Birch restaurant, Bristol - just simple, lovely food
From the minimalist decor to the simple seasonal food Bristol’s latest restaurant opening, Birch, will seem instantly familiar to anyone who’s eaten at St John.
Sam Leach and his partner Beccy Massey have served their apprenticeship well. The pair have had a long-standing ambition to open a restaurant in their home town but felt they needed to learn the ropes by working for some of the establishments they most admired in London. Sam was a pastry chef at St John, Beccy worked as a waitress and wine buyer at the Quality Chop house
The brilliant bread they bake themselves and which arrives at the beginning of the meal is a classic St John touch. There are fresh radishes with wild garlic mayo, (the wild garlic “picked on the way to work”), some delicious warm parmesan and anchovy biscuits and properly devilled sticky almonds to kick off with while you work out what else to eat.
We resolve that dilemma by ordering practically everything on the menu. The flavours are clean and punchy, A rich slab of brawn comes with pickled red cabbage and a dollop of hot mustard, a pretty dish of lightly cured mackerel with beetroot and a fine dusting of fresh horseradish, asparagus with a rich cider butter and a scattering of toasted hazelnuts
We’ve heard there is a special of hogget (aka mutton) and turnip pie so reserve one via Twitter. It comes in a pie dish made by Becky’s dad (aaaah) with huge chunks of rich gamey meat and a generous St John-style bowl of Cornish early potatoes and greens. Roast pork is sweet, slightly sticky and full of flavour. My friend Elly’s lemon sole impeccably fresh though I was too preoccuped with my pie to pay it much attention.
There are wonderful puddings. A genuinely treacley treacle tart (we snatch the last helping) with Ivy House cream and a teetering wedding cake-like tower of Eton Mess for those who can find room for them. A single scoop of hazelnut or lemon sorbet for those who can’t. (We obviously tried both).
I believe we had cheese. It all becomes a bit of a blur at that point fuelled by two excellent bottles from the short, imaginative list - a Leon Boesch Alsace pinot blanc and a slightly funky Il Secondo di Pacino Tuscan red which we order as Al Pacino and fall about laughing childishly. Maybe the manzanilla before dinner was a mistake ...
What’s so impressive about the enterprise is that Sam and Beccy did most of the work on the place themselves with the help of their parents. There were pictures of them plastering and tiling all over Twitter - their blog charts the arduous process of converting the building into somewhere habitable. They’ve also got their own small market garden which will inspire Sam’s cooking - the short menu will change regularly depending on what's available
Admittedly I was expecting to love Birch - I know Sam and Beccy from way back so it’s hard to be entirely objective - but it’s even better than I’d anticipated with faultless seasonal cooking and warm friendly service. And although I love some of the places that do them well like Bell’s Diner and Flinty Red it’s refreshing to have a change from small plates.
The only downside for those of us who live the other side of town is that it’s over in Southville but it’s a shortish walk or quick cab ride from the city centre. And given the cost of rents neighbourhood restaurants are where it's at right now.
The bill for the four of us came to £45 a head plus service but in addition to demolishing the menu we had a couple of relatively expensive bottles of wine. You could easily get away with £35-40.
Birch is at 47 Raleigh Road, Southville, Bristol, BS3 1QS on the junction with Birch Road and currently opens for supper from 6 to 10pm, Wednesday to Saturday. 01179 028 326.
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