11 02 2011

Any cafe that has Eccles cakes for sale and broadsheet newspapers available to read certainly gets my seal of approval. So it was a good start for Baldwins on Baldwin Street when I visited them for lunch this week a few days after they had opened in what used to be Three Cooks.

(What a coincidence by the way that both the Three Cooks and Three Coqs have closed within a week of each other)

Baldwins has a bold black exterior and sign featuring a nicely-designed logo, and a smart new interior, a bit more jazzy than its previous incarnation. One wall features thin lines of colourful horizontal stripes, beige, white, orange and pink, in a 1970s-meets-today feel.

These surface changes are obvious, but Baldwins’ main role, like the Three Cooks, is serving takeaway food to those in a hurry. So this is food that’s not going to win awards: all day breakfasts, jacket potatoes, sandwiches and paninis all made on the premises.

My bacon, brie and cranberry panini was disappointing. It was served luke warm and whole rather than cut in half like in most places. I then had to search the cafe to find a knife and fork, before having to manhandle the panini in order to cut its base. It was virtually impossible to cut without a serated knife and made for a frustrating meal when I was in a hurry.

I didn’t even have time for an Eccles cake before having to leave, although I was able to peruse the latest Egypt news in the Times while attempting to cut the panini’s base.

The impenetrable panini was a shame, because I do think that Baldwins have made a good start, offering cheap and fresh food for busy city centre workers. Try the Eccles cake next time you’re there.

Baldwins, 4 Baldwin Street, Bristol.

Lashings (Redland)

7 02 2011

Strong primary colours are the first thing you notice about the new Lashings cafe on Lower Redland Road. The awning outside, a few of the walls inside, even a trio of flying wooden ducks. All are painted in stripes of blue, red, purple and green like a design by Paul Smith.

The wooden counter is also a vibrant shade of red , while a small dresser backed by three large custard cream biscuits (sadly not edible) has plastic beakers for water in a variety of hues.

Lashings’ Redland incarnation is the third Lashings to open in Bristol in less than three years. “This is a chain, essentially,” a barista told one customer when she asked where had seen a Lashings before: on the centre and at the top of the Gloucester Road next to Sainsbury’s (review here) to answer her question.

This Lashings shares many similarities with its older siblings; a love of Teapigs tea and many of its wares stored in oversize glass jam jars to name but two.

But the newest member of the family also has its own personality. A small extension with three windows on the ceiling lets in bundles of natural light, and a small courtyard has ivy creeping up the old stone walls and should be a popular place to sit in the summer.

Lashings is completely unrecognisable from its former incarnation as Redland Fruitery, a local institution that was here for 31 years until closing 12 months ago. But its replacement will no doubt be welcoming a new clientele as word spreads of this colourful new cafe.

Lashings, 7 Lower Redland Road, Redland, Bristol.

Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery cafe

2 02 2011

Where else can you order your food with a view of a 17th-century chimney piece from Lewins Mead and eat your food with your back to a huge 18th-century bronze Chinese bell while being overlooked by two stone lions as two floors above a dinosaur skeleton rears up on its hind legs?

It can of course only be Bristol’s City Museum & Art Gallery, with its priceless exhibits. On your way to the ground floor cafe, you walk past one of the newest permanent additions to the collection, a statue of an angel with a bucket of pink paint on its head (right), donated by Bansky after his exhibition here in 2009.

Also at the museum on weekdays is the constant excitable chatter of school groups as they are shown around by guides with the patience of angels, perhaps sometimes wishing that they too could hide in a bucket.

This isn’t the place to go into any detail about the museum collection, save to say that my favourite place has always been the old maps spread around the first floor balcony above the entrance hall.

The cafe is perhaps a part of the museum that is less known that most of its exhibits. But if you like your food of the school dinner variety, then it can make a useful pit stop with its selection of hot meals, soup, sandwiches, salads, tea and cake.

Yesterday lunchtime I needed to be in that part of town and enjoyed a chicken and leek pie, crammed with chunks of big juicy chicken, chips and salad – three from a selection of about half a dozen, my choice of which was the chickpeas, flavoured with a variety of herbs and juices.

