Jonathan Swain follows his nose (and stomach) around Cardiff Market to sniff out the indie rising street food stars that have recently taken up residence across its two floors.
Cardiff Market has long been a hub of good food. Butchers JT Morgan have been here in this former prison building since 1861, an unbroken succession of family-owned-and-run trade. Iconic fishmongers Ashtons, meanwhile, have been here since 1890. The market has also always had its fair share of cafes and quick stops for a cost effective meal while you shop: Shan’s, Celtic Corner, Sage, Thai Asian Delish and more have fed loyal Cardiffians for years.
But recently the market has reinvented itself as the capital’s chief street food destination. Where other places have run aground on a lack of new talent emerging, Cardiff Market is home to a clutch of impressive operators, established restaurateurs and seasoned street food specialists setting up to offer an unprecedented range of choice.
Husband and wife Rhys and Laura Keogh are one of this newer influx. Wanting a change from the all-consuming restaurant life at La Pentola, they started Dirty Gnocchi with stints at Sticky Fingers and Corporation Yard, which proved so popular they opened permanently in Newport Market. Cardiff is their new second home, and their ground floor stall is a welcome addition. Their hearty Italian-influenced menu delivers a huge carby hit: try their crisp little butter-golden gnocchi, slathered with mushroom or beef ragú, or perhaps tagliatelle tossed on their trademark imported Grana Padano cheese wheel. The whole thing oozes indulgence and there’s a choice of toppings.
Noglu (ground floor) specialise in gluten-free choices. Head here for arepas stuffed with chicken and avocado or black beans and plantain, or treat yourself to churros and thick chocolate. Tokyo Nights, currently next to Dirty Gnocchi, have built a strong reputation at Barry’s Goodsheds and Swansea’s Founders & Co: their delicate gyoza, steamed then pan-fried, might be filled with mushroom, chicken or pork, and their steamed hirata buns with jackfruit or pork belly.
Up on the balcony, Pierogi (recently reviewed here) is the brainchild of Chris Orzechowska, who used to run Broadway’s much-missed My Place. He also has the Creme Of Cardiff ground floor patisserie here, and his stuffed dumplings are always popular. There’s a lively menu of both traditional Polish and more innovative fillings: try duck with plum sauce, Polish white sausage and garlic topped with bacon, or baked sunflower seed pâté and cranberries. While you wait, you can watch them being handmade in front of you. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.
Elsewhere, Ieuan Harry and Jeremy Phillips have turned Ffwrnes into an essential city centre stop. Here on the balcony, their bespoke oven knocks out score after score of Neapolitan style, with airy blister-spotted crusts and tried-and-tested flavour combinations. From classic marinara to nut-free pesto, and with standouts including Jiawl Bach and the Mallorcan spreadable chorizo Sobrasada, this is many pizza-watchers’ favourite Cardiff pizza spot. What makes them even more remarkable is their pricing: the menu starts at just £5.50. How they do it is a mystery, but let’s be very glad they do.
Lastly, with Purple Poppadom, Anand George revolutionised our local understanding of what ‘Indian’ food can be. Others have followed, but his street food arm Tukka Tuk, found on the Market’s balcony, continues to set the standard. Try the ‘Build Your Bowl’ with Keralan wholegrain (matta) rice and the beef short rib curry topped with crisp kempu cauliflower, or coconut dal with chilli prawns – or order the distinctive Keralan fried chicken. Cardiff Market is not only convenient for central workers or shoppers; this collection of traders are setting new standards for the city.
words JONATHAN SWAIN
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