Category Archives: Restaurants

No. 4 Clifton Village, food review

The night we visited No. 4 Clifton Village couldn’t have been darker or wetter if we had come off a boat and landed in Alaska (in the dark). Compared to the horrible outside, the surroundings were softly lit and enticingly coloured all due to some recent refurbishing, apparently. Tapestry in rich red colours hung on the walls, the lighting was low and the tables were stripped down wood in not unpleasant tones.

The dining room was half-empty so I thought maybe we should sit by a window but then realised all we’d be looking at would be a car park. Best to be by the opposite wall where the other tables and chairs weren’t right by us. Up close the tapestry was not tapestry after all but a wallpaper with a plastic feel that seemed to be peeling a bit down the bottom. A shame, admittedly, but I thought a glass of red wine would cheer up proceedings.

My choice of red wine , an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon did not fare well in the crossing to England at all and was sharp and not fun to drink. Luckily towards the end of the large glass I was no longer too bothered. I just compare it to a delicious Yellow Tail Shiraz I tried recently where the cherry flavours practically melt into a syrup as you drink and wish that there had been a maitre’d or someone available to guide me to a better selection. No. 4 Clifton Village just isn’t that kind of place.

There was a short menu of four starters and four mains with two of the former being vegetarian and one of the mains. That’s quite impressive these days so I was most pleased.

We ordered some bread with olives until the food came along and were quickly disappointed. The bread and olives were served with cold butter in individual foil packets, the basil oil, which was promoted by our waitress, was a lovely vivid green but in taste was bland and pointless. All of this would have been somewhat acceptable if the bread was not so tasteless. With the number of very good bakeries that Bristol hosts it is a huge shame to serve such uninspiring offerings.

The rest of the food for me was a bit more palatable.

My starter of bruleed goat’s cheese, walnut and beetroot done in two ways was just gorgeous in its slightly caramelised appearance, the sweetness of the dark red puree, the golden beetroot and the scatterings of something sweeter and crunchy. I loved it and would happily go back for more.

My main was curried arancini balls with cauliflower and apricot and these were also rather tasty and more filling.

My partner’s lamb dish was just lamb, however. No sides, which would have been an additional £3 and would have taken this dish to nearly £20. Considering we’d been to the Ox recently where their special is rump steak, chips and a glass of wine for £12.50 there was an instant dislike to this patently inferior dish with its much higher cost.

There are plenty of great restaurants in Bristol at the moment which offer similar priced food and No 4 accommodate this by offering many price deals. January, for example is two courses for £10.

If I was a meat-eater I would still rather go to the Ox on Corn Street or Flinty Red on Cotham Hill. As a vegetarian I would wait for a different main to go on the menu but wouldn’t say no to another visit if the bread was improved. In fact I suggest that in Mediterranean style, a basket of warm bread be served with some proper butter to all diners. It would help them be more satisfied with the small portions.

The Rodney Hotel, 4 Rodney Pl, Bristol, Avon BS8 4HY, 0117 970 6869

Breakfast at Wallfish Bistro in Clifton

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Two days ago, I had some black-looking thick and ugly mushrooms on toast at River Cottage Cafe. They were most unpleasant to look at with the grimy streaks they left on my place and weren’t exactly exploding with flavour. A week before that I had been served the most beautiful looking girolles on toast served with herby butter and arranged like little flowers around and top of a slice of sourdough.

The Wallfish in Clifton may only have started serving brunch for the first time last weekend but they were certainly miles ahead of the River Cottage on service and flavour. They were perhaps a little overenthusiastic with the drinks menu which I was handed as I walked in and all the cocktails listed on the breakfast menu are a bit daunting for 10am but nevertheless, I have become a big fan of their breakfasts.

Their baked beans are home-made and taste authentically country-farm (probably). They were lovely and smokey and have bits of bacon. I ordered them for my daughter but she was not impressed as they tasted nothing like Heinz.

I did wonder about the freshness of our bread as the delivery came in from Jo’s Bakery on Gloucester Road after we had been served but it was toasted and sourdough so I wasn’t surprised at needing a knife to cut it, it tasted ok. The water jug looked like a fish and glugged when you poured in a most pleasing way. I liked it. I’ll be back.

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A tasting menu at City Restaurant, City of Bristol College

My daughter has been to five tasting menus in her entire life of two years, if you include Bell’s Diner when she was still in utero, and the one at City restaurant was probably her favourite (and mine).

The restaurant has the feel of a badly lit and greying office space appropriated for the night by a comedy troupe of high schoolers. An older adult by the door ensures everything is going ok but the rest is left to the younger students who in times of quiet cluster around each other as if in the playground. A training restaurant is a most curious thing.

The wine prices start from £11 a bottle, left unopened at the table, and the tasting menu is £22 each. The waitress’s forgetfulness with our cutlery was fun rather than annoying and the service seems the training ground for the perfectly presented food with astonishing contrast.

