This past week we had a holiday in Bristol. It’s somewhat unusual to be able to visit your home town and sample aspects of it in the way a tourist might. As we were only stopping for a week we had several appointments and also a number of friends and family to meet up with. As a consequence, there was little point in buying vast amounts of food which may not have been eaten and so instead, we took the opportunity to sample some of the food offerings on our doorstep – some old, some new, some independent, some chains. It made me realise that if you are genuinely a visitor to Bristol the choice of food options is immense and it would be hard to choose. If you don’t know anything about the food market in Bristol, it is thriving and seemingly bucking a national trend. The One Show had a piece recently about how chain food restaurants are closing, as the bubble has burst, and the same has to be said for Bristol – Jamie’s Italian and Byron Burger have both recently closed – others seem to be struggling. But as with many cities, take a short walk off the main streets and out of the shopping centres and you will find numerous small independent restaurants offering a huge range of amazing food choices.
I’ve written about our experiences in the order we visited them.
- Burger Theory, St Stephen’s Street Bristol, local independent. This is one of our favourite go-to restaurants and was perfect for lunch just after we had arrived back in Bristol. It does what it says on the tin and it does it very well. Burger Theory began life as a …. at festivals and has now opened several restaurants. All of its ingredients are sourced locally and they can tell you exactly which farm the meat and vegetables originate from. This time I noticed the wall which names all those people who crowd-funded them to enable them to take the step from festival truck to restaurant. I thought this was a lovely touch. The burgers were amazing, perfectly cooked – we sat next to two young lads who were ‘proper starving’ but who were well replenished by the sheriff burger, which was equally popular with husband. In my personal opinion they should bottle and sell their home made pickles as they far exceed the quality you can find in any shop! I genuinely don’t think you can go wrong at Burger Theory.
- Eat a Pitta, St Nicholas Market, local independent. If you haven’t been then St Nic’s market is well worth a visit. There is a wide range of street food available here, including Carribbean, Moroccan, Crepes, Portuguese and a cake stall to die for! On a Tuesday and Friday there are further food choices outside the market and it is usually heaving. I am in awe of how much food they can fit into one small container at Eat a Pitta! A full range of salads, at least 4 freshly cooked falafel and a variety of sauces. There is always a queue at this stand as it represents great value for money, although the price had gone up 50 pence since the last time I visited. Whilst I appreciate that costs have risen recently I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s because they have recently opened more branches across the town and this is more a reflection of the price increase. Despite that, still a winner for lunch!
- Pasta Ripiena, St Stephen’s Street Bristol, local independent. This is the second restaurant opened by the owners of Pasta Loco on Cotham Brow which was named as Bristols best restaurant by Food52 as part of the piece shown on the One Show. We love Pasta Loco and have been going since it opened, so were thrilled to find out that there would be another version opening just along the way from our home. It did not disappoint. Again, a very small restaurant and you have to book well in advance. Husband and I both had the lamb starter which was just amazing. We actually managed a dessert and shared the pistachio posset and chocolate torte. It was a real joy to eat everything, the waitress was very knowledgeable and was very keen to hear our feedback – she was clearly delighted that we had enjoyed ourselves so much. We will definitely be making a visit to Pasta Ripiena a priority on our return.
- New Emperor’s Court, Clifton Village, local independent. This is a well known Chinese restaurant in the local area, and the only one in Clifton Village – which I think is part of the problem. We’ve been using this restaurant both to eat in and as a take away for many years and it’s reputation was well deserved. In the past 18 months, however, the restaurant has changed hands and I have to say that I feel that the new owners are riding on the reputation that the restaurant has and aren’t necessarily delivering the same standard of service as the previous owners. We regularly meet with friends on a Friday evening and choose the take-away option as it is easier when child care is a consideration. Our order was placed at 7:30 – hopeful of an 8:15 collection. To be fair, we were warned that it was busy and would be closer to 8:30. Our order was eventually ready 90 minutes after the order was placed. It was good, especially the chilli squid, and the standard of the food has improved since the new owners originally took over, but at the end of the day a Chinese takeaway is a Chinese takeaway and a 90 minute wait just isn’t acceptable.
- Sunday saw us at Coal Grill and Bar in Cabot Circus. We don’t normally go to chain restaurants, this one is surprisingly good. It does what it says on the tin and is of a decent and consistent standard. The menu is varied and offers a good choice. We went along with friends and had a really good evening. Being a Sunday evening it was quite quiet and the standard of service was excellent – I’ve never been there when it is busy, and can imagine it’s a very different proposition at busier times.
- Our final meal of our week was lunch at Loch Fyne Sea Food and Grill – a second chain restaurant – but we normally enjoy it. Again, being lunch time it was relatively quiet. As with Coal it does what it says on the tin and does it well. We opted for the smoked salmon starter followed by fish and chips – as we were back off to Portugal later in the day, this was our last opportunity for fish and chips for a few weeks. Well, that and we had a voucher for 30% off our meal! The service was fantastic, as was the quality of the food.
One thing that does stand out is that there is so much more to write about with the independent restaurants. Besides the different food choices that they offer, the also provide a different dining experience – one that is probably more in-keeping with Bristol that the chain restaurants can offer. Whilst I was happy with the meals at both of the chain restaurants neither really provided an experience beyond that which you would find in any other chain restaurant in the high street. The smaller independent restaurants that we love so much in Bristol all seem to offer something more – it is clear that the waitresses and chefs really love the food that they are preparing and are proud of what they are serving. They have more of an interest in their food and it feels like more of an interest in the experience they are providing their customers.
Obviously, this just represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of food offerings in Bristol. There is so much to experience and enjoy here that it is impossible to write about it all.