I have written here many times before of decorations in cafes, from the French movie posters on the walls of Hennessey’s in Bedminster to the strange terracotta mushrooms in Mr Peacock’s just down the road from the museum on Park Row. But nothing beats the magnificent Victorian splendour of Bristol’s museum, and what better place to while away a lunchtime than being surrounded by priceless pieces of Bristol’s heritage?

Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Queen’s Road, Bristol. 0117 922 3571.

Do’ Lii Coffee

24 01 2011

Operating almost directly beneath the railway arches on the Cheltenham Road, Do’ Lii Coffee has also been operating underneath the radar for the last three months since it opened. This week that may change with the introduction of cooked breakfasts for the hordes of commuters that make this part of Bristol seem very like Picadilly Circus in the morning rush hour.

Do’ Lii Coffee entices customers inside by, paradoxically, promises of an outside courtyard area and an old-fashioned log burner, being well-tended to this morning by this new cafe’s owner.

The lime green walls are matched by graffiti art in the same shade, while further in towards the outside area are photographs of the ubiquitous Che Guevara and scenes from his native Cuba.

Chairs and bar stools are funky and wooden, there is a comfy brown fabric banquette along one wall, and small leather chairs around one corner table.

Homemade sandwiches and paninis are a speciality here, with everything made as you wait from fresh ingredients and a small choice of pastries.

Like T-Cup in Brislington (which offers “taste-t” selections), the name of the cafe means a slight change of spelling on the menu. So it’s “coffii” on offer, to choose from a selection from Puro while listening to Radio One’s Live Lounge album on the stereo, a particularly lovely version of Wonderful Life by Hurts covered by Kylie Minogue while I was weighing up my Fairtrade and organic options.

Still rather unknown, Do’ Lii Coffee deserves more offers up a cafe experience that should entice more customers through its doors over the next few months, perhaps tempted in by that cooked breakfast.

Do’ Lii Coffee, Cheltenham Road, Montpelier, Bristol. 0117 9082 611.

Mangia Mangia **closed**

19 01 2011

When La Boheme on Cotham Hill closed last July, the aim was to have it reopened within a few weeks with a fresh new look. That plan didn’t quite come together. Builders were sacked, numerous other problems were encountered and it has taken until today for the doors to this corner cafe to once again open, with a new sign above the door – Mangia Mangia.

As the name suggests, this new incarnation is more Italian in feel to what was here before, although the owners remain the same. The biggest difference is the addition of pizza ovens and pizzas for sale by the slice (£1.95) or calzone (£3.50). There is not a takeaway option as yet, but expect it to appear soon.

The pizza ovens are at the far end of the room where the counter used to be, with the new counter now in a more prominent position by the front door, its tempting selections in prominent view to passers-by. The fresh bread, croissants and brownies are all baked on site. The croissant I ate this morning, on a visit with my friend Kristan who lives so near to the cafe he could shout his order to them from his living room window, was one of the best I have eaten for a long time.

On the drinks side, Mangia Mangia makes a mean flat white alongside more traditional teas and coffees. There are also smoothies, iced coffees and milk shakes.

With the counter in its new position, the room no longer feels so big. The wicker chairs remain the same, however, as does one of this cafe’s best features, the outdoor seating space on the large bit of pavement on the corner of Cotham Hill and Hampton Park.

With The Hill just over the road getting a lick of paint and continuing to offer pizzas, Mangia Mangia will have a job on its hands to compete, but it remains a delightfully friendly cafe in a winning location.

Mangia Mangia, 22 Cotham Hill, Cotham, Bristol. 0117 946 567.

Bristol Cathedral Refectory

18 01 2011

Bristol Cathedral is not among the finest cathedrals in this country. Nor does it hold any pilgrim-bothering relics. It is, however, undisputedly the finest building in Bristol and arguably – if one discounts the Suspension Bridge – the only Bristol building with international significance.

