Enter your email to read this article
Read news on any topic, in one place, from publishers like The Economist, FT, Bloomberg and more.

I went on Cardiff's food tour and discovered some amazing things about my home city

I like to think of myself as fairly knowledgeable when it comes to my home city of Cardiff as far as its history in general and hospitality industry are concerned. So when I was invited to join one of Sian Roberts’ Loving Welsh Food Cosmopolitan food tours - that not only explores the fantastic independent food offerings in the city from all over the world but the stories behind them and the history of Cardiff itself - I was intrigued.

Would I, as a local, learn something new about the city in which I’d lived since I was born? Would I be introduced to a hidden gem? Suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised. You can read more about Cardiff's food tours here.

The 'Cosmopolitan' tour is named as such because, as Sian tells us, Cardiff was cosmopolitan - meaning, according to the Collins Dictionary, a place or society “full of people from many different countries and cultures” - before the term, coined in the mid 19th Century, was even created.

Read more: The 50 best restaurants in Cardiff in 2022: The best places to eat in the city

And with eight different shops and restaurants on the menu (though there are tens if not hundreds more in the city), with heritages travelling from Portugal to Poland and Italy to India, it’s a fabulous way to see why our city has been given this label.

We - myself, a couple from Chicago and a family of four (mother, son, daughter and daughter-in-law) from London - begin the tour at 10:30am, bellies and minds ready for five hours of food. It’s a typical Welsh day so, naturally, the weather is all over the shop. Calm skies turn to gale force winds in a split second before the sun breaks through. All tour-goers, however, are in grand spirits and as I’m a food tour virgin I have no clue what to expect.

We begin at Cardiff Castle, and once everyone is gathered, our tour guide and Cardiff expert - born and bred - Sian begins by speaking fondly of its origins and surrounding city.

Feeling rather smug at the fact I'm pretty familiar with this part (find out more about Cardiff Castle here ), I was happily surprised when a small but stellar fact about my city was revealed to me: Cardiff is known, among other names, as the ‘15-minute city’. This is because, if you really wanted to, you could walk around and see the city centre in all its glory in a snappy 15 minutes, Sian explains, before teaching us our first Welsh phrase of the day: “Bant a ni,” which means 'off we go'.

Portugal's delicious delicacy, Pasteis de Nata (Eve Rowlands)

We exit the gates and make our way across the road to our first stop, where we dive into Cardiff’s very own Little Portugal: Nata & Co. Founded in 2012, this store (which has now expanded into four shops across Cardiff and Bath) sells the deliciously moorish Portuguese delicacy, pasteis de nata, which I can only described as ‘perfection in two bites’. As we sit down at our reserved table, a waiter immediately comes over to take our coffee order - some of the best in Cardiff, Sian says.

I opt for a black Americano to compliment the (expected) sweetness of the tart. We were then offered a choice of lemon, peanut butter, nutella or plain vanilla - the original flavour.

I felt it was only right to go native and opt for the original, and I’m glad I did. The tart’s soft, flaky puff pastry melts in your mouth as you sink your teeth into the ‘custard’ - made from eggs, milk, cinnamon, lemon and sugar, typically. Expecting the flavour to be overpoweringly sweet, as one would when it comes to a tart filled with sugar, I was pleased to be proved wrong. It was the perfect level without being heavy and, paired with the bitterness of the (strong) coffee, it soon became the top spot to beat on the tour.

In Wally's, you get a selection of meats and cheeses to sample (Eve Rowlands)

To create room for our next stop - Wally’s - Sian took us on a walk through Bute Park, where we learnt about the origins of Pettigrew Bakery’s namesake - the Pettigrew family, whose patriarch, Andrew Pettigrew, was Head Gardener to the Third Marquis of Bute in the 1800s, and who is quite amazingly responsible for the creation of Welsh wine with the plantation of the first vineyard in Wales ( see more here ).

Passing the Gorsedd Stone Circle - a monument I (ashamedly) had never noticed - which had been installed in 1978 to celebrate Cardiff hosting the Welsh National Eisteddfod, we stop at Lady Bute’s bridge, where I am astounded with another new fact - one which the people of Bruges and Amsterdam may have something to say about.

“Cardiff is known as the Venice of the north,” she says, explaining how many years ago, it was filled with canals. Had you visited the city some 60 years ago, you would find a vast majority of it completely buried under water.

As we leave the park, I am questioning my Welshness as I'm perplexed even more to learn the underground passage beneath one of Cardiff’s main roads - North Road - under which I have walked hundreds if not thousands of times alone and on the tour’s route, was originally a canal for barges. Although take one look at some of its features, and it’s crystal clear that its history is exactly that.

An hour or so in, and I’m delighted - and slightly embarrassed - to have learnt so much about the city I’ve called home for the past 27 years. After meandering our way through the town centre - past NHS founder Aneurin Bevan’s statue and the Shop Wales gift shop, where Sian tells me and my tour-going friends about a favourite Welsh word of all patriots: Cwtch - we reach Wally’s, the city’s oldest delicatessen.

