It’s been many years since I was last in Cardiff and I’ve certainly never been there in my guise as a consumer of fine coffee. So, I was interested to see what the capital of the country of my birth had to offer and I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed. Leading the way, in rival arcades in the city centre, are two very different places, today’s Coffee Spot, Coffee Barker, and The Plan Café.
You’ll find Coffee Barker in the beautiful Victorian Castle Arcade. It has fiercely loyal customers: you know you are onto something good when you are interrupted in your chat with the baristas to be told, unprompted, by one of the customers: “best coffee in Cardiff”. Concise and to the point.
Whether it is the best coffee in Cardiff is up for debate. Certainly third-wave coffee purists will prefer The Plan, but if what you want (like me) is a no-nonsense espresso or a bucketful of cappuccino (not me!), then the delightful surroundings of Coffee Barker should put it top of your list. There’s also lots of cake and sandwiches if you’re feeling hungry.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
The first thing to say about Coffee Barker is that if you rely on GoogleMaps, you’ll never find it. Google refuses to acknowledge the existence not only of Coffee Barker, but of the Castle Arcade itself. I know that Google sometimes struggles with new places, but the arcade’s been around since 1889. Pull your finger out, Google! [In fairness to Google, it now has Coffee Barker in the correct place on Google Maps].
So, a quick navigation guide: head up the High Street towards the castle and, just before you get there, you’ll find one of the two entrances to the arcade on your left (the other opens onto Castle Street). The arcade itself is worth a look: I’m a huge fan of these old-fashioned shopping arcades, the malls of their day, although they are infinitely better. The Castle Arcade is a lovely example, with two storeys of shops and generous skylights in the roof. Check out the gallery for pictures.
Coffee Barker is on the left, not too far from the High Street entrance of the arcade. It’s long and thin, effectively several units knocked into one. Outside are small, round tables, each with a couple of wicker-backed chairs, making it feel like a classic French pavement café. Inside, Coffee Barker has high ceilings, with bare brick or wood-panelled walls. Although the generous windows (one of the long walls is effectively a huge window) let in a lot of light, there are also plenty of lights for those cloudy days, so it’s always bright inside.
I’m not sure how to describe the interior; “interesting” or perhaps “eclectic” will have to do. Whatever it is, Coffee Barker has a very definite feel to it which makes a welcome change from generic cookie-cutter chains or the modern, unfinished look of many independents. Rather than trying to (inadequately) describe it, I suggest you look at the gallery, where the pictures do a far better job!
Inside, the seating is comfy chairs, armchairs and sofas, with plenty of low coffee tables. The one downside of this combination is that it’s hard to sit and eat/type on your laptop, except, obviously, at the tables out in the arcade. That might explain why the majority of food is sandwiches and the like; stuff you can eat with your hands. This aside, Coffee Barker is a lovely place in which to drink your coffee. The sofa I ended up in was an old, leather model, a generous three-seater that could easily swallow you up and never give you back if it felt that way inclined.
So, onto the coffee. Judging by what everyone else was drinking, Coffee Barker is very much aiming at the mass market, with plenty of buckets of cappuccino on offer that wouldn’t look out of place in one of the major chains. However, I went for an espresso, a classic, old-fashioned Italian one and I loved it. It reminded me of Bar Italia in Soho, no nonsense espresso, smooth, strong, with a hint of bitterness.
It’s fair to say that Coffee Barker is no third-wave paradise: for that you have to walk the short distance to The Plan. However, as a spot to drink good coffee and eat fabulous-looking cake (alas I didn’t get to try them), it can’t be beaten. Give me an espresso, my laptop and that sofa and I’d be there all afternoon if I could.
May 2014: you can see what I made of Coffee Barker’s younger sibling, Barker Tea House, which opened in the neighbouring arcade in 2014.
|13 CASTLE ARCADE • HIGH STREET • CARDIFF • CF10 1BU|
|www.facebook.com/coffeebarker/||+44 (0) 2920 371491|
|Monday||08:30 – 17:30||Roaster||Bespoke blend (espresso only)|
|Tuesday||08:30 – 17:30||Seating||Sofas, armchairs, tables (outside)|
|Wednesday||08:30 – 17:30||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Cake|
|Thursday||08:30 – 17:30||Service||Counter, Order at Counter (Food)|
|Friday||08:30 – 17:30||Cards||Mastercard, Visa|
|Saturday||08:30 – 17:30||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||11:00 – 16:30||Power||Few|
|Chain||No||Visits||1st May 2013|
If you liked this Coffee Spot, check out the rest of Cardiff’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Cardiff.
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