Tucked away just off Queen Street, the recently opened Chinese Fast Street Food is not your typical city centre place to find a good meal. A bedraggled paper A4 menu, a specials board in Mandarin, a little room just six tables strong? You may well find yourself the only non-Chinese dinner: clearly, they know something we don’t, given this is metres from one of Cardiff’s busiest streets.
Take the hint, because this isn’t your blandly ubiquitous Friday night Cantonese: this menu leans more toward regions like Hunan and Sichuan, with the bolder flavours that implies. Sliced beef, sizzling on cast iron, is heavy on the cumin and dried red chilli, and all the better for it. There’s a £12 lunch deal, effectively a Greatest Hits compilation: try the braised duck, in an umami-rich liquor; the delicate shimmer of tofu, ballast from white rice, and a lightly-set steamed egg white custard.
Stoutly-proportioned noodle bowls are straight from the Sichuanese tradition, the meat stewed in an aromatic broth of soy sauce, rice wine, and a handful of aromatics and spices making for something exciting yet soothing. You’ll be asked if you’d like it spicy: say yes, slurp away contentedly and ignore everything else. Ask for even more chilli oil if you crave levels of heat which prickle your forehead with sweat. Wholesome, comforting yet thrilling, this might just be the ideal pick-me-up, and to find it seconds from busy shopping streets is a very good thing indeed.
Chinese Fast Street Food certainly doesn’t have the slick feel of a city centre ‘brand’, but it certainly is the kind of place you need to know about, the sort of place which acts as a defiant hurdle against the increasing homogenisation of city centres. It’s a punchy upgrade for your lunchtime choices. Who knows, it may even make shopping bearable…
Chinese Fast Street Food, 11 Charles Street, Cardiff.
Info: 07478 557057
words and photos JONATHAN SWAIN
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