It’s taken a while but the Welsh Capital is finally catching up to the likes of Bristol and London in terms of street food. With the likes of Wahaca with it’s Mexican flare of street food favourites and Burger and Lobster who are frequent at street food festivals have even decided to open shop with their first restaurants outside London in Cardiff within the last year.
I first started to notice small street food festivals popping up in Cardiff towards the end of 2012 with Cardiff Street Food holding their first event at the Mackintosh Sports Club and Community Centre just behind Miss Millies on Albany Road. It was here I got to try my first bite of Got Beef’s famous Welsh Black Beef Burgers back when they were serving out of their converted bus! They also had a few other street food regulars such as Fired Up Feast with their food fired pizzas.
Chucks Burgers ran a weekend pop up with their burgers, live music and cocktails in Pontcanna around the summer of 2013. This was the first venture into the street food scene and a dip in the toe for Something Creatives, which would go on to launch the very successful Street Food Cardiff event at the Depot in 2014.
I managed to catch the Got Beef guys for the Soprano burger at a street food festival in Swansea the following summer with veggie favourite Parsnip Ship, which converted me for the first time and i ordered my first veggie burger (although this was in between the Got Beef burger and a steak roll from Philly Cheese Steak Co).
Coming onto the scene around then too was the girls from Hangfire Smokehouse with their now legendary pop ups literally popping up all around Cardiff and the City for their BBQ takeovers at some of the less well known pubs (for me anyway). I’ll be the first to admit i leave everything till last minute well not me I try to plan things at least a week before but my mate on the other hand … well let’s not go there! It’s been hit and miss with these guys at no fault of their own well it is they should be selling such smoke crusted meaty deliciousness but the first 4 times i attempted to grab food there when they were at the Canadian in Splott and the Lansdown in Canton I was turned away twice as they literally had people begging to lick the plates clean as the food had flown out of the kitchen! I can’t complain though as i’ve been fortunate enough to sample most things on the menu now with my three successful visits including the pulled pork, pork ribs, chicken wings, all the sides (i basically ordered the whole menu the first time just in case i couldn’t make it back), Louisiana Creole, burnt ends, Texas Hot links and the flat iron steak on my last visit back last October when they were at the Pilot in Penarth, which took me two sittings!
Half then and after taking a bottle of the mustard sauce and bbq sauce I had the other half in two yes i managed to get my leftovers to fill two baguettes for work the day with one smothered in each of the pungent yet addictive sauces. They have one more night left at their most central takeover yet at one of my favourite pubs in the capital recently and that’s Brewdog.
There are a few food festivals around the summertime but it’s just the same old shit different year with rows and rows of stalls selling what looks like and tastes like the same cheese, burger vans selling plastic burgers and fake sausages with a choice of plastic cheese and cremated onions or a Hog roast, which hasn’t even been cooked on a spit or over real coals they just look like a slab of pork joint that’s cut with a knife not even pulled apart as it should with crisp salty crackling and real, homemade apple sauce!
There is now more of an emphasis on street food from around the globe from the street food pop up’s springing up around South Wales in the last year, which are much more my cup of tea than the bog standard Cardiff Food Festival down the bay, which if you went 5 years ago you would be hard pressed to find something different on offer there apart from one that is. Quite possibly the best plate of street food i’ve ever experienced from something so simple yet delicious with lobster frites and lemon mayo.
The guys from The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company know their seafood thats for sure! The lobster was cooked fresh in a giant paella type pan with whole blocks of Welsh Sea Black Butter giving it an extra punch of taste from the sea. I’d had lobster a couple of times before once in Tenerife about 10 years ago but you could of used the thin slices on my starter as tracing paper and a rather miserable and cold effort from Loch Fynne when it was open down Cowbridge so never really had fond memories but after the smell wafting over from the crab and lobster shack i didn’t care how long it would take me to wait in that 100 yard que that was going in my belly and i wasn’t moving till it did!
Last summer for around 12 weeks there was the street food festival at the bottom of St Mary’s street opposite the Cardiff Castle entrance and outside pizza express every Sunday. This was a taster of things to come with the likes of Dirty Bird Chicken with their buttermilk fried chicken and probably more famous logo of theirs. There was Jamie O’Leary, the sous chef from the Hardwick in Abergavenny with his rich, hearty fair of Italian food with his Jol’s food truck and Bar 44 with their silver American airstream trailer offering mobile tapas.
