Review: Barker Tea Rooms and 36 Hours in Cardiff, Wales

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

As we arrived into Cardiff on a Megabus from London, I logged onto the free city wifi to find a notification on Instagram from a follower Grace suggesting that we check out Barkers Tea House while in Cardiff, guaranteeing that “you will love it!”.

Given that we arrived a bit early and needed to wait about an hour for our Airbnb host to get out of a work meeting before he could meet us, we decided there was no better way to pass the time than to have a relaxing hot cup of tea in a highly recommended tea house! We pulled our suitcases along behind us and found our way to Barkers, located within High Street Arcade in Cardiff City Centre.


Barkers is everything you would want a small and cosy tea room to be. Cushy armchairs and couches fill up the space, with tiny round tables on spindly legs for your cups of tea. The interior is all dark floorboards and exposed brick walls, the walls of the kitchen are lined with canisters of different tea blends, and the counter and cabinets are chock full of sweet treats begging to be sampled.

Cream Tea (scone, brownie)
Cream Tea (scone, brownie)

I chose a simple Cream Tea for One (approx 8 pounds) which comes with a scone, a sweet morsel, and a pot of tea. The sweet morsel that day was a sinfully rich dark chocolate brownie bite, complete with part of a Flake chocolate bar on top. It was the perfect size for a sweet treat – any larger and it would actually have been much too rich to eat.

The scone is served with clotted cream and jam – I’m a clotted cream convert now of course. It’s a lot larger and more rustic than the scones served at the Ritz London, echoing instead the Irish-style scones we tried at Avoca Cafe in Belfast. It feels more appropriate – a heartier, crumbly, working-man’s scone to suit our stay in wild Wales.

Duchess Earl Grey Tea
Duchess Earl Grey Tea

I chose a Duchess Earl Grey Tea to go with my cream tea, served in a sweet little floral bone china teacup. They serve the Earl Grey here with milk rather than lemon, but it actually works well with the blend as the bergamot scent and flavour isn’t quite as fragrant here as with other blends.

Orange Blossom Tea
Orange Blossom Tea

K has the Orange Blossom Tea which he has plain without milk – particularly fruity and fragrant, but each subsequent teacup proves to be too strong. This is the type of tea blend that seems to require continual dilution with additional hot water after every cup.


I also get K a piece of Shortbread to try as he’s a bit of a fanatic – unfortunately it doesn’t quite live up to expectations as it lacks that rich butteriness that really characterises good shortbread biscuits. I really should have chosen one of the delicious slices of cake instead!

As we dined, we saw other groups around us having the full afternoon tea – no simple cream teas and shortbread for them! If ever we return to Cardiff, I think we’ll have to try the Full Afternoon Tea complete with finger sandwiches, scones, and cakes to really get the Barker Tea Rooms experience. Why do things by halves right?

Barkers Tea Rooms are located at 8-12 High Street Arcade in Cardiff City Centre.

Unfortunately, we really only spent a short time in Cardiff – barely 36 hours in total as we spent part of our stay as a daytrip to nearby Bath. Still, we managed to spend some time walking around Cardiff Bay on a particularly blustery day where I was almost blown off my feet by the strong winds!

We also visited Cardiff Castle with our friends Katy and Alex after having lunch at Viva Brazil, a churrasco restaurant with a few different branches around the UK. The castle is well worth a visit, and make sure you pay for the guided tour as well. While the castle keep is quite dilapidated, the manor house on the grounds is quite remarkable in the way that its 19th century inhabitants tried to recreate a medieval interior, and the exhibitions on war in the main building are very interesting as well.

While in Wales, I’d also recommend trying to find a cafe that will serve home-made Welsh Cakes! They’re shaped like a squashed fruit scone, and a good version will always be amply spiced as well. When warm and served with lashings of butter, there’s honestly no better snack. We tried some at a little cafe in Cardiff Bay, and that with a cup of tea was the perfect indulgence while escaping from the wintery wind.

Cardiff is very small, and quite easy to visit on a long weekend from other parts of the UK. Many people tend to visit for the Doctor Who experience which we skipped as neither of us are fans, but there’s a lot of other things to do over the course of a weekend!

