Ah spring… it looks like the rain has (finally) gone away, again, and my weather app is telling me that we are in for sunshine now all this week – hurrah! One of the reasons I love good weather so much (aside from the whole Australian thing… I can’t help it, it’s genetic) is the loveliness that comes from sitting outside in the sunshine, eating, drinking, reading, relaxing. Being in the UK means that when picnic weather hits, we rise up and Make the Most of It! Get Our Faces In It! Take up every inch of outdoor sunshiney space, spilling out of pubs and stripping off to sunbathe in parks. And this is exactly what we did in the afternoon sun a few weeks back (Making the Most of It, not stripping off to sunbathe, obvs.) – a lovely food and drink crawl around Cardiff Bay.
The Dock Bar & Kitchen
The RC and I have been living in Cardiff Bay since we moved here in December, primarily because it’s super-central and would give us a good base to explore Cardiff from. Some friends recently suggested that we pop down to the Bay for lunch and a few drinks and seeing as we hadn’t been out together since New Year’s Eve so it was a great opportunity to catch up and have a fantastic afternoon. Five minutes walk and we were at the water’s edge, to our first destination: the boat-shaped Dock Bar & Kitchen.
I quite like the Dock. It’s a Brains pub so doesn’t quite have the charm of an independent establishment, but I’ve been there a few times before for drinks and always found it lovely – big open space, loads of light, and a fantastic gin selection as part of the extensive bar. Here’s one I took back in January while the place was oddly empty:
I’d never eaten at the Dock before though so wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We headed upstairs and managed to find a table outside in the sun, overlooking the Bay (a free outside table on a sunny day at lunchtime? Unheard of!). There were buskers just below us, and the whole area was bustling with people out enjoying the afternoon, which made it all extra-lovely. The menu had a lot to choose from – small plates, sharing platters, mains, salads etc.
First, of course, we started with a round of drinks. Two beers, one cider and one large Brockman’s G&T served in a copa glass with blueberries and orange peel (can you guess which one was mine?), which ended up being a whole different kind of refreshment when the waitress’ tray unbalanced and the gin & tonic ended up all over RC’s best mate – blueberries and ice everywhere! Mortified, she raced around cleaning the spill up and drinks were handled veeery carefully from that point onwards 🙂
We then moved onto food. I opted for the BBQ bourbon glazed rack of ribs, because I can very rarely go past the deliciousness of ribs (I have my first trip to Hang Fire coming up very soon and I. Cannot. Wait.). Other choices for the table were fish & chips (classic), homemade buttermilk chicken and two starters of mussels and salt & pepper squid.
I really enjoyed my main – the meat was tender, and served with plenty of tangy BBQ sauce, a pile of sweet potato fries and a little tub of coleslaw. The fish & chips and chicken were served in little wooden baskets which I thought was a nice touch, just made it a little bit different. All the meals were a decent size pub lunch serve; I got through most of the meat and fries although didn’t quite manage to finish it all.
We had another round of drinks there before deciding to move on for a change of scenery to The Waterguard, a Samuel Smith pub which overlooks the docks. I had been past the front of the pub on many a morning run, without realising that its back door opened out into a little patch of park, where you could sit and relax with your drinks. The grass was peppered with daisies and surrounded by leafy trees, overlooking the calm water of the dock.
Being a Samuel Smith pub I opted for an apple cider – I have a bit of a sweet tooth and find their medium-dry cider the perfect level of sweetness and appley-ness (which you don’t realise is a thing until you drink something like Strongbow). It was a really lovely place to sit and have a drink; lots of young families out and about with small children, kids running around, and people just lazing in the grass and relaxing.
Look Out cafe & bar
As the sun started to move around, our seats were in shade and so we decided to add one more stop to our Cardiff Bay crawl and headed over to the Look Out cafe & bar, part of the World of Boats right next to the Doctor Who Experience. I had only just realised that there was a cafe in there after reading something about it being Cardiff’s best spot for a sunset drink. Sure enough, the cafe is set up with plenty of outdoor seating right over the water, looking back over the Bay towards the Senedd and Pierhead Building. The cafe itself was quite small but charming, with a good selection of drinks, and even a friendly cafe dog who came over for pats while we were waiting in line – love it!
Now I am going to take a bit of poetic licence here and sandwich in an extra venue which we didn’t actually visit that day – Coffi Co. RC and I visited the day before, and we did walk past it when going from the Waterguard over to the World of Boats, so I definitely think I can include it here! Again, this is one of those venues I’ve run past quite a bit but usually well before it has been open, so when RC suggested we go for a walk to the barrage and treat ourselves to coffee and cake, I jumped at the chance.
The walk to the barrage is one of my favourites so far in Cardiff; from the Bay, head past the Doctor Who Experience and turn right onto the coast path, then follow this along until you reach Penarth Marina. Along the way there’s a skate park, playgrounds, one massive long crocodile, the Scott of the Antarctic exhibition; all bordered on one side by the Severn Estuary (including picturesque lighthouse) and on the other by Cardiff Bay which is often filled with paddleboaters, kayakers, boats and bordered by the Marina. The barrage was up when we arrived, so we wandered around with the other spectators, looking at the mechanics of it all before heading back over towards Mermaid Quay.
Coffi Co. is set up in a couple of shipping containers (v. trendy), with a heap of picnic tables and deck chairs out the front. As a non-dairy and non-soy drinker, I was hopeful that they might have jumped on my new favourite bandwagon of almond, coconut or other mylk-type alternatives. No such luck, unfortunately, so I instead opted for an Earl Grey tea and the RC went for a black Americano (which always reminds me of that Michael McIntyre joke about standing behind someone in a coffee shop while they are ordering a tall skinny black Americano and asking, “what are you ordering, a coffee or a president?!” – although surely there must be a 2017 update on this about some kind of crazy orange drink that just doesn’t know when to be quiet…)
I also ordered what I originally thought was carrot cake, but turned out to be courgette cake, which was rather crumbly and quite strongly flavoured with lime rind. It was a tad windy so perhaps not the best outside weather but we still sat outside with our drinks and cakes and enjoyed watching the world go by… I suspect that it won’t be quite this peaceful down in the Bay for the next couple of weeks!
Until next time, Cardiffians! And in the meantime, I’d love to hear any of your suggestions about places to visit in and around Cardiff Bay…
– N. C.