The Year of the Flood; Dystopia or reality?

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

Due to both University reading and personal interest, I’ve found myself delving into the world of dystopian literature more than ever. Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood has become anew favourite of mine as I found myself flying through its 500 odd pages. Set during a period of biological catastrophe, The Year of the Flood is the second novel in a trilogy based on different angles of this make belief world. However, having not previously read Oryx and Crake, I could only interpret the novel as a standalone piece of fiction.

Reminiscent of Atwood’s own The Handmaid’s Tale and other dystopian novels such as A Clockwork Orange, the plot is packed with sexual violence and oppressive figures. With a page count of over 500 pages long, the two central characters have ample room to breathe, grow and let their personalities seep onto the pages. The reader watches Ren grow from child to adult as the plot forms a feeling of Bildungsroman. Her life is tumultuous and unforgiving as she experiences upper class life, an existence in the Pleeblands, and of course, the agricultural cult, ‘The gardeners’. She is emotional and it’s difficult to remove yourself from her pain as she is abandoned by her parents, loses her friends and suffers through a painstakingly long heartbreak.

Toby is arguably a character residing on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Feared by the children of ‘The Gardeners’, she is an extremely head strong and resourceful character. Orphaned as a teenager, she picks her way through low life jobs whilst forcing herself to make money in less than desirable ways. Her entire narrative is a sad and lonely one, filled with isolation and a lack of love. The moment she finds Ren in the Year 25 (which we were all anticipating) was the first time I felt like she was no longer on her own. Ren and Toby, however oppositional, are the perfect companions. Their mix of experience and their complimentary balance of emotions creates a partnership and level of camaraderie that I believe will continue long into their fictional future. Atwood’s mastery of these characters was sensational. I laughed, I cried, and I felt my heart break along with them. This is one of the few novels that I was mightily disappointed to see the back of.

When it comes to the dystopia genre, one of the most important things to consider is that it is not so much science fiction, but a potential reality. Atwood has always famously said that she does not want her writing to be referred to as science fiction due to her contextual influence’s roots in real life. The Handmaid’s tale famously echoes the Salem Witch trials, Biblical stories, ancient monachal practices and it’s not hard to see similar influences in her other novels. When reading The Year of the Flood I could sense the contextual influences of both feminist and eco critical movements from the worlds past and present. Equally, the corrupt patriarchal forces strongly echoed those we have seen around the world and we are no strangers to religious cults and barbarians.

Reading this novel in today’s climate whilst residing alongside the infamous COVID19 global pandemic, the idea of the ‘waterless flood’ can easily cause a few grimaces and raised eyebrows. Written over a decade ago, the parallels of nose masks and keeping distances from each other in order to protect yourself from germs and unsanitary living, sits uncomfortably on the chest. How many pandemics will we go through before we face an event comparable to the ‘waterless flood’? When will be unable to prevent the population dropping like flies? Atwood’s decision to leave out the key details and explanation into the nature of the disease until halfway through the narrative adds immensely to the unnerving build up of tension and feeling of unknown. The story behind the pandemic begins to slowly unravel as we are drip fed an insight into the nature of the waterless flood, and this does little to put us at ease as we sympathise with the character’s hardships and feel their pain.

One of the more ‘dystopian’ features of The Year of the Flood is the unique blend of original vocabulary that Atwood has created. The literary technique creates a barrier between the reader and the fictional world, removing any feeling of reality. I was quite interested in the inspiration behind the made-up words such as garboil, bimplants, but when breaking the syllables down, its not too difficult to work it out. I still can’t believe it took me nearly half the novel to work out that violet biolets meant toilets! The single changed letter clearly makes all the difference…

Despite Atwood’s rejection of the sci-fi label, the freaky words and animal hybrids (rakunk and bobkitten) does little to veer away from this label. It paints the society as apart from the one we are so familiar with today and slightly removes the possibility of our society facing a similar future. There is a lot we can take away from the novel and its warnings against unnatural experimentation and corrupt government. Atwood almost implements the features of a fable into the narrative with the moral possibly being based on leaving nature and wry science experiments alone. Well, it’s convinced me, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the other two novels in the trilogy.

Hubbox review

Before October I had never heard of Hubbox before, and now I’ll never forget it. The décor was warm, cosy and inviting with its dim and low lighting. The furnishings were wooden and there were red neon signs dotted on the walls. The restaurant gave off classic burger joint vibes with a modern twist giving it an originality that intrigued me.

