Should you be wary of a Fast Hippo? Fat Hippo, Cardiff city centre.

I have always been rather fascinated by hippos. Hulking great beast that look rather comical and dare I say a little (well not really little) adorable, but who have a rather different real life reputation. As vegans (yay for hippos ) they on average have a rather high hit rate in taking out people (boo for hippos). Apparently they kill 500 + people a year, which is some going for a vegan (they don’t like to talk about it), and compares rather badly with a measely 11 for all (meat eating) sharks.

Apparently hippos are generally bad tempered arseholes, with it being very unwise to go up to one and do the “ooh whose a pretty fat hippo, oh yes you are” as you are prone to be trampled or tusked until “Ooh you’re pretty dead“. Just don’t fat shame a hippo is my advice.

Despite my fascination which hippos (I clearly have an affinity with bad tempered arseholes –  Mrs. SF and J would be probably nodding sagely, if they could be bothered to read this), I can’t say I have ever seen a skinny one (on telly or in a zoo, regrettably not seen any outside of that) – that affinity just keeps on growing doesn’t it. As such I do wonder where the Fat Hippo monicker for Cardiff’s newest city centre burger joint came from.

Even if a hippo was particularly fat it wouldn’t be due to eating a bun filled with meat would it. As such shouldn’t a place called Fat Hippo be purely plant based as all fat hippos subsist exclusively on a plant based (bar the odd accidential human) diet. 

The name actually seems to have sod all to so with hippos (perhaps it comes from the Hungry Hippo game that champions gluttony) and thus meat abounds at this place, although there are the inevitable plant based options (with the one on the Fast Hippo menu coming with a description of a single plant based patty, vegan cheese and Cajun fakon bits – I fakon hate the use of bastardised meat names for veggie stuff) on the menu.

In terms of Fat Hippo (Hungry already trademaked presumably and thinking on it how do you tell if a hippo is fat or not), I never bought into the initial hatefest at them coming to Cardiff resulting in the eviction of Bubs (even though my Bubs 10% off for life card went with it 😭).

To me the ire, if any, should have been directed at the landlord. They after all were the one’s that kicked out Bubs not Fat Hippo. Anyhow all forgotten/forgiven, presumably, as Bubs are now thankfully back in the game at the old Tim Horton “well that lasted 10 mins max” outlet in the Hayes in the form of Scaredy Cats (another odd name, but high on my list of places to visit).

It has had a bit of a make over since the rustic Bub’s days,

but the industrial vibe seems a tad forced. Not sure if I like it if I am honest (bar from the floor – love a bit of parquet me).

The food

Because I am a tighted arsed miser, I was there for the Fast Hippo  which is a “on until 4pm” weekday offer.

Have to say I loathe the calorie count. I know it is a requirement for certain entities, but to me it is all about guilt tripping people (racking up the calories a bit there aren’t you,  you fat hippo). If I were the sort to care about calorie counting I simply wouldn’t go to a place like this.  It is interesting to note, though, that a vegan iceberg lettuce salad has more calories than deep fried battered onion rings!

On the topic of fast hippos (and because I like to throw in random shxte) interestingly (at least to me) and rather terrifying, if you encounter a hippo (unlikely I grant you in Cardiff city centre), they can reach speeds of up to 20 miles an hour. That equates to 100 metre in 11.1 seconds, which is alot faster than most of us can run (actually faster than Dina Asher – Smith’s recent winning time at the Birmingham Diamond League event and she is hardly a slouch). With said hippos coming in at up to 4.5 tonnes (bet that one doesn’t do it in 11.1 seconds) I would be a smear on the ground in seconds.

Back to the Fast (odd here as that could mean abstinence and I was seriously hoping for a decent sized burger) Hippo menu, it has your standard cheese burger, cheese and bacon burger, chicken burger and said vegan one, plus a chorizo (that word of a thousand mispronounciations) number.

Nice to see at £7.50 each, these all come with fries included in the price. At first blush (unless looking at Shake Shack micro burger sizes), this looks to be a decent deal. The proof, however, is in the eating.