Review: Street Pho, Noble Park

Noble Park is a suburb that lies in-between two major food destinations, paling in comparison. How can you compare with the Vietnamese food in Springvale, or the Afghan or Ethiopian food in Dandenong? You can’t. Not really. Still, there are a handful of local restaurants doing well enough to attract locals in for dinner during the week, saving them from driving down the road to a more renowned culinary destination.


Street Pho is one of the few restaurants in the heart of Noble Park plying their trade in the evening. They don’t pretend to be a specialist pho restaurant in the style of Springvale’s Pho Hung Vuong, serving up some of the best pho in Melbourne. They’re a simple family-run restaurant offering a large selection of Vietnamese dishes, a jack-of-all-trades to suit the tastes of all the locals who dine there.

We stopped by one evening on our way to a date night at the Dandenong Festival of Lights…which coincidentally, was very underwhelming for someone like myself who’s been in China during the lantern festival. While I personally wouldn’t rush back to it, but I can see the appeal for those who have never visited and may never visit China.

Three colour drink (Che Ba Mau)
Three colour drink (Che Ba Mau)

We started by sharing my favourite drink at Vietnamese restaurants – a Che Ba Mau, or three colour drink. While the grass jelly, red bean and mung bean is generally much of a muchness at most restaurants, I did like the slight twist that Street Pho gave to the drink with the addition of some freshly roasted peanuts on top for a slight crunch. The only downside is that they put so much shaved ice in the drink that it becomes quite impossible to mix the ingredients together.

Rare beef noodle soup (pho bo tai), $10 AUD
Rare beef noodle soup (pho bo tai), $10 AUD

K’s a pho traditionalist and opted for the Pho Bo, or rare beef noodle soup. The broth was a bit oilier and not as clear than I would personally prefer, but there was a good depth of flavour. It’s clear that Street Pho make their own pho stock from scratch. Highlight? The slippery noodles with a good amount of bite made just for slurping.

Rare beef spicy noodle soup (Bun bo hue tai), $10 AUD
Rare beef spicy noodle soup (Bun bo hue tai), $10 AUD

I chose the Bun Bo Hue, or rare beef spicy noodle soup as it was a cold night and I wanted the spice to warm me up before we went on our outdoorsy date. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite as much spice as I would like, and I found myself adding more chilli to the soup. On a high note, the beef was beautifully tender.


Street Pho is a pretty good local restaurant for those who live around Noble Park. However if you want truly fantastic Vietnamese food, some of the best in Melbourne, you should be driving five minutes down the road to Springvale instead.

Having said all that, I would be absolutely rapt to find a Vietnamese restaurant of the same quality as Street Pho in the local neighbourhood next year when we move out of my family home to a suburb closer into the city. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be quite that lucky!

Street Pho is located at 24A Douglas Street in Noble Park, Melbourne.

Chanoy Honeymoon: London, February 2016

Note – photo gallery at the end of this post. It’s also quite a long post, so I’ve put in some skip links to different sections for those interested!

Introduction | Culture and Entertainment | History | Neighborhoods | Connectedness | Food | Photo Gallery

There was a time in my life when I seriously considered moving to London. It was at a time when most young people are considering their next step in life – right after I finished my undergraduate degree. Without a graduate job lined up, I was a bit of a loss as to what to do next. After a short visit to the UK, I convinced myself that moving to London and finding work would be the answer to all my problems.

This obviously never happened. While I was formulating my plans, other things happened in life. I got accepted into a postgraduate course, I bought an apartment, I started working full-time…suddenly, more and more tangible commitments began to tie me down to Australia and moving to the UK became nothing more than a distant dream.

Is that dream over? Possibly. The employment market in Europe is difficult at the moment, the political situation is unstable, and K and I would never move across the world unless we both had decently-paid jobs lined up beforehand. Still, if the opportunity ever presented itself…I think we’d move ourselves and our future family over to London in a heartbeat, at least for five years to really dip our toe into the English waters.

That is probably a pretty strong indicator of how we both felt about our time in London! There’s just so much to love about the city, and below I attempt to group all the different elements that we love about London under five main categories.

