Quality cocktails at the Park House club

Quality cocktails cost. Quality cocktails cost quite a bit more when they are served in a private members club. But after your first sip in the Vanilla Rooms you’ll be glad you paid that little extra.

(Flickr pic by kenn Wilson)

Vanilla Rooms is part of the Park House private members club on Park Place and the non-members bar is the premier cocktail venue in Cardiff.

Boasting 370 bottles along the back shelf, head mixologist Christos Kyriakidis has 90 scotch whiskeys, 70 bourbons, 65 rums, 50 vodkas, 47 gins and 25 tequilas to work with when creating one of the menu’s high quality creations.

Lovers of low drink miles will find perfection in The Penderyn Club – Penderyn Madeira Welsh single malt whisky stirred with Taylor’s 20-year-old Port, vanilla syrup and Rhubarb bitters. Served short over an ice ball and garnished with an orange zest it’s a classic cocktail Wales should be proud of.

The Welsh single malt, finished in madeira casks to give it a warm caramel finish, cuts through the port and sweet vanilla syrup to deliver a boozy kick which lets you know you’re getting bang for your buck.

For the more traditional drinker The Martinez is a certified classic. The forerunner of the modern Dry Martini, it was originally made with a sweet style gin and sweet vermouth along with bitters and garnished with an orange twist.

The choice of gin is yours at Vanilla Rooms. Plymouth, Hayman’s Old Tom or Old Schiedam – all served with their complementing vermouth – are then mixed with maraschino and Boker’s bitters. This is as straight as they come, and it serves to sip rather than slurp if you want to remember just how good it tastes at the end of the night. With more than 63 cocktails on the menu, these two should help raise your spirits.

There are cheaper places to get a cocktail, but any drinker worth their salt knows a Long Island Iced Tea served with ice cubes and a straw in Browns is not how a cocktail should be drunk. For those searching cocktail nirvana, head down the steps into Vanilla Rooms and drink in the real deal.


Pies and pints at The Goat Major

Pie perfection with a pint (Flickr pic by Rick Scully)

Pie perfection with a pint (Flickr pic by Rick Scully)

Regular readers of Cardiff Drinks will know I am a firm fan of The Goat Major. Its dark wood panelling, green leather seating and choice of real ales ticks my boxes for a perfect pint experience. But now I have discovered another reason to champion the pub. Its pies.

I was due to meet up with an old university friend who was in Cardiff for the weekend visiting family. We decided we would go for a few pints and a catch-up in the afternoon whilst the rest of the city manically shopped itself into a frenzy before Christmas arrived.

Needing somewhere to meet my mate, I opted for the easiest landmark for him to find on his first visit to Cardiff. The castle. All cities should have one, just for sheer convenience when needing somewhere to rendezvous.

After meeting at said large-walled venue we needed to choose a pub to patronise. The Goat Major being 20 paces away won the contest before it began. Location aside, the pub is a great place to take first time visitors to Cardiff. It has a well kept pint of Brains, great atmosphere and, as we were soon to learn, a menu full of pie perfection. In fact, The Goat’s menu only does pies. But it’s all the better for it. Why be jack of all trades and master of none when you can be the prima pie specialist of the city?

And be in no doubt about the quality of the pies. Former head chef Adam Pavey’s Wye Valley Pie won Pie of the Year in the 2010 Great British Pie Week awards. When Chef Pavey left,  landlady Kelly Rowland turned “pie ninja” and took over kitchen duties. It’s safe to say the pies have lost none of their magic.

On the beer front I’ll cut a short story even shorter and say we had started with Brains SA (4.2%) and stayed on it for the next four pints. I often have a variety of ales when I go for a drink but sometimes you just want to settle down with a session ale where you know what you’re going to get every sup.

It was a Saturday afternoon and the pub’s seating was full, so we set ourselves up on the corner of the bar near the entrance and decided to wait it out to grab a table to eat at. After a pint, and a growing desire to attack a pie, we perused the menu and decided to order and eat on the corner of the bar, which the friendly bar staff were more than happy to let us do.

