Vom Fass: fascinating bottles, rainbow potions and exotic oils in the Royal Arcade

Although the majority of the shops and businesses featured in the project are independent outlets, I’ve always wanted to photograph the Vom Fass shop, part of a franchise, in the Royal Arcade.

Opening around two years ago, I instantly knew the gorgeous bottles of brightly coloured liquids and rows and rows of oils would make for some great shots. Hopefully you’ll agree with that.

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Bill’s: Fresh food, kooky interiors and candles galore in the Wyndham Arcade

This is quite a monumental post for the Arcades Project in some ways, because it marks the first shop I’ve had the opportunity to photograph in the Wyndham Arcade.

For those that don’t know it, the Wyndham Arcade is near the Central Library and a little away from the others. It’s owned by the same people who own the Castle and High Street Arcades though.

Bill’s, a new restaurant/grocery store opened just a few weeks ago and I went along very early (well, 8am) one Wednesday to check it out when there wasn’t many other people about…

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Cardiff Arcades Project Christmas special… Madame Fromage: cornucopia of foodie delights

I know I seem to say this for almost every shop I photograph, but Madame Fromage is one I’ve been exciting about shooting for ages. After trying, and failing, to set up a time for me to go in since March, I was actually kind of glad that I missed any earlier opportunity as it meant going in just as all the delicious Christmas produce was coming in.

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Dragon’s Kitchen: Traditional Welsh food opposite a traditional Welsh Castle

It’s probably not a good idea to eat a Brownie for breakfast. But when it’s delicious and comes courtesy of the wonderful Dragon’s Kitchen (Cegin Y Ddraig) I think you can just about be forgiven, right?

Anyway… seeing past my sugar induced haze, I had the delight of spending a couple of hours in this Castle Arcade cafe yesterday morning and having a chat with owner JP.

Dragon’s Kitchen is directly opposite the Castle and sells traditional Welsh food as well as the usual takeaway items such as baguettes, teas, coffees and pastries.

JP has only owned Dragon’s Kitchen since 2009. Prior to that it was Celtic Cauldron before being taken over by a charity not long before JP bought the place and transformed it. The charity took away the kitchen from the downstairs, so this is now an extra dining area and everything that is made on the premises is done so behind the counter.

Although you’ll find an array of traditional Welsh food, such as Cawl, Lobscaws and Rarebit, it’s fairly priced and very much not intended to just be a tourist trap for those coming across from the Castle, but offering something for everyone. JP tries to make everything himself, or anything that he buys in source from Wales.

In the short time I was there, a few other local business owners popped in for a quick chat or to ask a question,  reinforcing the community spirit you tend to see in these arcades, even when the businesses would traditionally be competing with each other. Interestingly, JP tells me that the businesses try not to step on each other’s toes, making sure that they each offer something different. You won’t find pizzas in Dragon’s Kitchen as Cafe Minuet is opposite, and you won’t find Cupcakes as Madame Fromage is just down the way.

To backtrack a little to the history of JP and the cafe, the name Dragon’s Kitchen was to tie in with the tradition of Celtic Cauldron, but signify a departure. After studying catering at University, JP spent years working at Cardiff Airport before joining the Western Mail to work in advertising. After deciding to quit his job, him and his wife went around the world traveling, came back and set up Dragon’s Kitchen. The logo was designed by JP’s Dad, and in a nod to more iconic Welsh culture was inspired by the dragon from Ivor the Engine.

Popping in the day after a long bank holiday weekend threw up some interesting points. The whole arcade was closed on Sunday, but JP says that it wasn’t as busy on Saturday as usual, and Monday, even when most of the other Arcade cafes and eateries were closed was also very quiet. But apparently it’s hard to spot patterns, even during a normal week, which must make it hard, if not frustrating for business owners.

Like many of the businesses in the Castle and High Street Arcade, JP says that the roadworks on High Street and Castle Street were the biggest cause of revenue loss over the past year, and along with the white-out at Christmas, it’s tough this year as there’s nothing to fall back on.

Thankfully, despite the tough situation, JP remains ever positive, embracing social media to promote the business and speaking fo the great reviews the cafe has had on places like Qype and Yelp. It’s fantastic to see someone so enthusiastic about their business, and hopefully this will translate into good returns.

I’ll definitely be popping in to try some more traditional Welsh food – something despite living in Wales for such a long time I’m ashamedly behind on – make sure you pop along too. Have a look below for some more pictures from the shop, and don’t forget you can find Dragon’s Kitchen on Facebook and Twitter, as well as their main website.