The Culture and Entertainment

London’s museums and galleries are unparalleled – both in sheer quantity and quality. Best of all, they’re all completely free to enter! We visited the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum and my personal favourite, the National Portrait Gallery, during our week in London. Our visits were very quick, and cursory at best. If we were to live in London, I think we could spent a half day every weekend at a museum for a whole year, and still not be able to view and appreciate all that they have to offer.

And the thing is, the very fact that they’re free of charge for visitors makes them all the more enticing! At home in Australia, we may only visit our museums once or twice a year – generally only if we have visitors staying with us, and generally only if we have a voucher entitling us to discounted entry. We’d love to patronise our cultural institutions more often – we simply don’t have the budget to do so.

There’s other cultural entertainments that are much more affordable to enjoy in London – theatre performances for example. We managed to get tickets to two large performances for just 100 pounds ($200) – essentially half the price of theatre tickets in Australia. There are also many more smaller or amateur productions on around the city when compared to the arts scene in Australia. You could see a different performance somewhere in Greater London three times a week, and never pay more than 20 pounds a ticket.

We saw two performances – Billy Elliott the musical which I had missed during its Australian run, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, based on the novel by Mark Haddon which I had read and enjoyed a few years ago.  K isn’t often a fan of the stage productions I love (he hates musicals), but even he had to admit that both shows were absolutely superb. The child performers in Billy Elliott were astounding, the humour in the script was on point, and the dancing breath-taking. The stage direction and set design in Curious Incident were far superior to any production I’d ever encountered before – a thoroughly modern design that enhances the whole story.

Obviously museums, galleries, and theatre makes up only one small part of what London has to offer culturally. For instance if pop culture is more to your liking, you’ll probably enjoy guided tours of the city based on famous film locations (one on every corner essentially!) – or do as we did, and go on the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Warner Brothers studios in Leavesden, just outside of London.

For a Harry Potter fan like myself, it was an absolutely unmissable experience. Having grown up with the books and then the movies, visiting the studios and seeing how the magic was created was very emotional – there were more than a few occasions when I teared up when the emotion was just too strong! Even non-fans will find it interesting…and everyone always loves trying Butterbeer, or Butterbeer ice-cream as we did! I’ll let the photos below speak for themselves.

The History

One of my favourite book genres is romanticised historical fiction, specifically when it comes to accounts of individuals within English royal history. If there’s a Lancaster, York, Tudor or Stuart in the book, I’m pretty much guaranteed to have read it. What this means is that every time K and I walked around different parts of London, or went into a museum or gallery or other notable site, I would regale him with my own versions of English royal history and how it was relevant to where we were or what we were looking at.

The actual historical accuracy of my enthusiastic accounts is tenuous at best, but it does make for a good story. Simplifying the historical events with a more colourful retelling also seemed to help bring the history alive – K even admitted that as time passed, he began to fit names to families, dates to events, and events to places.

The thing about London is that you can’t escape this history. Every street you walk down has played its role in history and if you were to read and research everything, you could be around for hours. For example, K became fascinated by the number of “ER” and “GR” monograms that he saw on postboxes around the city and in looking up what they meant, fell into a Wikipedia black hole of reading about the history of the Royal Mail.

Royal history aside, there are other things to consider about the more questionable side of Britain’s history when exploring London. There are shameful elements of imperial and colonial history that still have repercussions today and it’s worth keeping your eyes open while spending time in the city.

For instance, I felt particularly uncomfortable about exploring certain areas of the British Museum with the knowledge that many of its priceless displays had been effectively stolen from their countries of origin and never returned. There are obviously arguments on either side of this ethical dilemma but I side with those who believe that stolen artefacts should be returned to their place of origin – with the proviso of course, that the location is safe and secure!

The Neighbourhoods

The more time you spend in the city, the more you realise that each postcode in London has its own very distinct character. From suits in the City, souvenir shops in Westminster, moneyed in Kensington, hip in the East and alternative in the North, there’s a different London waiting to be explored around every street corner.

