Eating DIRT; Vegetarian supper club in Cardiff

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.

www.dirtpopup.co.uk

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Veganuary round up – vegan food in Cardiff

I’m sure you’ve heard of Veganuary; the challenge to go vegan – not eating any meat, dairy, eggs or any other animal products for the whole of January.

I’ve never been fully vegetarian but have been eating a mostly pescatarian diet for the last few years and after watching documentaries/mocumentaries such as Vegucated and Carnage I’ve become interested in eating more vegan foods. So when I heard about Veganuary it seemed like a great challenge. And more appealing than dry January!

Its easy to be vegetarian or vegan in Cardiff these days. There are some great specialist restaurants such as Milgi and it seems there are more vegan cafes and bakeries popping up all the time, such as Blanche Bakery and The Moos.

But I also wanted to see if I could cope without heading out of my way to eat vegan. If it’s something I’m going to continue I don’t want to be dragging meat-eating friends and family to specialist locations just to accommodate me.

Luckily most places have at least one vegan option and many more will provide one if you just ask. Here are my Veganuary highlights;

The Grazing Shed

Dirty Vegan Burger

I already love The Grazing Shed’s Vegan Wah Wah burger, with cashew cream and avocado and tomato salsa so I was excited to try their new vegan option, launched to coincide with Veganuary; the Dirty Vegan (£8.95). A curry patty with garlic ‘mayo’, mango chutney, chilli sauce and tomato tzatziki. It packed a spicy punch and was stuffed to the brim with toppings – there is no way to look attractive while eating this burger, but you definitely won’t miss the meat. I’ll be ordering this post-Veganuary for sure.

Cosy Club

Vegetarian Thai Burger

Picture taken from the Cosy Club’s Twitter feed

Another burger! I went for a meal with friends at the Cosy Club in January. A quick search online beforehand revealed that they have a vegan menu, which was provided as soon as I asked. There were plenty of vegan options available including a curry, risotto and tabbouleh (two friends even ended up choosing off my menu too!) and I went for the Thai burger (£8.95 including chips) – a quinoa burger with edamame beans, pak Choi and coconut sauce. The Thai flavours were stunning and again, I didn’t miss the meat at all!

Society Standard

Salt-baked celeriac

We went to Society Standard for a family Sunday lunch and I chose it as it catered for everyone’s needs; vegans, meat eaters, weight watchers and kids – hard to please! But this place hit the nail on the head. Everyone raved about their meals. There were two vegan options available and I went for the Salt-Baked Celeriac (£9.90) with butternut squash purée, confit potatoes, chestnuts, pesto and parsnip crisps. The dish was elegant and tasty and I didn’t feel I was missing out. However it possibly wasn’t as filling as the roast dinner. Luckily we also shared one of their ‘small plates’ of Roasted Cauliflower (£4.80) with spiced lentils, almonds and tahini, which was rich and hearty.

Wyndham Tea

Vegan afternoon tea

I met with friends for afternoon tea in mid-January. We chose Wyndham Tea, Waterloo Tea’s location in town. Luckily I knew they would cater for vegans, I’ve tried their vegan cakes in the past and loved them, the chocolate and avocado cake being particularly memorable. I called in advance to request a vegan afternoon tea and was told it wasn’t a problem at all. I was given vegan sandwiches with roasted vegetables and hummus and crostinis with avocado and beetroot. There was a vegan scone (this was probably my least favourite part of the tea; it tasted overwhelmingly of margarine. Still it was so nice not to feel left out while my friends tucked into theirs). I could chose my own cake and went for the lemon and lime; one of the two vegan options available. It was light and moist and I’ll be looking for that one next time I’m in.

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During the month I also had some lovely vegan sandwiches and salad bowls from M&S and Pret, great for those days when I was in a hurry, and a delicious vegan millionaires shortbread at Benugo in John Lewis. I was only intending to buy a coffee that day but when I saw their pre-packaged vegan treats I couldn’t resist!

I’m not planning to stay strictly vegan when January ends, but I’ll definitely be making more vegan choices. And with these options and plenty more to choose from, it’s not going to be difficult.

Have you had a great vegan or vegetarian meal in Cardiff lately? Let me know in the comments below or over on Twitter.

I paid in full for all the vegan food I ate during Veganuary and none of the restaurants mentioned were told I’d be blogging about them.

2017 foodie highlights – lunch/afternoon tea

This is the second blog post in a series looking back at my favourite places to eat in Cardiff during 2017. If you missed it, my breakfast and brunch highlights are here.

Next up, it’s lunch.

Milgi Market

I finally sampled the wonderful Milgi market this year. It’s a small counter selling vegetarian salad bowls in Cardiff Indoor Market and is run by the same people at Milgi on City Road. Whenever I need to pop into town on my lunch break, I always make a detour via here.

Side note – if you haven’t been into Cardiff market for a while, take a look. It’s become quite the foodie haven; this blog post from blogger Gourmet Gorro details the market’s renaissance.