Celtic Cakes – fairytale cakes in the Castle Arcade

I’m a cake-lover. There, I said it – that wasn’t so bad was it? Well actually, if you know me at all it shouldn’t come as any surprise because before I embarked on this all-consuming arcades project I had a baking blog, which I’m ashamed to say I just haven’t had time to update of late.

It was nice therefore to get the chance to photograph my first love, baked goods, from the lovely Celtic Cakes in the
Castle Arcade.

I’ve often walked past the window of Celtic and gazed adoringly at the amazingly crafted sculptures adorning their cakes, things like dragons, lilies and all manner of things beside. All things that despite my passion for baking I know I’d probably never be able to master.

Owned by Ann, who I met for a chat the other day, and her husband, it is the pair that make all the cakes themselves. For the most part, Ann makes the cakes, while her husband is the man responsible for the decoration, although she did admit to trying some of the “simpler” designs. What she describes as simple looks very complicated to me though!

The cake shop is only a part-time operation, believe it or not, as Ann works for a bank the rest of the week. Her husband is also employed elsewhere. It’s for that reason that you won’t see the shop open Monday-Thursday – not that should stop you staring at the window displays. Unbelievably in the past tax year, Ann says her and her husband have made over 300 cakes – that’s some baking for something which is only a ‘part-time’ undertaking.

You’ll see in the pictures the amazing cakes on offer, but what you might not know is that these display cakes are not real… that is the sponge underneath isn’t. Amazingly, the icing is exactly what you would use in a real cake and some of it in the shops is as old as 6 years and is still looking fresh.

Ann points out that there are a lot of wedding-related businesses in the Castle Arcade. There’s a wedding dress shop along with a hairdressers and a jewellers – this arcade could make a great little mini destination for brides and grooms to be – you could probably source everything you might need somewhere in the arcades, even if not in this one.

Pictures speak a thousand words so take a peek at those around this post, and if you like what you see, don’t forget to visit the Celtic Cakes website.

Wally’s Delicatessen: A Cardiff institution and food-lovers’ paradise

Well… pretty much anyone with any sense and living in Cardiff will have been to Wally’s, so perhaps this needs less of an introduction than other shops. Wally’s has been squarely at the top of my “hitlist” of “must-shoots” ever since day one so when Steve the owner agreed to let me come in and shoot the store, I was almost beside myself with excitement.

If you read the South Wales Echo piece about me, you would have seen that I quoted Wally’s as the place I spend the most time and money in, which isn’t far wrong. I’m also a food writer/blogger in another life and whenever something slightly unusual is called for, you can almost guarantee I’ll be able to find it in Wally’s, so it’s been my port of call for everything ranging from lemongrass stalks to crystallised ginger – and everything else  in between.

Steve Soloman, the owner of Wally's

Steve was kind enough to give me a potted history of the shop when I visited.  Wally’s is a family business, named after Steve’s father Wally Salomon who founded the business many years ago. A Polish immigrant, the shop originally catered mainly for the Eastern European community and was in a different location – where John Lewis is now – only moving to the Royal Arcade in 1981. It also only used to be around half the size it is now, taking over an adjoining shop next door just a couple of years ago.

As the years went by, Wally’s started to stock foods from many different world cuisines, and now you’ll find pretty much every nationality represented in there somewhere. Particularly impressive of course are the ranges of Eastern European food, but a favourite area of mine is the Asian section with the wall of spices and the many different types of naan and poppadum. For health food fanatics (and people like me who feel the odd pang of guilt!) there’s also an impressive range of pulses, seeds and grains that make a fantastic addition to soups and stews etc.

One of the most popular areas of the shop seems to be the American section. Here you’ll find the stuff all the characters in American TV shows talk about ready for your consumption, so expect to see things like Reese’s Pieces, Twinkie bars, Cap’n Crunch cereal and lots more – the bright colours and lurid packaging make this an interesting corner of the store whether you partake in the produce or not. Other impressive areas of note are the cheese and charcuterie counters, which if you are a lover of cheese, meat or both will have you drooling up against the glass at the sheer vastness of the range on offer.

Wally’s recently had a pop-up shop in St David’s which you may have seen. As it was only on an 18-month contract, that’s now closed. When I asked Steve how that’d gone he seemed very pleased, telling me it had revealed new markets and encouraged them to bring newer things to appeal to a younger market into their main store – which is why you’ll find, for example, a sweet and chocolate counter. And speaking of St David’s, Wally’s is one store that has benefited from the new shopping centre – with its entrance only a short distance from Wally’s. Steve said that while they did notice some customer decrease while the building works were on, happily since it’s been completed the business has been booming.

