Sort yourself out this Saturday night with Street Food @ Depot!

It’s Saturday, it’s been a long week and you really fancy a good night with good food, beer and friends. This is the place to go: street food socials have started up at Depot as of last week with a range of differing pop ups each week throughout 2017 – so there’s no reason not to go see for yourself!

There’s funky fairy lights and jazzy decorations all over, the usual Depot wooden tree shining proudly in the centre. There’s also a funky little caravan at the back with a super cool inside and a bench for chilling on, whilst bean bags and deckchairs near the entrance allow you to relax and pretend you’re on a paradise beach – although really, you could call food festivals a kind of paradise in my opinion. I’ve said this many times before (and my flatmates know only too well) but I believe fairy lights to be so special for the warm, fuzzy, cosy feeling they instantly bring to any setting, especially when coloured paper lanterns are also involved as is the case here. There’s just something magical about them that brings a lovely atmosphere to a place, trust me.

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Last week when I went down the special guests were: Brother Thai, The Bearded Taco, Doughboys, Got Beef and Slow Pig. All had tantalisingly good-looking menus and the bar was well stocked featuring a local favourite of mine – Pipes beer. Sadly, I was still on my Dryathlon so couldn’t indulge but I can’t wait to do exactly that at their Bar Open event this coming weekend! [As a side note, I raised almost £250 overall which I’m super chuffed with!]

After a wander around and considering all the options, my first meal of choice was file_003-8the vegan Thai roti from Brother Thai: wok fried spring greens, beansprouts and lemongrass in a lush southern Thai style paste, all wrapped up in a paratha (like a chapati) with fresh herbs and some Thai ‘slaw. I’d seen these guys previously at Street Food Circus back in the summer and loved what they had on offer but didn’t get chance to try them then – I’m so glad I did this time because this was delish! There’s nothing like freshly stir-fried spring greens, especially alongside the satisfying crunch of the slaw and with the juices from the paste soaking through nicely to give the paratha a beautiful flavour. I did struggle to keep it all wrapped up but hey, where’s the harm in eating with our hands every now and again? (Plus I did manage to get hold of a fork in the end to help me out)

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The Bearded Taco’s super cute establishment

Next on the menu: a ‘Flawsome Taco’ from The Bearded Taco. This delectable little package was composed of Middle Eastern falafel with hummus, tabbouleh, tzaziki and fresh parsley. As there was a 2 for £6 deal, I shared this order with my flatmate (1 taco File_000 (41).jpegeach) who prior to this had sampled the new and already legendary Donald Trump burger from Got Beef (featured right) – Chinese leaf, bacon, Russian dressing, Mexican nacho cheese sauce and topped with a tiny pickle… Brilliant. It tasted good too apparently, although the cheese was pretty messy. Anyway, the other taco we chose in this deal was ‘Rage Against the Tagine’ (also brilliantly named) consisting of a Moroccan chicken & stone fruit tagine, a carrot, almond & chickpea slaw, harissa yoghurt and fresh coriander. We can’t fault either of them, both went down an absolute treat and hit the spot perfectly! Very well balanced, well portioned, the right proportion of salad/slaw to meat/falafel and altogether a gorgeous little mouthful. The chicken was very tender in the best possible way, I’m told. I’d seen The Bearded Taco back in the summer at Street Food Circus but hadn’t had chance to try them until now (I was waiting for there to be a veggie option to choose from) and I will certainly be going back for more next time.

Every menu at street food social was very tempting and looked delicious and, as I said, there are different pop ups week-to-week so I’d 100% recommend getting yourself down there for a look one weekend. Keep an eye on the Depot Instagram for the latest updates! If you want really good, local, honest food with a great atmosphere and a decent selection of drinks to match, this is the place to spend your Saturday evening!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

 

A tasty Mon-mouthful: Monmouthshire Food Festival 2016

Caldicot Castle is a stunning setting for any occasion.  Despite the recent turn of cold weather, the sun still shone proudly for a few minutes as I drove through the estate and started to walk towards the castle gates.  Some classic 80s cheese was playing in the background, I could smell a fresh BBQ, and I could hear my stomach rumbling – this was a good day.

The first thing I noticed was that it was considerably smaller than Abergavenny, but this was to be expected due to the confined nature of the castle itself and the impressive reputation Abergavenny Food Festival itself holds.  There was still plenty to choose from here, although it seemed to be mostly jars, preservatives, sweet treats to take away with you rather things to eat right here and now – nonetheless impressive, of course.

