A stylish pool but it can get crowded

Despite being located near lively bars and chain pubs, Jonny Payne finds surprising tranquility and first-rate food at Park Plaza Cardiff in the centre of the Welsh capital.

I arrive outside the Park Plaza hotel in central Cardiff to be confronted by a hen party, each member with hairbands adorned with phallic, pink wobbly bits and sashes and t-shirts printed with “Joanna’s hen weekend” – I worry it may be a long night.

Located opposite the Tiger Tiger nightclub and various chain bars, I admittedly fear the worst, particularly as on the way to my room after check in I hear a group of ladies signing along to Livin’ on a Prayer at the top of their voices in a room just around the corner.

Parkplazaroom200Rooms are spacious and well equipped
Park Plaza Hotels
But as I enter my room and shut the door, I’m immediately calmed. The spacious room, complete with a king-sized bed, desk and the standard complimentary fruit bowl, is modern but not too sterile and overlooks the attractive park, which can be glimpsed between the interspersed leaves of the surrounding trees. The bathroom is small but well-appointed with the toiletries and additional touches such as a sewing kit neatly positioned on the black, marble-effect top.

I unpack and head out for the afternoon towards Cardiff Castle (just two minutes’ walk from the hotel) and then on to the main shopping hub of St. Mary’s Street, which can be found opposite the medieval fortifications.

After a day of sightseeing, I return to the hotel for a swim. The hotel’s health and beauty spa offers a range of treatments, as well as housing what is described as “a stainless steel swimming pool”. The pool is certainly stainless steel, but I find the water slightly on the cold side and it’s difficult to understand why there are four gigantic columns slap bang in the middle of the pool. It allows far less space for those wishing to swim – and it being a Saturday afternoon it’s fairly busy.

After dodging other swimmers during a few lengths and a relaxing visit to the steam room tucked away to the side, I head back to the room before dinner.


parkplazarestaurant200Restaurant staff are very attentive
Park Plaza Hotels
The restaurant and its adjoining bar are decorated in a mix of soothing creams and dark browns, but it has character, with a wall of wine and champagne bottles breaking up the rather bland colour scheme.

I’m seated next to another hen party, this time with more low-key and non-phallic black wobbly bits on their hairbands – fortunately all are relatively quiet and are enjoying their meal, so I settle down to look at the menu.

Hotel food can often be very lacklustre, but I’m surprised when I glance down at the wide-ranging options. As well as the usual à la carte menu, there is also a good selection of options on a specials menu.

The menu is a mix of traditional European and British dishes and some oriental flavours. Starters include, among others, duck egg Benedict and seared tuna with white and black sesame seeds, oriental salad and wasabi. I opt for the former, which arrives soon after I have demolished wonderfully soft chunks of onion bread, which I soak in a tasty mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

EggsParkPlaza200Eggs Benedict is recommended
Jonny Payne
The bulging duck egg, smothered in a buttercup-yellow hollandaise, sits atop a muffin separated by some perfectly salted cured ham. As I cut into the egg, the rich yolk oozes out onto the muffin, which already lovely and soft, becomes drenched in the golden goo. The hollandaise, meanwhile, is not too overbearing as it can frustratingly so often be.

At this point I’m increasingly becoming aware of the attentiveness of the restaurant staff, and no sooner have I finished than my plate is taken away and I am asked whether I would like any more bread – “of course”, I reply.

There‘s a wide choice of main courses, which I am assured are made from local produce. These include the obligatory (in this part of the world at least) roast Welsh lamb, as well as pasta and beef dishes; but I’m keen to try one of the chef’s Asian offerings. I choose crispy soft shell crab, confit pork belly, egg noodles, pak choi and oriental dressing.


parkplazacrab200The restaurant's menu impressed
Jonny Payne
While this sounds a complex mouthful, it appears elegantly positioned on the plate. The larger than expected crab in a light, crisp batter is perched atop a swirled mix of noodles with pak choi, peppers, baby corn and pulled pieces of pork loin jutting out at various angles.

The meaty crab is perfectly cooked and compliments the wonderfully succulent pieces of pork, which have soaked up the subtle soy dressing. The pak choi are crunchy not limp, while the final touch is a lightly grilled lime that when squeezed on the dish brings the mixture to life.

Again less than a minute after devouring the main course, I am ably attended to by the friendly staff, who offer the dessert menu. I try to resist, but the jersey cream crème brûlée, which arrives golden and creamy with two small melt-in-the-mouth shortbread biscuits, is too much to turn down.

parkplazacoffee200Chill out with a coffee
Park Plaza Hotels
The final bill, which arrives seconds after I have requested it, comes to a total of £33.90 for three courses, two glasses of Welsh mineral water and a glass of red wine – I would struggle to eat any better in Cardiff for that price, if at all.

I return to my room expecting the partying hoards to keep me awake, but surprisingly it’s not the clucking hens that break up my sleep, rather the chiming church clock across the park – but I soon drift off to sleep again in the comfy bed.

I leave Wales too early for breakfast the following morning, but I’m told by staff the buffet selection includes the usual range of cereals, fruit, pastries and cooked Welsh breakfast (the same as an English breakfast only with Welsh sausages, the receptionist cheerfully adds).

The friendly and attentive staff, excellent food and city centre location make the Park Plaza a perfect base from which to explore the Welsh capital – just expect some lively nightlife in the surrounding streets and the odd hen party.

Park Plaza Cardiff
Greyfriars Road, Cardiff.
Tel: (44) 02920 111111.
Website: www.parkplazacardiff.com
Price: Double rooms from £99.





Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.