I opted for the Venison and Brains Stout pie (£7.50) and my friend went for the award-winning Wye Valley Pie (£7.50). Described as “heaven in a pie” by the judges who awarded it the top pie prize of 2010, the Wye Valley Pie is an indulgent combination of locally sourced buttered chicken, asparagus and new potatoes, topped with a layer of creamy Tintern Abbey Cheese and puff pastry. It met with the approval of my friend and on having a cheeky taste myself I have to agree it is a winning winter warmer.

My Venison and Brains Stout pie was equally delicious and the accompaniment of chips and garden peas kept things simple and tasty, letting the pie take top billing. They were superior pies that did everything a pie should.

There is something intrinsically right about pies and pints. They are the perfect combination any time, but during the long winter months they come into their own.

So this winter make a date with a pie, a pint and a castle. It’s a combination that can’t fail.

Mine’s a pie.

Cardiff rated most sociable city

Cardiff has emerged as the best place in Britain for a great night out, according to statistics released today. Our fair city eclipsed London and beat off a handful of other rivals to grab the title of Britain’s most sociable city.

Cardiff if the sociable capital of the UK (Flickr pic by shining.darkness)

Cardiff if the sociable capital of the UK (Flickr pic by shining.darkness)

CitySocialising, a socialising network for meeting new people, looked at the social habits of 160,000 UK members throughout 2011.

Cardiff emerged a clear leader in the race to find Britain’s most sociable city, closely followed by Leeds and Newcaastle, with London coming in 6th place.

Apparently, Cardiffians attend 28% more events than the UK average, with those in Leeds coming a close second with 27%.

Glaswegians, famed for liking a drink or two, surprisingly attend 58% fewer social days and nights than the UK average. Nottingham, at 52% below, and Birmingham at 47% below, were among the least sociable of the English cities.

Sanchita Saha, the site’s chief executive and founder, said: “I don’t find the results of our poll too surprising as Cardiff is definitely one of our up-and-coming cities when it comes to being sociable. Through CitySocialising alone we’re hosting around 40 events a month for our members to keep up with demand there. These range from after-work drinks to Sunday lunches and Saturday nights out.”

Below is a full list of the UK’s most, and least, sociable cities:

1. Cardiff 28%

2. Leeds 27%

3. Newcastle 15%

4. Liverpool 13%

5. Bristol 7%

6. London 6%

7. Brighton 5%

8. Manchester 1%

9. Edinburgh -2%

10. Birmingham -47%

11. Nottingham -52%

12. Glasgow -58%

Mulled Wine and Cider time

It’s cold and dark outside, the Christmas party season is in full swing and there is no better way to warm your guests than with a glass or two of mulled wine.

The festive aromas = Christmas

The festive aromas = Christmas (Flickr pic by Charles Beldon)

I had my first glass of festive sugar and spice this year at The Pen & Wig (£3). It was a Christmas party too big to fit inside the always busy pub and so we had to brave the bleak mid-winter in the beer garden. And what better way to stave off the cold than with a warm glass of mulled wine.

I have always loved the stuff. It’s something about the aroma of spices, sweetness of sugar and richness of red wine, all brought together and warmed over a stove, which combines to produce the king of winter warmers.

Mulling; to heat, sweeten, and flavour with spices, has been around a long time. In days gone by, wine went bad pretty quickly due to poor bottling techniques. So during the Renaissance period, spices began to be added – as they were to many things at the time – to both delay spoilage and make spoiled products taste palatable. And since young wines were commonly bottled during the early fall, mulling (which originally only meant to ruminate or ponder) was necessary by Yuletide as some were beginning to turn to the dark side, and hence the consumption of mulled wine became a winter tradition.