I didn’t bother asking how the patties were cooked as there were no dire warnings of the coming of the Antichrist, the Night King sweeping down from the (Llandaf) North with an army of the undead and Barad-dûr arising from the ashes  (God please don’t fxck up “The Rings of Power” Amazon, Oh God they’re going to fxck it up aren’t they 😭) should you ask for one with even a hint of pink.

I went for the Little American (basically a cheeseburger), with fries. I did ask what the difference between the fries and hand cut (both available as part of the Fast Hippo offer) was and basically the hand cut are just thicker cut (presumably it being a total ball ache to hand cut to French fries size)

My burger when it arrived was a decent looking and sized beast,

with the lid on and off.

with a smashed patty, good gnarly bits and a decent enough flavour (I think it could have been more robustly seasoned, but I am a bit of a salt fiend).

I personally think a burger that you can’t (bun and all) fit in your gob (because of a baxillion toppings and patties.) without unhinging your jaw is a bit pointless. I mean why bother with the bun in that case?

Thankfully this burger was eminently portable and fitted in my big gob easily enough.

I think they went a bit heavy on the ketchup and mustard (the latter more sweet than heat) which made it all a bit sweet. Whilst the cheese was duly plastic in nature (love shxte American cheese on a burger – if suitably tangy) it lacked that cheap tawdy tanginess (possibly masked by the ketchup slick) I crave from burger cheese. A trio of pickles were a welcome addition, but were not enough to offset the sweetness.

The bronzed bun held up well and thus did its job admirably, with good squishability, but was otherwise unmemorable (which is actually as it should be, as it needs to be all about the patty).

So a decent (if over for my blood thirsty tastes) patty, slightly marred by too liberal (for me) an application of ketchup and a somewhat paucity of seasoning.

The fries were quite nice, suitably crisp without being chipsticky,

but I can’t say I particularly noticed (bar from salt and pepper) the promised hippo seasoning and certainly couldn’t tell you its components parts. Decent portion size I thought.

You can go more exotic with the fries, by upgrading (at a price) from the standard fries /hand cut chips.

Personally I don’t see the point as the standard fries were fine, but each to their own. Whilst loaded fries seem to be very much on trend I find that far too often the result is just a soggy mess and a “lets through the kitchen sink at it” confused flavour profile.

My fellow diner had the Little White Buffalo,

which had (much to his horror) me reminiscing over Tommy Steele’s Little White Bull, which must have been playing when I was in the cot as I seem to know it quite well (and it pops into my head more often than it should).

Decent amount of chicken here,

but in the form of 3 tenders rather than a single piece of thigh (the latter my preference – not really a burger otherwise is it).

The coating was a bit lacking in both crunch and flavour, as well as being rather sparse in its coverage.

My mate thought the chicken itself a bit dry, certainly for a brined thigh, but from the taste I had it was the soggy coating that was the real issue for me. Definitely a step down from the beef burger I had.

With the all in offer being £7.50, we decided to share a side. 

This was a toss up between the cheese balls (£5.90) and the frickles (£4.90), with the frickles winning out.

Very disappointing these, if am honest.

The pickle slices were cut way too thin and lacked any real briney punch, whilst the batter on them was so thin that it had  ceased to be of relevance as a coating (akin to a Tyneside style winter coat i.e didn’t bother and put a t-shirt on as it was only -40°c). Tempura I get, but this wasn’t that at all. It all made for a oddly flavour neutral affair, with no zip to either the pickles or the purported coating.

The dips were OK, with the Hellacious Hippo Hot Sauce having a fair bit of chilli heat to it but also an odd industrial feel (as if a bog standard supermarket salsa had had a bunch of chillies added to it). The other one was a fairly non descript sour cream affair.  The size of the dips was completely and unnecessarily out of proportion to the frickle portion. Just a totally unnecessary waste of food that.

Wouldn’t bother ordering the frickles again on this basis – I am clearly rather fickle when it comes to a frickles.

