The South Kitchen is hiding in plain sight on Broadway. It probably doesnt look like your idea of a restaurant. It is easy to miss- I have passed it on foot so many times, and sometimes the front looks shuttered when the side entrance is open. But it’s certainly time you knew about it.
The former Polish ‘My Place’ is easy to miss online, too: they have no site of their own, only Instagram, and at time of writing they have posted just seven times, almost exclusively in Arabic, to their 123 followers.
South Kitchen’s online presence is so poorly defined that one site calls it ‘the 8th best vegan restaurant in Cardiff.’ I’m less concerned with arguing its relative position, than pointing out that any menu which offers a binary choice between chicken and lamb might leave vegans just a tad underwhelmed.
(Full disclosure: it is more than possible I missed South Kitchen because I was too busy sniggering at a nearby sign. ‘DELIVERY DRIVERS- PLEASE USE REAR ENTRANCE’. Innocuous enough in isolation: but on the wall of the nearby massage parlour? You can’t blame a man for laughing. But I’m here at last. And my mind’s on the food. Honest.)
Portion sizes go from ‘individual plate’ to ‘whole animal’. And it’s that lamb that has brought me here. I come, yet again, in search of mandi. (It’s another tip from Stewart Owadally who pointed me towards the recently reviewed Hadramowt and Harafs.)
Surely this must be Cardiff’s briefest menu. It’s cash only and that menu is sellotaped to the wall. The basic functionality might not be to everyone’s taste, true: there’s a solitary table and a single chair and a large raised carpeted area. Table or…? asks the owner. In for a penny, in for a rapidly depreciating pound, so off come my shoes and I sit cross- legged and wait for good things to happen. A plastic sheet is laid: there’s an Arabic brand box of tissues to hand. Toto, I’ve a feeling we aren’t in Pontcanna anymore.
A man is kneeling in prayer a yard or two away: no one else is speaking English as we prepare to eat. People opposite overhear me telling the owner I am here on recommendation. It turns out they know the mandi lamb at Al-Madina Mandi and Hadramowt too. One says, smiling, ‘We have the same journey’, and you can supply your own rumination on the uniting power of food here. It’s easy to feel at home here.
Pulped tomato and chilli sauce- undeniably potent- and tahini come on the side. There’s a lot of food for your £15 and my ‘for one’ is feeding a pair of friends opposite. A scattering of parsley, some lemon and raw white onion, a whole green chilli: the simplest accompaniments to the rice which wafts smoky meaty juices upward as it arrives.
But that lamb? The lamb is predictably superb. Wonderful. Take every superlative you have to hand and use it: this is lamb in all its aromatic, sweet, tender, fatty glory and nothing short of essential, a simple enough plate of steamed meat and rice, but done impeccably. There are little ribs and a hefty piece of belly, the skin bronzed and delicate and pulling away gently for more of those precious little scraps of fat to enrich the rice. If you are new to mandi, it doesn’t get better than this.
You catch someone’s eye and they give you a grin and a thumbs up. I love that informality, that connection, that shared enjoyment. The setup may be unfamiliar: eating like this might feel like stepping outside what you feel comfortable with. I can only tell you, in all my recent visits here and in Grangetown, that I have been made to feel very welcome, that greeting a face from outside the usual community seems to make them happy.
The chicken, too, is excellent, its skin a deep gold and the flesh irreproachably tender. It seems ludicrous it costs just seven pounds. That’s seven (£7) pounds, in old-time Saturday teatime football results teleprompter style, a hugely generous and satisfying plateful.
You might have noticed I’ve been focusing on places like this recently. Places which do something different, places which have been overlooked by the mainstream Cardiff conversation. And I’ve been struck by how many of you have responded so well. I’m still unsure whether Broadway is in Roath, Splott or Adamsdown- or in some mystical confluence of all three. But one thing is clear: wherever you are, if you want to eat well, you should embrace the experience and head South.
The South Kitchen, 57 Broadway, Cardiff CF24 1QE
3-8pm, Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday
Friday and Saturday: 3 to 9
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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.