The off-menu amouse bouche of blue cheese panacotta with redcurrant jelly is seasoned well and tangy in a most delicate way and an interesting precursor to our first dish of potato ice cream. The creme fraiche and caviar of this course is enhanced by fresh young purple basil which is a tasty touch on the dish that is painted on the oversized plates.

Potato ice cream with creme fraiche and caviar

The guinea fowl + parsnips + girolles + oats dish was my daughter’s favourite and she devoured half of mine. She has excellent taste. The meat was tender with crisp skin and well seasoned. The portion would have been enough for a two-year-old but it was lucky there were a few more dishes.

Tasting menus I have tried so far, which include Moreish, Berwick Lodge and the Square Kitchen, have small courses and at least one or two ‘mains’ with some form of meat dish that provides the substance while the rest are there to impress. I didn’t walk away hungry from the City Restaurant but it was close. The six dishes were tastes and there was no attempt at a main.

The meat-heavy content was also a boon for my companion who was eager to point out my hypocrisy at eating foie gras while purporting to aim for veganism at some point. He wasn’t fun but he was right and the dish itself was cold and not my favourite.

When I looked for a vegetarian option on the menu the only suggestion was that patrons call ahead to ask about substitute ingredients in the dishes. I’m not sure if this place is the best for non-carnivores or those intolerant to dairy. The dessert included the word milk and I didn’t like it at all.

The service however was quick and friendly which was perfect as we were out with a toddler and done within an hour and a half. No staring into each other’s eyes here, just alternating between keeping our daughter amused.

Who is entertaining who?

And in how many places can you make snow angels on the floor and not get kicked out?

The City Restaurant is part of the City of Bristol Colleges and there are four around the city which act as training ground for future chefs. The restaurants provide lunch, snacks and themed evenings. 

Tasting menu at the Square Kitchen

Alert: Partly-free-meal disclaimer in the text; gratuitous picture of toddler and her dad

As my 19-month-old daughter, Mersina, and her father, Martin, convened underneath our edge of the very long table at the Square I felt myself getting a little restless. It had taken one hour for our first two courses to arrive and we were waiting for the third.

The Ms were having a chat while I wondered why only every other or so course had a glass of wine as part of the wine flight and wouldn’t it have been better to add the apple from underneath the scallop to the mackerel tartar which is described as having horseradish and cucumber but all I could taste was beetroot. The sharpness would have helped it go from quite okay-ish to delicious.

There wasn’t far to go for the whole menu. It was all a very pleasant experience as the Ms and I enjoyed our complimentary^ seven-course taster menu. (I suspect the reviews would all be a couple of tones more positive if the wine had been included.)

Two dishes stood out as outstanding, the Battenberg of foie gras, ham hock and confit duck with piccalilli, apricot and hazelnut which was our third course and the Thai curry flavours dessert which was our seventh. The latter had little chilli meringues surrounding a ginger cake, lime leaf ice cream, lemongrass custard and a coconut & coriander panna cotta.

I was very glad of the lighter flavours rather than the chocolate salt caramel or some similar combination which is rather more popular. Martin, on the other hand lamented the lack of chocolate caramel and Mersina was instructed to go nowhere near the too spicy chilli meringues.

The Battenberg was fantastic although the piccalilli was rather pointless. Even as a mostly meat-averse diner I enjoyed this dish more than all the rest and we were even discussing it with the staff at the end of the night. A definite highlight.

The rest was nice, the two mains predictably filling, with the turbot slightly under-seasoned and the mussels a bit over-flavoured. If we could have been served a little more quickly I think I would have felt much happier.

There were three long dining tables with couples and groups scattered around the place. It didn’t ruin the intimacy because we had no one sitting next to us although the places were handily set.

When I mentioned that I needed a fork for my turbot and pork belly dish, the smiling waitress nodded and never brought one. I took mine from nearby. This reminds me of another issue with cutlery. The dishes all seemed to be served in a bizarre arrangement of tablets and little glass dishes or just very rounded bowls so I never knew where my cutlery should go or whether we would be getting a new set each time.

The food was all quite good and perhaps if I had gone on a date where I was too lost in my companion’s eyes to notice that hours and hours had passed by from start to end then I wouldn’t have minded the lack of attention. Both our single solitary scallop’s dishes (which our little girl devoured – both of ours) were left sitting next to us for a couple more courses. As it was, we barely ate at the same time as we were in entertaining-the-toddler mode.

The restaurant is, as we were told, child-friendly with a high chair set up for us and our little girl happily greeted wherever she wondered off to. The food is enjoyable and the two dishes I mentioned, the battenberg and the dessert are worth trying no matter whether you go for the tasting menu or not.

