Take heart, liver little and give this place a go(nad)! Dark, Cardiff City Centre

Whilst nose to tail eating is increasingly in vogue these day (gawd bless Fergus Henderson and his St John’s Restaurant for having blazed the trail in bringing this sort of eating back), a lot of people remain squeamish about a style of eating that was standard practice for my grandparent’s “waste not want not” generation. I still think the majority think offal is awful, but by dismissing it out of hand (ear, foot etc.) they are missing a trick. In my opinion, the cheapest cuts are often the tastiest (if, and it is a big if, cooked properly).

I have always loved offal and, in particular, liver (liver and onions in gravy was a regular dinner option when I was a student back in the 1880s) is a firm favourite ranging for the cheap as chips pig’s and chicken livers (who doesn’t love a good chicken liver pâte) to the decadent calf’s liver.

In my youth, I did hate kidneys (then overcooked to mouth desiccating dryness and tasting of how I imagine boiled p#ss would) but my tastes have matured as have the cooking of kidneys. A glorious milk fed lamb kidney dish at the Little French in Bristol

sealed kidney’s move from my very small food hate list (still can’t get my chops around tripe am afraid and tangerines, clementines and mandarins are the work of the devil – oddly I love a tart, has to be super “battery acid” tart mind, satsuma) to my very long food like list

This brings me to Dark, the latest venture for the serial innovators behind Dusty Knuckle, a place that looks to bring to Cardiff those parts of the beast we tend to shy away from (and a few we don’t, as well as veggie stuff).

A seemingly brave move, but if anyone can win the denizen of Cardiff over to this sort of stuff it is the Dusty Knuckle crew, and lots of Cardiffians love faggots and peas (with B.R Donnelly – now the Balcony Cafe I believe – a firm favourite in the central market). As such is isn’t that great a leap (when you explore what is actually in a faggot).

The place

Located in the rather lovely Castle Arcade, it is “Dark” my name

and certainly dark by nature inside.

There is a behemoth of an wood burning oven in the kitchen

which many of the menu items are exposed to.

It is quite a small space (maybe 20 covers max, if that, inside but there is additional sitting outside in the Arcade) and it was pretty full when we arrived at 12.45 on a Monday lunchtime. Impressive start to trading I have to say.

I manage to show my true “darkside of the force” potential by bringing down some fairy lights on the window by our table by seemingly just looking at them (my dining companion – Darth Wayne – failed this Sith form test abysmally)!!

The food

The “eat in” food offering is split between the full menu (kebabs, pizzas and plates),

a brunch menu (that is also available at lunch time – loving that kippers are on it).

Myself and Darth Wayne decided on the main menu and the kebab element of that menu.

Bearing in mind my thoughts above on offal, I was always going for the liver offal kebab (£9.50).

When I think of a kebab I tend to think cubed or minced meat on a stick or as cut slices (i.e. a doner/shawarma) a la Souvlike,

This sort of stuff.

but it seems that what is encompassed by the term kebab is surprisingly wide.

What arrived here was not actually what I was expecting, if am honest being a offal laden wood fired flat bread, with the lamb offal in a pretty fine ground mince.

Lovely combination of flavours, with the full on flavour offal (iron rich liver, kidneys, lights and a few unmentionables – one of which is alluded to in the post title – think Phill may have been joshing me on that one but ….) complimented by the heat, sweet and sour of fermented chill, the cooling sourness of yoghurt and some punchy (sweet and sour) pink pickled onions. Copious quantities of freshly chopped parsley added a lovely freshness to the dish. Good ratio of ingredients, such that none overpowered the others (no mean feat).

All of this sat on a light flat bread base, with a crisp (but not too crisp) bottom and a lightly bubbled, slightly chewy, top. Just how I like my flat breads.

Darth Wayne had the chicken bits kebab (£9), with the chicken bits being thigh and heart. For anyone squeamish about hearts, you wouldn’t have known from the presentation of the dish it was in there (diced finely and mixed in with the thigh) and taste wise it was like dark chicken meat with a touch of sweetness. The other bits (teriyaki sauce, kimchi and sesame aioli) all worked well with the tender chicken (which also have some gratifyingly crispy bits). There were also some crunchy raw veg, which worked well to temper the richness of the dish.

As with the lamb offal kebab, this came on a pleasingly light flat bread.

On a further visit, I was drawn (on the basis of what I thought an intriguing combo) to the chicken curry doughnut (£5.50)

Certainly not a looker at first blush (or should that be flush😁), with my initial thought being “you kinda think it goes beyond nose to tail and settles on what drops out by the tail”!

Notwithstanding its lack of looks (something I know all about – having to rely on my sparkling personality to see me though 🙄), it was tasty stuff.

The crust was nicely crisp (more so than is usually the case for the outside of a doughnut, but it reassuringly had a soft and fluffy lining – think a fur lined coat) and the interior was filled with a generous portion of nicely spiced (more fruity than hot spice) chicken and veggie curry. The level of heat may disappoint chilli fiends, but I thought it worked well as a lunch time dish.

I enjoyed this, but think it needed a bit of greenery. I am not usually a fan of a garnish (generally pointless frippery), but I think this would benefit from having something else on the plate. Perhaps a raw onion (or even better their pink pickled onion) and tomato (kachumber) salad or a blob of Kimchi would work well here? I would be happy with that even if it bopped the price up a bit.

As well as eat in, they have kept the hatch that was so synonymous with the Cafe Minuet (the previous occupier of the site and the first restaurant I reviewed on the blog many years ago – how time flies when you are making typos).

I think this is a really nice touch and it makes for a fine addition to the lunch time take away options in the City centre.

The drink

There are soft drinks,

hot drinks (coffee) and booze on offer (no list at the time of my visit). The beer seems to be from Freedom Brewery (not sure as to which one(s), the price or if there will be others – assume so).

Not sure if wine is on offer (would work well with the food, so assume so). Personally I would go for a riesling or a grüner veltliner based whites, a Provence style rosé or a barbera, garancha or tempranillo based red wine (nothing too old or oaked) with this sort of food.

On my initial visit both my mate and I went for a soft drink

Both very nice, with the lemon and flavours of ginger and elderflower coming through. Think they were both £2.50.

On the second visit I had a coffee (£2.20 I think)

which was rich and satisfying – perfect on a chilly day.

Water is provided by the glass, but they seem to use the same glasses for water, soft drinks and the coffee (glasses for which all sit atop the coffee machine). Space is at a premium here, but the effect of this is warm glasses for the non hot drinks. Think the glasses used for water and soft drinks would be better moved elsewhere, space permitting.

The verdit

I really liked Dark – it offers something rather different in the City centre and something no chain would dare do. Bravo to the Dusty Knuckle people for having the balls (and to possibly using them) to do this.

I really enjoyed both my visits and am keen to explore the menu further. This should be a ongoing project, on the basis that the intention is for the menu to change regularly.

This is the latest iterations, with pig’s tongue and ox heart amongst the new additions.

Would I go back? Absolutely – great little place. I have a “gut” feeling the place is going to be a big success.

The details

Address: 40 – 42 Castle Arcade, Cardiff, CF10 1BW.

Website: Not one up yet as far as can tell.

Twitter: @dk_dark_side

Instagram: @dkdarkside

Opening hours: Mon – Weds: 10.00 – 18.00; Thus – Fri: 10.00 – 21.30; Sat – Sun: 10.00 – 18.00.