What I did think was a nice bit of something different was that there was a stall dedicated to home delivery vegetable boxes; Riverford Organic Farmers, whose motto “Live Life on the Veg” I think is just brilliant.  Whilst not the cheapest way to get your weekly shopping, I love the fact that you can opt for a ‘100% UK’ veg box to support local produce – my affinity for which I have expressed previously yet, unfortunately, I struggle to do so in my own day-to-day life.  This is something I do intend to rectify, so maybe I’ll give Riverford‘s boxes a try.  Even more exciting is that you can ask for recipe boxes which deliver all the ingredients readily weighed out so that all you need to do is whack them all together and boom!  A lushious, nutritious meal is on your table.  What a dream.  Although, I have to be honest, as a big lover of cooking and baking I sometimes find half the fun in faffing around sorting out all my ingredients, only to realise halfway through I’ve forgotten something and must now improvise – which is where the magic in one’s own recipes really happens.

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Another interesting and unusual addition to the party was Kitchen Garden, a plant centre offering a wide variety of living herbs ranging from Chocolate Mint, to White Rosemary, to Sweet Camomile or even Vietnamese Coriander.  Imagine the possibilities!

My first taster of the day was a Goats Cheese and chutney pizza from Newport-based food van Flour’d Up.  This wood-fired traditional Napolitan pizza was a pleasure to eat (so much so that I didn’t get chance to take a photo before it was all gone…) and I have to say, the base was the perfect level of thin and crispy for my liking!  My only criticism would be the more cheese the merrier… but to be honest I was so hungry it was still amazing.  The customer service I couldn’t fault; they saw I was looking after a very hungover friend and brought it over to my table for me once ready.  Top effort guys, thank you!

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Flour’d Up and their mobile wood-fired pizza oven!

Another little wander around the stalls brought me (inevitably) towards the beers & ciders, where I settled on Brecon Brewing; a bottle of their limited edition Olicana IPA to be exact, which I’m actually sipping right now as I write.  At first it tastes like your usual British IPA, yet there’s a subtle after-taste that gives it that edge; sort of fruity, a little bit bitter, it’s hard to place but very enjoyable.  And noticeably cheaper than the likes of Brewdog, who’s Punk IPA I am a huge fan of, don’t get me wrong, but a bigger bottle for a smaller price is always a winner.  I’ll more-than-happily drink both again regardless.

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My smart-looking tipple: Olicana IPA

I turned around to find an old friend Chock Shop there to greet me; their spreads at food festivals continue to amaze and impress me!  Always so much choice and arranged so file_000-15tantalisingly, especially when the words “would you like that with chocolate sauce and cream?” are mentioned… I mean, who could say no?  This time I went for a plain chocolate brownie with a strawberry on top and, as much as I love banoffee, I preferred this to my last selection.  There was less of a smack in the face of sugar and more of the classic gooey, stodgy (in a good way) texture which I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of.  Aside from the fact that it smelled amazing, I also imagine this would be an absolute dream warm with ice cream – I’ll certainly try that next time.

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Another amazing spread from Chock Shop!

My sweet tooth didn’t stop there, however, leading me towards Shelly’s Foods in the top right corner.  Here I tried a taster cup of small chunks of millionaire shortbread drizzled with caramel sauce.  A very guilty pleasure but much appreciated after a busy week – I’m sure you all know the feeling – especially as once again there was fantastically friendly service.
file_003-3Above all, Monmouthshire Food Festival seemed to me to be one of the happiest places on earth this weekend.  Everyone who served you, stopped to speak to you about their products, or even just caught your eye in passing had a smile on their face and a genuine interest in you as a person, not just a customer.  It was lovely to feel a part of, even if just for a few hours.  This community-feel resonates with me personally as a country bumpkin and rural village girl at heart; a reminder of the true value of kindness and friendliness, no matter what else is going on in this crazy world.

On that slightly philosophical note, my food adventure for the day was complete.  I stood in awe for a while, gazing around at the castle itself which provided a brilliant backdrop for the whole thing.  Its enclosed and cosy nature enhanced and encapsulated that community feel.  I’d recommend Monmouthshire Food Festival as a nice little wander during a day out and about but perhaps not so much a whole day in itself, in my opinion, due to its limited size.  Still, I very much enjoyed my experience; Caldicot Castle certainly caught my eye as an ideal spot for a summer picnic sometime, maybe next year I’ll return!  For now though, as the days get colder and the nights get longer I eagerly await one of the best parts of the winter/festive season… Christmas Markets!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*special thanks to Juno Lounge for their hospitality whilst I posted this using their wifi (mine had run out at home) – I’m a big fan and promise I’ll write about you soon!

