We might be on the brink of a brand new year, but for our local bricks-and-mortar restaurants, they face a continued battle against the same challenges which hampered them in 2023. Rising operational costs (exacerbated by inflation and supply chain disruptions) will continue to hit profit margins, whilst labour shortages – exacerbated by Brexit – add to the strain. Add to this the lingering effects of the pandemic, sky-high rents, and shifting consumer preferences for delivery and takeout, and it seems that running a successful restaurant these days is no easy feat.
But here in the Welsh capital, three innovative chefs have been taking the local scene by storm with their regular pop-ups and kitchen take-overs. With the lower overheads associated with their nimble, nomadic operations, they’ve had time to refine their menus and build a local following before taking any of the risks associated with a permanent site – but also, time to explore and build relationships with local farmers, growers and producers, and in the process, become champions for local provenance and sustainability.
With all three promising ‘big plans’ for the new year, these are the sustainable Cardiff chefs I’ll be keeping my eye on in 2024…
1. Lucas Wootten, Lahmacun
A regular at local farmers markets, Cardiff locals will recognise Lucas from his pop-up food business, Lahmacun. Often spotted roasting whole legs of local lamb over an open fire with his wife Sophie by his side, Lucas has attracted a loyal fan base for his theatrical style of cooking; almost always using wood and charcoal, his specialty is slow-cooking whole vegetables, fish and meat over the course of many hours with everything absorbing the taste of the smoke and fire in the process.
Many of the ingredients used by Lahmacun are sourced directly from the local, high-welfare traders at the farmer’s markets meaning low food miles, too. Meanwhile, a series of candlelit supper clubs held at Pontcanna’s atmospheric Kings Road Yard have all sold out quicker than the last, as Lahmacun’s fan base continues to grow.
To find out where & when Lahmacun will be popping up in 2024, give them a follow at www.instagram.com/lahmacuncardiff.
UPDATE: Since publishing this blog post, Lucas from Lahmacun has announced a supperclub with one of my fave restaurants, Curado Bar, pairing his incredible food with some delicious Spanish wines. It’s £75 a ticket for five wines and five courses, and will take place on Sunday the 24th March, kicking off at 2pm. To bag a space, email Adam.email@example.com.
2. Tom Waters, Gorse
With a glittering CV (which includes working under acclaimed Welsh chef Bryn Williams at Odette’s, and part of the leadership team at Heston Blumenthal’s flagship restaurant The Fat Duck) a move back to Wales in 2021 saw Tom launch Gorse restaurant – a pop-up which has toured indie kitchens around Cardiff including Little Man Coffee, Waterloo Tea, and Ground Bakery.
Tom works closely with small, sustainable fishermen, growers, farmers and artisans to create his ‘modern Welsh’ tasting menus which are as gorgeous to look at as they are to eat; combining hyper-seasonal, mostly Welsh produce with exacting technique and attention to detail, you can view an example Gorse menu here.
With Tom stating from the off that his eventual goal is to open his own bricks and mortar restaurant in the city, you can follow along for the latest updates at www.instagram.com/gorserestaurant.
UPDATE: Since I published this blog post, Tom has announced that he will be opening Gorse as a permanent bricks and mortar restaurant in the heart of Pontcanna, later in Spring. For more information, click here.
3. Alex Vines, Vines
Originally hailing from Pontcanna, Alex has spent the last 11 years working in the kitchens of some of London’s most celebrated restaurants. Now back in Cardiff, Alex’s pop up ‘Vines‘ focuses on seasonal, creative and honest cooking which utilises his close relationships with local farmers and growers like Paul’s Veg, Blaencamel Farm and Car Y Mor Seafood.
A former vegetarian and keen grower, Alex often uses ingredients from his own garden on his menus, where vegetables take centre stage. The result is an offering that is super fresh, frequently changing and full of flavour – naturally carrying a Mediterranean influence in the summer months before turning North in winter with dishes inspired by traditional British and Eastern European cuisine.
Alex also aims to open his own restaurant here in Cardiff one day; you can follow along for the latest news and updates from his Vines pop up at www.instagram.com/a.vines.
UPDATE: Since I published this blog post, Alex Vines has announced a six-week residency at the brilliant Milkwood, starting on the 15th March. For more info and to book, click here.
This article was originally written as a collab post for It’s On Cardiff.
Main header image (L-R): Chefs Lucas, Alex and Tom.