A Christmas guide to Cardiff.

Cardiff, Cardiff Eats, Travel, UK, Wales

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. It is socially acceptable to live in loungewear, there is cinnamon in absolutely everything and raclette is officially its own food group. This year, the festive build up looks a little different, but with this guide, and a little help from For Cardiff , it should see you through this “new normal” and have you skipping merrily down Castle Street singing like Mariah herself and showing a bit of love to all of the amazing businesses that really, really need it right now.

Don’t forget to check the current restrictions before you venture out into the world! You can find updated restrictions here.

1.Enjoy the Christmas markets

My fave part of Christmas in Cardiff. The markets. I really thought this year it wouldn’t be doable but how amazing it is to see those lodges lit up and full of amazing produce. Don’t miss the Raclette stall! They are doing a raclette mac & cheese this year and it’s truly to die for.

2.Toast some marshmallows at Cardiff Castle

If it’s good enough for Kate and Wills, it is good enough for me! The folks at Cardiff Castle have gone to an unbelievable effort this year in order to bring us some Christmas joy safely. The Castle is free to the public and packed with ski style chalets, light shows, food trucks and my fave, the marshmallow roasting station. Sadly, the interior of the Castle has had to close due to Covid restrictions but the public square and food stalls are still open and brimming with merriment. 

3.Treat yourself to a spot of lunch.

It still amazes me what a culinary hub that Cardiff is becoming. Christmas means meals with loved ones, festive menus and overdue catch-ups. The 6pm curfew, rule of four and restrictions of premises serving alcohol has certainly thrown a curveball our way but why not book a lunch at any one of the countless restaurants the City has to offer. Try Honest Burgers for their Christmas special stuffed with an oozy slice of Camenbert. Or, Mowgli, with their swing seats and authentic Indian street market dishes. Don’t miss the yogurt chat bombs. Or, The Ivy! Those beautiful decorations draw me in every time, as does their iconic Shepherd’s pie. The perfect winter warmer.

4.Cardiff’s best hot chocolates.

Where do I start first? The Ferrero Rocher one at the Christmas market, the Nutella latte at Coffee Barkers or maybe even the Gingerbread one at Hotel Chocolat made with real flakes of chocolate. City of Arcades, City of hot choccies.

5.Raid the Market for all your Christmas must-haves.

Cardiff Market truly is a Cardiff institution. A bustling hub of sellers that have been there for years on end and sell anything and everything you can imagine – Tophats, fabrics, fruit and veggies, wood fired pizzas, flowers and more. I always take a visit to Ashtons to pick up some fresh seafood for Christmas Eve. Followed by a quick stop off at The Secret Garden Florist for some of their adorable mini Christmas trees. Just do not leave with getting a bag of fresh Welshcakes from Bakestones – it’s basically against the law.

6.Shop for some last minute decorations.

It is never too late to shop for decorations. Cardiff is home to the only John Lewis in Wales and every year in mid-November the 3rd floor becomes a treasure trove of baubles, tinsel and fairy lights. My tree may be up and fully decorated but there are always space for a few more pretty pieces. If you like your baubles with a side of wacky make sure you head to Paperchase – it’s the only place I know that you can get baubles in the shape of Ramen noodles…

7.Get wrapping.

Wrapping is one of my favourite parts of Christmas! I plan my colour scheme and then hunt for all the paper, ribbon and decorations I need. I usually get my paper at Paperchase in St David’s 2 but for ribbons, tags and little pretties it’s always Cardiff Market and Tiger! Tiger has those gorge little Scandi tags this year with the old-fashioned Santa’s on. Too cute.

8.Inject a bit of luxury with a Festive Afternoon Tea.

Why not book an early Christmas treat for someone? The Park Plaza are currently serving up a Festive Afternoon tea in their Laguna kitchen and bar and it is the perfect treat for this time of year. A selection of festive pastries, finger sandwiches, fresh scones, mince pies and the cutest little Christmas sweets you’ll ever see. Get there a little early and enjoy a non-alcoholic mulled wine in their lobby, which is beautifully lit right now with log fires and fairy lights.

9.Pretend you’re in The Holiday at Wally’s Deli.

“Oo someone’s having a party!” “Oh yeh”

I have never stepped into a Deli that looks anything near to the one Cameron Diaz steps into in The Holiday. Apart from Wally’s that is. Whether it’s their Deli you’re heading too or the Liquor Cellar over in Castle Arcade what you’ll find is endless shelves and corners of gorgeous foods, booze and goodies. I love piling up tub after tub of olives, artichokes and sun dried tomatoes to graze on. They also sell those gorgeous lebkuchen that are perfect attached to a gift for a little extra treat for someone you love.

10.Satisfy your sweet tooth.

