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Falafel Wales, Cowbridge Road East, Canton

June 28, 2012 Leave a comment

This tiny cafe-style eaterie in Canton proudly boasts its menu emblazoned on its front window. It’s cheap – and has been on the list of places for me to try for some while.

A fearsome appetite was the only excuse to wander in with my partner; no booking necessary.

Imagine a British-style greasy spoon cafe. Don’t get me wrong, I love a greasy spoon. But cuisine from other countries has a special quality. It’s the lure of the exotic, even in a cheap place. Falafel Wales is halal and concentrates on Middle Eastern food, with a Lebanese bent.

There were a lot of really nice-sounding salads and things as starters, but my dining partner and I plumped for mains straight away; for me, a chicken Shawarma with chips, mixed pickles, salad and a flatbread (£5.95). It was mountainous. And tasty. The chips were fries, as is the way with most middle-eastern places I’ve been to. The mound of chicken pieces atop the flatbread was full of flavour, with lots of brown meat. For the price of a Burger King Whopper meal I got an eminently satisfying plate.

My partner went for the chicken sheesh tawooq – cubes of chicken, marinated with herbal olive oil and lemon juice, cooked on skewers and served on a flatbread, with salad and rice (£4.95). The chicken was great, again with lots of flavour from the marinade. And another big portion.

Puddings were five baklava pieces, all gooey and sweet. Hard to go wrong with a £2.50 pudding. For me, I had an oum ali (£3) – described as a traditional Egyptian dessert of pastry, milk, fresh cream, sugar and nuts, served hot. I had to ask for it to be reheated, but it was pretty fine. <imIt had something of a school pudding about it, which was no bad thing. By this point I was so full I had to leave a quarter of it. The lovely manageress/chef offered to pack it up for me to take home, but I declined. She also was happy to explain to me the Turkish coffees (£1.50, just 25p more than the advertised ‘Nescafe’!). They arrived in small, delicate mugs, all thick, stewed and sweet. They had an odd, minty, burned taste that wasn’t unpleasant, just… odd. Turns out, as explained to me, that the very finely ground coffee is infused with cardomom. I’m not sure I’d go for another one, but certainly it was interesting to try.

In total, a sub-£20 bill for all that, plus a couple of cans of coke. Falafel Wales is an absolute bargain if you place tasty, voluminous, interesting food above decor. A big thumbs-up from the gourmand in me, if not the gourmet.

James McLaren

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Seren, Cowbridge Road, Cardiff

September 16, 2011 1 comment

Words by James McLaren

Want nice-sized portions of well-cooked eastern Mediterranean nosh for sensible prices? You couldn’t do much better than Seren on Cardiff’s Cowbridge Road.

I’ve been here before, when it operated as Bosphorus, but as Seren it’s retained its Turkish slant, and I was drawn by its meat-heavy but exotic menu, with lots of spices, yoghurt and tomatoes appearing in the dishes. Forgoing starters, we were nevertheless presented with a couple of dainty courgette and cheese fried patties with cucumber, tomato and yoghurt as an appetiser.

IskenderGiven the Turkish slant to Seren, we thought it was important to choose Turkish booze to go alongside the food. I don’t remember the names, but the house red and white wines both come from Turkey and are worth investigating. The white is a fresh, light number with a really appealing but unusual tang of olives alongside a citrus flavour, while the red was woody and spicy with a cherry and blackberry fruitiness. I also had a glass of Turkish lager which, while nothing special, was perfectly fine.

KarniyarikI deliberated over the delicious-looking seafood and grill dishes (marinated, whole, char-grilled sea bass, for example, or pieces of monkfish tail steamed with Seren special pear and honey sauce and flavoured with brandy) before plumping for one of the main dishes: Iskender: cubes of lamb on bread smothered with tomato sauce, drizzled with butter and served with yoghurt. My partner had the Karniyarik: aubergine filled with minced lamb, onion, pepper, tomato and herbs. It’s oven-baked and usually served with mozzarella but a dairy intolerance necessitated an absence of the cheese. Not a problem, as Seren cook everything fresh to order.

Both dishes went down very well, with my lamb tender and juicy in the rich tomato sauce. The sourness of the yoghurt complemented with sweetness of the meat and tomatoes, as is typical with cuisine from the Mediterranean. I did manage to burn my tongue on the bread, which I then exacerbated by chewing on the chilli which came atop the dish, but a mouthful of yoghurt sorted that out. The Karniyarak was equally appreciated: apparently ungreasy, the aubergine was soft and flavoursome, the herbed meat delicious. I should know, I tried a big mouthful.

Thankfully the portions weren’t huge, so puddings were chosen. I went for Kayisi: sun-dried apricot cooked in honey syrup with ice cream. It was top. Soft, plump and juicy fruit swimming in an unctuous sauce cut with icy oral refreshment. My partner went for baklava, a classic of the area. Four pieces of the filo and pistachio cakes exploding with honey syrup and served with cream and a drizzle of a dark fruit sauce. As good a portion of baklava as I think either of us have tasted.

Turkish coffeeCoffees finished up (one filter, and one a classic Turkish coffee, with a dusty, thick texture and served with amaretto liqueur). Replete, we had spent £46.50 including drinks which represents good value in an area in which restaurant choice is something of a lottery.