried chicken, fries and thousand island sauce – £8
If the crowds were anything to go by this was the sheer winner in the popularity stakes and it wasn’t hard to see why as the menu sounded awesome. Just what I needed a bit of fried chicken with a decent whack of spice to give the perfect crunch, fries coated in indian spices and a huge dollop of homemade thousand island, which I wiped up every morsel with the fries then my fingers when I ran out.
The Kerala spiced chicken thighs and fries was the most expensive item on the menu at £8 but the portion was pretty good compared to others i’ve had recently. I was so lucky too as I managed to nab the last basket of chicken, which I think would of sent me over the edge and brought a little tear to my eye that day with the current state of my spaghetti brain.
Little Bao Peep
Red Pulled Pork, Wasabi Mayo, Pickled Cucumber, Peanut & Oreo Powder – £5
I’m usually a big fan of the little clouds of steamed buns generously stuffed with asian spiced meat and pickles and devoured a few from Hokkie last year till it nosedived under and from a recent trip to Camden Street Food Market where I had the best bao i’ve not only seen but tasted too.
The option on the menu on the day just wasn’t sitting right with my current state of affairs and just couldn’t understand the logic. I’m all up for innovation and thinking outside the box but who the hell puts oreos in a chinese? Little Bao Peep as it goes and was so glad I didn’t waste my hard earned 5 of the queens gold coins as I tried a little bite and nearly spat it out it just didn’t work for me. I’d had one of their boa’s at one of last year’s Depot Saturday’s and enjoyed what they stuffed into the little white pockets of dough so I know they can do some really tasty food but for me this was a step too far and would of been ok without the oreo dust.
Patagonia / Jol’s Food
Patagonia Cheese Steak 48 hour brisket, onions, mushrooms, mozzarella and stilton – £8
Ok before I write this section I’d like to start by saying Jol’s has been one of my favourite food vendors at every street food event i’ve been to and seen him always innovative and pushing out new exciting dishes. Jamie had both his instantly recognisable Jol’s blue food van and his new venture Patagonia at last years Street Food Circus with Patagonia even being shortlisted for the best street food vendor awards after the appearance there. I sampled both with the scallops and humous dish from Jol’s being my fav of the season and the steak and chimichurri ticking a few of my boxes as I’ve made my own chimichurri a few times. I thought it was a good steak roll but a few of my mates from Crossfit who tried it weren’t very impressed saying it was cold and just a bit of a let down, to which I was very surprised.
I’ve been keen to try Jamie’s newest venture well one of them Jol’s restaurant in his hometown Merthyr Tydfil for some time but not managed to sample it yet and also noticed he’s also doing the catering at the Redhouse the newly renovated town hall that’s now an arts and creative centre when I went to the food festival up there a month back.
It seems there’s lot going on for Jol’s at the moment and might be the reason the standards slipped a bit on my first experience of the ever growing brand this year. I wanted to just try the £5 grazing plate option of deep fried beef shin and cheese but they were all out so opted for the Patagonia Cheese Steak 48 hour brisket. At £8 and knowing that brisket is the cheapest cut of beef you can get I was looking forward to a decent stuffed roll to chomp my lips around but this is where i was wrong. Not sure if it was because Jol’s head honcho wasn’t gracing the hotplate that day but the miserable and lonely two chunks of beef squished in hidden amongst the tomatoey based mushrooms and onions left me incesed. Over reaction? Not if you knew how much I love my food and especially as this sorry looking plate was coming from my favourite food vendor and for the amount of beef I got for my £8 it would no doubt surpass the price per kilo of some of Japan’s finest wagyu steak.
There was nothing exciting else on the menu not the Jol’s i’d grown to love and hunt down in festivals. The only option coming from Jol’s side of the food cart was the Pad fries ( pad thai made with fries instead of noodles, which i’d sampled the year before.
After deciding to give the Street Food Circus another go the week after the menu was the same with nothing other than the pad fries from Jols and the 3 steak roll options still available as Patagonia as they serve from the same food kiosk. I did notice though that the portion of the miserable steak roll i’d been served the week before was slightly better this time and might of been because Jamie was serving up the food this time. I do hope they put something a bit more exciting on the Jol’s menu next time as although I was disappointed with my Steak roll from Patagonia I know the quality of food they can churn out and would love for them to be the top of my fav list again this year.
Liquid nitrogen chocolate ice cream – £5
I’d tried the salted caramel nitrogen ice cream from them back at the Depot last year and i’d a similar flavoured one at Camden too albeit with the cardamon dust, pistachio and burnt white chocolate but I fancied something different and opted for the chocolate option. It was ok really, tasted of chocolate so can’t go far wrong but it did mention white chocolate in the sauce so was hoping for a bit of contrast between the milk/dark chocolate but it was milk chocolate on milk chocolate but did have a little nugget of burnt white chocolate.
The hit of sugar did do me some good and can’t say anything bad about the ice cream but it wasn’t anything special.
