Wally’s is a Cardiff fixture, a tradition. More than that, it’s a symbol of what can be great about Britain.
That might seem a grand claim. Bear with me.
The facts of the eponymous founder’s life are well known; how his father Ignatz, seeing the dark threat of fascism- and specifically the spectre of a violent, institutionalised antisemitism- looming over Europe, escaped the ghetto and fled to Britain, setting up home with his wife and three children. Walter was three at the time. It was a grimly accurate sense of foreboding Ignatz had: he lost three brothers in Shoah. The Catastrophe.
Working long hours in a local factory enabled him to amass capital and set up his own delicatessen, where John Lewis now stands in Bridge Street Cardiff. (It stood there until a compulsory purchase order necessitated a move in 1981, to its present home in Royal Arcade.)
Bringing with him experience as a former shopkeeper in Poland and Austria, he stocked food for the influx of Eastern European migrants and others who lived locally, sourcing products from London importers- strange things that had never been seen in Cardiff before. This became their calling-card and Wally’s was for many years- still is- the first thought when trying to source something authentic, something different. (I can personally attest to this: as a young child, a trip to Wally’s was like a dive to some strange treasure hoard, bound to result in some Spanish delicacy available nowhere else, at a time when even garlic was viewed with naked, hissing suspicion by many. Still, their range is second to none locally. For many- most?- Cardiffians, Wally’s isn’t ‘a’ deli. It’s the deli.)
The shop was a lot smaller then, and confined to one floor. Wally Salomon died in 2008, but his loyal staff and family still run the business. Things have changed. The city’s changed. But continuity counts. As you ascend the stairs toward the eat-in section, the Kaffeehaus, you pass Wally’s portrait at eye level. You can’t help pondering on the fact that his father came to Britain to escape a great evil, and settled and prospered here, and was free to do so. And that the shop has built its name on offering a plethora of foods peculiar to the disparate immigrant communities of the region, reflecting on its shelves the (I’m trying to resist using a Brentian ‘melting pot’ here) changing cosmopolitan makeup of its customers and its catchment.
As I said, what’s great about Britain. Something rather heartening about that, however dimmed by overfamiliarity these concepts may be to many of us.
The first floor having been converted into their ‘Kaffeehaus’ for some time now, and having its ‘Cardiff on a Fiver’ claims recommended by @cardiffbites, we set up near the window and ordered from the substantial menu.
Mine was the frankfurter lunch (£4.95), a German sausage split lengthwise (if this was a prawn or a leg of lamb you’d be calling it ‘butterflied’) . Sat on rye bread, it was in effect an open hot dog with several accompaniments: a mound of dill-topped sauerkraut (it’s a nice thematic tie-in that during WWI., American sauerkraut producers retitled it ‘Liberty cabbage’) a chunky sliced pickle and a pot of that definitively Teutonic obsession- curry ketchup.
The bread itself was a medium-dark rye, soft but with decent ‘bite’ and the frankfurter sausage itself- a lengthy beast, smothered in melted Emmenthal- a real treat. A generous dollop of German mustardwas always going to prove a winning addition.
All in all, a good plateful of hearty flavours and a worthy stop on the Cardiff on a Fiver Quest. A descendant of a Spanish-Jewish family, sat with his Welsh-Ghanaian-Barbadian wife, in a Viennese-style kaffeehaus in Wales, eating a German sausage slathered in Swiss cheese. Old Mr Salomon would be happy with that, I reckon.
38-46 Royal Arcade
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.