As far as I'm concerned, the best way to orient oneself with an unfamiliar city is by immediately localising two things: open-air markets and independent record stores. Both will usually lead you to pretty cool quartiers and, if you're lucky, you might find some great souvenirs while visiting.
So, instead of googling good bars or highly-reviewed restaurants when I plan a trip to a new city, I diligently look for local markets and am sure to consult The Vinyl District before hitting the road.
Cardiff (home of the "oldets record shop in the world") holds a lovely Farmers' Market each Sunday. A stone throw away from Wales' famous Millenium Stadium , the market welcomes local farmers, bakers, butchers, soapmakers, and other artisans.
My market guide and good friend Nick introduced me to Welsh Cakes. The small cakes were hot off the gridle and melt-in-your-mouth good, the raisin filled cakes are an ideal addition to any tea time ritual.
Vegetarians are welcome at the Cardiff market, with take-away menus that include polenta and bean burgers, and omnivores of all persuasions are invited to pull up a bench at a picnic table to enjoy their purchases sur place.
With a large selection of organic items, as well as products that are representative of the region, Cardiff's Farmers' Market is a worthy of inclusion in your Welsh itinerary.
When I think of London markets images of Borough Market immediately spring to mind. On my last trip to the city I discovered a formidable and complementary market at the Southbank Centre, where the Real Food Market is held every weekend.
This market expands on the esprit (and hours) of Borough Market while adhering to the guidelines of "bringing you great tasting, sustainably and ethically produced food".
Here free-range chickens bear Gordon Ramsay's seal of approval and everything from organic curries to whoopie pies are on offer. Veggie, cheese, and meat vendors along with hot food stands are set up from mid-day to dinner time on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday- making the perfect weekend trinity complete: Borough Market brunch, a stroll through Tate Modern, and a goûté of potted bread, cabbage and ricotta strudels, or organic cheesecake.
For dinner, you could head to Vantra in the all-things-alternative embracing Soho neighborhood of London. A change from Fish & Chips, this organic food bar functions as a self-serve cantine for the ethical food set.
Vantra caters to different diets (vegan, raw, gluten-free, etc.) and does so reasonably well. As Parisien vegan Aurelia D'Andrea astutely pointed out to me over dinner one night, vegetarian restaurants aren't necessarily the best finds- even for dinners with vegetarian or other special diets. Vantra may be an example of this phenomenon, as there are surely better restaurants in the city where one could order a veggie meal. Iùm not entirely sure that Vantra caters to vegetarians, but moreso to the veggie-curious who want to try organic out for a night.
My (mislabeled) soup was not what I expected and disappointingly bland (much like the house white wine), but the veggie curries were wholesome and refreshingly spicy. The spread is ample and for 14.90 GBP, it's all-you-can-eat. I piled my one-visit-only plate (11.90 GBP) high with salads, stews, and slaws and had enough to eat, but for those having a one night stand with a 100 % veggie dinner, return trips may be in order.
Vantra's décor and the general ambience is warm and relaxed. The meal is a good deal for the price (and neighborhood). If you are spending an extended period of time in London and are looking to pass on the pub food for a night, I recommend you head to this reso for at least one trip to the buffet bar.
The Real Food Market Southbank Centre London Open: Friday 12h-20h Saturday 11h-20h Sunday 12h-18h
Vantra 11-13 Soho Street London Open: Monday-Saturday 12h-23h Sunday 12h-20h