So Good, opposite Mina and Pim’s on Crwys Road in Cardiff, isn’t your run of the mill Cantonese adapted to undemanding British tastes. The spicing is bolder, the menu clearly with an eye on the Chinese diners who make up the rest of the guests when I visit.
The fallback term for this food is ‘gutsy’. Here that’s literal, with intestines and maw on the menu and pig feet among the temptations.
It’s a laminated picture menu folder kind of place, with industrial baby pink walls, ‘lucky’ red and gold decorations, plastic tablecloths. A steel trolley in the corner with boxes of taheaway cartons piled high. That kind of place. But I’m not to assess the romantic à deux atmosphere, but for food which resonates.
(An aside. That’s partly because I believe a romantic meal is wherever you find it: I’ve known intensely memorable evenings cuddled in on a park bench, with only a Styrofoam box of noodles on the menu, while we’ve all seen the dead-eyed couples, all fire long since extinguished, at the obscenely-priced Michelin gaff, silently rehearsing their resentments and counting the days until the children leave.)
A large steamed bun, generously filled with a subtly seasoned pork with chives mixture, is clearly bought in but decent enough for under £2.
A mound of Yang Chow fried rice is as light and fluffy as you’d expect, and not shy with the cloudy little scraps of egg. Here’s a picture, in case I sustain a serious head injury and need to know what rice looks like or start enjoying anything with Stephen Mulhern.
Sichuan beef chilli soup? That’s a serious proposition. It’s hugely flavoured and hugely proportioned, served in the kind of bowl you’d sneak into Linton Travel Tavern and anyone under 5’10 should be wary of toppling into these depths and drowning.
Under a thin layer of amber chilli oil and a payload of minced garlic (several tablespoons, as a mere garnish) is a compelling broth.
Lurking in those depths are cabbage and beansprouts, both with some snap to them, endless dried chillies and aromatics and of course that electric buzz of Sichuan pepper. It’s a daunting portion for a mere £9.20 and easily a meal in itself. (I end up taking two tubs’ worth home). The meat is poached in the stock, at a guess, for tenderness and a dollop of sourness in there for good measure. Formidable.
You can’t claim ignorance of this stuff- it’s all there in the name. The deep ochre of the broth is compelling, drawing you back in again and again, even as you get another sweat on- shades of Great Chongqing– and your nose runs in the most seductive, alluring way: as I drain the leftovers at home my pulse races to 116 from its resting 60. Cardio programmes have never tasted so good.
It’s the texture of the double-cooked pork belly which makes it the best dish of all. A hearty stir-fry of green peppers and thick slices of onions plays backup to meat slow cooked and sliced bacon-thin, little instalments of resolute pigginess, with the spicing much more muted and foregrounding the sweatness of the meat.
There’s a similar makeup for the lamb with cumin- onions, peppers, scallions, dried chillies- but it is less robustly flavoured than some, and the cumin more there to sing backup than to preen in the spotlight. If it falls short of the same dish at Old Sichuan that’s no embarrassment.
So Good won’t win any Instagram beauty contests. But it will feed you in a way which stays with you, which makes a real impact. This kind of menu is still fairly rare in the city, but very much worth seeking out.
48 Crwys Road
Mon-Sat 12pm-2pm & 5pm-11pm
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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.