I did take a trip down several Sunday’s for posh chicken and chips at Dirty Bird with Korean spiced chicken hot wings with chips tossed in truffle oil and smothered in parmesan but I couldn’t leave without sampling whatever Jamie had been cooking in his sou vids for however many days to perfection. I managed to try the ragu of confit duck and crispy onion and thyme risotto cake, then there was the rabbit dish and then the 20 hour steak roll that just melted as soon as it touched your lips.
I was quite surprised at the turnout for this though as the food on offer was amazeballs but it might be the fact i was stuck to my pillow dribbling in a hungover mess till about 3pm and missed the crowds, which is a win anyway if your asking me.
Next up was the big one taking street food in Cardiff to the masses and to the central stage and that was Street Food Cardiff’s sell out night’s at the Depot taking over a disused industrial units, dotted with street art, knocked together tables in school esque fashion then littered with some of the best street food vendors in the South Wales area that not even i had encountered previously I was just gutted I only made it there twice as the crowds got quite mental after half hour and i only managed to sample my first experience of Burger and Lobster a week before they opened the Cardiff restaurant with the lobster roll in freshly toasted brioche roll that quite frankly was on par with the lobster with it’s gorgeous butteryness. I just had to sample the mulled wine as it was sold out of a big hippy wagon and you just know those guys know how to party and they didn’t disappoint with added zing from whatever concoction of spirits and potions they added to my cup.
I know it sounds boring but I do love a good cheese toastie after sampling the mother of all cheese toasties at Abergavenny Food festival with Trethowan’s Dairy’s Award winning Ogleshield Cheddar Cheese and Shepherd’s Loaf Sourdough toastie fit for a king and a close runner up with cheese, red onion, leek and garlic toastie at Bermondsey Square Market up in London that i had for breakfast on a Sunday morning after a heavy night at a Wedding I wanted to sample some crispy, cheesy, goey, magic on my tongue and got my toastie charring whilst the warm mulled wine trickled down my throat sending christmassy tingles through the rest of my body and the blood straight to my head!
The weather has been pretty dire since the last of the Depot nights took place over Christmas but Cardiff just had it’s new recruit in the street food scene with Street Food warehouse starting two weeks ago at The Cardiff Arms park just off Westgate Street and taking place Friday and Saturday’s 5-11pm and Sundays 2-8pm till July 5th.
Running at the same time is the guys at Something Creatives and Street Food Cardiff off the back of the success of their nights at the Depot they are bringing us some of the old favourites but with a new venue the aptly named Street Food Circus taking place at Old Stable Yard off John Street just behind John Lewis. We will see the return of the Hangfire Smokehouse girls dishing out some meat sweats, Dirty Bird Chicken, the new venture from the magician behind Jol’s Food, Jamie O’Leary called Patagonia. I just bought a pair of waterproof boot’s for snowboarding from the brand Patagonia but fret not he’s not leaving us for a world of fashion anytime soon (i hope) but he will be feeding us from the steak shack with protein rich Beef and plenty of it!
Rumour has it that Burger and Lobster will be back with their £10 lobster rolls instead of the £20 cost to eat at the restaurant although it doesn’t come with chips and more importantly a gallon of one of the best things on the plate the garlic butter I could of ate out of a cone with a spoon. I’ve also heard rumours Masterchef finalists Larkin Cen and Dale Williams will be making an appearance with their new venture Hokkei an Asian takeaway on Crwys Road in Cardiff serving their new Baos, which I happened to sample last weekend which are all steamed buns with me opting for the Moo Baoes with beef brisket in black bean and my favourite korean side dish kimchi but stuffed with cabbage, spring onion and coriander
The Street Food Circus is set to start on May Bank Holiday weekend starting on Friday 1st right up to Sunday June 28th from 5-11pm Friday and Saturdays and Sundays 2-10pm.
The Depot will also be launching a series of their own pop ups throughout the summer with collaborations with Motley Movies providing hot tub cinema viewings.