We stayed at a B’n’B south of the Thames, between Vauxhall and Stockwell tube stations. The area was largely very quiet and residential with a mix of terrace houses and apartment blocks which suited us well – after a full day’s sightseeing amongst the crowds in central London, we needed a bit of quiet and relaxation at home at night! Considering that the average price of hotels in London are about $240/night, we definitely didn’t mind staying in our $120/night B’n’B located a little further out…the London Underground is so well serviced that travelling two extra stops on the Tube is barely an issue!

When it comes to where you should spend your time though, I have to say that I love the area stretching from South Kensington (museums!), to Knightsbridge (fancy shopping at Harrods!), through Hyde Park and Piccadilly (green space and palaces!), up to the West End (theatre!) and Soho (pubs, bars, nightlife!). We must have walked that path a million times over during our time in London, and I would swear that it’s one of the routes that takes you past some of the best and most interesting neighborhoods that Central London has to offer.

Note that I haven’t really talked about the areas of Westminster and Southbank, where most tourists tend to spend their time in ticking off areas such as the Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye…it’s a pretty area along the waterfront, but the problem is that it is extremely touristy. We just spent half a day in the area taking in the sights (and a few photos) before moving on to other neighbourhoods in London that felt more local and friendly.

Another area that I think all tourists have to visit is Camden Town. I’m not just saying this because my friend Maren is twisting my arm – she’s lived in Camden all her life and loves the area. It’s actually a wonderfully diverse and lively area. The Camden markets are wonderful (as I’ve mentioned before on this blog), the food options are numerous, the people are interesting, and there’s just so much to see and do.

However, if crowded neighbourhoods aren’t your thing, you can always explore the great outdoors! For a city that’s such a heaving metropolis of people, there’s a remarkable dedication to green space both within and outside the city. We spent our first afternoon and evening in London walking through Hyde and Green Parks, wandering down to Buckingham Palace before meandering back up to Kensington Palace – taking over 25k steps that day according to my Fitbit! There’s certainly no lack of parklands to be found for those who are more outdoorsy.

The Connectedness

It’s just so easy to get around London and the UK in general. From local buses to the Tube, to regional rail and National Express coaches – there’s a million different modes of transport, all of which are scheduled regularly so customers never have to wait too long for their bus or train.

Granted, they have the population to sustain such services, but Australia really could learn a few lessons from English transport efficiency – I shouldn’t have to wait on a train platform for up to twenty minutes on a weekend in order to catch a train into the city. The Tube runs almost every two minutes – why can’t Australian public transport run at least every ten minutes?

The pricing is hard to beat as well, with regional travel particularly affordable. We bought two Megabus tickets from London to Cardiff for nine pounds – barely $18 AUD. Return train tickets from Manchester to Liverpool were about 15 pounds ($30 AUD), and train tickets from Manchester to Edinburgh were 33 pounds ($65 AUD).

If you calculate that by distance, it’s about 300km from Manchester to Edinburgh, or 5km travelled per dollar paid. By comparison, taking the train from Sydney to Canberra would cost $112 AUD for two tickets. With 288km between the two cities, it works out to be 2.5km travelled per dollar paid. Essentially, we pay double the price to travel in Australia.

Basically if I were to live in London, I would be spending every second weekend in a different city in the UK, taking advantage of the cheap travel costs to explore more of the country!

The Food

We obviously ate out quite a lot while in London! Here’s just a few of the places we went to, which I’ve covered in previous blog entries:

There were many other snacks and meals had which I haven’t covered in full reviews. Sausage rolls and pasties from Cornish Pasty Shops for example. Morning tea at The Muffin Man. Lunch at Muriel’s. Dinner at Mildred’s. Rainbow bagels. Chocolates, coffees and teas. And one of my favourite destinations after a long day’s sightseeing to pick up a simple dinner to eat at home – the Marks and Spencer Food Hall for ready-made soups, salads, and sandwiches.

And yet…there’s still so much ground to cover. With pubs, restaurants, cafes, and take-away shops on every street in the city, there’s a million places we didn’t get to try, but would have loved to try. If we lived in London…well, we’d have to re-evaluate our ‘dining out’ budget!

What now?

I miss London. I would say that I want to go back…but to be honest, I think it’s more of a need than a want. I need to go back to London – and this time, I don’t want to wait another seven years until my next visit!