Is Cardiff really a “gastronomic desert?”

Cardiff has been described as a “gastronomic desert” by food critics and tourists alike. But it depends which way you look.

If you are looking for Michelin starred restaurants with extensive taster menus and a celebrity chef or two, then you will be looking for a while. But if you are more concerned about eating good food at a reasonable price, then Cardiff will impress.

Top 10 budget places to eat in Cardiff

Chai Street, one of Cardiff's quality, low-cost restaurants

It is true, Cardiff does not have the culinary expertise which other cities have. BristolBath or Edinburgh for example. But this is not to do with Cardiff’s lack of culinary ingenuity, it is simply because Cardiff is not as established as these cities when it comes to fine dining.

Councillor Timothy Davies, a member of the Scrutiny Committee for Economy and Culture in the Cardiff City council, says the lack of fine dining in Cardiff is due to the lower disposable income, in comparison to other cities. In reply to whether or not the restaurant scene in Cardiff will improve, Mr Davies subscribed to the ‘market forces will prevail’ attitude and when we experience growth in the economy, demand will rise and people’s tastes will change.

Cardiff is saturated with chain restaurants. Pizza Express and Gourmet Burger, to name a couple. Most cities fall victim to an overwhelming amount of chain restaurants, but also have a balanced proportion of fine dining establishments.

Cardiff is yet to find this gastro/chain balance.

This being said, there are quality restaurants emerging in Cardiff. The Potted Pig, for example. The restaurant opened in June 2011 and was heavily praised by Jay Rayner, in his review for the Observer.

The Potted Pig: an old bank vault

The Potted Pig is a family run restaurant, in a disused bank vault.

An inspirational location choice.
 

Lucy Bulley, the assistant manager at the Potted Pig, talked about what it was like running a fine dining restaurant in Cardiff and the problems the restaurant faces…

There is a vacuum when it comes to quality dining, in Cardiff. But this space is starting to fill, albeit at a fairly leisurely pace.

After redevelopments in Cardiff, such as the Cardiff Bay development from 1987 to 2000, the city benefited from the emerging cosmopolitan environment.

This attracted major designer shops and also laid the foundations for a more sensitive and highbrow restaurant scene. But, rather than a cluster of respected, award-worthy restaurants the redevelopment has given way to chain restaurants.

Although there are four Michelin starred restaurants in Wales, three of those restaurants being honoured with the award in 2010, none of them are in Cardiff. They are either in the eastern or northern parts of Wales.

But the restaurant scene in a city does not have to be judged by the amount of stars awarded, or the number of raving reviews they receive.

As Lucy Bulley said in the interview, there are restaurants in Cardiff, which have failed to attract publicity and are subsequently sidelined.

They do not get the coverage they perhaps deserve.

A redeeming feature of Cardiff’s restaurant landscape is the low-cost dining available. You can eat a good quality main course in Cardiff for under £10, whereas in London, Bristol or Bath, this may cost you in excess of £20 or even £30.

A member of staff at the Tourist information centre and a man who was visiting Cardiff from London, both gave their views on what Cardiff’s restaurant scene is like…

 

Cardiff is a culturally aware city. It has opera halls, theatres, three major sports stadiums, an interesting history and beautiful architecture.

But it clearly lacks the culinary credentials.

Jay Rayner described Cardiff as “a city, which even its biggest fans will admit, has rarely been spoilt for good restaurants.”

Jay Rayner’s review of the Potted Pig

There seems to be a drought in terms of good restaurants. Sure, many chain restaurants offer good food, but it’s not always about the food.

It’s also about the overall experience.

Pizza Express, for instance. The food is good, but it has a sense of monotony every time you eat there.

You eat pizza or perhaps a pasta dish but that’s about it.

A first-class dining experience is graced not just by the attractive menu, but also by its surroundings.

surroundings are all important to the dining experience

You should not have to look far in a capital city for fine dining restaurants, but if you want a fine dining experience in Cardiff, you really have to do your research.

Nevertheless, fine dining is emerging in Cardiff. It’s just a question of when it will start to impress upon the list of UK cities, which already boast a respectable fine dining résumé.

Relevant websites

Michelin Restaurant Guide

Big Cardiff

Cardiff-eating

eatoutincardiff

dineoutwales

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