Not sure where to take your miserable date? Food & Drink editor Emilia Ignaciuk gives some firsthand advice
As far as dates are concerned, I might not know what to do, but I sure as hell know where to go. That knowledge came at a steep price: I didn’t always have the discerning palate and enviable taste which come as perks of being Food & Drink editor. So, on some occasions the pursuit of romance has found me in places that were only slightly less soul-destroying than Bute Café. In the interest of full editorial disclosure, I will share those experiences with you: if they save at least one of you from a date disaster, I’ll consider my job in this position to be done.
Taking someone to Harvester is the date equivalent of getting someone a picture frame for their birthday – you can’t go completely wrong, but can you ever go really right? On the plus side, there’s something to be said for a man who appreciates a free salad bar. During our visit all of the customers were either under 12 or over 40: if nothing else, the place screams commitment.
We made about two hours of small talk, punctuated by some family-friendly drinks and a generally nondescript plate of fish and chips. The aftermath: two days of lukewarm texting. Judging from the clientele, Harvester is where romance is kept aflame, not where it is born.
OR, if you like to keep the date atmosphere relaxed and down-to-earth, head to Cafe Minuet (Castle Arcade). Italian food in Britain is usually something of a posh affair but Minuet feels delightfully casual and cozy and manages to firmly grasp the Holy Grail of eating out: huge portions that are actually delicious. The only gripe I have with this place are the ridiculous opening hours, which however befall every other establishment in Cardiff’s arcades, so you’ll have to save it for a lunchtime date like the busy businessman/woman you are.
Perhaps it’s uncalled for to devote a whole paragraph to a place that was already closing down before I entered my second year and has now been replaced by Face 11 on Cathays Terrace. However, as Food & Drink editor I would like to commemorate it for posterity: it was more than a restaurant – it was an experience.
Our date happened to “accidentally” coincide with Valentine’s Day and well, a tapas bar-cum-shisha lounge (bit of a red flag in itself, in hindsight) seemed sensual enough. Upon walking in we were magically transported to a rather haphazard cross between someone’s living room circa 1985 and the fortune telling booth in Cardiff Market. Being spoilt for choice should be part of the experience in any self-respecting tapas bar, but it’s a struggle when most dishes consist of elusively named “chicken pieces”. Having looked through the menu, nothing could prepare us for its last page, which greeted us with a blurry picture of a woman in her 40s in a vaguely Middle Eastern fancy dress outfit, informing us that a belly dancer is “available on request” to “spice up your meal”. So there’s that. Who exactly this place targeted remains a mystery to me to this day.
OR, if it’s small plates you’re after, Pica Pica on 15-23 Westgate St. Westgate Street isn’t exactly party central and the exposed brickwork inside feels a bit Generic Bar, but what they do have is 3 for 2 on tapas and an extremely solid selection thereof (and very decent cocktails too). I’d heartily recommend you the marinated anchovies, but the only dish that’s less appropriate on a date is garlic bread.
As much as I would defend anyone’s God-given right to stuff your face with as much chicken as humanly possible, Nando’s is where romance goes to die. Obviously, given that the relationship progresses well enough, at some point your crush will probably see you drunkenly putting your hand-mouth coordination to the test with a Chicken Cottage box, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s pretty tough to use your womanly wiles with piri-piri flavoured grease dripping down your chin. But what’s a girl to do? Suffice to say, our rendezvous was enough of a success that it was swiftly repeated, this time in a different branch of Nando’s. Once is a coincidence, but twice is malevolence. The date ended up in him blatantly catching up on my texts while I popped in to the toilet. Oh, and we had some chicken too, I guess.
OR, if you fancy seeing your date at the prey of their basest carnivore urges, take them to The Grazing Shed (1 Barrack Lane). Admittedly, burgers on a date are an extremely high risk-high reward move, but once you find yourself in this temple of meat hedonism facing one of their impressive offerings, chances are you won’t really care. Of course, there’s no attractive way to eat a burger, but have you ever really bonded with anyone over a salad?