Stretched across a corner in one of Cardiff’s oldest Victorian arcades, Castle Arcade, sits a quaint French café/delicatessen by the name of Madame Fromage. Run by a French family. Madame Fromage began its life as a traditional fromagerie, but it was always the owner’s dream to expand into a French café.
I’ve been meaning to get down to Madame Fromage for ages, but they never have any tables free when I pass by. However, it was my friend’s birthday recently and as she is a big fan of French food, I decided to book us a table for lunch. It’s a good job I called to book in advance, because it was a sunny Saturday and the restaurant was bustling with diners.
If you take a moment to really appreciate the vintage posters and paintings on the walls, the mouth-watering savoury aromas wafting out from the kitchen and the traditional French music playing gently in the background, interspersed with lively chatter, you could be fooled into thinking you’re sitting in a charming bistro somewhere in Paris.
The menu wouldn’t look out-of-place in a bistro, either. You’re not exactly spoilt for choice, but there are enough dishes to choose from and they all sound irresistible. From classic French dishes like baked raclette, croque monsieur, pâté, and cheese and meat platters, the only difficulty for me was choosing just one dish to order. We had a good nose around to see what other people were eating but this only served to make our decision even harder, because everything looked absolutely delicious.
As we examined the menu, desperately trying not to drool all over it, I sipped on a sweet, fruity concoction of lemonade, strawberry syrup, fresh strawberries and ice, garnished with a zesty lemon wedge (£3.50), while my friend sipped on a milky latte (£2.70). Madame Fromage serves a range of soft drinks, teas and coffees but if you fancy something a little stronger, take your pick from an impressive range of speciality French wines, or Welsh ales and craft beers.
Eventually, I settled upon the baked Camembert. A hot, gooey oven-baked Camembert topped with bacon, maple syrup, orange and rosemary. was paired with freshly baked assorted breads and French butter (£11.50). I hate it when restaurants serve their dishes with dull side salads which don’t really need to be on the plate, so I was delighted to discover that Madame Fromage actually puts some thought into its side salads to come up with flavoursome combinations like mixed lettuce leaves, sweetcorn, cress, tomato and red onion, served with tangy caramelised onion chutney. This was comfort food at its finest; my only wish was that I had more of that soft-as-a-cloud bread to dunk into the creamy melted Camembert (it was a decent portion of bread; I’m just greedy!)
Meanwhile, my friend eventually settled upon a dish from the daily specials menu. A feta. olive and sun-dried tomato tartlette was served with assorted bread and butter, and another colourful side salad with chutney (£8). I had a little nibble of the tartlette and it tasted good, although this isn’t the kind of dish I would usually order. My friend polished off the lot, but she had a bit of a shock when she bit into one of the olives because it was stuffed with chilli.
Although we’d only eaten one course, both of our meals were surprisingly filling and so we weren’t able to fit in any of the indulgent cakes we’d seen on display earlier. I was tempted to buy a cake or some cheese to take away for later on, but when I realised how many calories I’d just consumed in the baked Camembert, I decided it was best that I stepped away from the deli counter and left empty-handed.
My first visit to Madame Fromage was so good, I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about it. Admittedly, £25 is pretty excessive for lunch for two, but it was worth every penny. I only wish I’d booked a table here sooner, instead of just passing by on the off-chance. Just try to keep me away from this place in future!
21-25 Castle Arcade
(029) 2064 4888