I went to a Greek restaurant last night. Terrible food, but smashing plates.
And now the drearily predictable joke is out of the way, on to the meat of the thing.
There’s a compelling argument to be made that Cardiff finally got street food one afternoon last Summer.
The flurry of events last year featured some established names- the estimable Hang Fire Smokehouse brought their own loyal followers, while Katiwok and Duchess of Delhi were among restaurants dipping a toe into less formal waters, with these events serving as an aperitif for the flowering of street food events in the capital. But most arrived as fully-formed ‘brands’ (ugh).
And then, one Sunday, up an alley off Womanby St, a family set up a charcoal grill, complete with Heath Robinsonesque spit turning device, and gave it a go.
No Twitter following, no Facebook campaign, no glossy blog. No PR agency devising strategy. Just a group of people thinking, ‘We’re used to feeding crowds at Greek Orthodox weddings and Christenings. Wonder if people would be interested..’
Cardiff, meet Meat and Greek.
We tried it, and loved it, and I scuttled off home to share this indefinable something- was it the smells wafting down the street? Was it the broad smiles on their faces? Was it the sight of several generations of a family working together? And most of all- just how good was this souvlaki?
Word spread. There was something infectious here, something obvious and true and very much in keeping with street food in its purest incarnation. (Within 48 hours the post became the most-read since I started these scribbles, though that may be pure coincidence). The next time they fired up their grill, the queue was- and I use the term carefully- Hang Firesque, stretching the length of the alley and back into the bar opposite.
Since then they’ve not looked back and are fixtures at Street Food Circus, but more than anyone that summer, they embodied the essentials of street food in its pared-back DIY aesthetic.
So Greek food is having a moment in Cardiff right now, which brings us to The Hellenic Eatery on that stretch of Crwys Road which is fast becoming a gourmand’s golden mile. This, similarly, has a muted online presence and is one of those word-of-mouth success stories.
The lexicon of menus is awash with ‘bites’ and ‘pieces’, with an occasional a ‘morsel’ or two. Since my meal here, I propose an addition. Henceforth, ‘slab’ should make the list. The portion of cheese atop our salad, liberally seasoned with oregano, could only be described in that way.
None of your fancy cubing or crumbling here, missis. This was a whole lotta salad for £5, and enough Greek cheese to satisfy the most fervent feta fetishist. For some this would be a meal in and of itself. Thankfully, your correspondent is made of sterner stuff.
There’s only really one option in a place like this, despite the large blackboard menu: the platter with a little of everything. It’s the equivalent of a Greatest Hits set at a festival, and the easy choice, but it is the ideal way to see if they know what they’re doing on the grill.
So, do they? Well…mostly.
For your £16 you get some serious meat action: chicken, pork and beef (which sounds like the punchline to that old “do they deliver?” gag), salad and fries. The beef patties had a much looser, more ‘open’ texture than you might expect and were generously herby. The sausage had a lovely smoky, fatty (this is a good thing) texture to it; I’d hazard a guess at an all-natural casing, which ticks all the boxes for me and makes such a difference in charcuterie.
Lurking beneath the aforesaid meatmound was some pitta bread, grill-striped and ready to glisten with those juices.
The pork skewers were excellent, and here’s where the caveat begins, because for all that the pork had been marinated and grilled beautifully, the chicken had sadly been heavily over seasoned. The whack of salt was more than noticeable and was the only disappointment, dominating that element of the meal.
Unfortunately this has also been the case on previous visits, and for friends too, so it would seem there’s an issue here.There’s obviously a deft hand at work with the other meats, so it shouldn’t be hard to fix this problem. In the meantime, you’ll be needing a drink: they have a small range of beers but as I’m a sucker for anything cherry-flavoured I went for a bottle of Λουξ. Thankfully, my smattering of Greek enabled me to translate this as ‘Loux’. Alternatively, dial down the smartarsedness, turn the botttle 180 degrees and read the label.
To wit: the gyros was superb: as much as the chicken was a letdown, the shavings of pork- crispy in parts, bringing more than a passing reminder of pork belly-was a highlight and the thing I think of most often when I pass. The fries were standard issue and it’d be good to have the option to swerve these in favour of more pitta, perhaps.
A thumbs-up, then, with that chicken-based caveat. Service is worth mentioning, too, with the waitress remaining friendly despite being alone in a busy slot. The Just watch out for mammoth cheese slabs (a remarkably poor pun about ‘fetalities’ has occurred and been dismissed) and you’ll have a good feed here. Just make sure you get the gyros…
The Hellenic Eatery
100 Crwys Road
Tel: 02921 321 600
Hellenic Eatery on Facebook
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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.