The staff were engaging and showed a clear interest in their customers, which, in a COVID cautious world, was a welcome change. They stayed attentive throughout the evening, consistently offering their services and successfully providing us with a continuous flow of drinks. The music was enjoyable and, although a little loud, added a nice background noise to the conversation. I felt right at home!

After so many wins for Hubbox, the food and drinks did not let the side down. I ordered the kali chick chicken burger and swapped out the grilled chicken breast patty for a buttermilk fried chicken breast. The taste combinations were amazing with a chorizo jam that offered an intense and rich flavour alongside the chicken. The chipotle mayo created a light level of spice, whilst the guacamole and rocket cut through the richer, oilier flavours and produced a subtle palette cleanser. I love fried chicken more than anything, and I felt the crunch worked perfectly amongst the flavour combinations. I also manged to sample some of the big kahuna beef burger which was an absolute meat feast with two 4oz patties and a mountain of pulled pork. Topped with an onion ring, it was a real treat and great value for money. For me, the chicken burger took the cake, but if you are a mega meat lover, the big kahuna is the one for you!

The sides were just as good, and, although arguably expensive for sides, were definitely worth it. I got to try the mother clucker fries which were skin on fries topped with buttermilk fried chicken, cheese sauce, sour cream and Korean BBQ sauce. They were amazing and did not hold back on the toppings. The chicken was delicious, and the sour cream and BBQ sauce complimented each other perfectly with their respective cooling and rich tones. We also ordered nachos which were a classic crunchy portion of loaded tortilla chips. I really enjoyed them but I have to admit they were not as generous with the quac as they could have been and, next to the fries, were marginally disappointing. But then again, with such big stars on the menu, there will inevitably be something sitting in the shadows.

 My favourite drink of the evening was the Long beach iced tea which had a delicious orangey, alcoholic twang and went down with a dangerous ease. The espresso martini was equally enjoyable and acted as the perfect digestif to such a filling meal. The bar definitely lived up to the food! I can’t wait to make Hubbox a regular haunt of mine, it’s original menu definitely makes it my new favourite burger joint. Its vegan and veggie menu makes me excited to take some of my veggie friends so they can try out its versatility. Its location is already calling out to me for a day out in the bay with a Hubbox burger and beer!

Review: Got Beef

Wales’s national lockdown was looming and we had no choice but to spend our last evening tasting the food of Cardiff’s Got Beef. After opening its doors in 2014, Got Beef was voted as No. 2 by National Newspaper Wales in its Top 15 burger joints in Wales list. After achieving this title in less than a year, it was clear to me that the restaurant owner, Cai Pritchard had been doing something right, and I had to find out what it was.

The restaurant located on Whitchurch Road is modestly sized and rocks a casual style with wooden benches and an open kitchen. I love the open kitchen approach as it means that the diners are able to observe the chefs in the kitchen and be apart of the camaraderie. I believe that it completely elevates the entire eating experience as a whole new dimension is added to the journey from kitchen to table.

The food itself was stunning. Priced at £8 my Soprano burger was to die for. It was Juicy, succulent, the bacon was perfectly crisp and it was properly filling. The highlight for me was the sauce; jalapeno mayo. The spicy tones complimented the burger perfectly and lined my mouth with a welcome zingy and tingly sensation. It combined with the chorizo and monterey jack cheese perfectly and brought the whole burger together as one. This is a recipe I will definitely be seeking for myself!

I found that the sweet potato fries trumped the skin on fries on every level. They came with the perfect crunchy coating and soft inside that the skin on fries did not deliver. However, I may be faced with a slight bias as I have recently discovered an everlasting and undeniable love for a sweet potato fry. On the other hand, the loaded fries, in my opinion, were not worth the price point. The cylindrical shaped bowl they were served in resulted in an uneven distribution of the ‘load’ and I felt this ruined the experience slightly. Whats the point in loaded fries if only half of them are loaded?

Whilst the food hit the spot, I found that the service was a little bit slow. However, the restaurant was packed and the constant stream of Deliveroo drivers excused this slightly. The lockdown measurements were also a defense of any service hiccups. This time is understandably a hard one for everyone and I can’t imagine the stress the staff were facing with the inevitable closure of their restaurant. The food came piping hot and at the same time, which, at the end of the day, was all that mattered.

The overall experience was positive and offered the perfect conclusion to our freedom. I would definitely return here as it wasn’t too expensive and the burgers satisfied our cravings. It wasn’t the best value for money but I’m eyeing up their £5 lunch deal as must try budget lunch treat!

Review: Mowgli

“In 2014, founder Nisha Katona had a nagging obsession to build an eatery serving the kind of food Indians eat at home and on their streets.”

Walking into the Cardiff branch of Mowgli, we were met with a dazzling spectacle of fairy lights and warm colour. The staff were so incredibly welcoming and helpful that we couldn’t help but feel instantly at home in this treasure cave. On their website they describe themselves as “not about the intimate, hushed dining experience [but] about the smash and grab zing of healthy, light, virtuosic herbs and spices.” This became apparent when sitting amongst the warm light as it felt like we were all together, enjoying a family meal.

The smells coming from the kitchen flirted with our senses as our eyes flickered upon their menu, swaying our temptation and making our mouths water. The menu is so interestingly varied it was so hard to pinpoint what we wanted. After much deliberation, and some help from the waiting staff, we opted to share; yoghurt chat bombs, the ruby wrap, gunpowder chicken, one of the office worker’s tiffin and some roti.

The yoghurt bombs were the first to arrive and set an extremely high standard for the evening. The Pani puri spheres held a perfect mixture of spiced yogurt, creating a beautifully cool sensation in the mouth. They were topped with pomegranate seeds, adding a refreshing sharp after taste which complimented the spicy tang well. The only regret we had was scoffing them straight away and not saving them for when the rest of the food arrived, as they would have acted as an ideal relief from the harsher spices of the curries.

The Yogurt bombs topped with pomegranate and coriander

The gunpowder chicken is described as a spiced chicken popper in a gluten free chickpea batter, and they were unlike any battered chicken I had ever tested. I can’t recall ever trying chickpea batter before, but after this experience, I would be reluctant to shy away from it if I ever see it on the menu. The chicken was succulent, the batter was crisp and the coriander and basil accompaniments were perfectly balanced, what more could you want?

The paneer in the ruby wrap was juicy and delicious and matched the “rainbow of Mowgli chutneys” well. I absolutely adore paneer in Asian cooking and this dish did not disappoint. However, if you are one of those unfortunate enough to not enjoy the taste of coriander, this dish is not for you as it was scattered in abundance!

 The curries we were given in our tiffin box were; Temple dahl, House chicken curry and Mowgli House Keema with a side of rice. The sauce from the chicken curry was my favourite and suited their description of “tame but tantalising”. I love a Keema and it is rarely seen on the menu, so I was really excited to try it. It was rich in flavour and almost reminiscent of Lebanese cooking due to the domination of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. I think of a keema as relatively dry curry due to the cohesion of the meat and sauce as one, so I was pleased we had ordered roti to go with it. The Temple Dahl was not my favourite as the lentils had a little more bite and the sauce was little wetter than I would have liked, however, the flavour was still delicious. I enjoyed the presence of the roti and they went down well, but they were a bit thin and my partner and I both agreed that we prefer a thicker flat bread.

The overall meal was stunning and a really enjoyable experience. The setting was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the staff were attentive and friendly. Although the curries were delicious, I favoured the street food dishes and when I return, I will be eager to sample as many more as I can! I would recommend this restaurant to anyone and I cant wait to show it to all my friends and family!

Review: wahaca

Written by Indigo Jones, Hannah Penwright and Sasha Nugara for Quench magazine

Last week our section editors were offered the chance to review Wahaca Cardiff, a Mexican chain which can be found across the UK. The restaurant prides itself on sustainability, and its new menu explains how it’s the most sustainable yet. After having been to the restaurant our editors decided to write a collaborative review to discuss the highs and lows of the visit, whilst showcasing the wonderful food they were able to indulge on.

Indigo Jones

When I opened our mailbox and noticed an email from Wahaca, I was jumping for joy! I had never been to the restaurant before and have been itching to go due to my fascination and devotion to Mexican food. This love for the cuisine stemmed long before my trip to Mexico in 2017, where I experienced authentic food full of colour and flavours. Having travelled there myself, I had extremely high expectations for our meal at Wahaca.

I ordered the mushroom and feta tacos, chargrilled steak and cheese tacos and the Devon crab tostada. I decided on these options as I wanted to try the variety of things that Wahaca had to offer. All three dishes were full of flavour and were very appealing to the eye. My favourite out of the three had to be the Devon crab tostada as combination of the crab and pink pickled onions tasted so fresh and worked almost like a palette cleanser to the other dishes. My only complaint is that I would have loved a bit of a kick to the plates, having developed quite a tolerance for spicy food, I felt like that’s what these dishes were missing.  I would have asked one of the wait staff for some hot sauce to add to my food, but similar to Mexico unfortunately the service was slow, and I was unable to ask.

The highlight of the night had to be the £5 margaritas which they offered the week we attended to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. We ordered a variety of passion fruit and hibiscus flavoured margaritas, and these fruity drinks made the perfect accompaniment to our meals. I personally highly recommend going to Wahaca for both food and cocktails, and I would definitely attend again but perhaps next time I’ll ask for some hot sauce when I order!

Hannah Penwright

When limited to the vegetarian options, I love it when a restaurant serves tapas-style small plates as it means there’s likely to be a lot more choice- and Wahaca did not disappoint. My favourite out of the three small plates I chose was the mushroom and feta tacos; they were nothing short of incredible. The star of the tacos was definitely the mushrooms, as they were meaty (in a good way for a vegetarian), with a beautiful flavour. The smokiness of the ancho paired with the tangy feta was heavenly. The only disappointment was that there were only two- I could have happily eaten my weight in them.

Hannah’s three cheese quesadillas and cauliflower bites

The only dish out of the three I wouldn’t pick again was the black bean and three cheese quesadillas. For a small plate, I found them almost too filling that I struggled to finish the rest of my food. I’d also have liked some more flavour from the filling, as even with three types of cheese I found it quite bland. Regardless, the meal ended on a high note, as the last dish to arrive were the crispy cauliflower bites. Think perfectly crisp, well-seasoned batter, and a punchy aioli for an added kick to dip in. The cauliflower flavour wasn’t overpowering (which often seems the case with dishes like this), but it was just enough that the flavour still shone. It’s a shame these aren’t vegan so that more people can try them, as they’re too good not to order.

Often, being vegetarian in a restaurant means you have only a couple of options to pick from, which means eating there often can get a bit dull. However, there’s so many meat-free options at Wahaca that I don’t think I’ll ever get bored about eating here. I’ll definitely be returning to try more of the dishes!

Sasha Nugara

Today’s Covid climate has forced many restaurants to change their entire eating out experience in order to accommodate strict health and safety regulations. It is safe to say that Wahaca is no exception. Drip fed into the restaurant, we were given a comprehensive run down of the companies new policies and all the actions they were taking in order to ensure a safe experience. A one-way system had been formed around the restaurant and sheets of Perspex fixed onto the tables. If we could be confident about one thing, it was that they cared about our wellbeing.

The menu itself offered a dazzling selection of Mexican bites and the small plates option meant that I was able to sample as much as I could. I ordered the pork pibil tacos, the grilled chicken club quesadillas and the new cheese and chilli croquetas. The highlight of the meal was definitely the pork tacos due to the combination of succulent meat, tangy pickled onion and soft taco shell. The portion size was generous for a small plate – which I appreciated as I could eat them all day! The croquetas were perfectly round and perfectly cheesy but I would warn you to proceed with caution! Fortunately, I’m a huge spice fan and I absolutely loved the chilli wave, it was a perfect contrast to the mild quesadillas. They came with a tomatillo apple salsa which complimented the chilli perfectly and offered a refreshing after taste. Overall, the food did not disappoint, and I would recommend all that I ordered!

There’s nothing better than being able to enjoy your food with the comfortable knowledge that the journey it took to your plate was sustainable and had little effect on the environment. Wahaca have made moves to ensure their fish and meat come from trustworthy sources, making the special effort to become one of the first restaurants in the UK pass an audit by the Marine Stewardship Council and stock their approved fish. Equally, Wahaca was the first restaurant to become carbon neutral and they use renewable energy throughout their restaurants. They also help to fund the Improved Mexican Cookstove project which donates efficient cookstoves to low income households in Mexico, improving their livelihood and reducing fuel use as much as 58%. Its things like this which can help improve the eating out experience by tenfold as you guiltlessly support a company that are doing so much to give back. I will definitely be returning to Wahaca.

The Coconut tree

Originally written for Quench student mag

As someone who has grown up immersed in Sri Lankan food and culture due to my father’s heritage, the opening of The Coconut Tree in Cardiff was an exciting moment for me. When I walked into the restaurant for the first time, I remember being instantly hit with a cultural punch reminiscent of those lazy days spent in Sri Lanka. The menu offered everything I could have asked for in order to acknowledge a true Sri Lankan foodie experience; parippu, kotthu, slow cooked tuna in goraka spices, coconut sambol and of course… hoppers. I enjoy making my own egg hoppers at home but it is a laborious task and will often result in me spending the whole morning slaving over the hob for my family, so, ordering them from a restaurant is a nice change! At Quench we wanted to get in touch with The Coconut Tree, delve into the background of their restaurant and find out about the inspiration behind their Sri Lankan theme. We were also interested to learn how they had coped with lockdown and what effects COVID 19 could have on their future.

 I was put into contact with the brand director Anna Garrod who was able to shed some light on The Coconut Tree’s origin story and the five young Sri Lankans who wanted to ‘bring Sri Lankan streetfood to the masses.’ The beginning of their journey was accompanied by calls to Ceylon to attain secret recipes from their mums and handmade furniture from their dads. This authenticity is so prevalent in their restaurants and creates such a refreshing experience. They made sure that the menu offered variety with the abundance of vegetarian and vegan options, as well as affordability with the pricing starting at £2.50. This way they have been able to fulfil their mission of ‘true Sri Lankan hospitality that ‘Everyone is welcome to the Table.’ ’ Anna says that Sri Lankans were born making food for an occasion, and, if my family are anything to go by, this is definitely true!

The Coconut Tree own six different branches across the UK, but they don’t see themselves as a chain. They are a group of owners who work in the business every day and night, from cooking to finance, to operations. After their initial opening in Cheltenham, they were picked up by the Guardian as one of the best ‘cheap eats in the South West’ and their business exploded from there. Since then they’ve opened branches in Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford and Bournemouth. Cardiff attracted them as the ‘lifestyle capital of Wales’ and the Welsh’s friendliness and love of eating out! Anna commented on the fact that both Lonely Planet and The Sunday Times listed Sri Lanka as the No1 ‘Best place to visit’ and the benefits it subsequently had on The Coconut Tree’s success and profile. The Coconut Tree are going to be a part of the Castle Eats project at Cardiff Castle, so Cardiffians will be able to sit outside the castle and enjoy a takeaway from TCT al fresco! TCT is located on Mill Lane, next to Côte Brasserie and opposite John Lewis. This is a perfect foodie location, as it is surrounded by some of Cardiff’s finest restaurants and TCT acts as a unique addition to this collection. It stands out with its bold, dark branding and its outdoor seating and bar creates a welcoming vibe, encouraging passers-by to pop in for a legendary cocotail!

An image provided by TCT of their delicious food

On the topic of lockdown and COVID19, the lack of business proved to be a struggle for all small to medium boutiques. TCT’s Cardiff location had only been open for six months, so for them to have come through the worst of lockdown and survived it is a big success for them! Social media acted as a positive method to keep in touch with their costumer base and give updates towards reopening. They started doing takeaways on Fridays and Saturdays throughout lockdown, but have now extended to every night thanks to the extreme popularity they received. They’ve recently opened their outdoor space with plans to start trading inside as well, so it’s onwards and upwards for TCT! They are participating in the August Eat Out to Help Out offer Monday – Wednesday, so it’s the perfect opportunity to get down there and try out their amazing food!

I asked TCT what they would recommend to a first time coconuter and they responded with two new hybrid dishes that they’ve recently added to their menu:

  • Devilled Pork & Pineapple: Mixing two famous Sri Lankan dishes, this spicy, sweet, tangy and sour dish is a vibrant mix of juicy belly pork, red chilli, onion and banana peppers with garlic, spring onion and seasoning. The pork is cooked in the spices, before the veg is finished on a hot plate with the pineapple ‘Achcharu Style’. 
  • Chicken Curried Kotthu: Two of The Coconut Tree’s best-loved and best-selling dishes come together for the first time; Vegetable Kotthu (finely chopped roti cooked with egg and vegetables, cooked on a searing hot plate), topped with juicy chicken off-the-bone in a rich curry sauce made with fennel, cardamom, cloves, cumin, house curry powder, onion and cinnamon. 

They sound delicious and I can’t wait to try them! Everyone should get down to The Coconut Tree to sample their amazing food and cocotails!