Hogwurst, on the corner of North Road and Blackweir Terrace, is deep in Cardiff University territory. The ASSL where I spent three years reading books and showing off about them (well, it beats working in a toothpaste factory) looms in the mid-distance. Of course, in my day, witter gibber moan…
With a tagline of ‘Frankly Ze Best’ you could be forgiven for muttering ‘Don’t mention the war’ or reminiscing fondly over Herr Flick, René and Yvette. The reality is something different: something deftly thought-out, something pretty damn impressive.
The site has been through several food-themed incarnations in its time, but has clearly undergone a recent and rigorous revamp. The decor now is comfortable, lived-in, designed to put you at your ease, somewhere you can stop for coffee or sit with your laptop. I daresay the key student market will find it proves irresistible.Weathered floorboards with the patina of long years; a condiment stand that once served as a Singer sewing machine table; the kind of desks I haven’t seen since primary school. It’s arty without being artful.
The morning menu is rich with hot chocolate, home-cooked pastries, coffee potent enough to rouse an Arts undergrad. Students will naturally form the key clientele (in fact, most of the staff are at the university) but it would be a crying shame to discount Hogwurst on ‘Town -v- Gown’ grounds. There’s a lovely relaxed atmosphere here that meant my infant daughter could play while at nearby tables others gossipped or read.
Owner Hao spent the summer researching the perfect sausages for his dream project and settled on Graham Waddington’s Native Breeds of Gloucestershire. The bread comes from rather closer to home: his search for a local baker with tradition and pedigree led him to Allen’s Bakery and their 120-plus years of history and their brioche rolls which they deliver daily.
All of which is well and good, but you’re kind of setting yourself up with that proud boast and it could all easily come crashing down in a welter of deft design touches which ultimately prove hollow. It all stands or falls on what arrives in front of you.
Happily, things really kick up a notch now and you know you’re in for a treat, and not solely because a soundtrack of Dylan, The Kinks and ‘How Soon Is Now?’ will always earn a huge tick in the plus column from me.
At times like this I tend to go for one ‘basic’ and one ‘special’. One ‘Hog Dog’-just diced red onion, a lacing of ketchup and mustard- and one ‘Hogamama’. When the sausage has this much ‘snap’ and flavour you know you’re eating good charcuterie; the coleslaw zings with freshness, the bread is superb. Everything is there for a reason and brings its own qualities to each bite, from the luscious Caribbean-inspired pulled pork to the wedge of pickle to the apple coleslaw to the crisp, crumbly onion. This is hotdoggery of a high order indeed.
Sides are similarly of a very high order. ‘Outlaw Fries’ arrive crisp and rustling in their enamelled dish- the ones not slathered in curry sauce and crispy onions, anyway- at which point you shrug your shoulders and dig in with fingers. This is not prissy, fastidious food: what it more assuredly is, is happy food. Sharing food.
A (complimentary) portion of Parmesan-flecked fries came nestling in a Golden Syrup tin (trivia fans will be able to attribute the logo and legend). That kind of touch makes sense here. It’s quirky, it’s fun, it’s lacking in pretension and flummery. It just works. Everything here just works and it is clearly no accident.
You could easily lose time in this place. The drinks menu features nothing harder than a San Pellegrino or a selection of Fentiman’s pops for grown-ups; however, there’s a ‘BYO’ policy here, with no surcharge, and it’s easy to imagine a few frosted bottles of Brooklyn Summer, Flying Dog, Sixpoint…something American and beaded with condensation as you sit at the old tables and watch the shadows lengthen…
But I’m getting ahead of myself and planning our return: Hogwurst does that to you.
So I’ll try to rein in the surge of enthusiasm I feel, having just returned and sat down at the laptop, and say this: ladies and gentlemen, we have another winner. Another independent setting out their stall with confidence and clarity of vision and strength of purpose, another local star.
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY:
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.