A heavenly haven for the hungry: Street Food Circus, Cardiff

As the sun went down and dark fell upon us, the bright, colourful lights of the Street Food Circus lit up the Cardiff night sky like a shining beacon of promise; promise that an incredible experience and insanely good food was waiting, patiently, to be discovered.

As I walked through the gates I had no idea where to start; overcome with a sense of giddy excitement and sheer awe of this heavenly food world – ‘like a kid in a candy shop’ one might say.  First, I decided to do a lap around to get a proper feel for the place and carefully observe the options before making my precious choices.

There’s something about streams of fairy lights, a buzz of background music and big bold colours beaming across the backdrop of tall, towering trees that gave that kind of festival magic to the Street Food Circus.  It reminded me of Bestival when I went back in 2014, with bunting made from all kinds of different coloured and jazzy-patterned strips and rags of material.  Draped gracefully around the circus tent ropes and encircling a little cubby-hole of Asian delights, it gave that funky, hippy vibe to the place that says “yeah this is cool, this is different and this is a moment you need to live in”.

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Singha Street sporting its Bestival-esque bunting and bright, flashing palm trees

The cubby-hole itself, ‘Singha Street’, lay in the top-left corner of the festival and featured flashing, light-up palm trees at its entrance – also very Bestival-esque.  Nearby tuk-tuks decorated with bamboo plants and traditional coloured umbrellas drew further attention, as excitable children scrambled around them, all waiting for a turn and a photo in the driver’s seat.  There also lay a vintage van in soft terracotta and pale green and yellow, sporting an array of funky flower garlands across its windscreen; adding to the authenticity of this cute little corner full of colour and life.  Inside, people sat on recycled plastic crates at pop-up tables, each with a different umbrella through the centre.  Whether you were tempted by a thai-style roti from Brother Thai, sweet/spicy samosas from Purple Poppadom’s Tukka Tuk, cod bites & Thai green fries from Big Fish Little Fish, or The ‘Roald Dal’ from Gopal’s Curry Shack (photos at the end), you were sure to be in for a powerful punch of flavour whatever your choice.  This, for me, is one of the beauties of street food: there are so many different cuisines and cultures in one place that it brings people together and lets them communicate through their shared love of really good food.

The rest of the festival offered a range of pulled pork delicacies, incredible seafood and some seriously good-looking tacos; but for me, it was high time for a pint.  Much to my delight, they had several Pipes beers on tap – which you may recall me mentioning in my last blog.  I went for a pint of the 6% Farmhouse Saison, which holds some fruity yet peppery tones whilst still boasting that lovely, strong ale taste. file_008-2

Next to the bar stood Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, whose plantain chips I couldn’t resist and I have to say, were incredible.  Plantain is such a simple yet effective ingredient we just don’t tend to use much in day-to-day cooking; but it’s actually full of fibre, vitamins A and C and is a really good source of Potassium and Magnesium.  Surprisingly, even more so than its more common cousin the banana*, which, in my opinion, makes it totally worthwhile adding into your diet where possible.  Anyway, back to the circus…

file_001-2Now accompanied by one of my flatmates, Seadog’s famous Sakana Burger was our first choice of main meal: composed of crispy Haddock, spicy mayo, sweet soy and seaweed, it was truly a sensation.  “One of the best burgers I’ve ever had” was my flatmate’s reaction – which, coming from a meat-eater (unlike me), is very high praise.  The sweetness of the soy and the lightly-spiced mayo complimented the perfectly battered haddock; it was a dream.

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My Crofters Street Food burger was stunning too: two chunks of grilled halloumi, hummus, aubergine, harissa onion jam and rocket; all wrapped up in the boss of all burger buns – brioche.  I never would’ve thought of putting aubergine, onion jam & halloumi altogether but it worked an absolute treat, putting sweet and salty in perfect balance.  Plus, I think there’s something quite satisfying about a burger so full of yummy goodness that you physically can’t put it down until you’re finished, bits dropping all out over the place – puts a smile on my face, anyway!

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We were so full of burgers and beer after all that we just sat and soaked up the atmosphere for a while, people-watching as friends laughed and couples cwtched, all with beaming smiles on their faces.  The Little Tipple Van to my right had started forming a queue and I could clearly see why on closer inspection, it’s so cute and small and it shells out prosecco – what’s not to love!