Mulled wine, aka vin chaud, gluhwein, glögg, vin fiert, vin brulé, quentão, is drunk in most European countries in some form or another around Christmas.  But it’s the German and Nordic peoples that go mad for it. They so love the stuff they have ‘glogg parties’ where they scoff down gingerbread, blue cheese and rice-pudding with their favourite spiced wine tipple.

For those who love mulled wine as much as our continental cousins you can go one step further than simply drinking it, you can bathe in it. Try washing in Glögg shower gel from Lush and I promise you’ll want to shower in nothing else over the festive season. Having a flatmate who works in Lush, I was lucky enough to receive a bottle recently and for the next two weeks I was mullered every morning as I effectively showered in my favourite Christmas drink. And don’t worry about smelling like you’ve finished off a vat before breakfast. I didn’t have anyone come up to me worrying I had become a raging alcoholic in the two weeks I used Glögg (although they may have been thinking it).

But after the joys of showering in it I still prefer imbibing. Here’s a simple but effective recipe for mulled wine perfection, with a kick of sloe gin, courtesy of BBC Food:


  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 60g/2oz demerara sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • grated nutmeg
  • 1 orange, halved
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 60ml/2fl oz sloe or damson gin (optional)


  1. Put the wine in a saucepan with the orange, sugar, bayleaf and the spices.
  2. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Taste to see if you want the wine sweeter, and add more sugar to taste.
  3. Off the heat, stir in the sloe or damson gin if you are using it.
  4. Strain into heatproof glasses and serve at once.

However, as a West Country boy, I couldn’t write a piece on mulling at Christmas time without singing the praises of mulled cider. It’s a drink that has really taken off in the pubs and cider boats of Bristol in the last five years and I can firmly say it is on a par with any mulled wine.  As you can see in Nigella’s recipe below (she starts on the cider about two minutes in) a glug or two or rum gives the cider a depth and boozy kick most chilled party goers will appreciate.

Here’s to mulling over Christmas!

Mine’s a pint.

D-day for city centre streets

Cardiff Council will decide today whether Greyfriars Road and Churchill Way will join St Mary Street, City Road And Crwys Road in becoming alcohol saturation zones.

Greyfriars Road has seen a 387% rise in violent crime in the past two years and is the second busiest street in Cardiff, after St Mary Street, for violent crime incidents. Churchill Way has far fewer violent crimes but police say due to its high number of residential and business properties it warrants saturation zone status as well.

South Wales Police statistics supporting the Greyfriars Road and Churchill Way saturation zone application

But when I’ve told Cardiffians about this most don’t have a clue what a saturation zone is, let alone that the city has three of them. So here at Cardiff Drinks we are going to educate the masses and give you some info to add to your pub knowledge. Pub knowledge is power.

Police presence is highly visible on city centre weekends

It all begins when the police approach the local authority with concerns over the number of licensed premises within an area, especially if crime rates are rising. They ask the council to consider a saturation policy to help tackle the problem and stop any more venues opening.

A saturation zone, once agreed by the council, creates a presumption that an application for a new licensed premises will be refused in a certain area. A license will only be granted if the applicant can demonstrate the proposed venue will have no detrimental effect on these licensing objectives:

  • Prevention of crime and disorder
  • Public safety
  • Prevention of public nuisance
  • Protection of children from harm

It is purposefully difficult for anyone to prove they won’t cause a possible negative effect on these objectives. In an interview with Cardiff Drinks, Sergeant Scott Lloyd, Licensing Officer for Cardiff, said: “It’s just a presumption if you like that…people have said that they’re guilty until proven innocent.” Not exactly in line with our courts of law is it.

But it’s not just new pubs and clubs that will not gain licenses. Saturation policies cover any new club, pub, restaurant, supermarket, off-license, live-music venue, theatre or anything else that might want to serve or sell alcohol. And the South Wales Echo has run many stories on business people frustrated by the policy that targets all licensed venues.

