A Chinese restaurant and takeaway on Crwys Road serves the best crispy shredded beef in Cardiff and it happens to be meat-free.
In Cafe serves a range of vegan versions of familiar classics such as aromatic crispy duck, sweet and sour chicken balls, szechuan roast pork and king prawns with cashew nuts.
However, they also sell non-vegan dishes for committed carnivores and specialise in authentic Hong Kong-style cooking too.
Owned by Grace Tsang, who originally hails from Hong Kong, she moved to Cardiff with her husband and children three years ago to be closer to family who already live in the city.
Grace, a former accountant, explained the reasons behind opening the business two and a half years ago.
“My husband is good at cooking and also my family are good at cooking, they’ve been running a catering business for maybe 20 or 30 years. So, we joined together so they could support me to run the business,”
Grace runs the front of house and manages the business, whilst her husband does the cooking. However, when they initially opened, In Cafe’s focus was English breakfasts rather than the Chinese cooking they’re known for now.
“At first we chose English breakfasts because we wanted to have more time with the kids because cafes can close earlier. But we found it quite hard because people are loyal to the cafe they normally go to,” said Grace.
“We tried to use good quality ingredients like bacon and sausage and make everything fresh. But it wasn’t a success so after half a year we introduced the Hong Kong-style cooking.”
Hong Kong-style dishes added to the menu included baked pork chop in tomato sauce and crispy fish fillet in sweet corn sauce. But, whilst things started to look brighter for the business, their next challenge wasn’t far around the corner.
“It went very well because a lot of students in Cardiff who are from Hong Kong, China and Asia loved our food,” said Grace.
“But then the pandemic came and all the students went back to their home country. So we introduced more local Chinese food to our menu.”
Grace also spotted the untapped potential for vegan Chinese food in Cardiff, and it was another boost for the business.
“I noticed that vegan food is very popular in the UK and I found that not many Chinese restaurants or takeaways were doing it. I’ve also got a family member who’s vegan, and he loves our food. But when he came to our restaurant we didn’t have many options for him,” said Grace.
“Most Chinese restaurants if they do vegetarian or vegan food, it’s only tofu and vegetables. So I think it’s really great to have more options for people. It’s a good stepping stone for people that want to try to switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet.”
The three most popular vegan dishes on In Cafe’s menu are their crispy shredded beef, sweet and sour chicken balls and aromatic crispy duck. When asked why they’re the most popular, Grace said: “Because they’re tasty and you can’t find them anywhere else!”
In Cafe’s crispy shredded beef in Peking sauce (£8.80) is renowned and I can see why. It tasted every bit as good as its meat alternative. Gorgeously crisp shreds of wheat and soya protein in a thin batter were coated in a sticky, sweet, savoury and slightly spicy sauce flecked with onion. It’s going to become one of my regular takeaway dishes in Cardiff.
Sweet and sour vegan chicken balls (£9.90) were an absolute dead ringer for their meat-containing counterparts. The crisp golden battered balls of meaty protein were accompanied by a reassuringly bright coloured sweet and sour sauce. This was a cracker of a Chinese takeaway classic.
On a separate visit for lunch, vegan battered chicken (£9.50) was bathed in a sticky, sweet and savoury teriyaki sauce studded with crisp veggies. It tasted better than the meat I’ve had from plenty of takeaways. Accompanying toasty fried rice certainly didn’t miss its egg either. The golden grains had a lovely toasty note from a well seasoned wok.
Vegan prawn toast (£6.50) saw crisp fried bread topped with a smooth savoury paste and topped with nutty sesame seeds. Whilst it definitely missed an additional twang of crustacean, I barely noticed when I dredged it through the teriyaki sauce.
In Cafe puts a lot of time and effort into their vegan dishes from seasoning, marinating and cutting the meat-substitutes to creating the sauces from scratch.
“All the sauces are made by my husband. We found that our normal sweet and sour sauce wasn’t vegan so we investigated other ingredients to see how to replace them. The taste is still good and similar to the non-vegan one,” said Grace.
The effort has paid off as vegan dishes now account for 40% of In Cafe’s business.
“It’s grown by word of mouth, I’m not good at social media!” said Grace.
“Some of our customers come from Newport and Bridgend – it’s very touching because they travel so far.”
Whilst In Cafe is currently only open for eat-in at lunch and takeaway during the evenings, they hope to open for eat-in at night at some point in future.
“I want to see how the business is going first, and whether the kitchen staff can manage it. If the staff are too tired, they will just go and get another easy job,” said Grace.
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