New York Deli

New York Deli would be on my ‘best places to eat in Cardiff’ list every year since I first ate there in about 2001. Their bagels and hoagies are immense; stuffed to the brim, just like you’d find in a real NY Deli. The quality hasn’t ever wavered. Quite frankly, it’s a Cardiff institution and if you haven’t eaten there you must make it your New Years resolution. Maybe not if you’re on a diet though (sorry).

The Grazing Shed

Two branches in town and a street food van popping up at loads of events means it’s impossible to ignore the Grazing Shed’s burgers. They do a fantastic veggie burger with various toppings (including goats cheese fondue, avocado mash or sour cream jalapeño) and a fully vegan option with cashew cream. The beef and chicken versions are epic too. Luckily my eldest loves it here and always requests it when we’re in town.

Waterloo Tea

Waterloo Tea added a new branch in Lakeside this year, in addition to it’s locations in Penylan, Penarth and Wyndham Arcade in town. While I haven’t visited the new branch yet, I’ve eaten at each of the others at least once this year. Their salads, soups and sandwiches are light and healthy, always ensuring you feel virtuous enough for a huge slab of cake afterwards. Great vegan, veggie and gluten free options too.

Afternoon tea at Pettigrew tea

I must admit, after sampling and writing about numerous afternoon teas since I started blogging eight years ago, I’d slightly gone-off the experience and hadn’t had an afternoon tea for ages, until I was given an afternoon tea for two at Pettigrew as a birthday present this year.

I’d forgotten how pretty it is in Pettigrew and we spent a lovely afternoon nibbling finger sandwiches, spreading cream & jam on scones (yes, it’s always cream THEN jam for me) and gorging on cake, while sipping earl grey from vintage china. Very refined.

Next in my series on my favourite places to eat in Cardiff this year……dinner and drinks.

To read the previous post on my brunch favourites from 2017, click here.

Review; Dinner at Laguna, Park Plaza

I was very excited to be invited to try the new a la carte menu at the Laguna Kitchen & Bar in Park Plaza this week.

Having eaten there before, I knew the food and service would be of a very high standard and I was assured that there would be plenty of vegetarian/pescetarian dishes for my non-meat-eating husband.

We arrived at the hotel at 7.30pm, so it was dark when we got there, making the hotel lobby with its huge log fire seem really inviting. The restaurant kept the same theme, with low-lighting and flickering candles making for a cosy, welcoming atmosphere. It also meant my pictures are a bit dark, so apologies in advance for this! 

To start we were offered bread from the bread basket – both of us opting for the delicious tomato bread – with a dish of olive oil and balsamic for dipping, yum.

For starters I went for the Trio of Butternut squash (£4.95); squash purée surrounded by cubes of roasted butternut squash and topped with a pearl las blue cheese mousse and butternut squash crisps. 

  
I was a little surprised that this was a cold starter, for some reason I expected it to be warm, but it was still delicious. The sweet squash was perfectly complemented by the cheese mousse, which was the best part of the dish. The squash crisps gave a nice bit of texture too.

Gavin went for the Thai fish cakes (£7.95), which he enjoyed.  

 
For main course I chose the Roast Monkfish Tail (£16.45); monkfish tail served on a bed of creamy saffron risotto, with Cornish crab, spring onions and tempura samphire.

  
The waitress said I’d made the right choice, as this was her favourite dish on the new menu and it didn’t disappoint. The monkfish was meaty with a very delicate flavour and the tempura samphire and spring onions added a lovely bite to the creamy risotto. 

Gavin went for one of the excellent choice of vegetarian dishes; Risotto with beetroot, cavolo nero and grilled halloumi (£13.95). 

  
He said it was delicious, although the creamy risotto was very rich indeed. This dish is also available as a starter for £7.45, which might have been a better way to eat it, as it was so rich.

The dessert menu looked amazing with dishes such as Turkish delight and vanilla creme brûlée, banana tart tatin, and warm Bakewell tart with cherries soaked in kirsch (all £5.95). In the event though, we were both so full that we could only manage the trio of ice creams (Gavin) and sorbets (me) each. When I said I was ordering sorbet for dessert, the waiter was really kind and enquired if I was lactose-intolerant, in which case he would recommend a dessert for me. I explained that no, I just like sorbet, but it was good to see they cater for allergies and intolerances. 

  
I went for two scoops of lemon and one of raspberry (£4.95) which came served with a chocolate and mini meringue and was lovely and refreshing.

We both finished with a peppermint tea, which is provided by Cardiff favourite Waterloo Gardens and a good way to finish a rich and satisfying meal. Overall we really enjoyed it and would recommend Laguna at Park Plaza, particularly for a special meal or event.

We were invited to try the new a la carte menu at Laguna, Park Plaza for free, in exchange for an honest review. 

Www.parkplazacardiff.com

The Park Plaza is also featured in my post; The Best Places for afternoon tea in Cardiff.