It’s odd how little details in restaurants influence you. I was once in a place where an app enabled the customers to programme the playlist. Half an hour later, after wall-to-wall U2, your mild-mannered correspondent was ready to bludgeon the nearest kitten.
Which brings us to Cardiff’s latest word of mouth success story. Blue Honey Night Cafe takes over Sully’s in Quay Street every evening and reinvents the space.
On various evenings there are DJs (the people behind this enterprise come from club night and fashion backgrounds) and karaoke for a late-night party atmosphere; on our second visit it ranged from Joy Division (good) to Catatonia (no comment) but it’s still a marked improvement on Bonobo and chums.
Happily, here we sit under a framed poster for Ealing Studios’ Ladykillers, a timeless classic and one of my favourite films- bettered only by their Kind Hearts and Coronets. As early signs go, it’s more promising than most.
The tip was from blogger Rosie Eastwood, and ‘There’s a new Korean fried chicken place, it’s fantastic, and we thought of you’, are among the best words you’ll ever hear, up there with ‘I will’ and ‘it’s a girl’. You could easily miss this place: it’s an unassuming frontage, opposite the stellar Asador 44. But to do so would be to miss out on a gem.
There’s a small menu: biryanis aren’t on for either of our visits- they are awaiting delivery of the bowls they have commissioned- but chef Omar is eloquent on his planned Persian-style dish, heady with cloves and cinnamon, perfumed with rose water.
Cauliflower fritters come with a wild garlic yoghurt. It’s a gentle, aromatic sauce which will also make an appearance on their late night (they are open til 1am) lamb kebabs.
We order the steak and fries and the cauliflower alongside our chicken. Picanha (£9.50) comes pink, the only sensible way to serve this cut, glistening with a vivid green slick of chimichurri, and broccoli dressed with Japanese ponzu for an unusual element. It’s all lifted by the inspired addition of pink pickled onions.
Flat breads accompany this beguiling brassica (£8.50), just the thing to scoop up the burnt aubergine baba ganoush and tahini which are slathered over its smoky, charred outer layers. The ruby sweetness of pomegranate seeds balances everything out: it’s a standout dish, reminiscent of what they serve at Liverpool’s Maray.
Brad comments, ‘I wouldn’t mind being vegetarian… for half an hour’, and this is the kind of dish which elevates meat free cooking into something accomplished, something desirable. It makes cauliflower sexy- no, really- and there’s none of that ‘steak’ nonsense which grinds my peppermill.
When you order steak and KFC- and thoroughly enjoy them- and end up talking about the cauliflower, you know it’s damn good.
That chicken comes sandwiched between Belgian waffles. There’s a punchy sriracha mayonnaise on the fries, the crunch of pickled daikon and an excellent Asian coleslaw. You expect a full-bodied sauce with Korean chicken- Hereford’s The Beefy Boys serve it slathered in a sauce which leaves your lips tingling for long minutes- and this is a revelation: here it’s a homemade gochujang with a jammy consistency, in which layers of chilli, sugar, ginger and sesame all play their part. The waffles are no mere afterthought and sit comfortably in that sweet spot where crisp and fluffy meet.
It makes for a hefty burger, or for a freestyle disassembling. Either way, hands not fingers are compulosry. For a Korean chicken obsessive such as myself, the fact we have two examples just around the corner from each other (Burger Theory’s is a thing of beauty) is something to celebrate. Happily, it’s wonderful, crisp and tender in all the right places.
Blue Honey is a little beauty. It’s the kind of place which other cities have already clasped to their heaving bosom, and exactly the kind of place which adds character to a city and develops its food culture in a welcome direction.
I went back the following night. That should tell you everything you need to know: our original plans fell through, and this place drew us back in.
I love this place, because it fills me with hope that more enterprising young people will pick up the baton and revitalise other underused spaces.
Mere yards apart, we have two of 2017’s most significant openings. Its plastic serving baskets may be a world away from Asador 44’s elegant hand-made tableware, Cinco Jotas jamón de bellota and beautiful high-end steaks, but don’t underestimate the importance of Blue Honey.
4-5 Quay Street
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.