On the map for veggie food

VEGETARIAN FOOD STUDIO has made something of an impact since it
opened in Grangetown 15 years ago

It is regularly on UK-wide lists of “veggie places to eat,” boasts 34 awards and has put the area on the map as a place for vegetarians, with a love of spice, to visit.

The Penarth Road restaurant has moved a few doors down in the last couple of years but it is very much still a family affair.
You’ll be lucky to see chef Neil Patel, who is busy behind the scenes in the kitchens.

You’ll not fail to miss his father Jim, genial front-of-house host and the business brains behind the operation.

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Jim, one of four brothers, whose family business is car repairs, moved to Cardiff in the 1970s and was one of the early members of the Grangetown Hindu community,
who helped set up the temple in Mardy Street.

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Neil was born nearby and the family were always vegetarian  but Jim’s mother Sharda, now in her late 70s, was his mentor to become a vegetarian cook.

“He started cooking, watching his grandmother from the age of eight,” said Jim. “His grandmother used to cook 800 chapatis a day, she was an inspiration and made sure
he did it by the book. She taught him all she knows.”

“On the day he graduated (in catering from Birmingham) I was driving down Penarth Road past this cafe, and they were putting the for sale board up and I stopped and asked how much they wanted for it,” recalled Jim.

“He got a first class honours and the day he threw his hat, was the day I bought the business.”

“We only bought it because of the temple, we thought our people would come, the Hindu community, anyone from India. We didn’t believe that British people would be interested in vegetarian food.

“It has to be proper home-made food, the value and the service, it all comes into it,” said Jim.

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They order fresh supplies locally, while curry powders and other ingredients come from India.

Their business turnover has grown 50 times to when it started off in  2003. They also cater for events – including a recent Indian society wedding in London, with 6,500 guests.

The Patels have noticed a growing interested in vegetarian
– and vegan – food, and take their responsibilities for
authenticity seriously

“People have realised there’s a difference with homecooked Indian food, that’s 100% vegetarian,” said Jim.
“Vitamins, proteins, starch, whatever you get from meat, you get better than that in vegetarian. It’s like turmeric milk is becoming fashionable – people have realised that a spoonful of turmeric in milk is better for you than meat in your stomach.

“It’s cooked like home-made food, look at the flavours, the textures – when you use okra you get something, with Bhindi or chick peas, you get something. And we have 47 dishes.”

As for the partnership, one is unseen but creating; the other very much out front.
“Neil’s not a businessman, he’s in his kitchen. I’m the businessman,” says Jim “I talk to people, I run the show and he does the cooking. Customers don’t know Neil, everyone thinks it me!”
There have been approaches about expanding but the family are reluctant to branch out and lose quality control.

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They have been looking at possibly a larger premises the other end of Penarth Road, with parking, as this has been an issue but they are still committed to Grangetown.

“Visitors come with their little books, it’s putting Cardiff in a very good position,” said Jim, who believes quality vegetarian food choices are expanding in the city.

“Anna-Loka (in Roath) are doing well and the Jalan Malaysia (in Woodville Road), he’s promoting local Malaysian food.”
Next, Vegetarian Food Studio is planning to spread the knowledge. There are plans to raise money for Llandough Hospital – with a monthly Monday charity vegetarian cookery classes starting in January, costing £25 to include food, with profits going to the hospital.
“Even if they learn how to make channa masala – it’s the easiest you can do, or aubergine curry, it will be something and in a good cause,” said Jim.

Vegetarian Food Studio, 115–117 Penarth Road,
Grangetown, Cardiff CF11 6JU Tel 029 20 238222
Open Tuesday–Sunday www.vegetarianfoodstudio.co.uk

This article appeared in the winter 2018 edition of Grangetown News

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