It goes without saying that the range of Polish and Eastern European foods available at Wally's is fantastic

They’ve thought about expanding into other areas and cities, but for now they are happy to concentrate on the ‘home store’ which has a worldwide reputation. People from across the globe can purchase Wally’s goods on their website, and according to Steve, the shop has been mentioned as far afield as the States and is frequently included in round-ups of the best Delis/specialist food shops in Britain – which makes it all the more amazing to have right here on my doorstep! Coming in the summer will be a coffee shop upstairs, which when I visited was still a little way off completion – I can only imagine that it will be busy with all the ‘foodies’ who have come for a morning in culinary paradise and need to take the weight off upstairs.

I got to pay another visit to underneath the arcades while on this shoot as Steve was kind enough to show me the storage area. It’s worth noting because the storage is actually directly under the walkway of the arcade, not Wally’s itself, because the area directly underneath has not been dug out due to being a cholera pit back in the 1800s – an interesting, if rather unsavoury fact, that I will have to do a little bit more investigating on!

Before this turns into a ridiculously long post, I will leave you to enjoy the spendid photos from this shoot (if I do say so myself). I try not to play favourites with the arcades shops anymore, but I can’t deny that this is one of my favourite sets. There are so many that I can’t possibly squeeze them all in, so if you’re hungry for more, please head over to this Flickr set to lay your eyes on extras.

You can keep up with Wally’s at their website, on their Twitter feed and on their Facebook fan page.

As always, feedback, comments and your stories very much welcome in the comments box below. Enjoy!

Nicola, who has worked in the shop for 6 years. Other members of staff have worked there varying lengths of time, some as long as 30 years.

The Wally's storeroom, not underneath the store, but underneath the walkway of the Royal Arcade

The Wally's storeroom, not underneath the store, but underneath the walkway of the Royal Arcade

Price’s Sweets – traditional sweet-shop with a bewildering array of treats

Anybody that walks past Price’s will instantly stop and stare, amazed at the delicious goodies that lie beyond the glass. Or maybe that’s just me. When Price’s first appeared at the end of last year, I was worried about the impact on my wallet (and waistline) that having such a heaven on the doorstep would have. Somehow I’ve managed to resist spending a small fortune in the store (sorry guys), but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy popping in every now and then to indulge my sweet tooth.

Steve and Deina Price very kindly invited me into their shop to shoot the store and learn a bit more about their business a few weeks ago, and being one of my favourite topics – confectionary – I naturally couldn’t resist.

I got to chatting with them both when I visited, and, being such a new shop, made for interesting listening. Steve and Deina live only down the road so they are able to open on Sundays unlike many of the other arcade shops with very low overheads. Deina told me it had been a long-time dream to own a sweet shop – a dream shared by many I’m sure – and had originally looked into opening as part of a franchise.

When that didn’t seem very likely, they began looking for their own shop to open in Cardiff and the arcades seemed to be the natural place to do that. After initially approaching the Morgan Arcade, they eventually settled on a High Street Arcade shop in November 2010.

They have seen good trade, and understandbly, that increases around the major holidays and school breaks. The biggest problem they have seen to date, like others, is the decreased footfall in the arcades brought on by the roadworks on Castle Street and High Street. Many people, they say, don’t realise the shop is there. In fact, while I was photographing a lady wandered in and seemed delighted by her discovery. According to Steve and Deina, that happens all the time. Once people know that the shop is there, they are hooked, but the problem is letting people know that they are there in the first place.

While on the one hand, the smaller outlay of their customers means they are likely to see more customers in an average day than the more expensive surrounding shops, they do have places like supermarkets to compete with. Steve revealed that they just don’t try to compete with the chain stores on St Mary Street for things like advent calendars and Easter eggs, instead investing money in better quality sweets that they sell for a fair price.

And speaking of the very important business of sweets, I asked them what their biggest sellers were. The old classic Rhubarb and Custard was quoted, along with Army and Navy – a sweet I confess I’d never heard of before. If you venture in to the shop, you might find yourself bewildered by the array of sweets on offer, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still caught out by unusual requests. The Price’s do try to accomodate as many different requests as possible, and as a rule of thumb will see if something gets requested three or more times before adding it to the repertoire.

As you’ll see in the pictures, there’s not just the old fashioned sweets in jars, but also ‘retro’ sweets that I remember from the 80s and 90s, which are just brilliant for a trip down memory lane. We’re talking wham bars, black jacks, sherbet dib dabs, parma violets and much, much more besides.

So before I start drooling into the keyboard, I shall leave you to look at the photos and encourage you to get along to Price’s Sweets in the High Street Arcade as soon as you humanly can – just try not to ask for one of every single sweet you can see as one American lady apparently once did… you might be there a while!

As always, feedback very much appreciated, so please feel free to leave comments in the box below 🙂