Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
Hooray, the beautifully located Secret Garden Cafe in Cardiff’s Bute Park has reopened.
The place had (until last year) been a favourite of dog owners (like me and Mrs. SF) who extensively utilise Bute Park with their dogs in tow.
The previous tenant had, however, imposed a very dog unfriendly policy, which (to my mind) worked very effectively in alienating and thus driving away a key element of the customer base of the place (a vital one in the months when the sun isn’t out in my opinion). Unsurprisingly (to everyone bar it seems the tenant in question) this proved to be commercial suicide and the place has been closed for some time (seeking a new tenant).
It was, therefore, rather pleasing to see the place reopening under the care of the always excellent Penylan Pantry, with (very wisely) a resolutely dog friendly policy in place.
Its location is pretty much at the mid – point of Mrs. SF’s and my 7 odd mile weekend walk with our dogs and therefore perfectly situated as a place to have a tea, coffee or more.
The weekend after the Easter Bank Holiday weekend (it only opened at Easter) allowed us a first look at the new “Secret Garden”, with our dogs in tow.
It is lovely spot, a stone’s throw from the Taff, in the heart of Bute Park – which is very much in the City centre and acts as its green lung.
You can sit outside (with the lovely open space that is Bute Park around you) or inside (undercover-ish a la Dusty Knuckle). Whichever you choose, it is a lovely spot for a coffee or something more substantial.
Inside, the outside is nicely bought in with lots of florals.
A sail and (where necessary) blankets protect you from the elements (rather effectively). You go up to the counter to order, with items ordered bought to the table. It was very busy on our visit, but the time from an order being made to said order arriving at the table was admirably short. A very efficient operation I thought.
The thing I really like about it (in sharp contrast to the previous tenant), is how they cater for dog owners and their dogs.
My dogs weren’t just tolerated, but activity welcomed (subject to them being under control and well behaved, which is fair enough, and luckily mine were – they have a doggie code of conduct with common sense requirements aimed at ensuring both dog owners and non dog owners can enjoy the place).
Water bowls and plenty of biscuits are on offer,
which made for happy doggies (and doggy owners).
With Penylan Pantry behind this venture, it is pretty much a given that the food and drink offering would be top notch and it didn’t disappoint.
Whilst the menu is somewhat pared back compared to that at Penylan Pantry, there is plenty of interest for gluttons like me.
After minimal deliberation (being starving after a very rare lie in and no breakfast), I decided on the “hot pot’ (£6.50) option – a rather enticing chorizo and bean number on the day of our visit (it changes regularly). I inexplicably missed the brunch (meat and veggie) bowls (served at the weekends) and did suffer a bit of food envy when I saw these arriving at multiple other tables as I awaited my hotpot.
I had no need to regret my choice though, as my hotpot was absolutely bang on the money. A paprika rich tomato heavy stew packed with chorizo, butter beans and various other legumes, it was full of flavour and had a lovely warming quality to it.
It came with some fantastic toasted bread that had been slathered with garlic butter, with the garlic element being wild garlic foraged from the surrounding Bute Park (this time of year our dog walks in Bute Park are heady with the aroma of said wild garlic which grows in profusion in the park). Great idea to take advantage of the natural resources of the park.
Lovely stuff and very filling. I was happily sated after scoffing my hotpot and garlic bread.
Mrs SF went for the cheese and toastie (£5), with this being far from your run of the run of the mill toastie.
The ham was Carmarthenshire ham and the cheese Ogleshield, making it a very classy toastie.
Perfect gooeyness was achieved in terms of the rich, punchy cheese and the bread had a pleasing chew to it (it was not over toasted). A nice touch was the homemade pickles that come with the toastie, with their briney sourness operating nicely as a counterpoint to the rich cheese and sweet onion chutney.
For those looking for healthier options, there are some very nice salad options (with the ability to seriously pimp up your salad).
Pic courtesy of a work colleague and friend (rather than me being a utter glutton) – cheers Emily.
Those with a sweet tooth are also admirably catered for, with lots of lovely sounding cakey stuff on offer. The blood orange brownies were flying out during our visit – can understand why as they sound fab.
There is lots of stuff on offer to take away and I think their picnic boxes are an inspired idea. Great to pick up one and then find a nice spot in beautiful Bute Park to soak up a bit of inner city nature and (if it ever reappears) sun.
On the drinks front, the same attention to detail and ingredients is applied as with the food.
Interesting stuff that appeals to both kids and adults (and big kids – with stuff like gingerella).
Both Mrs. SF and I fancied a coffee and went for the house blend (from with Has Bean Coffee) flat white (£2.50).
Lovely fruity and sweet caramel notes to this coffee. Really nice stuff.
On a return visit, for a take away coffee, we both had rather good cortado (my coffee style of choice).
I really liked the new “Secret Garden”, with it ticking pretty much all my boxes.
Good food and drink, a nice ambience, efficient and friendly service and doggie friendly. Great little spot, which if there is any justice, will do very well. I can see it being really busy come the Summer (please can we have one this year). It was packed on our Saturday visit even with the slightly dodgy weather on that day.
The bill (with filling food and drink) came to £16.50, which I thought was fair for the quality and quantity of what we got.
After the disaster that was the last tenant, it is so nice to have this place back in capable (dog loving) hands.
Would I go back? Absolutely – perfect spot to break up Mrs SF’s and my walk with the dogs of a weekend. We will be regular visitors (the dogs approved of the biscuits, so I can imagine them making a beeline for the place whenever we walk past). We have already been back for a mid dog walk coffee.
Address: Located in Bute Park by the Education Centre – map of its exact location can be accessed via this link