I spent a fascinating couple of hours in the Cathedral last weekend, wandering around trying to see things that I had not seen before. I found the grave of Mary Carpenter of Red Lodge fame and a wooden cross from some Christians in Somalia.

For the first time I also had something to eat and drink in the Cathedral cafe, or refectory to give its proper name, located at the end of the cloisters and past the historic thirteenth-century Chapter House.

The refectory is located in a 1969 extension, with ancient stone windows hinting at what life was like here centuries ago. Sadly, the extension did not quite blend in with its historic surroundings, with low ceilings and white walls that are currently being brightened up with photographs from Horfield artist Anni Cullen

Serving tea and coffee, paninis, baked potatoes, sandwiches, soups, cream teas, toast, cookies and cakes, the rectory has typical cafe fare which is enjoyed by visitors and staff alike. When I was there enjoying a tuna sandwich and flapjack, the Canon Precentor, the Reverend Canon Wendy Wilby, the Cathedral’s number two in this who’s who list, was having a coffee in the corner.

Unlike the Cathedral in which it is situated, the refectory may not be a destination in itself, but step outside into the outdoor seating area and you will be presented with one of the best aspects in Bristol. For this view, shown below, it is well worth a visit.

Bristol Cathedral Refectory, Bristol Cathedral, College Green, Bristol.

The Friary Cafe

7 01 2011

Fans of Beryl Cook will feel very at home at The Friary Cafe on Cotham Hill. Prints featuring Cook’s famous big-boned figures are spread across the walls of the cafe, alongside notices advertising everything from Chris the Gardener to a roller disco at Motion.

The Friary has stayed true to its roots as everything around it on Cotham Hill has changed beyond all recognition. Steve Taylor has run the Friary for the last 32 years. When it opened, it was the only cafe on the road and “one of only three this side of the city”, Steve told the Evening Post last year.

There is nowhere else in Bristol with such a proliferation of cafes and assorted eateries (the latest, Mangia Mangia, is due to open on Monday in what used to be Cafe Boheme). But the Friary was here long before the others, and remains the only one where you can get a tea or coffee for less than one pound.

When I visited on a wet Wednesday morning, the Friary was full of regulars tucking into a cooked breakfast – a popular hangover cure. Also on the menu are sandwiches and soups, and more substantial lunches such as bolognese and curries.

The Friary always seems to be busy and over the years has built up a loyal clientele as well as pulling in a lot of passing trade. Above the tables there is a large fan, while high up on the walls, pot plants make their bid for freedom.

You might turn into one of Cook’s big-boned characters if you eat here too often, but the Friary Cafe – the original Cotham Hill cafe – has more than stood the test of time and will be here to stay for many years yet as its neighbours continue to come and go.

The Friary Cafe, 9 Cotham Hill, Cotham, Bristol. 0117 973 3664.

Best Bristol cafes 2010

23 12 2010

Okay, this is the big one. After a year spent drinking our body weight in lattes and macchiatos in cafes the length and breadth of Bristol, we can only choose a top-five. It is with great sadness that we have had to exclude Clifton Cakes, Cafe Du Jour, Me Me Chocolat, Mocha Mocha, Revival, Royce Rolls, St Stephen’s Cafe, St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe, Swinky Sweets and Tart from the list.

There really are so many great cafes to choose from in every corner of our city (see all 80 Bristol cafes we have reviewed this year here). But this is our top-five of 2010:

1) Grounded, Redfield

Grounded opened their second Bristol cafe this year on Bedminster Parade, but their first cafe on Church Road in Redfield remains the original and the best. There is something exactly right about Grounded, from its brilliant coffee to its even more brilliant chocolate brownies, its occasional live music to delicious stone-baked pizzas. A reason on its own to visit Redfield.

2) Cafe Amore, Nelson Street

Amore is a real treasure trove, a delightful place to while away the hours. Despite its location slightly off the beaten track, it always surprises me what a busy place it is. And regardless of how many people are inside on its spilt levels, you are always served promptly and efficiently by a small army of friendly and smiling staff. The choice of food on offer is just as impressive as the signs on the walls. If you can’t find a sandwich or panini that you want, it can be made for you in a flash.

3) Hennessey’s Coffee Lounge, Bedminster

Previous incarnations as a tailors, fish tank shop and brothel lends an oldie feel to Hennessey’s, an absolutely wonderful cafe. There is a slate floor with bare stone walls painted red and white; pieces of driftwood hang above the door; and old hessian coffee sacks are dotted around. Books sit on every available surface. The literary theme continues on the walls beside the sacks, where there are framed posters of Penguin Classics and classic French films.

4) Primrose Cafe, Clifton

At the end of one of Bristol’s most picturesque streets and next to the beautiful Clifton Arcade, Primrose Cafe is one of my favourite spots in Clifton. It is a cafe by day and restaurant by night, and does both roles with aplomb. If you can find a seat outside in the warmer months, it is a fabulous place for people watching and stopping friends as they walk past, or simply watching the world go by.

5) Chickpea, Cotham

It is the unexpected delights that are most delightful, and the first time I visited Chickpea was one of those unexpected delights. I was visiting Corks of Cotham towards the top end of Cotham Hill to buy a few bottles of Milk Stout to take to a house party when I noticed Chickpea, a cafe I hadn’t seen before. As soon as the beers were purchased, I made a beeline towards it and ended up staying for a couple of hours. It immediately became a firm favourite and stays that way.

Ginger Cafe

18 12 2010

A new cafe is open on Park Street, but for this weekend only. Ginger Cafe is occupying what is now known as The Parlour at 31 Park Street, what used to be The Sandwich Box and which this year has hosted everything from zombie infestations to art exhibitions.

The Parlour is made up of a small collective of Bristol artists called Interval, who until tomorrow are hosting a series of installations and performances across the three floors of this otherwise-unoccupied building.

Ginger Cafe is like a bar you accidentally stumble across in a far-flung corner of the Glastonbury Festival. Mistletoe is hanging in the window, faded charity shop paintings hang from the walls, and holly decorates the acquired tables.

Jewellery and other trinkets are for sale, including hand-made notebooks, and when I visited this morning 1920s music was playing while the customers were warmed by portable heaters.

As befits its name, ginger is a key component to the cafe menu at Ginger Cafe. There is ginger cake, honey and ginger tea and even gingerbread moustaches and a gingerbread house to buy. I chose a mulled ginger cordial, a terrific winter warmer.

Be quick to enjoy this splendid pop-up cafe. Ginger Cafe and its associated events will only be happening until 5pm tomorrow.

Ginger Cafe, 31 Park Street, Bristol.

Red Cafe

15 12 2010

Anywhere with too many signs is not a favourite place of mine. In Red Cafe on Clare Street, there was a yellow sign on the floor informing customers that the floor was still wet. On the bar, one sign noted that due to limited stock, alcohol can only be served with food. And another informed that there would be a 50p charge on all card transactions under £10.

The most worrying sign, however, was a handwritten note on the door saying that the business was for sale and giving a mobile number for any prospective buyers to ring.

The only Bristol cafe with more signs than Red is the brilliant Cafe Amore on Nelson Street, although their signs are of the antique metal variety.

Red may be on a busy pedestrian route, but today was not the only time I had been the only visitor. You don’t forget where you are when you get inside: there are red walls, a red ceiling and red lights dangling from strategic places.

In the summer, the front windows can be pulled aside to lead onto the front terrace under, you guessed it, a red awning which this morning was protecting the non-existent customers from drizzle rather than sun.

Colourful oil paintings are dotted about alongside a ridiculous number of plug sockets, some halfway up the walls, and plenty of flora and fauna.

There is a good breakfast selection here, especially the stacked pancakes that come either with lemon or sugar (£3.95) or banana, seasonal fruit and maple syrup (£4.95).

But something is not quite right about this cafe, exemplified by a broken window that doesn’t look like it will be fixed anytime soon. I would wager in the Tote betting shop next door that Red might soon be dead.

Red Cafe, 9 Clare Street, Bristol. 0117 925 5461.