If I remember my history- and I rather think I have- Oscar Wilde was father to 114 illegitimate children, world heavyweight boxing champion, and author of the best-selling pamphlet, ‘Why I Like To Do It With Girls‘.
What history has forgotten, though, is his way with a quip. A pithy turn of phrase. An aphorism, if you will. To whit, ‘You can never be overdressed or overeducated’.
I’m rather inclined to agree with him on the latter point, but he obviously never turned up at a skate park in double cuffs, Oxford brogues and silk tie.
But for this sartorial solecism there was good reason. I was on a reconnaissance mission for CUB. M’colleague had spotted this place some weeks earlier, and a recent tweet from @nunnwilliams rekindled my interest and made it my destination, straight from work on a rare ‘smart’ day. I’m not a skater or a boarder: I lack the requisite qualities (big trainers, jaunty caps, reckless bravery). But I am prepared to cross cultural chasms in search of a good burger, even if I must have presented the most incongruous figure, being neither ‘rad’ nor ‘gnarly’.
Check out my young people speak. Innit. Basically.
Spit & Sawdust, nestled just off Newport Road, has been open since May this year, though it was two years in the making. It’s a non-profit social enterprise, comprising an indoor skate park, an imminent first-floor art studio and a café initiated by Christian Hart and Nia Metcalfe. With the café serving as a foyer for the ramps, home comforts are currently basic. The welcome was warm though; I have never before been offered a hot water bottle while I eat. With a menu chalked on the panels of a free-standing door, you are in the realm of the quirky. Or the cool. Which, like the past, is a foreign country to me.
“Quality of food and ingredients and their origins is very important to us. All food will be homemade, all meat and eggs will be free-range. Organic and local ingredients will be used as much as possible.
The menu will be simple street-style affordable food. The offer will vary daily, and seasonally…”
So runs their manifesto. That’s pretty impressive. Heart-on-the-sleeve stuff. There’s a commitment to being quietly distinctive here, at eye-catching prices. Food with those responsibly-sourced credentials, with sides and salad, must come at a premium. Surely.
However, all of that means a thumping great zilch, a resounding nada, if the food is well-intentioned but ultimately dull, because you can’t savour the taste of righteousness.
We were here for the burgers. A joint visit was essential.
The Plate Licked Clean:
Look. I know I’ve probably contravened some subsection of the Cardiff Blogger’s Handbook by not writing about Wahaca or Burger and Lobster this week. They’re the big stories. They’ll come. (They’re interesting enough, but that’s not important now). But in an odd way, the existence of somewhere like this excites me more. No glitz, no schmooze, no big campaign or starry brand; just passionate and committed people wanting to do something on their terms, with integrity.
For your money you get hand-cut chips and a handmade burger. That’s noteworthy in itself: at this price you’re normally be dabbling in the murkier end of the market. The menu has an unusual breadth of meat-free options, stretching far beyond the usual lip-service.
But that’s always going to be a side-show here. One Classic, one Smoke, with only one portion of chips. Because two would be overkill.
Everything here is hand-made. The burnished brioche buns are from Allen’s of Roath (they also supply the estimable Hogwurst); the patties have that irregular look of the home-made. Chips are actually, y’know, cut by hand; batter is beaten prior to coating and frying. Twice, to a deep golden hue and a real snap to the odd-shaped bits you get from real ones.
This is home cooking, at a frankly ludicrous price: two burgers, one portion of chips. £9.40.
The pickles- battered, deep-fried, piping hot- have a sinful crunch over a briny tang and are the kind of side you could order by the trough.
The patties- locally sourced, organic free-range beef, of course, are served pink (hurrah and huzzah!) and take centre stage. Rightly so. No topping is allowed to dominate. The flavour of beef is paramount. Everything comes together very tidily- the bread is light, the pickles tart, any additions are in moderation so as not to throw the whole thing off balance. very simple, and so, so good. It’s pretty exciting to have such attention paid to sourcing, to cooking, to assembling. At silly prices. Oh and it’s half a mile from the house…
The Grill & Barrel:
Patty-I just love it when you don’t get a pre-formed burger. One that isn’t shaped perfectly and is identical to its brothers and sisters or it hits the ‘reject’ bin in the burger factory. Perfect isn’t pretty. A hand formed patty is. Blushing pink on the inside, which is rare these days, this patty is pretty darn good. I could go for another one… oh wait, I’ve got The Huge and there are two patties sitting between those buns. Good good.
Sides-a hearty side of deep fried pickles for just £1.50 is a deal. It’s a steal. It’s the sale of the flippin’ century. A slither of pickle covered in homemade batter to order and served steaming hot. Damn, they know what they’re doing here!
Extras- people are often scolded for cutting corners and for not doing a job right, but when you skip out the simple task of skinning your potatoes before slicing them and double frying them, there aren’t any corners being cut. There’s not an ounce of laziness in leaving the skin on. It’s a stroke of genius that many restaurants and burger joints just don’t get. Why spend your time peeling a potato when chips just have so much more of a crunch and flavour when you leave them on? Don’t embarrass your potatoes by stripping them naked. Let them keep their jackets on before you sacrifice them to the chopping board and fryer. These are chips done right.
Atmosphere-Mondays are slow days, they are the first to admit it, but when the owners come and sit next to your table and tell you about their ideals and motives behind their venture, as well as their suppliers and the importance of sourcing local, you just can’t beat it. You don’t need a million people instagramming pictures of food, raving about how ‘cool’ and ‘edgy’ it is to create an atmosphere. All you need is a burger and some good company and Spit and Sawdust serve both in abundance, with pretension absent from the menu.
Bun-a beautifully bronzed bun and great to see them utilising Allen’s. It just goes to show that there just is no excuse for ordering food in from a wholesaler based hundreds of miles away when we have everything right here on our doorstep.
Toppings-smoked cheese dribbling down the side of the patty and onto the bun and accentuated the crispy bacon perfectly. Crunchy slaw that isn’t swimming in mayo stuffs the inside whilst the top is stacked high with thick cut, freshly battered onion rings creating a Leaning Tower of Burger.
Drinks-When they get their license expect craft beer staples like Brooklyn and Sierra Nevada, whose hops will cut through the batter to lighten the inevitable weight that is now sitting in my stomach.
Overall-a hidden, back street gem whose passion shines through with every bite and for under a tenner you can’t go wrong. I will be back and will undoubtedly have to be wheeled out of there on a skateboard after sinking another Huge.
The final reckoning:
This is a little gem. These are very good burgers; at this price, they veer toward being daft value. Thing is, are we recommending you drop in, even if skating is of no interest to you?
That’ll be an unequivocal yes. Ollie, grind and kickflip your way there. Or drive. Either way- go already.
So much for the food, then: if you want to know more about Spit and Sawdust and their ethos, you can read an in-depth profile at http://thegrillandbarrel.com/2014/12/29/board-slides-and-burgers-at-spit-and-sawdust/
Spit and Sawdust
Rhymney River Bridge Road
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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.