South Wales Police image showing density of reported crimes in Cardiff city centre 2010/11

Cathays Councillor Simon Pickard wants saturation zones to target pubs and clubs specifically. Writing in support of the principle of saturation zones around Greyfriars Road and Churchill Way, he said: “I would suggest that the policy should more clearly target vertical drinking establishments which serve alcohol beyond midnight, whilst making it clear that traditional live music venues or restaurants which might want an alcohol license until midnight would be welcomed rather than discouraged.” A view Councillor Gavin Cox, deputy chairman of the council’s licensing committee, firmly agrees with.

Back in January 2005, the saturation zone on St Mary Street was one of the first to be set up in the UK. But once the council creates a saturation zone, does it reduce the violent crime which occurs most around the city centre late at night?

When asked how the saturation zone helped tackle crime and disorder on St Mary Street, Sgt Lloyd said:

Saturation zones are clearly not the panacea for crime and disorder in Cardiff after dark. They are just one of many tools used by police and the council to combat crime and disorder.

But they are proving a popular and useful tool, which is why they are being sought by the police for Greyfriars Road and Churchill Way.

Sgt Lloyd explains the police’s reasoning behind requesting the zone for these two streets:

However, the police can only make a request to the local authority. In the end it is up to the council to weigh up all the factors and decide whether Greyfriars Road and Churchill Way need to have their drinks venues capped. By the end of today we’ll know if they will join St Mary Street, City Road and Crwys Road, in becoming saturation zones. For good or for bad.

Manic Street Preachers favourite Cardiff pub

James Dean Bradfield is in the grip of a Vulcan. In a Guardian article about what makes the perfect pub, the lead singer of the Manic Street Preachers came out in support of his favourite Cardiff boozer – the Vulcan Hotel on Adam Street.

The Vulcan is a perfect old-fashioned Welsh pub says James Dean Bradfield (Flickr pic by Chris Boland)

The Vulcan is a perfect old-fashioned Welsh pub says James Dean Bradfield (Flickr pic by Chris Boland)

The Vulcan is a no-nonsense spit and sawdust pub and is the last remaining link to the area of Cardiff once known as Newtown. The Vulcan was built in 1853. Back then Newtown was densely populated with Irish workers who migrated to the city to help build Cardiff’s docks, which were exporting coal from the Valleys all across the world. But times have changed.

Back in 2008 the Vulcan was threatened with demolition to make way for the St David’s 2 shopping centre. After a heartfelt campaign to save the Vulcan, which garnered much celebrity and political support, the pub was given a brief reprieve from the gallows. The Vulcan was granted a new three-year lease by the developers, Rapport, but the future is still uncertain for this Cardiff institution. It could still close in June 2012.

Here’s what Mr Bradfield had to say about the place:

I’ve had a really long relationship with the Vulcan. Weirdly, I used to get taken there as a kid on international days. I like the fact that it was a bit off the main drag. It’s worth the effort you have to make to go there. The nearest pub to where you live or work isn’t always the right one, in fact most of the time it’s the complete opposite. It’s appalling that the Vulcan is threatened with demolition. It’s a perfect example of an old-fashioned Welsh pub, beautifully basic. These places have to be preserved for future generations, they’re a reflection of the times they’ve survived though.

The pub is still threatened with demolition in 2012 (Flickr pic by Stuart Herbert)

The pub is still threatened with demolition in 2012 (Flickr pic by Stuart Herbert)

It’s hard to see pubs as we know them existing for much longer because everything is so much geared towards reinvention, making things more healthy. From the food served to the smoking ban. Pubs now have become the acceptable face of intellectual gourmet-ism, part of an aspirational lifestyle sold in Sunday supplements. You haven’t got the freedom to be decadent in the working-class sense anymore.

I think what gets lost so often is simplicity. Somewhere like the Vulcan, there isn’t that much to do there. You either drink or you play darts or you talk and that’s enough. I hate the fact that people come to places and say, “This place must change!” Why does everywhere have to hauled into the modern era in the name of progress? My heart always sinks slightly when I hear about somewhere that I’ve found solace in – a truly great pub – that has been taken over and been spruced up. So many of my favourite locals over the years are now thin approximations of what they were. And half the time, they’re struggling to get customers in as they’ve lost the spirit of what made them great. Progress would change everything that I love about somewhere like the Vulcan, somewhere that seems to seep history through the very walls.