The drink

The drinks menu is pretty all encompassing, with something for nearly everyone.

On the wine front, they have just one red, white, orange (the latter very on trend, but still haven’t found one I actually really like) and sparkling.

A Saffer chenin blanc (Reign of Terrior is a rather fine name I think) and an El Pugil (the boxer) Toro tinto (tempranillo) are not bad choices (pairing wise) for the menu here, with the per glass prices all pretty reasonable at £3.6/£3.7. 

I did, at first, find it a bit odd that the prosecco comes in a bottle or a 200ml measure, but the latter is a mini bottle. Understandable with risk of it going flat, but not very good for the environment that. Ideally fizz in places like this should be on tap from kegs, but then you can’t call it procecco (just call it frizzante, doubt very much anyone who drinks it in this place will care).

In terms of mark ups the chenin retails at around the £9 mark (on list here at  £19.50) and the Toro around the £ 9 – £10 mark (on the list here £19.80), so pretty fair by UK standards.

The beer offering looks to get pass Gourmet Gorro’s pet peeve test,

athough I would like to have seen some sours on it. Oddly I love fruity sours, but think fruit (other than apple of course) ciders are the work of the devil.

Of course (who doesn’t) they have cocktails (call them slushies and shakes, with a pickleback too),

none of which really appealed to me.

The non booze “old school” shakes sounded more me with vanilla, strawberry and chocolate (all £4.50).

I was wary of the more exotic ones (£4.90),  such as the “Love me blender” (banana, peanut butter, cream ice cream and candied bacon).  As with loaded fries, this “throw the sink at it” approach rarely pays dividends flavour wise in my book.

With it being a work day, we defaulted to the non booze items. Disappointingly the non and low achoholic beers were both not on (problem with the supplier), so the soft drink menu it was.

We both went for a San Pellegrino soda, the flavour of which (as with many soft drinks these days) has been ruined by the war on sugar. The use of artifical sweetners in place of sugar to me has just made most fizzy drinks taste revoltingly artificial and I strongly suspect in the future we will see this play out in much the same way as margarine and butter seems to have (artificial sweetners, like margarine, going from our saviour to evil incarnate).

The mark up on the San Pellegrino (£2.70 a can) is shameful, making even Mammon blush, with a case of 24 of them a mere £10.66 inc. VAT (44.4p a can) at Costco. On that basis you are talking an in excess of 6 x retail mark up, which I personally think is bloody outrageous!

The verdict

Despite a few misgivings, I think the Fast Hippo fills a bit of a gap in the Cardiff city centre burger offering. The £7.50 figure seems to be the new fiver in these inflationary times and for what you get the Fast Hippo menu is decent value.

I would say their standard offering seems to be akin to Honest’s (couple of doors away), but with the benefit of the Fast Hippo menu to bring the cost down at lunch time.

I also like the fact it is dog friendly, with more and more places opening up to those (like me) who often have their doggies in tow.

I mean it ain’t a patch on Ansh in Victoria Park, but that isn’t really practical for lunch if you are based in the city centre (work wise) and only opens for lunch at the weekends. 

Would I go back? Probably for the lunch (Fast Hippo) menu or to try the £14.50 for 2 course (early bird offer). Not sure if I would be that tempted to trade up to the full price though 🤔.

Whilst the Little American I had was OK for the price, it didn’t exactly wow (the Little White Buffalo even less so), and I am not sure I would pay £11.90 for its bigger brother (the American)  with fries when I can get a, cooked to my liking pink, cheese burger and fries at Honest Burgers for £11.50 (also with fries) a few doors down. It does have the advantage, over Honest, of the discounted lunch and early bird menus and being dog friendly.

Does it, in my albeit limited experience of their offering, live up to their “best burger” boast? In a word no, Ansh is streets ahead of it. It is, however, probably worth a go if you are looking for a cheapish lunch in the City Centre or fancy a burger in the city centre and have your dog in tow.

The details

Address:  17 Church Street, Cardiff, CF10 1BG

Website: https://fathippo.co.uk/locations/

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