One word. Hotel Chocolat. I remember when the 1st store in Cardiff opened, my closest one at the time was Birmingham so when they opened in the ‘Diff it was utter heaven! Then, they opened a new store… with a cafe!!! So now when I go to buy boxes of Christmas sleeksters, caramel penguins and Apple strudel truffles I can also pick myself up a Billionaire sundae. Treat for you, treat for me!

11. Finish off some last minute shopping.

The St David’s shopping centres truly are a one stop shop for all your gifting needs. Everything from something for the little ones in Disney or Hamleys to something handmade from one of the many businesses at Cardiff Creative. A little further outside the comfort of St David’s is The Castle Emporium – a sweet little independent store with several small businesses selling house plants, art and gifts.

12. Add a touch of Wales

All Christmas’ should have a touch of Wales. Even if it’s a simple Nadolig Llawen in the Christmas card. If you want to get something a little more personal this year then why not head to Shop Wales. Tucked away on St John Street, Shop Wales is a lush little gift shop selling art, ornaments, gifts and some very cute cuddly leeks… I’ll be picking up a few Welsh cake candles for relatives living in England. Bringing a little bit of Wales to their Christmas!

So many of these wonderful businesses featured are For Cardiff members and you have the chance to win a £150 voucher to spend in a plethora of Cardiff busineeses. To enter just head over to Instagram to find out more – @forcardiff

For more tips on where to go this Christmas in Cardiff don’t forget to go to the For Cardiff website, there are also some fantastic videos on their Instagram page, guides to the arcades, little glimpses into the City’s favourite restaurants and a through the doors of Cardiff Market!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas all! Nadolig Llawen.


The Coconut Tree – Cardiff

Cardiff, Cardiff Eats, Food

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Mill Lane is the hub of Cardiff for me. When the sun shines each bar and restaurant is awash with crowds. Cold glasses of white wine and lager lining the tables, Hoards of people gathered into Peppermints outdoor seating area until it’s standing room only, couples and friends sat on the patio tables lining Wyndham Arcade enjoying colourful dishes from Bills or Ask. In the Winter you won’t find much difference. We are Welsh, after all, there is nothing that a jumper and an outdoor heater won’t solve. It doesn’t matter what time of year you walk this avenue, Mill Lane is always awash with Cardiff life.

In comes, The Coconut Tree, a Sri Lankan bar and restaurant started up by a group of friends that met just outside Colombo. They specialise in serving up Sri Lankan Street Food, but not only that, they also specialise in bringing the Sri Lankan ethos and zest for life to their restaurants.

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The Coconut Tree sits between the infamous 10 Mill Lane bar and the equally infamous and mysteriously named, Private Shop. I guess you could say they are in good company. Inside you would be mistaken to think you were in a cool bar in Colombo or Seminyak. Dim lighting, bright exposed street art, those low wooden tables with the tiny chairs that make you feel like you are at a children’s party, patterned cushions that remind me of *those* trousers that your friend comes back with from their “Gap Yarr” in Thailand and Bali, along with their new found love for yoga and a nasty case of VD. The ceiling is papered with assorted pages from Sri Lankan newspapers, great if you are a cricket fan, it doesn’t take long to find a few stories featuring their national team. My favourite part? The bar. Two pence pieces lined up perfectly and set in place with a glittery resin. If I could pull this off in my kitchen, I would. The barware is an assortment of copper cocktail accessories and brightly coloured ceramic glasses, including the beautiful elephant, Ruby.

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The venue isn’t designed to be your quiet, romantic, secluded spot for date night. It’s loud, the music is masterpiece after masterpiece, the dishes are made to be shared and you are meant to get your hands dirty. They haven’t put rolls of kitchen paper on the tables for you to get precious about cutting your chicken wings with knives and forks.

We started with a few cocktails, sorry, I should say Cocotails, much like everything else on the menu they are extremely reasonably priced. When you consider that you are paying around the £13/£14 mark at the likes of The Alchemist these are an absolute delight at between £6-£8! There may be no sight of smoke or bubbles but these handcrafted cocktails are just as impressive and pack a punch.  We tried the Drunken Sri Lankan and the Sri-presso Martini to start us off. The first is a showstopper in appearance, taste, and concept. Ceylon Arrack – a traditional Sri Lankan spirit, Ginger Beer, Cointreau, Turmeric and Fresh Lime all served up in the cutest jade green ceramic glass in the shape of Ruby the Elephant. It’s very reminiscent of a Dark and Stormy but with a tiny hint of fire at the end from that added turmeric. If you’ve seen my Instagram post already about this cocktail then you already know why this drink is a winner in my eyes. Every drink that The Coconut Tree serves with Ceylon Arrack contributes to the care of real-life Ruby the Elephant and her band of buddies all being cared for by The Elephant Transit Home. The second, the Sri-presso Martini, which by the way is near impossible to say sober let alone after 2 or 3, is perhaps the best take on an Espresso Martini that I have ever had. Coffee-infused Arrack, Cardamom Syrup, and Coffee Liqueur. Creamy, fragrant, far too easy to drink, these are totally lethal because there is no way you will only have one. In fact, of all the Cocotails we tried, that statement is probably true of all of them, even ‘Ruby’s Mum’ which serves five. No judgment here. So let me just summarise:

Reasons why you should relocate your next cocktail hour to The Coconut Tree:

  1. They won’t break the bank. Cocktails start at £6 and even the sharing cocktails start at just £15. Your bank manager will thank you.
  2. They are going to look super cute on your Instagram feed. After all, if it’s not on Instagram, Did it even happen?
  3. Most of the cocktails contain some sort of spice or fresh fruit which we all know is good for you. Turmeric is a super food, coconut is good for your heart, Ceylon is packed of antioxidants, Mint even helps with stress. This isn’t a cocktail bar, it’s essentially a health retreat.
  4. Elephants are adorable, they also need a lot of looking after, Order a few ‘Ruby’s’ and sit back and daydream of her frolicking with all of her little elephant mates thanks to your kind contribution.

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Everything you order in The Coconut Tree follows a trend. It would be an insult to say it is ‘cheap and cheerful’ because whilst it is both those things, it is so much more. The food is designed to be luxury Sri Lankan street food. Reading the menu, it promises an explosion of colour and flavour and Boy… does it deliver just that.

I am a huge fan of spicy food. When Joe first met my parents the poor lad had never really eaten anything spicier than a tikka dish, then my mum serves up the infamous Jerk Pork that she makes with fresh scotch bonnet chilies. I didn’t know whether he was crying, sweating or a mixture of the two. Meanwhile, I’m sat there scrapping the marinade off the bottom of the pan with a piece of leftover bread. When I come across a restaurant in the UK like The Coconut Tree that promises to serve up cuisine notorious for spice and heat, on most occasions I’m left feeling a little disappointed. We were lucky enough to try quite a range of dishes, small dishes designed so that you can share them and try a bigger range. Once the first few dishes arrived my spice seeking cynicism took all of 2 seconds to dissipate. Each dish was punchier than the last. A side of chickpeas would normally sound like a bit of a take it or leave it dish, these were more like try it or regret it. Chickpeas stir-fried in coconut oil, onions, garlic, mustard seeds & chilies and topped with shredded coconut they were full of flavour and carried a good whack of heat, even for me.

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Cheesy Columbo – Fried cheese cubes in a sticky, sweet sauce – £5

An assortment of dishes quickly followed. Devilled chicken wings, Black Pork, Jaffna Goat Curry. All served up in white enamel bowls, all steaming hot, packed full of flavour and creating the most wonderful aroma in the air. The Kotthu, a fusion street food, is by no means a looker, it looks really like a pack of stir-fried veg you’ve just picked up from Tesco Express. Nope, this deserves more than a Tesco label, this deserves a sexy M&S Ad with that weirdly erotic voiceover. Shredded roti, mixed vegetables and eggs running through it, you can opt to add in chicken or cheese but this dish is perfect just as it is, incredibly moreish and yet again, full of flavour.

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Devilled Chicken Wings – £5

Other standouts? Hot Battered Spicy Cuttlefish, covered in a stocky, spicy glaze, piping hot and wonderfully crisp and the tradiitional Hopper, a bowl-shaped coconut milk pancake served with a runny fried egg, coconut sambal, caramelised onions with a hint of cinnamon & Sri Lankan salsa. Mix up the filling and then roll this into a pancake to enjoy. This definitely had a taste reminiscent of Caribbean jerk seasoning, lots of herbs, spices, and a slightly smokey finish.

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Hot Battered Spicy Cuttlefish – £7

This is going to sound so unbelievably corny but The Coconut Tree feels like so much more than a restaurant and bar. It feels authentic, the focus isn’t on creating Sri Lankan inspired dishes with a hefty price tag and suited to a more Western palette, the focus is on serving real Sri Lankan dishes and flavours just like you would find them on the island. The staff are warm and many of them themselves hail from Sri Lanka, they’ve even brought over some of their Grandma’s in order to get inspiration on the menu, it doesn’t get more authentic than that does it!?

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Egg Hopper – Coconut milk pancake, coconut sambal, seeni sambal & lunu miris – £3.50

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(L to R) Kotthu, Hot Battered Spicy Cuttlefish, Chickpeas

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Kotthu – Shredded roti stirfried with vegetables and egg – £5

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Where? 10 Mill Lane, Cardiff

Price? Cheap!! Dishes range between £2.50-£8.

*I was invited to the opening of The Coconut Tree and all dishes were complimentary, however, thoughts are all my own and there was no obligation to post.