I have to say I was very tempted to choose another drink over a dessert, but ultimately ice cream always wins – and this wasn’t just any ice cream… this was Science Cream.  I first spotted these at Abergavenny Food Festival and wrote a bit about them in my last blog, but I didn’t end up trying any for myself.  Well, now was the time.  I strode over to the stall, grinning from ear to ear as I proudly announced “I’ll have a Brown Butter Caramel ice cream sundae please!”.  Watching the mixing and freezing process was just as entertaining as I remembered; vapour frothed out of the mixers as the liquid nitrogen was added, much as dry ice fills a theatre stage or steam billows out of an active volcano.  My sundae ‘adorned with golden honeycomb & salted caramel sauce’ was then handed to me in a tub and at this moment, I did have to second-guess myself for a second, was I actually in heaven right now?  Food heaven, most definitely.  It was so smooth and sweet and just generally glorious.  I will definitely be wandering down the arcades for another next time I’m in town!file_007-1

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Brown butter caramel ice cream, honeycomb, salted caramel sauce… what’s not to love?

And so came the end of another food adventure.  It’s safe to say that Street Food Circus offered an incredible range of options even for the fussiest of eaters, all of them a delight to devour.  It truly was a safe little haven in the middle of a busy and often stressful world.  I absolutely loved it and will certainly be returning next time it comes around!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*sources: Live Strong, Nairaland

Fun for many in Abergavenny: Food Festival 2016

Festivals have become kind of a big deal lately, with all kinds of new themes and experiences popping up all over the place.  But to my mind, food festivals are firmly at the top of the must-do list.

There have already been several in South Wales catching my eye over the summer, including Cardiff International Food & Drink Festival back in July and the Street Food Circus at Sophia Gardens running through August & September (individual post to follow), yet Abergavenny Food Festival is the one I had heard so much about and had been buzzing to go have a gander.

 

Coming off the train, I had expected stewards in brightly-coloured t-shirts or high-vis vests to be leading the way; but instead, those of us arriving at Abergavenny train station had to follow the crowd and hope for the best.  This wasn’t exactly ideal; but after ten or so minutes, the bunting came clearly into view.  Immediately upon entering the main high street there was a soft buzz of excitement with people everywhere popping in and out of shops with smiles on their faces and goodies in their hands.  It was the kind of busy where everyone’s friendly, laid-back and there for a good time – as oppose to the sometimes stressful impatience of places like London – which lent a lovely welcoming community-feel to the event (and in my personal opinion, a very Welsh feel).

First stop was The Castle; or rather, queueing for The Castle which had at this point reached full capacity.  Of course my first thought was one of slight panic thinking of the uncomfortable closeness that ‘full capacity’ crowds tend to be, however, once inside I was relieved to discover that this was not the case at all.  Rather than overwhelming and congested it was cosy and intimate in what felt like a very special way, perhaps because of the natural romance of the historic castle setting itself and the gentle rays of sun that beamed down upon us (if only for about ten minutes…).  To my left was the well-renowned Cyrus Todiwala speaking at the Rude Health tent about the importance of buying local produce and supporting local businesses.  This is something, I, myself believe to be of great importance, especially as a geography graduate with a strong interest in encouraging sustainability.  The fact that this more localised and sustainable culture is becoming so widely embraced and encouraged restores my faith in humanity a little and certainly put a smile on my face if there wasn’t already.  I mean, all you have to do is walk around a food festival such as this to see that most of what’s on offer has been made right here in Wales and you’re instantly filled with a sense of pride and achievement.  It becomes clear that we can and do produce all we really need within our beautiful little country and I love to see that the awesome and impressive nature of this is being admired and appreciated by all.

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Cyrus Todiwala and his colleagues at Cafe Spice Namaste [photo credit: Abergavenny Food Festival Facebook page]

My only real criticism of the experience would be that I was disappointed not to see as many local breweries and craft beers as I expected or would’ve liked, although this may have just meant that I didn’t get around enough to take full note of the beverages on offer.  I did spot Tiny Rebel along the way, a brewery based in Newport (S Wales, of course!) with its own pub in Cardiff called Urban Taphouse as many of you may know.  Cwtch and One Inch Punch are mine and my father’s current favourites: a Welsh red ale which holds the title of Champion Beer of Britain 2015 and a Tiny IPA, both packed full of the iconic flavour and character this proud little brewing company are all about.  I’d also personally recommend Cali as a fan of American Pale Ales but the choice is up to you, I still have several more to try but well recommend a visit to Urban Taphouse if you’re a big into your funky local beers.

