In no particular order, and with apologies for being so food focused, here are my current favourite things…
- The ESPY photography award exhibition at elysiumgallery, College St, Swansea
The quality and scope of the shortlisted entries for this Swansea-based international photography competition are dazzling, but for me – and also for the judges – there was no doubt about the winner. Mira Andres is a Swiss photographer who lives near Aberystwyth and, perhaps as a result of growing up in a landlocked country, has become fascinated by the coastal community of Borth.
I’m a great lover of Borth’s end-of-the world beauty: the hazy blues of sea and sky; the curiously large, oval pebbles in shades of dove grey; and the uneasy sense that one day the sea might flow over that shingle bank and just keep on going.
Mira’s photographs evoke all those visuals beautifully, but they also tap into the human currents of the area’s past and present. Her photographs reference The Black Crows of Borth – black clad fisherman’s wives who used to walk along the cliffs to sell cockles, and who often stood on the nearby Cliff of Vigil, their inky clothes whipping in the wind as they strained to catch a glimpse of their loved ones’ return from the sea.
Mira’s photographs capture modern locals – members of the area’s present-day artistic community – echoing the intense seaward stare of the Black Crows. Their pictures are juxtaposed with intimate glimpses of the shoreline: traces of the submerged forest in the Irish sea; an inky, glistening rock pool; a tumble of shingle … it’s intense, flawless and moving work. I’m delighted that as part of her prize, Mira will be returning to the gallery next year for a solo show.
The current show runs until December 19.
- Kung pao chicken at Sichuan Savour, Walter Road
This is so good, I have eaten this twice in the past fortnight. Sichuan Savour is a charming Chinese café on Walter Road in Swansea and you’d be hard pressed to find better, more keenly priced Chinese food anywhere in Swansea. I tend to go for the lunch deal: a gargantuan plate of rice or chow mein with your choice of main course for just £4.60.
There are two menus in Sichuan Savour: the green one, which is the more authentic Chinese menu, and the other menu, which caters for UK tastes. I believe the lunch deal only includes dishes from the British menu, but the options are so plentiful you won’t struggle to find something appealing.
My current love affair is with the kung pao chicken – a fiery stir fry of chicken, peanuts and vegetables which is typical of food from the Sichuan Province. The chicken in Sichuan Savour’s version has a very fine batter coating which makes it devastatingly gorgeous, and the thick red sauce will make your eyes water, but it also has delectable sweetness and depth. (Interestingly, the restaurant does two versions of this dish and the one from the green menu is actually spicier – ouch!).
Other things worth knowing about Sichuan Savour are that it has plentiful meat-free dishes (the tofu options are another personal favourite) and does the biggest, fattest slices of prawn toast I have ever encountered. It does not have a drinks licence, but it does have a fridge full of interesting Chinese soft drinks.
- Beer paddles at Gravity Station, The Strand
A proper craft ale pub in the heart of Swansea, Gravity Station’s name should be on everyone’s lips, but I’m surprised by the number of people who have still not heard of it. That could be because it’s tucked away on The Strand – close to Wind Street but also a world removed.
The interior has an endearingly thrown-together feel: no fancy designers have been let loose here, but the stripped-back simplicity of the place is appealing, and the staff are wonderfully warm and welcoming.
They really know their ales, too: my tip is to tell them what style of beer you enjoy and let them put together a tasting paddle of three small glasses of ale for you to try. They have everything from inky porters to sprightly Pilsners, so whatever tickles your fancy, you’re in for a treat.
They also do off sales, so you can buy bottles to take home.
- Portuguese custard tarts at Brewstone, Uplands
I only discovered these because my laptop and I spent last week exiled to Brewstone (oh, the hardship) while workmen did noisy things in my house. I’m not sure its owner will thank me for saying this, but Brewstone is a great place to set up a makeshift office, having excellent wifi, a wonderful warm, relaxed atmosphere, and table service from the lovely staff. I’m rather missing it this week.
The experience has also sparked an addiction to their custard tarts – mouthfuls of pure joy that combine flaky pastry with the creamiest vanilla filling. Washed down with one of their excellent coffees, this is surely the most luxurious and delightful way to bridge the gap between breakfast and lunch.
- Tea and coffee at Square Peg, Sketty
It may be hard to tell one hipster barrista from the other at Square Peg, but whoever serves you, you’re sure of a coffee or tea prepared with love and scientific precision. You can choose from different blends and beans, and from all manner of artisan coffee-making techniques including cold brewed, Aeropress and pour over options.
A recent discovery for me was cascara, an iced drink made using the dried cherry of the coffee plant. It’s superbly refreshing, and has the lightness of tea.
On the subject of tea, I should add that there are plenty of great options in that department too. Chai is one of my favourites, either made as a chai latte or a regular tea (which, naturally, comes with an egg time to ensure your leave it to brew for long enough).
An added bonus is that Square Peg gives all its profits to charity: a feel-good experience all round.