Nestled in one of Cardiff’s many arcades - which were built to resemble those in London, I learn - we’re here to try a selection of meats and cheeses from around Europe and the UK. Served on a wooden board and cocktail sticks (kids party-style) we're presented firstly with a selection of meat; saucisson from France - which, like most fatty red meats, had a greasiness but, unlike salami, was paired with a dull garlic spiciness; smooth Mortadella from Italy which was lighter in colour, texture and flavour and didn’t compare to my personal favourite; Wjieska from Poland. The Polish meat’s smokiness was delightful, different and smooth - and lingered in your mouth in the best way. So much so, I went back for seconds.

In Wally's, you get a selection of meats and cheeses to sample (Eve Rowlands)
Gjetost is certainly an interesting cheese (Eve Rowlands)

As for the cheeses - of which there were only two types when the store was established in 1981, Yarlsburg and Camberzola - in the running we had Caerphilly Cheese, Black Bomber and Norway’s Gjetost. Relatively accessible in Cardiff, I’d tried the former mature cheddars before - one more crumbly and strong, the other creamy and tangy. But Gjetost was something else. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant cheese, I must say, but it certainly made an impression. Firstly, the colour was darker - a light-brown - and the texture stood out and cut clean - not a crumb in sight.

Upon first taste, I was confused. Expecting a cheddar taste, I was met with a sweet caramel flavour which, as it lingered, turned peanut buttery. It was odd. I didn’t go back for seconds or invest in a block myself, but can see why some people may do.

After my fellow tour-goers and I had mooched around the store, making use of Loving Welsh Food’s 10% discount, we made our way out of the arcade and onto St Mary Street, where we stopped at Italian wine bar Prego for some vino and bruschetta (pronounced: broo-skeh-ta).

Bruschetta and Falcos: a perfect pairing at Prego's (Eve Rowlands)

Basking in the sunshine outside, Sian delves into the background of Wales’ large Italian community - which was deemed as being the largest Italian community in Britain by the BBC a decade ago - many of whom, she says, came over to Wales to work in the mines. Some even now speak Italian with a Welsh twang, we’re told.

Greeted by Toni Venditto - the man behind some of Cardiff’s much-loved venues such as Topo Gigio, Fontana di Trevi and Toni’s Bar - with a big “Bonjourno”, we take a seat at the back.

Decorated with diamond-shaped mirrors, Venetian masks dotted on each wall and an array of cow-print and shell-shaped pink seating, the interior is quite unique and something I can only describe as '70s chic.

After perusing the wine options, I ask for a recommendation from the wine connoisseur himself; Toni’s favourite is a white wine named Falcos. And while my preferred wine is a red, I trusted his expertise and ordered a glass in the hope that this experience, with a wine procured from his family’s own vineyard in Naples, would be a step up from the scowl-inducing pinot grigio at my local.

As the wine was poured, platters of bruschetta were neatly placed in front of us. Fresh tomatoes, a sprinkling of crushed garlic and olive oil on a slightly toasted slice of baguette. Regardless of the snackettes I'd demolished beforehand, I was drooling.

Salty, oily and juicy, these little slices of heaven went down far too easily and so I was grateful we were allocated two each. As for the wine, I am pleased to report it was delightful. Crisp. Subtley floral but not too sweet - and no lingering bitterness. I think I’ve found my white wine.

We soak up the final drops in our glass and swiftly make our way through another of Cardiff’s glorious arcades towards perhaps a staple in any tourist's visit to the city: Cardiff Market.

Cockles and laverbread at Ashton's (Eve Rowlands)

As we walk through the door, I am immediately bowled over by a strong stench of fish - we’ve arrived at Ashton’s, a family run fish bar where we’re trying Welsh delicacy cockles and laverbread - you can't go on a food tour in Wales and not try a Welsh dish. Resembling yellowing frogspawn, we’re handed the cockles in a little sample cup which we're to load with laverbread - the best way to try the dish, Sian says - and doused in vinegar. Contrary to my belief, it seems laverbread has nothing to do with actual bread - who would have thought?

It’s, inevitably, fishy. Gritty - akin to mussels - and topped with laverbread, it provides a host of different sensations about which I don’t know how to feel; smooth, mushy and muddiness from the laverbread mixed with a chewiness from the cockles. With neither overpowering in flavour, it was underwhelming and not something I'd order again. But I am pleased to have this Welsh delicacy under my belt thanks to the tour.

A combination of olives from the Mediterranean Food Stall in Cardiff Market (Eve Rowlands)

From Mount Snowdon to the Med, a short walk took us to the Mediterranean Food Stall in the centre of the market. Having been here a number of times to satiate an obsession with olives I have, I knew it was going to be a hit. We were offered mixed olives with feta cheese and an unusual second choice of pomegranate walnut olives. The sweetness of the fruit paired with the salty bitterness of the olives cause my tastebuds to yoyo, and I could have gone without - I think I'll stick to olives au naturale.

Next up on the cosmo tour, which began in November 2021, is the newest venue to the lineup, Tukka Tuk, which joined in April. Having heard about the delectable Indian street food joint owned by Chef Anand George - whose food at his restaurant Purple Poppadom I'd devoured on my first dinner outing since the pandemic - and entrepreneur Rupali Wagh, I was excited to tuck in.

