24 12 2010

Bristol artisan chocolate makers Guilbert’s are approaching the end of their centenary year, and if you are looking for a perfect last-minute Christmas present may I suggest a trip to their recently-opened new shop in Small Street. I popped in there yesterday and came out with some perfect taster boxes of their delicious handmade chocolates, small enough to sit on a Christmas tree.

To celebrate 100 years, there are also special centenary tins with paintings of historic Bristol scenes including Park Street (right), the Suspension Bridge and Clifton Down station.

Swiss chocolatier Monsieur Guilbert brought his expertise to Bristol in 1910, opening his first shop on Park Street. Shortly afterwards he opened a second store on Milsom Street in Bath. During the Second World War, the Park Street store was bombed and Guilbert’s moved to Gloucester Road. In 1958 they moved to Leonard Lane, just off Corn Street.

Earlier this year, rebranding and expansion meant another move for Guilbert’s. Determined to stay loyal to their heritage, they opened their new shop and factory in the Foster Rooms opposite the Crown Court, former home of 15th-century merchant and Lord Mayor John Foster.

(John Foster left money in his will for the almshouses which take his name at the top of the Christmas Steps and also for the building of the Three Kings of Cologne Chapel next door to the almshouses.)

So treat someone special, or treat yourself. Guilbert’s is now the only chocolate maker left in Bristol. Show them your support this Christmas.

Guilbert’s, 16-17, Small Street, Bristol.

Best Bristol restaurants 2010

17 12 2010

Out of all our top-five lists of the year, Bristol’s best restaurants has been one of the toughest to choose. Bristol is slowly becoming a culinary hotspot and we are spoiled for choice with some great places to eat in every corner of the city. Although there could only be one winner, many just missed out from the list. So honourable mentions, better luck next time and please keep up the great work to Clifton Kitchen, Folk House Cafe, Olive Shed, Primrose Cafe and Cowshed.

1) Casamia, Westbury-on-Trym

What a year it’s been for this small Italian restaurant in Westbury-on-Trym.

First, they retain their Michelin star. They are the only Bristol restaurant to have a star and Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias are the youngest chefs in Europe to hold one.

Second, they only go and win Gordon Ramsay’s UK restaurant of the year in a programme watched by millions on Channel Four. This has bought untold publicity and recognition, and bookings have rocketed.

When we visited in August we described our meal as “adventurous food of the highest order, constantly surprising (and) truly amazing”.

2) Culinaria, Redland

Culinaria is closed more than it is open. It is modest in its decor and unpretentious in its outlook. Step through the front door, however, and prepare to be served some of the finest food in Bristol prepared by one of the city’s best and most well-respected chefs, Stephen Markwick, who quietly and consistently cooks seriously good food with a seasonal menu that changes every week.

3) Flinty Red, Cotham

Flinty Red on Cotham Hill is owned by the team behind independent wine merchants Corks of Cotham just up the street, so it is no surprise that their wine list is substantial. The wonderful wine is also matched by the wonderful food, which on my visit included tapernade, salchichon Iberico and onglet, which I found out is the internal muscle supporting a cow’s diaphragm, served red raw.

4) The Lido, Clifton

When friends visit me in Bristol, I invariably take them to the Lido. It is simply a very special place and I will vouch that there is nowhere like it anywhere else in the country. Even if friends are not visiting, I will sit down in their cafe area with a coffee and a paper at the weekend. Their restaurant upstairs overlooks the pool with no day’s menu the same and all of their vegetables now coming from a half-acre smallholding on a farm in Pill.

5) A Taste of Poland, Horfield

This small Polish restaurant on Filton Avenue was my find of the year. It’s next door to a Polish food shop and is owned by the same family, who towards the end of last year decided to open a restaurant serving only the best in Polish cuisine and sourcing every ingredient from Poland. The best way to describe Polish food is that it is hearty, and A Taste of Poland serves big portions for big-eaters which will leave you full and very contented.

Source Food Hall and Cafe

8 12 2010

I am currently reading Keith Floyd’s autobiography and very good it is too, mighty fine to read with a glass of red wine. There was much to admire and much to pity about Bristol’s very own pioneering celebrity chef. So far, there are some brilliant stories. One was the story of members of the Clifton Club attempting to get free food in his Princess Victoria Street bistro by bringing slugs with them and dropping them into their meal and complaining.

There are many more stories and many of Floyd’s opinions, including his dislike of the term ‘foodie’ for someone who is a fan of good food. I too strongly dislike that catch-all term, but whatever you call them, they will feel very at home in Source Food Hall and Cafe in St Nic’s Market, as would Floyd.

This is a food-lover’s paradise right in the heart of Bristol. The writing on the wall above the cafe counter gives the game away: hock terrine, mussels, game pie, black pudding.

I was at Source for breakfast this morning with a judge from the nearby Crown Court on another table looking much like an ordinary person in jeans and a jumper as opposed to his full regalia that I usually see him wear.

The Recorder of Bristol His Honour Judge Neil Ford QC has impeccable taste in breakfast venues, and quite possibly has been coming to Source since it opened as Taste two years ago.

The breakfast menu is extensive, ranging from a full breakfast (£7.50) to a croissant or toast with jam (£1.75), with delights in between including kipper on toast (£6.50) and porridge with Drambuie (£4.50) which makes an exhilarating start to any day, and just the way Floyd would like.

Source Food Hall and Cafe, 1-3 Exchange Avenue, St Nicholas Market. 0117 927 2998.

Clifton Cakes

5 12 2010

For anyone with a sweet tooth, Clifton Cakes is like falling asleep and waking up in heaven. The smell of chocolate greets you as you walk in through the door, there are cupcakes and chocolate cakes, pictures of chocolates and cakes on the walls, and a whole host of chocolate truffles, buttons, sprinkles, and Christmas decorations to buy.

Chocolate boutique and workshop Clifton Cakes is the newly-opened base of Bristol chocolatier and specialist cake maker Frances Cooley.

Rising demand for her hand-made goods meant more space was needed for production, so Frances has left her home workshop in Glentworth Road and opened this new base that doubles as a workshop, shop and cafe.

Like something from Willy Wonka’s factory, nothing is as it seems in Clifton Cakes. See that cheeky shark bursting out of frothy water on top of a plinth by the counter? That’s a cake. And those ruby red glass slippers in the window? They’re made of chocolate.

Chocolate designer shoes and handbags are a speciality of Frances (right), and creations that the Telegraph described earlier this year as “every woman’s ultimate fantasy”.

The workshop where Frances and her small team make their chocolates and cakes is through an old stone wall from the shop and cafe area, down some wooden stairs in a light and airy conservatory.

Clifton Cakes has the distinction of being the only cafe in Hotwells, and has the further distinction of being the only Bristol cafe I am aware of that serves the ludicrously decadent but unbelievably tasty Ciocchino, “pure chocolate pleasure”. Cioccino is an espresso-style shot of pure chocolate, made with the finest dark chocolate and a light dairy whipping cream. It is sensational and I am now well and truly hooked.

Clifton Cakes is an absolute one-off and has immediately become one of my favourite places in Bristol. Frances used to be a graphic designer before setting up Clifton Cakes and now counts posh London shops Liberty and Fenwick as customers. Her new Hotwells shop, workshop and cafe is an absolute treat.

Clifton Cakes, 120 St George Road, Hotwells. 0117 9277 693.

The Real Wrap Company

2 12 2010

A fast food outlet with a difference has appeared on the Clifton Triangle. The Real Wrap Company’s mantra is “redefining fast food”, and a visit there yesterday confirmed that this is somewhere that is looking to serve good, healthy food fast, in the same way as Magic Roll and distinctly unlike close neighbours Triangle Grill or Hunger Hatch.

My El Jefe wrap (£3.95 with free drink as part of an opening offer) was very well-made and packed full of complementing flavours. The chorizo, feta, spinach, mushrooms, onions, hot chilli and mayo made for a substantial wrap. The wrap dough was firm, almost crispy, nothing at all like the wraps found in supermarket where the dough is soggy and lifeless. The wrap dough here forms an integral part of the taste of the wrap.

It’s not too taxing to understand what The Real Wrap Company does. As well as a selection of real wraps and pizza wraps, there is also a make-your-own option or the choice of a salad box, perhaps not the most popular choice in the wee small hours of the morning but a nod to something a bit different to kebabs, burgers or chips.

Like Magic Roll over the road, The Real Wrap Company can be enjoyed as a daytime venue as well as a place to stumble into after a night out in nearby La Rocca.

The synthetic grass that makes up the outside sign continues inside on the foot of the walls and on the ceilings, there are framed photographs for sale, and two smart black leather sofas once again give the impression that this isn’t your usual fast food establishment.

The mostly student clientèle yesterday lunchtime patiently waited a few minutes for their wraps to be made, watching the snow on the news on the flat screen television, with most choosing to stay in and eat rather than venture out into the cold.

Eating your wrap in or eating it out, however, it still gets served wrapped in paper. And there’s no cutlery inside, so it’s then the challenge of eating the wrap without its contents spilling everywhere.

The Real Wrap Company has arrived into a busy lunchtime market in this part of Bristol, with Pret, Greggs and Subway just around the corner and local favourites Magic Roll and Rocatillos nearby. But on the evidence of the healthy fast food served here, they deserve to succeed.

The Real Wrap Company, Triangle South, Clifton, Bristol.

Jamie’s Italian Bristol now recruiting staff

26 11 2010

One of the most exciting Bristol restaurant openings in recent years is now recruiting staff. Jamie’s Italian is due to open at the top of Park Street in the new year, and a sign went up in the window today advertising for “Bristol’s most dynamic managers, chefs, waiting, bar and host staff”.

Around 100 jobs are due to be created in the new three-floor restaurant, which is currently at the start of a £1 million fit out. As well as being a restaurant, the former Blackwell’s book shop will also include a ground-floor delicatessen selling Italian food as well as Oliver’s cookbooks and kitchen products.

Jamie’s Italian Bristol is due to open at 89 Park Street as early as late February next year. A condition on its license prevents queues outside the restaurant, unlike its Bath neighbour, so it will be interesting to see whether it will accept bookings.

Potential staff are invited to visit

St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe

17 11 2010

I can never decide whether St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe is more like a creation by Antonio Gaudi or something from Hobbiton. Tree roots and bones burst up through the floors, with the cafe looking both inside and outside like an organic being, not man-made but created from and part of the earth on which it stands.

This is a community cafe at heart in one of the most community-minded areas of Bristol. Inside, the cafe is decorated in bunting made by the residents of nearby Sevier Street. Each resident was given the opportunity to design and make a collaged portrait of themselves on a piece of bunting. The finished exhibition of bunting was displayed at the Sevier Street street party in September and is now on display in the cafe.

When I met my friend Paul at the cafe this afternoon, we shared the space with young parents and their children, as well as people on their laptops. In one corner, there is a computer for anyone to use, charging 50p per half-hour on the internet.

As much food here as possible is organic, fairtrade, wild and local, with eggs, meat, vegetables and salads from the farm.

Their recently-introduced autumn menu includes hot pot; pumpkin, black bean and goat’s cheese burrito; black-eye bean and pearl barley cassoulet; and speciality hummus with marinated olives served with pitta bread.

If you want to get a real taste of the food, they are hosting a Tasty Tales at Twilight event on next Saturday, November 27. There will be five courses accompanied by “wild foraged tipples”. After the food, guests will be entertained over coffee, whiskey or chocolate by folk singer Lizzy Murray. Email

St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe, Watercress Road, St Werburgh’s. 0117 908 0798.

QED Bistro

13 11 2010

If Bristol University students need any inspiration while stopping off in QED Bistro on St Michael’s Hill for a bite to eat, there are not one but two photographs of Albert Einstein in this cafe, alongside other photographs of Nelson Mandela and Archimedes.

QED Bistro is most definitely a predominantly student haunt, a conveniently short walk from most of the university departments. To my left yesterday, one student was writing what looked like an essay plan, while to my right a group of three boys were deciding whether to go to the nearby arts library on Tyndall’s Avenue or plan a house party.

It may have been raining, but the queue into the cafe stretched outside the door as the lunch rush began soon after midday with well-dresses students, folders under their arms, waiting patiently to order all-day breakfasts.

Other items on the menu are jackets, sandwiches, baguettes, and both savoury and sweet crepes, somewhat of a speciality here. The savoury crepe selection includes spinach, ham and cheese, while you can’t go wrong with the classic banana and chocolate if you’re looking for something sweet.

This is a buzzing little space, with the hum of lively chatter competing with Star FM on the stereo. Red leather banquettes take up the two side walls at the end of the narrow room, with the end table in an alcove of its own a popular place.

QED Bistro’s reputation among Bristol University students is secure, but this cafe deserves to be appreciated by a wider audience, not just those with lecture notes under their arms planning riots essays.

QED Bistro, 122 St Michael’s Hill, Kingsdown, Bristol.

The Mezza Bar

13 11 2010

It’s always good to see something a bit different going on in the Bristol food scene. The Mezza Bar on St Michael’s Hill in Kingsdown is a prime example of that, serving a selection of authentic mezzas and wraps alongside freshly-squeezed juices and hot drinks. There are also two shisha pipes that can be enjoyed in their small front garden.

Although this is mostly a place for takeaways, there are a few metal bar stools inside facing towards one wall and out onto the road outside. While the baby blue facade is striking, the decor inside is minimal, all white tiles and metal surfaces, with the kitchen area taking up most of the space apart from a fridge for the cold drinks.

They’re not used to customers waiting around in here apart from for the food they have ordered. My espresso was served in a small plastic cup, which looked quite bereft of liquid content until I was asked if I wanted it topped up. “That’s the way I like it,” the friendly member of staff serving me said.

I have never seen The Mezza Bar busy during the day, but it is getting increasingly popular at night as the local student population begin to discover its wares: lamb and chicken shawarma, shish taouk, and halloumi wraps; baba ghanouje, couscous salad and sujiq mezzas among a big selection.

The Mezza Bar is something a bit different. It would be great if more food businesses in Bristol take their lead and do something away from the norm.

The Mezza Bar, 145 St Michael’s Hill, Kingsdown, Bristol. 0117 973 7620.

Festive brews and pies

12 11 2010

I found myself writing the word ‘Christmas’ twice in two consecutive posts yesterday, so why not go the whole hog and devote an entire post to the subject, with just 41 days to go until the big day. The excuse is today’s announcement from Bath Ales that Festivity is now available in pubs.

The arrival of Festivity comes hot on the heels of Bristol Beer Factory’s Christmas ale, Bristletoe (right), which is now on sale in bottles from their online shop and will become available in casks from the end of this month.

Bristol Beer Factory own two pubs in Bristol, the Barley Mow and Grange Barge, as well as having a strong presence in the Tobacco Factory.

But back to Festivity, described by Bath Ales as “hints of rum mingling with coffee and vanilla flavours to make a truly wonderful old-style porter”.

It is created using floor-malted Maris Otter barley and roasted chocolate malt, together with Challenger and Bramling Cross hops from Kent.

Festivity is available on draught in all Bath Ales pubs (which in Bristol are the Eldon House, Hare on the Hill, Merchants Arms and the Wellington, not forgetting Graze restaurant and bar). Bottles, gift packs and micro casks are all available from the Bath Ales brewery in Warmley and from their online shop.

Bristol Beer Factory’s Bristletoe is spiced with coriander and ginger for spicy seasonal cheer. “Aromas of citrus and spice and flavour notes of coffee and chocolate that last long into the finish. Orange peel and coffee are added to the boil and provide some fabulous aromatic aromas.”

Bristletoe tastings will take place in Oddbins in Clifton Village on Friday, November 19 from 5pm to 7pm.

No round-up of Christmas food and drink could be complete without Pieminister’s festive specials. This year there are three to choose from: Three Kings (turkey breast, smoky bacon and pork and herb stuffing, crowned with cranberries), Christingle (honey roast parsnips, cheddar cheese and chestnuts in white port) and Deer Santa (venison, Cottechino sausage, puy lentils, winter vegetables, juniper and thyme).

Find these pies in Pieminister’s permanent shops in Stokes Croft and St Nic’s Market, as well as their mobile stalls and also a growing number of pubs, bars, delis and supermarkets in Bristol and further afield.