From the outside, Vegetarian Food Studio looked unassuming. Nestled between a printing shop and a newsagent on Penarth Road in Grangetown, it resembled an old- fashioned café.
But looks can be deceptive. As we walked inside, my guest and I noticed the walls were plastered with awards: The Guardian Food award, the Vegetarian Society Best Restaurant, the South Wales Echo Top Ten Eco-Friendly Restaurants, the list went on.
The restaurant, which specialises in southern Indian cuisine, is run by the Patel family and had a warm, friendly atmosphere. Raj Patel said: “My son Neil started cooking at the age of eight and has never looked back since.”
The menu was exceptionally varied and, as a vegetarian who is used to having a choice of only one or two suitable dishes on a menu, I found it very difficult to decide what to order. My guest was a keen carnivore, but was still spoilt for choice.
Luckily, the kitchen was clearly used to this and had made life easy by creating the Gujarati Thali Special, which allows those who are new to Asian cuisine to try a bit of everything.
The special was also excellent value for money. We were able to try two starters, the curry of the day, rice, daal, poppadoms and a sweet dish for £5.99.
The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, but diners are welcome to bring their own for a £1 corkage charge.
We decided to try mango lassis, which were essentially smoothies made from mango and yoghurt, sprinkled with cardamom. These were rich, thick and sweet and stimulated the appetite for the first course.
The starters were delicious. We had bateta wada (potato fried with coriander and spices) and mixed vegetable petis (crispy potato balls filled with peas and spices), which were mild and contrasted well with the spicier daal and curry.
The curry of the day was corn and patra nu saak, which comprised of sweetcorn cooked in a thick tomato and peanut sauce. This dish was not something I would have chosen to order, but the sweet, salty and spicy flavours thoroughly complemented one another.
The daal was spicy and rich in flavours. Mr Patel explained it is cooked in a traditional curry pot, which allows the rich flavours of the spices to infuse. It was served with rotli (flat bread) but these were extremely filling and almost too heavy to be served in addition to the rice.
The sweet dish was a gulab jamun, which was a deep-fried dough ball, soaked in sugar syrup. The syrup was sweet and aromatic, with hints of saffron, cardamom and rose-water.
Overall, it was a magnificent meal in a warm and friendly setting. The varied menu had something to suit every taste, regardless of whether or not you would normally choose to eat vegetarian food. My guest and I both felt this charming, quirky restaurant more then deserved every one of its plentiful awards.