KFC and Mutton Rolls from Tukka Tuk, Cardiff Market (Eve Rowlands)

With a choice between the veggie option of cauli kempu - cauliflower dipped in light masala and fried, garnished with a crispy mix of ginger, coconut and chilli, paired with coconut dahl (black eyed beans cooked in pumpkin and coconut sauce) and served with Pilav rice - and it’s Kerala Fried Chicken and Mutton Roll dish, I opted for the latter.

Two pieces of chicken marinated overnight, fried crisp and served with bombay fries - tossed in chilli, garlic and coconut - are joined by a mutton roll. Containing a combination of cubed and minced mutton, it's deep-fried in panko and served with a homemade chilli sauce - which is just the right level of (mild) heat and sweet for a spice wimp like me. The salad, cabbage and pickle provides a fresh break from the fiery chicken and heaviness of the generously - and beautifully - spiced meats. The thousand island sauce on the side was light and creamy, but not needed.

I tuck into the chicken first; succulent and perfectly crisp, it went wonderfully with not just the thousand island sauce, but the chilli too. The fries for me, however, were the main event; the sweetness of the coconut was overpowering in the best way - with each bite came a soupçon of coconuty goodness. It was proper lush.

With the mutton, my mouth felt like a furnace; a fiery furnace of flavour, which got hotter and more delicious with every bite (nb. I am a wimp when it comes to spice, so this for you may be as spicy as milk). But with a texture that falls apart in your mouth once you sink your teeth into the rolls, the spiciness - if your tolerance is like mine - is well worth it.

Sadly, I couldn’t finish the whole thing. I had gone hell for leather in the first few seconds, excited for a burst of flavour, and bit off more than I could chew - quite literally. So, when we left the market I was grateful for a short walk through yet another of Cardiff's fabulous arcades - a different one each time - and find a smidgen of room for our penultimate stop. And one with which I am familiar and VERY fond of: Fabulous Welshcakes.

If you're trying Welsh cakes for the first time, you must go original (Eve Rowlands)

You can smell the shop before you set your eyes on it. A waft of scrumptiousness floats through the air getting stronger with each step before, finally, you are standing at the end of Castle Arcade, tongue lolling out, eager to jump in and pick up a freshly made cylinder of goodness.

Fluffy, floury, fruity, fabulous and fresh off the griddle, these Welsh cakes make for the perfect after meal treat. Offering a choice between the original flavour (bursting with nutmeg and sultanas) and white chocolate and cranberry, I was torn. But my Welsh heart yearned for the classic - and boy, was it good. I refrained from gobbling it up in one sitting, savouring each and every sweet, spicy and salty (the secret to these cakes is salted butter, Sian reveals) bite.

A second option: white chocolate and vanilla (Eve Rowlands)

Cooked on a flat iron griddle, the method of creating these perfect pocket-size snacks (which every Welsh family has a personal recipe for), Sian explains, stems from back in the day when many people couldn’t afford ovens. To combat this, they’d cook on an open fire using a flat bakestone griddle, which is a portable flat stone placed on, or next to, a fire. Now, it’s a bit less of a fire hazard to make these delectable treats, but the end product is still just as tasty today.

Leaving the arcade, we wander past Gareth Bale’s bar, Elevens - the pitstop for every football fan on the renowned music alley, Womanby Street - before we reach our final destination on Westgate Street: Wales’ tribute to Spain, Bar 44.

As we approach the restaurant, which parallels the Principality Stadium, Sian explains to the rest of the party what it’s famed for; rugby, of course - and the odd concert. But did you know that Cardiff’s newest hotel, the Parkgate Hotel, has a secret lift which can transport special guests from its private wing to the entrance of the Principality Stadium? Me neither.

Started by brothers Tom and Owen Morgan, Bar 44 was inspired by family holidays in Spain, which were so loved, they wanted to “bring a slice back” to Wales. And it's become just that as they've recently received the seal of approval from the sunny destination through the Spain certification program. As we order coffee, we settle in and prepare for our final treat: a sherry tasting and truffles.

Bar 44: chocolate truffles and sherry (Eve Rowlands)

At first sip, the sherry is syrupy and thick - a texture I can only compare to medicine - and one to be enjoyed in small doses. To make this particular drink, Pedro Ximenez Sherry, the grapes used are dried throughout the summer and then pressed, oozing out this thick, sweet, syrupy goodness. The date-like flavour hits the roof of your mouth, before sliding (slowly) down and glazing the back of your throat. Not too strong or rich, it’s a dessert sherry that is the perfect finale for a lunch- or dinner. And one you could only have one glass of.

Don’t forget to tuck into a truffle before you make your way back home after the tour. Guests are treated with one white and one dark chocolate laced with the sherry - a perfect end to an utterly decadent day.

As we peter off one by one, the sentiment is the same in each of us; content and full to the brim with food and facts of a city with a whole lot of history to be discovered in quite possibly the tastiest way.

To find out more about the tours, or to book on one yourself, visit the website