My name is Katie and I’m NOT a vegetarian. I’m not vegan either, although you might have thought I was, as I’ve been posting food on instagram using the hashtag #vegan a lot lately. I’m what the media tells me is a ‘flexitarian’. Basically I’d rather not eat any meat if I can help it and don’t eat diary at all at home (watching documentaries like Carnage and Vegucated has really made me think about why we choose to eat animal products) but if meat is the only option on offer, or if my Mum has made her famous coronation chicken, then I’m having it. I realise that I’m privileged to live in a world where I have these options but I have always preferred vegan and vegetarian food anyway. As food critic Grace Dent says, it takes more skill to cook a delicious plate of vegetables, than to produce a lump of grilled meat.
So when I was invited to eat at the DIRT vegetarian supper club in Cardiff, I knew it would be a night I’d enjoy.
DIRT is run by John Cook (aka DIRTChef), formerly of Arbennig in Pontcanna. John says, “I’ve developed a real passion for cooking vegetarian food; it’s what gets me excited in the kitchen, and that’s what I want to share with people.”
The first in the series of John’s pop-ups was held at Milk&Sugar/Llaeth&Sigwr in the Old Library in the centre of town last night. Laid-back, light and airy the venue was perfect for a warm summer evening.
The first course set the summery vibe for the food too; Pettigrew Bakeries’ pesto bread, with nettle pesto and crispy kale and creamed beans was a fantastic start; the slightly soggy bread, paired with the crisp roasted kale was a great combination.
Next up was charred lettuce with green onion, potato, milk curds and sourdough sauce. The was one of the heartier dishes on the menu, thanks to the potatoes and sauce, and I loved the crispy onions and charred flavour on the lettuce.
The prettiest dish in the menu came next; smoked beetroot with pickled raisins and almond on chicory, with a pink beetroot powder. I would happily sprinkle those toasted almonds and the powdered beetroot over every salad I ever eat.
The next dish was my favourite of the night; courgette, ricotta, mint, cucumber and wasabi. A fellow diner was worried the wasabi would be too strong but I actually would’ve liked a little more. A slightly larger version of this, with a few more of the fennel crackers, would have been an ideal main course for me.
Dessert was strawberry meringue with buttermilk custard. The custard, rather than cream, made it a much lighter dessert and the lime-marinated strawberries were so refreshing.
To finish off, John brought round his DIRT Carrots. We had no idea what to expect, but what we got were carrot-shaped petit fours; one white chocolate and passion fruit and another dark chocolate, on a bed of cocoa nib ‘soil’. The white chocolate carrots were a little sweet for me, but perfectly balanced by the bitter dark chocolate ones. So lush.
Eating six courses is a little out of my comfort zone and it hurt my brain a bit not to have a ‘main’ course, but I loved trying all the different dishes and the fresh and light ingredients meant I came away feeling nicely full, rather than stuffed.
Real meat lovers who can’t do a meal without it probably would have been dissatisfied, but if fresh, seasonal flavours are your thing, I think you’ll love it.
I would recommend keeping an eye on DIRT, I’m excited to see what they do next. They have more pop-ups lined up and personally I’m keeping everything crossed for a permanent vegetarian restaurant coming soon to Cardiff.
The DIRT pop up menu usually costs £40 for six courses. I was invited along as a guest, however I was not instructed to write anything complimentary, this is an honest review.