There’s a flag in the window of Cathays Terrace’s Bar 105. Crimson, royal blue, an eight-pointed star: the colours of The Philippines.
After pandemic upheaval, during which she set aside her catering business to work on the front line, Michelle Green is cooking the food of her homeland. She brings plenty of experience, from prestigious hotels to her own company, and at Bar 105 we find the kitchen flying new colours: Pinoy Carinderia.
Pinoy: Filipino people. Carinderia: a street food business. ‘Pinoy Carinderia’: the street food people.
These are early days, so the menu is on A4 and in a polypocket. The bad news first: this is a very meaty menu, offering little for vegetarians, with even pakbet (£8.50, also known as ‘pinakbet’) stew of aubergine, okra, butter squash, string beans leaning heavily on shrimp paste.
Filipino food is famously in thrall to the pig and its possibilities. We bond over our home cuisines’ love affair with the animal. ‘Without pork, you’re not Filipino,’ says Michelle, and that resonates profoundly: try imagining Spanish food without chorizo, lomo, salchichon or morcilla, without jamón ibérico de bellota, without Asturian fabada or cocido madrileño. It doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?
There are familiar fingerprints all over Filipino cooking. Lechon, sisig, adobo, menudo, pata and more are on this menu, an indelible reminder of the Spanish invasion and rule which began in 1565, and lasted for more than 300 years. It’s in the name: they were renamed Las Islas Filipinas in honour of Philip II.
(There’s a payload of post-colonial guilt, if you’re half British, half Spanish and so minded. Pick the bones out of that one.)
‘Breakfast for dinner’ is a grand idea in anyone’s book, and lechonsilog here is no different. There are three silogs to choose from: all centre around sinangag (garlic fried rice) and itlog (fried egg), and it’s the prefix which tells you what to order: tapa (dried cured meat) gives you tapasilog, and tocino– sweetened cured pork belly, not to be confused with its Spanish namesake- tocinosilog.
My lechonsilog is sliced pork belly marinated in kalamansi (Philippine lime juice) and soy. A sweet papaya salad and rice, speckled with nutty fried garlic, anchors a substantial plate for £10.50.
A simple cook says Michelle, and I suppose she’s right: would that all ‘simple cooks’ made such an impact. She brings an array of condiments to tweak my pork: patis fish sauce, kalamansi– tart, citrussy- toyomansi soy with more kalamansi and lightly sour, spicy pinakurat coconut vinegar.
(Apologies: I have just realised that ‘tweak my pork’ could be open to misinterpretation. I’ll change that before this goes live.)
I’m intrigued by pork sisig: meat comes sizzling at you on cast iron, a jumble of textures cut with red onion and green finger chillies all laced with mayonnaise. It’s up to you to stir the raw egg into the pork as it develops a little crust from underneath, if that’s your thing. It’s drinking food, Michelle says, so ignore the more familiar beers and have a bottle of Red Horse, a 7% import lager.
Some might baulk at the raw egg. Or the idea of where the meat comes from. Don’t: the egg cooks quickly, and this is compelling stuff. Of course, if some beardy white bloke with a sleeve tattoo and ‘edgy’ social media called this ‘Pig’s Head Hash’ and knocked out a half-sized portion for £12 a go at some street food event near you this summer, people would go crazy for it. Leftovers make for a standout breakfast the following day.
Ho hum. Where were we..?
Ramen, recently popular in the Philippines, features: I’m drawn to kaldereta, a tomato-based concoction of beef, onions and peppers, chunky with carrot and potato, and here is more of that garlic-flecked rice to soak up the sauce. It’s hearty stuff with a stealthy heat, and quintessentially Filipino. Which is why we are here.
Michelle has plans for lechon, the Filipino national dish of whole roast piglet- she mimes the ‘plate carving’ pantomime familiar from Segovia’s Meson Candido (note to self: never did get round to write up any of my visits there). That calls to me, too: what is more iconically Castillian than the crisp parchment-delicate skin of cochinillo asado from the wood-fired asadores of Castilla y León?
Pinoy Carinderia is an intriguing arrival. It brings something new and distinctive to the city, from yet another business born out of turmoil. After last week’s revelation that is Steve Bennett’s takeover of The Flora, this makes an amble down Cathays Terrace very much worth your time. This is the sort of cooking which makes the city more interesting by the week, and the sort of small independent which gives food here character and interest. Honest, personable food will always be something we need.
105 Cathays Terrace, Cardiff CF24 4HU
From 5pm, every day
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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.