The Cardiff pirate and a bottle of rum

Have you heard about the boy from Llanrumney who became one of the most feared pirates of the seven seas? You may not recognise the story, but you will know the name if you drink rum. Captain Morgan. The world’s second-best selling rum carries the name of a swashbuckling Welshman who went from scourge of the Spanish fleet to favourite of King Charles II and governor of Jamaica.

Sir Henry is famous the world over as Captain Morgan

Sir Henry is famous the world over as Captain Morgan

Captain Henry Morgan never made rum. His image was borrowed by Seagram’s as a marketing ploy in the early 1980s. But even though he never made his own rum, Morgan did make a tremendous effort to drink as much of it as humanly possible. On a typical evening he could apparently tip six pints of the stuff and show no exterior effects at all. Morgan’s epic appetite also extended to women and wealth.

Morgan is believed to have been born in Llanrumney in 1635 – back then a small village between Cardiff and Newport.

Apart from his place of birth, little is known of Captain Morgan’s early life. He first came to prominence in 1655 when he sailed to the Caribbean as a soldier in a British expedition which captured Jamaica from the Spanish. Further battles followed with the Dutch and again with the Spanish over Cuba. According to the history books, Morgan’s qualities came to the fore throughout these battles and earned him a name as a respected leader of men.

Although widely seen as a pirate by drinkers of rum the world over, he was in fact a privateer, having the backing of the English crown to terrorise the Spanish.

After much swashbuckling in and around the Atlantic and Caribbean, he eventually became the ‘admiral’ of a fleet of privateer ships, and began plundering wealthy Spanish cities in the Americas, seizing islands, fighting battles, boarding treasure ships, earning a fortune, buckling swash and shivering his timbers!

Made famous today by rum, Captain Morgan’s crew may have been on the black stuff when he lost all five of his ships in rough seas in 1671 after an attack on a fort near Panama City.

The Spanish fort was on a cliff overlooking the entrance to the Chagres River, the only water passageway between the Caribbean and Panama. While Morgan and his men ultimately succeeded in taking the fort, the nearby city of Panama was also looted and burned to the ground in violation of a peace treaty between England and Spain. Morgan was arrested soon after and sent to London to face the consequences.

The real Sir Henry  was partial to a tot of rum

The real Captain Morgan was partial to a tot of rum

Facing the prospect of a long stint in the Tower, or a future without a head, Morgan was lucky relations with Spain deteriorated so much he was eventually forgiven by his close friend King Charles II for his “carelessness”. Charlie gave Morgan a knighthood and sent him to Jamaica to become deputy governor.

Later rising to acting governor of Jamaica, Sir Henry won praise for strengthening the island’s fortifications against the Spanish threat and saw out his days as a planter and respected member of the ruling class before he fell ill and died in 1688.

Shortly before his death in Jamaica in August 1688 he was diagnosed with ‘dropsie’ but some say he may have contracted tuberculosis on a visit to London. It is also thought possible he may have suffered liver failure due to his notorious heavy drinking.

Captain Morgan was by no means the only pirate and buccaneer to come from Cardiff, however. Pirate captain Howell Davies is also thought to come from Llanrumney, a place seemingly churning out buccaneers, and was a frequent attacker of Spanish shipping. He too became the governor of Jamaica and named his estate there Llanrumney.

Fellow Welsh pirate Bartholomew Roberts was the most successful pirate of all time and was personally named in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Better known as Black Bart, he was the most profitable pirate in the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ taking around 400 ships.

So next time you order yourself a Captain Morgan’s and Coke, raise a glass to Sir Henry and the pirates of Cardiff Bay:

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

Mine’s a pint.