Summer of Street Food

Cardiff Eats, Food

I’m pretty sure some of the best meals of my life have been from street food vendors. Those blue crab samosas from a vendor in Barbados, Jerk pork cooked on corrugated sheeting in Jamaica, Gyros from a small truck in Santorini. There is just something about street food that sets my world on fire (and usually my mouth because I’m too greedy to wait for it to cool down) but this summer there’s no need to jet off to an exotic location. You can get your street food fix right here in sunny South Wales.

Whether you are more halloumi fries or roti wraps there are so many options this summer for you to indulge in. Here are a few of my faves and a few tips to get you through the street food season.

Vendor recommendations:

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The Bearded Taco

I just want to know how I haven’t tried these tacos up until a few weeks ago. Seriously, lust-worthy. With both Mexican and American influences The Bearded Taco team, Sian and Jake, seriously know what’s up when it comes to good quality street food.

Recommended: Their Let’s Avo Cwtch taco really is the talk of the town. Gin & tonic tempura avocado with lemon & agave slaw, vegan chipotle aioli, and fresh coriander.

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Assembelly

In a sea of wraps, pizzas and burgers, Assembelly stands out of your usual street food crowd with its array of local, seasonal produce and beautifully fresh seafood. Toby Bradley-Watson is the brains behind the brand and he has more than a few strings on his cooking prowess bow – namely a stint at Rick Stein’s flagship restaurant in Padstow. This is a company who take their seasonal ethos seriously so don’t expect to see the same items popping up time after time. One thing I can assure you is no matter what the menu, the food is out of this world.

Recommended: If you are lucky enough to get your hands on this then go for the award-winning bacon & scallop roll.

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The Beefy Boys

I almost feel like a con artist listing this burger aficionado because there is no way that you don’t know about them already. Four amateur grillers turn grill masters. The Beefy Boys are firmly on the Worlds burger scene after coming second at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas and there is no sign of that changing anytime soon. Their burgers are 100% Hereford beef and served medium rare. No binding agent here, they are 100% beef.

Recommended: The Chipotle Boy. Served on their semi-brioche bun with a smokey and creamy chipotle sauce, bacon, Swiss cheese, American cheese, lettuce, onions and pickles.

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Events/Pop-ups:

Academy Espresso

The uber cool coffee bar situated in The Pumphouse, Barry serves up way more than lattes and a few cocktails, they also play host to the hottest street food vendors in South Wales. Most weekends you will find the likes of Puckin Poutine, Flour’d Up and Dirty Bird on their doorstep providing the perfect snacks to their ever-changing drinks menu. Keep a close eye on their Instagram page for their monthly street food line ups and any one-off special – My fave to date? Cereal cocktails!!

Cardiff International Food & Drink Festival

This one doesn’t really need much introduction. The hugely popular Cardiff International Food and Drink festival is scheduled this year for July 5th-7th. It’s an array of local, national and international produce that simply cannot fail to impress. This event gets insanely busy so try not to get there at peak times, i.e. lunchtime or early evening. If you are lucky, find a table in Roald Dahl Plass and sit and enjoy your street food with a cold beer and lots of free music & entertainment.

St Canna’s

I think probably my favourite place in Cardiff right now. James at St Cannas knows how to run a business, every month this little micropub has a fantastic line up of mini events. GoT screenings, Open mic nights, Theme evenings (Recently: Star Wars and a Eurovision night!!!!) and most importantly, Street food pop-ups from all of our regional favourites. Keep an eye on their Instagram page for confirmed dates.

Pembrokeshire/Aberystwyth Food Festival

Swansea Street Food Festival may now be in the past but there are still two more local festivals to look forward to. Pembrokeshire, 14th-16th June, and Aberystwyth, 19th-21st July. Both events are run by the fantastic team at Street Food Warehouse so it’s safe to say they will be events not to be missed! These festivals are a great opportunity to sample lots of regional food trucks in one day. Don’t show up with a full stomach!

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Tips:

  1. Don’t be a fool, Don’t eat a huge meal before you arrive. Grab a banana en route so that you can try out a few different street food dishes without vomming in your car on the way back home. If not, you will arrive stuffed after your greasy fry up and have total food envy once you see the incredible, colourful tacos your mate has just ordered that you now can’t enjoy because you’re too full from your foolish breakfast choice and a single soggy churro.
  2. Share. Convince your best mate/partner/dog to go halfsies with you on everything and try double the dishes! Note: Please don’t actually share with your dog, they don’t appreciate gourmet cheesecakes the same way humans do.
  3. Dress appropriately. I don’t mean cover up. If you want your cleavage on display whilst scoffing down a burger you do you, hun. Just don’t wear the tightest item of clothing you have and then feel uncomfortable all afternoon when you have a food pot pressing into your jeans button. Wear something loose and let your belly do its thang.

 

Happy Eating Loves ♥

Disclaimer: I hold no responsibility for weight gained or money spent on delicious snacks.

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