I wasn’t happy with my first visit but thought it might of been mainly due to the hangover from hell so decided to return minus the thumping headache and impending fear of projectile vomiting of unsuspecting diners at Street Food Circus and went back the week after.
I was hoping for a few new faces and stalls the week after but there seemed to be the same minus a couple after no doubt selling out after a bumper bank holiday as it was the bank holiday Monday and getting fresh supplies was probably an issue.
I did a lap again and once again Tukka Tuk the star of the show the week before was the most popular with some crazy queues meandering through the crowds but I wanted to try something different.
Early Bird Bakery
“Malt-ilda” mini doughnut bites with espresso sugar, malt chocolate sauce, honeycomb and fudge pieces – £5
Not one to do things the right was I opted for dessert (one of two) first and a good selection. I hadn’t been down to Porthcawl for a bag of pipping hot doughnuts from the fair for years but something was telling me they might just be up there with Porthcawl’s finest…and then some! Freshly fried, golden sugar laden pieces of dough slathered with warm, malt chocolate sauce and squidgy chocolate fudge pieces were presented to this grinning cheshire cat.
I was a bit disappointed in the portion size with only 3 doughnuts seeing how them emphasised they were mini doughnuts too and one stindgy little piece of honeycomb that I didn’t get to even try as I was sharing and that had been half inched before I even saw it. Ok they couldn’t fit anymore in the tub but that’s not the point get a bigger pot in future or drop the price. £5 for 3 doughnuts would be steep by Krispy Kreme standards so i’d suggest the price about £3.50 even though they were good they weren’t worth the £5 especially when you’re sharing so 4 to a portion would be a bit more value for money.
I was torn between the chocolate and the “Golden ticket” with cinnamon sugar, baked apples, salted caramel and candied walnuts but not a great fan of walnuts and with the price i didn’t want pick bits out.
Dirty Bird Chicken
3 pieces buttermilk chicken pieces (nuggets more like!) £6.50 + fried halloumi bites £4
Ok so I’d been an avid supported of Dirty Bird when they first came onto the scene taking the media by storm with their tongue in cheek branding and marketing. I’d first put the golden nuggets in and around my mouth around 2 years ago when the weekly street food market took up shop in St Mary’s street on a Sunday afternoon for a month back in 2014.
Again Sunday being the day of rest (and the day of recovery from the night before) my friend and I sought to rid out bodies of this savage hangover and wasn’t quite ready for a grease fest at KFC so fancied some home style, freshly made chicken and stumbled upon Dirty Bird and went back for more for 3 weeks on the trot and was no better feeling that chomping on some fried chicken with a can of lemon Sanpellegrino, sprawled out on the grass outside Cardiff Castle with the sound and site of chinhooks spiralling hypnotically overhead during the G8 summit that was going on and had the roads at a standstill at the time.
I hadn’t had any chicken from Dirty Bird since then and not because I didn’t like it but I just like to keep trying something different but stuck for things to eat again at this years Street Food Circus I thought i’d return to a trust favourite but oh how wrong was I!
I opted for the 3 pieces of chicken with slaw and dirty sauce over the posh box as I’d tried the whole smothered in truffle oil and parmesan with the posh fries but wasn’t sure it would work with the chicken alone. I wasn’t queuing up for it so put a portion of halloumi bites on top of my order whilst I got the rum cask ciders in and was gobsmacked with presented with what my £10.50 had bought me. Bearing in mine could of had a bargain bucket with about 6 pieces of agreeable sized portions of chicken and 4 bags of fries at KFC and had change for the same amount i’d spent on my 3 chicken wing esque piss takes! When I order 3 pieces of chicken I want to be chomping on a decent spicy crusted hunk of meat especially when £13 got me 2.5kg of boneless chicken thighs a whole 30 pieces in Costco the day before.
I’ve never been so disgusted with a plate of food in my life for the portion size anyway. The halloumi bites portion size wasn’t too bad in comparison and luckily gave me some of the much needed protein I was expecting but the 3 pieces I’d got given for £6.50 was embarrassing and probably would of had more meat content in a children’s happy meal chicken nugget option no lie.
I’d been a big fan of these guys but after the piss take of a portion of 3 chickens I was given I will never buy from them again until they re-assess the quality control and they haven’t got Stevie Wonder handing out dishes.
Hazelnut liquid nitrogen ice cream – £5
Ok I know I said I like trying different things but these guys know how to make ice cream and I wanted them to pull it back after last weeks okish chocolate option and they didn’t fail to deliver with the Forrero Rocher inspired hazelnut ice cream freshly frozen in front of my eyes in 20 seconds,with a generous helping of chocolate sauce and dusting of freshly smashed hazelnuts for the piece de resistance of the dish.
I didn’t want each spoonful to end letting it melt on my tongue swirling it around my mouth to suck every last microscopic sense of flavour out onto my taste receptors.
So i’ve tried all the flavours on the menu for now so I might just have to give them a visit at the actual shop to sample the full menu and see what the crazy sugar scientists concoct for me on the day.