ARDIFF’S pretty arcades, winding across the city, are among its most beautiful assets.
Snaking around a capital so saturated with big names, they are a welcome haven for many independent retailers, coffee shops, and eateries.
Popular cafe The Plan, which splits Morgan Arcade in two near its exit onto The Hayes, is a mainstay of the city’s cafe culture that has withstood the influx of so many coffee shops within the last year or two.
Perhaps that’s in part because it’s more than a coffee shop – during my previous visits here I’ve stopped with a group for an afternoon tipple and sampled a delightful ale but also dropped by for a quick breakfast.
It passed those tests well, more than justifying a return visit to sample the full menu, which includes not just the expected salads (£7.75), sandwiches, baguettes, toasties (£6.15£6.75) and jacket potatoes (between £6.55 and an eye-popping £7.95) but also a string of equally aggressively priced main meals.
There are homemade soups of the day too (£6.05), with both leek and potato and a highly tempting roasted red pepper with tomato and feta on offer during our visit.
As well as all this there are a string of quiches (£9.20) on offer each day too – bacon and brie, red pepper and brie, and salmon and asparagus were the options during our weekday visit.
Having started 2017 by being voted into UK’s top 25 coffee shops by the Sunday Times there’s a tangible yet understated confidence within The Plan, with the warm and diligent staff helpful without being overbearing and the atmosphere as a whole lively but not trying too hard.
We supped a creamy chocolate milkshake (£3.70) – light and lacking in the sugary gloopiness which often makes it a meal in itself – and a large mocha (£3.05) that prompted lavish praise for its balance of rich coffee lightened with chocolate rather than overwhelmed by it – as we awaited our food.
When it arrived it certainly looked the part – fresh and vivid, the turnaround time from a clearly busy kitchen was impressive.
I’d been tempted by the stuffed red peppers with cous cous, pine nuts, goats cheese and herbs, served with pitta bread and hummus (£8.70), which also had a salad garnish of mixed leaves and sliced red onion as well as olives, cucumber, cherry tomato and a balsamic vinegar dressing.
Unfortunately the whole dish felt a little on the soggy side, with the inexplicably plain cous cous (even just a touch of lemon would have brought it to life) still highly watery and only entrenching the sponginess of the pepper itself.
I couldn’t track down any pine nuts, which would have provided some richness and much-needed additional texture, with only slices of tomato (not helping out with the watery feel of the dish) and red onion (already in the salad) discernible in the stuffing. The subtle and chalky goats cheese had been gently seasoned and brought a little welcome inspiration to a slightly insipid dish, with the warm slices of wholemeal pitta and citrus notes within the hummus adding a further degree of differentiation.
My partner’s salmon and asparagus quiche was more deserving of the ‘main meal’ tag and a thick wedge of cheese-topped quiche didn’t spare the chunky fillet of fish, even if the asparagus was on the frugal side and had become over-moistened.
The crust was light and noticeably fresh – even if there was a famed Bake Off-style soggy bottom – while the delicious sautéed potatoes broke free of a crispy and lightly seasoned shell to melt away in the middle. While the quiche was the more impressive of the two dishes both felt on the expensive side and neither left us anything resembling full to popping.
We rounded off our visit with dessert and options included everything from tea cakes (£1.95) and scones (£2.05 for one) to homemade pancakes (£4.45) and a range of locallymade cakes. The source of my chocolate muffin, served with chocolate sauce and ice cream (£4.15), wasn’t clear – it wasn’t listed as homemade so is perhaps bought in.
Either way it was disappointingly bland and fairly indistinguishable from many out-of-the packet high street offerings, while the syrupy chocolate sauce didn’t make much of an impact. It looked huge – plenty of the creamy vanilla ice cream saw to that – but again this felt expensive for what it was.
My partner’s courgette and lime cake (£3.65 – red velvet and carrot were the other daily options available) elicited more compliments for its flavours, which were undoubtedly more forthcoming, though the consistency was very much on the dense side.
The Plan does coffee well – and that should be the critical watermark by which it is judged – but its food doesn’t quite live up to those lofty standards.
The Plan, 28-29 Morgan Arcade, Cardiff, CF10 1AF. Call 029 2039 8764 or visit theplancafecardiff. co.uk