Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
Readers of the blog will know that I am at best an omnivore and at worst a voracious carnivore. I can’t help it, I love eating (good quality) meat.
Despite this I have no beef (excuse the pun) with veggies or vegans (as long as they don’t try to convert me – each to their own, just don’t shove it down my throat) and I am happy once in a while to eat a meal which lacks any meat element. As long as it is tasty (and not a rip off) I am generally happy.
This bring me to Ruin Cafe Bar, a vegan place in Dukes Street Arcade in Cardiff’s city centre, with this post being rather opportune in terms of timing due to the Cardiff #cityofarcades initiative having recently launched.
This newish establishment seems to be part of a growing veggie/vegan trend in Cardiff, with the likes of Crumbs (the venerable trailblazer), Milgi, Blanche Bakery, Anna Loki, Herbivore @ the Embassy Cafe as well as the soon to be up and running (first event on 21/7 at Milk & Sugar in the Old Library in Cardiff) Dirt Pop Up (from John Cook the chap behind the now closed Arbennig and the very much open Lamb & Flag in Wick) and, vegan fast food joint, the Greazy Vegan (of which I have high hopes on the basis of reports from friends who have been to their pop ups).
A couple of friends from work (both of whom, whilst not vegan, tend to eat quite a lot of vegan stuff) and I (who most certainly doesn’t) decided to give it a go one lunch time.
I went with my usual healthy dose of cynicism (“Will I be eating beige rabbit food, which will make me fart rather than fat?”), but with the hope of being pleasantly surprised.
Inside one of Cardiff’s rather fine Victorian arcades, Ruin Cafe Bar is a pleasant airy space.
A profusion of plants on the walls and even the ceiling, as well as higgledy piggley furniture, give the place an organic feeling. Sort of in keeping with their veggie roots.
You pay at the counter and the staff are helpful in terms of explaining ingredients (allergy risk e.g. from nuts)
All in all it has a nice laid back vibe to it. I understand (as part of Cardiff’s wider #cityofarcades initiative in terms Dukes Street and High Street Arcades) that they open in the evening and with booze on offer I think it would be a rather nice spot for a post work drink.
The food is split between a salad bar offering, soups and more substantial hot food numbers in the form of a bottomless veggie chilli and a bean burger (Thai spiced on the day of our visit). They also have cakes and other sweet stuff which looks interesting (sadly the, rather fine sounding, peanut butter chocolate balls had sold out at the time of our visit).
After toying with the idea of both the bottomless (no meat in it or diary based cheese on top of it) chilli and the (rather nice sounding) masoor dal, I went for a large salad bowl (£5.50).
For this you get a choice from the salad bar and I asked for a bit of everything available (not sure I got all items listed on the board as didn’t seem to get any coconut bacon – a vegan substitute for that most missed of meats, I suspect, if you are a veggie and which I very much doubt tastes anything remotely like bacon – can’t tell you whether I am right or wrong on that front as didn’t appear to be any in my salad bowl).
What I got was a decent sized bowl of interesting stuff.
A slaw had a nice crunch from the cabbage and nuts and a pleasant (if lacking a bit of zestiness) dressing, whilst the couscous was light and fluffy and studded with sweet juicy pomegranate seeds.
Salad leave were undressed and a bit boring, until mixed with a rather nice vegan mayo. I would not have clocked the latter as in anyway vegan (it was a bit thicker than standard mayo, but tasted very nice).
Both the carrots with sunflower pesto and the humarissa (hummus cut with fiery harissa) were very nice, but the things I really enjoyed were the green pea falafal, “crab cake” (obviously not crab, but made using heart of palm and/or artichoke I believe so that texturally it looks a bit like white crab meat inside) and the ruined kale (far from it as it happens).
The pea falafal was surprisingly light with a lovely fresh flavour, whilst the “crab” cake was really packed with flavour and nicely spiced. I would quite happily munch on a bowl of both of these (but especially the “crab” cakes) with a nice dip (and a beer or, better still, a chilled white wine, such as an Alsace riesling or an Austrian grüner veltliner, both of which would pair well with the spicing) and not miss meat at all.
As for the kale, it is one of those virtuous vegetables that you know is good for you but can be a tad drab. Here it was pickled and the result was a revelation. A lovely combination of sweet and sour, as against the iron richness of the kale.
One of my fellow dinners went with me in choosing the salad bowl, whilst the other one had the bean burger (£7.50).
This was a whopping sized portion, with sides picked from the salad bar and a rather fine pineapple chutney.
The burger itself was pronounce as very tasty, although (so I was told by the person who ordered it) the advertised Thai spicing could perhaps (in their view) have been a turned up a few notches. Looking at it I wasn’t sure as to the texture, which seemed a bit mushy to me and the bun was a very regulation brown bap. Can’t say it would sway me as against a beef burger if I am honest, but it went down very well with the person who ordered it.
Notwithstanding my slight reservations regarding the burger’s texture (purely on looks – it was very nice apparently), all in all I was quite impressed by the food here. Stuff going to other tables, such as the veggie chilli looked equally nice (big portion sizes too). All far from the dull rabbit food I had feared.
On the drinks front, they have an interesting selection of hot drinks and booze.
In terms of the hot drinks, whilst I didn’t ask, I assume that the milk used is soy or nut based (can hardly be vegan otherwise).
The booze looked interesting with some local beers (Pipes) and their own in house brew – ” Ruin” beer. Not sure of the quality of the wine on offer, but the per glass wine prices at £3.5/£4/£5 seem fair (as long as it isn’t total rubbish) I assume the wine used all rocks the vegan box, with many using animal based products as fining agents). At first glance (and without out proper sight of the labels) the wine looked a bit pedestrian to me, but I could be wrong. I fear a bog standard pinot grigo (whilst the good ones are very nice, the vast majority are bloody awful) and merlot (ditto).
Spirits are also on offer, including the somewhat unfortunately named Eartha. I assume this is meant to invoke the spirit of Mother Earth/Gaia, but I always think of rhyming slang when I see the word Eartha (Kitt)!!!!!
I went for a soft drink (mainly juices on offer, but also sodas) in the form of a pineapple juice as it was a work day (resisting the school boy urge to say ” I’ll just have a quick eartha over in the corner if you don’t mind “). This was on the board at £2 a pint.
Certainly wasn’t a pint, but I was told if I wanted a refill to just shout. I didn’t and (if am honest) would have preferred a cheaper price for a just a half pint.
Did the place convert me to vegan food? Well depends what you mean by that.
I certainly enjoyed the food here, with the stars of the show being the very moreish “crab” cakes and the pickled “ruined” kale.
Both seriously good, with vegan food like this certainly putting pay to the bland rabbit food moniker often applied (by people like me) to it.
I will definately be continuing to eat meat (and lots of it), but this gaff does give both hardened veggies and us omnivores options in the city centre in both the day and the evening.
Places like this make going meat free once in a while something that I will not view with horror that is for sure.
Would I go back? Yes, really like the place and enjoyed the surprisingly (to me) tasty food. Great for lunch and it has the looks of a decent evening venue.
Address : 3-7 Dukes Street Arcade, Cardiff, CF10 1QR
Website: click here
Opening hours: Sun – Wed: 11.00 – 17.30 and Thurs- Sat: 11.00 – 23.30