(*Welcome to Wales)
Between Christmas and New Year we spent a few days in Wales – a place that never fails to take my breath away. On this occasion we were based in the coastal city of Swansea, which I associate strongly with happy childhood memories. Visiting extended family who lived by the sea-side was always exciting, and dog-walking on Swansea Bay was viewed (at least by me – and possibly only by me) as an adventure. Returning is always a pleasure, full of the well-known, familiar and comforting that can include spaces, places, friends and food.
To our delight (and surprise) our first morning in Swansea was dry, and although it remained characteristically windy it was a lovely day to walk from the marina to The Junction Café, located half-way along the Bay towards Mumbles Head (approximately 3 ½ miles).
The Junction is both architecturally interesting (it’s a Grade II Listed Building that was converted from the derelict generating station for the Mumbles passenger train), and offers good, locally sourced food from an interesting menu that includes daily specials. With fabulous views across the bay it’s also a great place to sit, read the paper and enjoy the surroundings. On this visit I managed to stay long enough not only for a hot chocolate, but also lunch which was a spicy chickpea and vegetable soup served with crusty bread and Welsh cheese.
The largest indoor market in Wales has a long history that began in the city’s Castle Square in 1652 (although its origins as an open market actually pre-date that by a few hundred years). It sells a wide range of goods, including an impressive selection of fresh produce. For me, the market at Swansea is appealing for two main reasons. The first is the fresh fish and seafood, sold by local fishmongers through family businesses which claim a long association with the area. The second is the emphasis on Welsh produce, that includes not only locally sourced fruit, vegetables, meat and fish but also regional specialties such as cockles (cocos) and laverbread (bara lawr), as well as Welsh cakes (pice ar y maen) which if you’re lucky are still warm when you buy them.
Garuda Indonesian Restaurant is one of my favourite restaurants, although I’m not sure that it’s possible to convey just how special it is. Owned and run by Peter and Ani (Suriyani, who is also the restaurant’s only chef), it’s a small and unassuming place that produces both amazing Indonesian food and a wonderful (intimate, unpretentious, familial) atmosphere that makes you feel privileged to eat there. The small team also includes Gareth (restaurant manager) and Genet (who assists Ani in the kitchen). Garuda is only open three evenings per week, and with a constant demand for the 30 or so seats it’s almost always necessary to book a table. (It’s also worth mentioning that the restaurant is ‘Bring Your Own’ (wine or beer), with no charge for corkage). Despite its relatively small size, the menu is surprisingly diverse with meat and fish dishes as well as a good vegetarian selection.
Ani is a sate specialist, so it seems as though this is a good place to start – 3 chicken skewers served with a spicy peanut sauce that is absolutely bursting with flavour, both hot and sweet (£6.50). I follow this with what has become my favourite dish on the menu – Hake Asam Pedas (£11.50), hake cooked in a hot and sour sauce with lemon grass, lime leaf and tomato. As with many of the dishes it really is wonderfully spicy (although I’m told that this can be toned down on request). The perfectly cooked hake sits in a generous sauce – itself an irresistible companion to simple boiled rice – that balances heat with lighter citrus flavours. Despite the generous portions, it’s also impossible not to have some of the Gado Gado (a vegetarian dish with mixed vegetables – including bean sprouts, green beans and spinach – as well as egg and tofu, again served with Ani’s spicy peanut sauce) that we’ve ordered to share.
Friends are eating other incredible dishes including Gule Tempe and Spinach (fermented soya beans with fresh spinach, chilli, coriander, onion, fresh turmeric, ginger, lemon grass and coconut milk – £8.00) and Tauco Ayam (spicy chicken cooked in yellow bean sauce – £9.50). At the same time, Ani has also prepared and cooked a dish for another of us with specific dietary requirements. Everyone enjoys their food. Everyone enjoys the ambience. And it’s the perfect end to a wonderful day in Swansea.