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Gourmet Guide: Bristol

Today is the day I leave my home city for the last five years, Bristol, and head to the big smoke.

I’m incredibly excited about all the fantastic markets and restaurants London has to offer, but I also think that Bristol deserves more of a reputation for food. Here’s my round-up of the best places to eat and shop.

WHERE TO EAT

Café Maitreya

89 St. Mark’s Road, Easton, BS5 6HY t: 01179 510100

This intimate vegetarian restaurant, tucked away in the vibrant Easton area, really pays attention to the tiny details. They even bake their own bread, with the smell hitting you as you walk in the door. A sophisticated and well-presented approach to food, rather than the bland fare you might expect from an organic, vegetarian restaurant. Menu changes seasonally. Two evening courses are £19.95, or three for £22.95.

Robin’s Hood Retreat

197 Gloucester Road, Bishopston, BS7 8BG t: 01179 244334

In the midst of the busy pubs of Gloucester Road, Robin’s Hood Retreat offers a cosy, romantic atmosphere. In the capable hands of head chef Nathan Muir, this old man’s haunt has been transformed into an unpretentious gastro-pub. The menu changes regularly, but features such delights as braised pork belly, with bacon cabbage and a chocolate red-wine sauce. Two courses cost around £14.50.

Lido

Oakfield Place, Clifton, BS8 2BJ t: 01179 339533

This converted Victorian lido in the heart of the beautiful Clifton village is a truly unique restaurant experience. Swim in the heated pool, or try the sauna or steam room before sitting down to eat. The novelty of sitting beside the water aside, the adventurous menu, heavily inspired by Middle Eastern flavours, is the finest in Bristol. Local food writer Fiona Beckett says “I just love what they do there. The whole dining experience is just totally different, and refreshing.” Sourced partly by the Lido kitchen garden, the menu changes daily and varies by season, but recently included Wood-roast sole with a prawn and mace butter. Mains are around £14.50 each, or, if you’re on a budget, a range of tapas is available at the poolside bar.

Bell’s Diner

1-3 York Road, Montpelier, BS6 5QB t: 01179 240357

Recommended by the Michelin guide, and winning accolades from the likes of Matthew Fort, the food offered here is highly original, and yet affordable at around £28.50 for the a-la-carte menu. An eight-course tasting menu costs £45 per person. Bell’s Diner is best known for its individual take on food, with a daily changing menu including such inspired dishes as a coconut delice with vindaloo ice cream and a poppadom tuile. The wine list is impressively extensive, with punter Bethan Lewis saying: “If you’re as serious about wine as I am, Bell’s Diner is by far the best place to eat in Bristol.”

Bordeaux Quay

V-Shed, Canon’s Way, BS1 5UH

Situated on the busy Bristol waterfront, Bordeaux Quay gives fine dining an unexpected twist, trying its best to be as environmentally friendly as possible. From sourcing local, organic ingredients to harvesting rain water to flush the toilets, their dedication to sustainability in no way impinges on the quality of the food. The menu noticeably uses the finest possible ingredients, down to Périgord black truffle in the risotto. Mains cost around £18.50. An in-house bakery and delicatessen offer goodies to take home with you, and if you have some free time, Bordeaux Quay also offer cookery workshops on anything from French provincial cookery (£85), to the perfect steak (£35), to cupcakes (£70).

WHERE TO SHOP

Papadeli

84 Alma Road, Clifton, BS8 2DJ t: 01179 736569

This is a delicatessen of a quality rare off the continent, a veritable treasure trove of fine produce. Take away a picnic of chicken and chorizo stew or salmon en croute, and a side, for only £10. It’s also perfect for tracking down hard-to-find quality ingredients, especially Spanish items – enjoy a slice of Manchego with basil biscuits and membrillo.

The Olive Shed Shop

123 Gloucester Road, Bishopston, BS7 8AX t: 01179 240572

Originating with the Olive Shed on Bristol harbour, itself a fine place to eat on a sunny day, the new branch of The Olive Shed Shop on Gloucester Road offers a range of artisan breads, antipasti, and, as the name suggests, an unrivalled selection of olives.

Tovey’s Seafood Ltd.

198 Stapleton Road, Easton, BS5 0NY t: 01179 510987

If you don’t have to travel too far home, it’s definitely worth visiting this amazing fishmonger before you leave. Although it doesn’t look like much from the outside, Tovey’s Seafood supply a lot of the catering trade in the area and this family-run business match top-quality produce with fantastic service and down-to-earth prices.

Trethowan’s Dairy Shop

St Nicholas Market, 33-34 The Glass Arcade, BS1 1JW t: 01179 020332

The hard work of co-owner Jess Trethowan has helped make this dairy highly visible in the Bristol food scene, and with good reason. On top of their own award-winning Gorwydd Caerphilly, produced in west Wales, they stock a host of fine cheeses including the Irish Adrahan and the renowned unpasteurised Stilton, Stichelton. Cheese lovers can even order their own cheese wedding cake.

Scoopaway

113 Gloucester Road, Bishopston, Bristol BS7 8AT t: 01179 827199

It would be easy to dismiss this as a rather down-market health food shop in a rather drab part of Gloucester Road, but that would be a huge mistake. Inside, jars of spices, tea and other dried goods cover the walls, making this rather like a spice-lover’s version of a sweetshop.  Just scoop out the amount you want and pay pittance to take home all your favourite spices. “I can’t remember the last time I needed some obscure spice no-one had ever heard of and Scoopaway didn’t have it,” says punter Abbi Baker, “and you only need to pay for what you need, so it’s the cheapest way to do it.”

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Restaurant review: Bordeaux Quay

Bristol harbourside, Flikr cc: Larkery

I feel like I should make a disclaimer about the fact that this review was written entirely without setting foot in the restaurant. My recommendation can therefore only extend to the outdoor seating. But sitting here, next to the river, on a beautiful sunny evening, was what made the atmosphere so magical.

You may already know that the waterfront is one of the best places to appreciate the beauty of the city. From the pastel-coloured houses of hotwells hills, to boats and the old industrial cranes of the docklands, the view gives a snapshot of Bristol life that it is very easy to become absorbed in. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants and bars on the bars on the waterfront have inexplicably become associated with budget prices and rowdy hen nights.

Not so with Bordeaux Quay. They are refreshingly different from the norm, and not just for the Bristol waterfront. Along with other recently-acclaimed British restaurants they cook simple European dishes with seasonal, locally-sourced produce. This  depends on high-quality ingredients and a skillful style of cooking, with no fancy gimmicks to hide behind.

Bordeaux Quay are proudly dedicated to environmental sustainability, and, perhaps more importantly for a mid-range restaurant, to good food. Their menu is dotted with Great Taste Award products, and they also run a cookery school, teaching cookery skills to any enthusiast willing to pay for the privilege.

Line-caught pollack, cooked to perfection, with crushed potatoes

Due to their reputation as a cookery school I definitely had high expectations for the food. If there is a nice-sounding fish on the menu I struggle to order anything else, and I do think that a dish of simply-cooked fish is a perfect test for a restaurant that prides itself on quality ingredients and skillful, simple preparation. The dish was simple, but the taste was exquisite, the skin crispy, and the flesh that wonderful combination of flaky and firm that indicates perfect cooking. The potatoes kept their shape just enough, and added a saltiness that greatly complimented the plain cooking of the fish. On top of this, the roasted cherry tomatoes in the salad added a flavour of sweet juiciness that pervaded the rest of the dish.

The only slight criticism would be our dessert of local cheese – my sister and I are huge cheese fanatics and were laughingly wondering how little cheese we were going to end up with for £5.  Bizarrely enough, this wasn’t the problem. Instead it was the oatcakes that were rationed, so we had to either pile the cheese on to a tiny bit of oatcake. Or just eat it on it’s own. Not that we minded.

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