Where to eat in Bristol in 2014
Many of these recommendations are now out of date. There is a more recent post of where I recommend to eat in Bristol here.
I used to get asked so often where the best places were to eat in my home town of Bristol I finally got round to drawing one up back in March. This is an updated version (November 2014) though prices might have gone up.
The city has got such a great food scene now I gave up trying to arrive at a top 10 or even 20 and have instead divided it up into types of restaurant and food depending on the time of day and the type of food you might fancy.
It’s not totally comprehensive, obviously, just based on where I tend to eat most or have eaten recently or places that come recommended by greedy people I trust.
For a definitively Bristol experience
These are restaurants that represent the best about Bristol. Quirky, full of character, great value (provided you don’t go mad ordering everything on the menu which you probably will). If you you only have time for one meal in Bristol make it one of these
Bells used to be run by a good friend Chris Wicks when it was certainly the best restaurant in Bristol never to get a Michelin star (probably because it’s in edgy Montpelier). The offering’s more casual now with fashionable Moorish (and more-ish) small plates and a great short, largely organic and biodynamic wine-list. I always find it hugely difficult to make up my mind what to order but it usually includes the pickles (right) and the charcoal-grilled chicken oyster pinchos with chipotle and harissa yoghurt. They also come up with some great wine pairings. Book in the atmospheric front dining room (see above) if you can.
Birch has been the biggest new opening in Bristol so far this year. Well I say, big but I'd be surprised if this small café-sized restaurant in Southville seats more than 30. It's run by Sam Leach and Becky Massey who cook a short weekly-changing menu from produce from their allotment. The food feels a bit St John-ish and the wine, which they're also selling from the shop, reminds me of the Quality Chop House - unsurprising as Sam and Becky worked for St John and QCH respectively. It's only open Wednesday-Saturday evenings so be sure to book. You can read my review here.
Flinty Red CLOSED - now Bellita
A favourite haunt jointly owned by Dom Harman and Rachel Higgens of wine merchant Corks of Cotham and chefs (and husband and wife) Matt Williamson and Claire Thomson (aka 5 o'clock apron) who writes about kids' food for the Guardian, Flinty Red in Cotham is best described as a wine bar with great food. Small and medium-sized plates, often bold (they use a fair bit of offal), mainly French and Spanish-inspired. There’s a lunch deal of an ‘hors d’oeuvre’ and a small main for £9.95 which is a ridiculously good value since it includes their amazing panisse (spicy chickpea pancakes). Salads and pasta are also particularly good.
With its amazing setting overlooking an outdoor swimming pool Lido’s the perfect place for a summer meal (or for undoing all the good you’ve done in the pool and the spa) There are two sections, an upstairs restaurant where you get a bird’s eye view of the swimmers ploughing up and down and a poolside cafe and bar which has a tapas-style menu. Chef Freddy Bird has done time at Moro an influence reflected in the number of dishes that are cooked in their wood-fired oven. There’s a fixed price lunch and early evening menu at £16 for 2 courses or £20 for 3. Oh, and their ice-creams are heavenly.
With its huge student population Bristol is big on breakfast which, given students nocturnal habits is often on offer all day. It also does a good line in exotic, spicy brunches particularly at Poco, Souk Kitchen and Lido (above)
Poco in Stokes Croft was voted Best Ethical Restaurant in the 2013 Observer Food Awards - everything on the menu is sustainably sourced and created to avoid waste. I’ve eaten here in the daytime and the evening when they do a tapas menu but reckon breakfast when they serve their own chorizo and merguez sausages with scrambled eggs and home-made harissa is the best time to go.
Souk Kitchen is slightly further off the beaten track in Bedminster but near the Sunday Tobacco Factory Market. It specialises, as the name suggests, in North African food. The Souk Breakfast Tagine with Turkish beans, spiced lamb sausage feta and eggs is terrific. (And they're shortly due to open in Apsley Road just off Whiteladies Road - hurrah!)
The latest venture from the owners of Bravas (see Tapas below) Bakers & Co in Gloucester Road is apparently modelled on the San Francisco café scene and, more specifically Bar Tartine, I suspect. Their all-day breakfast includes smashed avocado on toast and a terrific huevos rancheros. Light, airy and congenial.
My latest discovery, No 12 Easton is just round the corner from Easton's fabled Sweetmart. It has the usual breakfast offerings - a passing doorstep of a bacon and egg sandwich looked particularly fine - they also sell the bacon from the in-house butcher and deli. And if you're there at lunchtime try the awesome sausage and gammon pie.
I also like the breakfast at Wallfish in Clifton (have the mushrooms on toast if they’re on) and Source Cafe in St Nicholas market which has more conventional offerings such as boiled eggs with soldiers. Hart’s Bakery under the arches at Temple Meads is great if you want a coffee and a bun before you board the train - or an indulgent snack to eat on it. I arrive early just as an excuse to nip down there.
I scarcely ever go out for Sunday lunch so am having to rely on colleagues for their recommendations. I hear good things about the Volunteer Tavern in the city centre (not to be confused with the Royal Naval Volunteer Tavern) from Bristol Post restaurant critic Mark Taylor, The Crofters Rights in Stokes Croft and The Green Man in Alfred Place in Cotham. Bird in Hand in Long Ashton is another well-regarded option just outside the city centre, if you've got a car.
I’d probably go for Wallfish, the new(ish) Clifton restaurant run by chef Seldon Curry (ex Mark Hix) and his partner Liberty Wenham so long as you can sit upstairs. Small, cosy with top service and posh bistro-style food including a cracking steak tartare. BYO on Wednesday evenings. Cocktails are good too - Lib makes a mean negroni. Full review here.
Otherwise Mitch Tonks' Rockfish Grill (now Spiny Lobster) is really atmospheric with a lovely low-lit room (see Fish, below) or go for the restaurant at Lido (above) preceded by a massage . . . )
Bristol has spawned a couple of steak restaurants recently The Ox in the city centre which is modelled on Hawksmoor I would guess and the Cowshed, an offshoot of Ruby & White butchers in Whiteladies Road. I visited the former with a streaming cold so didn’t do it justice but have heard good reports (Have verified these myself with a subsequent visit. The steak was ace.) Cowshed is more casual but the meat is top notch and they offer a cracking £10 Earlybird deal that includes steak and chips and a glass of wine if you eat by 7pm (Check the T & Cs carefully tho’. You need to mention the deal when you book)
If you fancy fish
You can’t beat Mitch Tonks Rockfish bar and grill (now Spiny Lobster) at the top of Whiteladies road - a Bristol offshoot of his award-winning Seahorse restaurant. Just super-fresh fish, simply cooked with a list of seafood-friendly wines. Not cheap (unless you go for lunch or the early evening menu) but worth every penny.
I haven’t been to Bristol’s best known vegetarian restaurant Maitreya Social for a while - it’s a bit out of the way over in Easton - but most Bristol restaurants have good veggie options including Lido, Thali Café and Eat a Pitta in St Nick’s market. There are a lot of veggies in Bristol ...
Italian - and pizza
Since then there seems to have been a bit of a pizza explosion with new arrivals Flour and Ash at the top of Cheltenham Road (see their roast aubergine pizza, right) and the lively Bosco Pizzeria in Whiteladies Road really raising the bar. Both have wood-fired ovens which Bosco uses to put porchetta and wood-roasted fish on the menu as well as pizza. They even have a porchetta-topped pizza though I preferred the more classic Venetian) Good small plates too including an impeccable fritto misto. Flour & Ash also has great ice-creams. It's a really promising addition to the Cheltenham/Gloucester Road food scene.
Other good pizza joints are Marco’s Olive Branch, a Sardinian restaurant in Victoria Street, Beerd, a Bath Ales pizza bar in Cotham and The Stable cider and pizza bar on the waterfront (above) - a good place to take teens.
We don’t tend to eat Chinese, my OH being allergic to MSG, but Chinese food-loving friends recommend Dynasty in St Thomas Street for lunchtime dim sum and Mayflower, a popular after-work haunt for local chefs, for dinner. (It’s open till 3am). I've now made it to Mayflower which I found slightly disappointing. You not only need to know what to order - there's a menu for Europeans and one for Chinese - but be able to persuade the gaffer that's what you want. (We failed). That said the Pei Par beancurd - fried minced tofu and shrimp patties was excellent. Helpings are huge and bargainous.
Bristol's been a little slow in catching on to the London noodle craze but Sticks and Broth in Baldwin street - in the heart of Bristol's craft beer quarter - makes a pretty good job of it. (They have a great beer list too.) I can recommend the salt and pepper squid if they've still got it on and the garlic shrimp ramen without broth.
You should definitely try one of the five branches of Thali, a local chain that offers light, fresh modern Indian food. (We regularly have their dairy-free veggie thali as a takeaway.) There’s one in Clifton, Easton (just down the road from the amazing Sweetmart) Montpelier, Southville and Totterdown.
Tiffins, a tiny four seater and takeaway in Cotham also has great Gujerati food.
Almost all the best Bristol eating is tapas-style but for the authentic Spanish experience you can’t beat Bravas in Cotham Hill which really feels like being in Spain down to the fact you’re lucky if you find a table. Best treated as a bar for a couple of sherries and tapas then move on. Flinty Red (above) is just up the road.
Gordito at the Colston Hall (NOW CLOSED) is also surprisingly good - I say surprising because it's run by a pub company, Bath Ales, but it does feel authentically Spanish. The charcuterie is particularly good. Closed Sundays though. And the owners of Ox have opened Pata Negra, a big buzzy bar in Clare Street which from a brief visit on opening night looked promising though probably best avoided by over 35s on a Saturday night.(See this review from The Bristol Post's Mark Taylor)
I also love the slightly scruffier El Rincon over in Bedminster though it’s harder to get over there unless you have your own transport. One for us locals maybe.
Bristol’s street food scene has exploded in the last couple of years with several traders moving in to permanent or temporary permanent places such as Meat & Bread, at the Three Tuns (a residency currently occupied by Hickory Pig).
There’s also a selection of traders as what’s locally referred to as The Bear Pit - the rather grim concrete space in the middle of the St James Barton roundabout which links Stokes Croft and Broadmead. (It's currently being refurb'd)
Visitors would probably find St Nick’s market where you’ll find Grillstock (see meat, above) and excellent felafel stall Eat a Pitta more congenial. It’s also covered - a distinct advantage as it’s usually raining in Bristol.
Most of the centre of Bristol is dominated by chains such as Maison Blanc and Carluccio’s but there’s a really good (if rather bling) restaurant, the Second Floor at Harvey Nichols which has well-priced lunch deals and one of the best winelists in town. Or again, head for St Nick’s - Portuguese Taste, the Portuguese cafe there is great too.
If you’re in Park Street try The Folkhouse Café where you’ll occasionally find one of Bristol’s best chefs Barny Haughton in the kitchen.
Heading up Gloucester Road which has a great selection of independent shops there’s The Gallimaufrey (known locally as The Galli) and Tart a popular yummy mummy hangout with great cakes - and tarts, as you’d expect.
Clifton is overrun with coffee bars but the new Spicer + Cole is a good place to snatch a quick bite. Kids would probably enjoy The Clifton Sausage more. The Albion is a congenial, buzzy gastropub and I hear the longstanding Primrose Café is on good form.
Sweet tooth? NEW
I'm probably not the best person to ask not having much of one myself but I was really taken by the soufflé I had at No Man's Grace in Redland, an unusual neighbourhood bistro which majors in desserts - with matching wines. (The rest of the menu consists of miniaturised starters and main courses so you can presumably make room for them though you can come in just for pud.)
Room with a view
Bristol doesn’t have the reputation of Bath but there are some great views especially over the Harbourside. Riverstation is perfect on a sunny day - or even a grey one come to that . . . One of those useful places you can take anyone of any age, you can either go for tapas-type snacks downstairs or a more formal meal on the first floor. Good cooking, good wine and fair prices. Weekday lunches are just £12.75 for two courses.
There’s also Pumphouse in Hotwells which you can reach along the Harbourside walk which offers surprisingly sophisticated food for a gastropub. A recent lunch in September 2014 confirmed this. Almost Michelin standard, I'd say. The beer isn't as exciting as it is at some of the new bars in the city centre though has improved since my last visit and there's a 360-strong gin list thanks to the manager Adam's gin obsession. No, that isn't a typo! Best G & T's in town.
Bristol doesn’t really do posh and nor do I. That said there are two Michelin-starred restaurants in the city, Casamia and Wilks if you're in the mood for fine dining. Casamia's owners Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Inglesias were nominated chefs of the year by the 2015 Good Food Guide.
Out of town
If you have enough time you should certainly visit The Ethicurean in the glorious walled garden at Wrington, a brilliant restaurant based on home-grown and foraged foods. (Think a British Noma) Presentation is stunning and prices incredibly reasonable for the quality of the cooking. They have a book of the same name, if you can’t make it.
I’ve also heard good things about the Michelin-starred Pony & Trap at Chew Magna but still haven't managed to get there. Josh Eggleton the chef has just won chef of the year in the Top 50 Gastropub awards where they were also voted third best gastropub in the UK. The bar food is also reputed to be cracking.
A little further afield is another of my favourite local restaurants The Old Spot in Wells where Ian Bates turns out beautifully cooked food in the Simon Hopkinson mould (he worked with him at Bibendum). Try and get one of the back tables which overlook the cathedral. Weekday lunches are a total steal at £18.50 for 3 courses (£22.50 on a Sunday)
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