As a side note, if like me you love a well-done craft beer then Pipes in Pontcanna is the place to be; their Bar Open events tend to be on the first Saturday of every month, totally transforming its tiny little back lane courtyard into a buzzing bunting-laden social hub.  It’s an ideal place to spend your Saturday afternoon – but I digress.

Back to Abergavenny: my next stop was the food tent area just off the main high street which brought to life so many wild and wonderful smells.  It was like its own little paradise for a foodie like me, something different everywhere you looked.  What instantly caught my eye was Science Cream, a Cardiff-based company which not only creates its own ice creams fresh to order with natural ingredients, but freezes them in seconds right in-front of your eyes using liquid nitrogen.  This is truly a wonder to behold and was famously described as ‘an ice cream you must try before you die’ by Buzzfeed in 2015.  From ice cream sandwiches to banana splits, to thick shake sundaes and even butter fried pancakes you’re certainly spoilt for choice here.  Flavours range from the tantalising caramelised peanut butter and double shot chocolate to the exotic cherry coconut and rhubarb ripple, of course with a multitude of toppings to add on as well, if you want to go all out – and I mean why not, when in Rome, right?  Everyone needs a cheat day!

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An example of Science Cream’s concoctions – this wasn’t mine but I wish it was! [photo credit: Buzzfeed]

I resisted the urge to dive straight in with the sweet stuff on this occasion, however, and opted for a savoury treat as my first taster of the day: a Butternut Squash, Mixed Bean & Cheese pie from the award-winning Tom’s Pies; which, as Bruce Almighty would say, was B-E-A-utiful.  Hot butternut squash and beans for me is definitely one of the ultimate healthy comfort foods; so hearty and rich, yet still nutritious and filling.  The perfectly thin, crumbly pastry (which okay, obviously isn’t exactly healthy or nourishing but cheat day is a wonderful thing) made it all the more comforting and I thoroughly enjoyed every guilty mouthful!  I was also amazed and impressed to learn that Tom’s Pies have a “long standing relationship” with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage, according to their website.  Hugh is another chef I greatly admire for his work in sustainable farming and food practices, as well as his ongoing War on Waste campaign.  For this, I will forgive them for not being Welsh locals, as I had first assumed, later discovering that they are in fact a Devon-based company who have the absolute pleasure of being invited to all these fantastic food festivals and taste awards – twelve so far this year judging from their website! Living the dream if you ask me!

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I ate my pie too fast to take its picture, but the box was pretty so…

There was still much more to see, so off I went to explore the streets of Abergavenny itself where further food and craft stalls were dotted around all over the place, all teeming with more eager festival-goers.  Turning onto Nevill Street was a feast for the eyes, bright colours and fresh flavours everywhere from the mouth-watering stuffed olives of The Olive Press to the fiery-looking chillies and sauces of Fearless Flavour.

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An impressive spread from The Olive Press

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Taste the rainbow, as they say… looking good Fearless Flavour!

Past these, however, came what we’ve all been waiting for: the bakeries.  A quick taster from Isabel’s Bakehouse clearly demonstrated why they had a very successful weekend – they sold out both days!  But Chock Shop was where I couldn’t resist temptation and treated myself to a Banoffee Brownie… wow that was good.  A little sweeter than I would normally have liked, if I’m honest, but perhaps this was because I saved most of it until the next day when I was (of course) wallowing on the sofa in hungover self-pity.  I, also, have a weakness for meringues which worked well to the advantage of Flower & White Ltd… I know, I was naughty.  But surely you kind of have to be at food festivals, else you’ll only look at all the good food and not actually enjoy any of it!  And besides, their Lemon Meringue was a seriously guilty pleasure in the best way.  I regret nothing.

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Isabel’s Bakehouse stall on Nevill Street

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A fully-stocked Chock Shop! [photo credit: Abergavenny Food Festival Facebook page]

This brings me to the end of my weekend adventures, as far as the food festival is concerned anyway.  The wide ranging variety of products and produce on offer, in addition to the guest speakers, live music and interactive sessions, meant that there was something fun for everyone at Abergavenny Food Festival.  The beauty and charm of the town itself also makes it a lovely place to visit any other time of year for a day’s mooching around the shops and cafés.  I can confidently say it was well worth a visit.  I had a great time!  And I will definitely be returning next year.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx