Bristol food and drink review of 2011

29 12 2011

Food, glorious food. In Bristol we should count ourselves lucky that we are surrounded by so much food, and that so much of it is so glorious. Just wander into St Nic’s Market on a lunchtime. 2011 was quite a year.

RESTAURANTS

Within days of each other late this year, two new openings summed up the best and the worst in Bristol’s restaurant scene. First there was Poco on the corner of Jamaica Street and Stokes Croft: fresh, local, vibrant. Then there was Za Za Bazaar: humongous, monstrous, ghastly, with a map on your table to guide you around the room.

Poco (right) opened where Zazu’s Kitchen used to be, which in a highly unusual move relocated lock, stock and barrel to Clifton Village, opposite Cote on The Mall, which has proved a considerable success since opening in January.

Also moving, but just over the road, was Cafe Kino, greatly benefitting from a much bigger space, and hosting a variety of events over the last year including gigs in the basement.

Other significant openings in 2011 included The Runcible Spoon in Cafe Kino’s former premises on Nine Tree Hill, making a claim for my top Bristol restaurant; the Muset by Ronnie and Fifty, both bringing fine dining to Clifton Village; and Jamie’s Italian at the top of Park Street, opening in a year when Oliver espoused the virtues of Bristol’s food scene in his new book and television series.

The prize for the most bonkers opening goes to Taste of Transylvania. Who knew there was a demand for such speciality cuisine?

Two major new Indian restaurants opened this year. 4,500 Miles From Delhi occupies a prime spot in the centre, which thanks to Google Maps I calculated was actually only 4,279 miles from India’s capital. Namaskar Lounge on King Street is very smart indeed, and also the only posh curry house I know of that tweets about Prime Minister’s Question Time.

There was good news for Casamia in Westbury-on-Trym, which retained its Michelin star. It’s now no longer the only Bristol restaurant with a star, as this year the Pony & Trap in Chew Magna also made it into the red book. Many congratulations for this award must go to chef Josh Eggleton, a graduate of the City of Bristol College.

Two of Bristol’s other best restaurants, Greens’ Dining Room and Culinaria, both with Michelin Bib Gourmand accolades, both hidden away in residential Redland, remain for sale. The good news is that they are still with us. A new Bristol entrant on the Bib Gourmand list is Flinty Red in Cotham, a wholly deserved accolade.

Burrito wars broke out in Bristol this year, with two burrito emporiums, Mission Burrito and My Burrito, opening within a few hundred yards of each other. My burrito of choice comes from My Burrito, where I have been a regular visitor when eating in a hurry before a gig or play, food most often washed down by a bottled Mexican beer.

Changing name but not location was Cafe Maitreya in Easton, now Maitreya Social. Changing purpose was Source in St Nic’s Market, which thanks to the vital addition of a toilet can now open for dinner in the evenings, also a brand new experience for Tart, whose Tart After Dark suppers have been a big success.

Sadly no longer with us is The Three Coqs, but owner Chris Wicks is now food overlord at Berwick Lodge as well as continuing in Bell’s Diner, easily two of Bristol’s best.

Some of the best food fun I had this year was thanks to Mi Casa, a pop-up restaurant that I first enjoyed in February in a boathouse, followed by a more traditional setting of the Big Chill in June. I can’t wait to find out where they will appearing in 2012.

I celebrated my 30th birthday with lunch on the Glassboat, itself celebrating its 25th birthday this year. That meal was a contender for year’s best for me, but my restaurant of 2011 is The Ethicurean, where I enjoyed a fabulously long lunch on a warm autumnal day, both inside and outside, followed by a spot of apple pressing. Amazing.

PUBS & BARS

When Venue went monthly, Bristol Culture shamelessly ripped-off their dearly departed Pub of the Week. The inauguration of this feature meant that I drunk in an awful lot more pubs than usual this year, many of which were excellent, some of which were poor, two of which have wells within their walls.

The worst pub I have drunk in this year goes to the Reckless Engineer, unfortunately tempting visitors to Temple Meads . The accolade of being Bristol’s best pub of 2011, in my humble opinion, goes to The Pump House, with honourable mentions for the Cornubia, the Golden Guinea and the Seven Stars (look out for a starring role for the latter on Jack Whitehall’s new show Hit the Road Jack on Channel 4 next year).

If you’re wondering which two Bristol watering holes have wells, they are the Stag & Hounds in Old Market and Marlow’s underneath the Thistle on Broad Street.

Among the doom and gloom of pubs closing across the country, Bristol saw a number of new pubs opening or reopening this year. Beerd is a real ale and craft beer drinker’s paradise. The Pump House’s own Toby Gritten reopened the Bird in Hand in Long Ashton, now well worth a visit, while the Bag o’ Nails also made a welcome return earlier this month and the Black Boy Inn, the Phoenix and the Volunteer Tavern are all unrecognisable from what they once were.

Over to bars, and if you haven’t found The Milk Thistle yet, go now. Ring the doorbell and prepare to be astounded. It’s not just about cocktails here either, and late one night, I think it was the night of my birthday, I found myself consuming one too many bottles of deliciously decadent bottled beers in the middle floor members lounge.

The Bank on Stokes Croft has become another firm favourite over the course of this last year.

The Old Bookshop (above) is a splendid new addition to Bedminster; while for something completely different, Bundy’s in a former Royal British Legion club in Clifton, allegedly named after American serial killer Ted Bundy, takes some beating.

CAFES

It has been thought by some that I spend every hour of my waking day in a cafe. This is not true, although it does have basis in fact. And if I ever did appear on Mastermind, Bristol cafes might well be my specialist subject.

Starting off with the bad, and the ongoing saga of Costa opening on both the Gloucester Road and Whiteladies Road without the correct planning permission has focused a lot of anger and exposed some frankly ludicrous planning regulations.

My most regular haunt this year, at least once a week before work, has been 40 Alfred Place. Before becoming a pop-up by night, it is an excellent new cafe by day, serving Extract Coffee and before she sadly had to close, Hart’s Bakery pastries. Let’s hope Laura Hart finds new premises very soon.

Other new regular favourites are the newest Lashings on Lower Redland Road; the brilliantly old-fashioned Cox & Baloney Vintage Tea Room (left) on Cheltenham Road; the second Papadeli, still in their original location on Alma Road and also now in the RWA; and Brigstow on Clare Street, one of the year’s best new cafes.

The eclectic nature of the above offerings showcase the best in Bristol cafes.

Not forgetting that The Bird Table has added to the diverse shopping offering on Coldharbour Road; Bubalu, a cafe and health centre, is an interesting addition on the Gloucester Road; On Stokes Croft, Hooper House Cafe replaced Kuvuka, its name a reminder of the fish shop here at the beginning of the last century; Zion sees a superb new use of a former Methodist Chapel in Bedminster Down; and Siam Angel Cafe intriguingly and not completely successfully combines cafe fare with Thai food.

Opening in August in Bristol’s oldest building, St James’ Priory, Cafe Refectoire is an obvious choice over Subway, also tucked away behind the bus station, but they have missed a trick making this cafe rather bog-standard. In a sympathetic addition to such an ancient and historic building, this could have been great, but sadly is very average.

My cafe of the year 2011 is Lahloo Pantry (below). Opened in October by tea specialist Kate Gover, it is a a rare treat. Despite the fact that I’m not a regular tea drinker, everything about this place is delightful, from the bulging counter of food all made on the premises, to its extensive tea list, and for me, coffee from speciality roasters Has Bean served in a special Chemex glass jug. Splendid.


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