As my receipt reminded me, because our discount was labelled as such, there is a Groupon deal* for the Square Kitchen albeit not the seven-course one. It has a glass of prosecco each as well. Scoop it up while you can. (Don’t go with a toddler although ours did enjoy herself.)

Thank you, Square Kitchen. The food was enjoyable.

http://thesquareclub.com/square-kitchen/ , 15 Berkeley Square, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1HB

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^ Complimentary as in we ordered one wine flight to share at £19.50 – four 125ml glasses of wine; a service charge of 12.5% of £129.50 cost and a subtraction of £55 each for the food since we were dining there at the request of the Square Kitchen in return for a review (total: £35.69).

*Not an affiliate link – I get no commission if you click through.
**Note, there is a pre-dessert of pear & whiskey, home made sherbert which is not worth mentioning.

La Tomatina, Park Street

With doors and windows opened just a few hours ago it would be cruel to offer a review of La Tomatina. This is more a preview of a new restaurant which offers tapas, coffee and drinks in the ideal location for summer overlooking College Green and situated at the beginning of Park Street. With windows that open completely like concertinas it is perfectly suited for summer and designed to let a breeze come through.

It was a little too breezy for me and the windows were shut so my 15-month-old daugher Mersina could keep sleeping in peace in her buggy as I ordered my lunch. I fortuitously walked by on my way to Rhyme Time at the Bristol Central Library as I was early for the 2pm session and thought I would stop in to kill some time.

While waiting I had a glass of house red, which was a Tempranilla, some padron peppers, deep fried squid with allioi and a caramelized onion and pepper tortilla. It was all rather lovely and luckily they already take debit and credit cards.

The menu includes tapas, paella, desserts and drinks. No paellas were available today but the place was busy already on its first day. I shall be back soon for, perhaps, a proper review and I will certainly return for their Spanish evening for conversation. My daughter slept through our visit to La Tomatina this time but hopefully she will be fully versed in hola and ¿dónde está la paella? by the time we next visit.

La Tomatina en Reno_0008_2009

La Tomatina is named after the world famous festival held in the small Spanish town of Buñol which has had a tomato fight each year since at least 1944.

2 – 4 Park Street, Bristol

Za Za Bazaar, Harbourside

If you love Pizza Hut and Iceland then your luck is in. Za Za Bazaar opened about a month ago now and serves 997 people at a sitting. It is the place you can go to enjoy a family meal, a casual treat before going out or something else which puts an emphasis on ‘casual’. There is one exception which is the Indian selection of dishes which are excellent.

There are meant to be cuisines from around the world but there are only about eight main sections:

Indian: Excellent; butter chicken; lamb roganjosh, dhal, pilau rice with a hint of safron, chicken tikka, fresh, handmade naan, popadoms.

Chinese: Poor; noodles, rice and a few meat based dishes; steamed dumplings which didn’t quite taste right; spring rolls and other fried dumplings.

Tex-Mex: Mediocre; nachos; chicken wings.
American: Mediocre; burgers cooked on the grill; toppings; corn on the cob.

Piri Piri chicken: unknown; I am not sure why this dish gets its own section but it is cooked to order apparently.

Sushi: Mediocre;

Italian: Mediocre; garlic bread, risotto (freshly made), pasta, pizza;

Salad: Poor; Broccoli, chick peas, olives and a few more individual items. Dinner offers a greater selection but they’re still not brilliant. There are individual miniscule prawn cocktails which are bland at best.

Dessert: Poor; three / four types of mini cakes; profiteroles; soft serve ice cream, chocolate fondue. For dinner there is also a serving of mini creme brulee which were actually quite tasty; melon and grapefruit. Cupcakes – atrocious.

The dishes I’ve mentioned are only a selection and there are a few more available. Note that there are fewer dishes at lunch time than at dinner.

Lunch is £6.99 each from Monday to Thursday; £9.99 the rest of the days. Dinner is £12.99 each from Monday to Thursday; £15.99 the rest. Under 5s eat free; 5s to 11s half price.. The drinks are a bit pricey with the cheapest red wine at £4 for a small glass (175ml).

The service was excellent. My daughter made an incredible mess under her high chair but the staff laughed it off and said that cleaning was just part of their job.

The curiousity of such a large and colourful place is probably more exciting than the food. I thought it was ok if you’re looking for a cheap solution that accommodates a lot of people. I would be mortified if I was taken there on purpose and along with La Riva, it is on my list of places to never propose marriage.

Try it or don’t try it. It won’t make much difference to your life either way.

http://zazabazaar.com/

La Riva, review

La Riva means the shore, in Italian, and I guess it’s a sign of its move from the east coast’s Weston Super Mare, Clacton. I’ve been trying to think of something interesting to go along with that fact, something about the non-shore like location of Park St, being opposite Jamie’s Italian perhaps, replacing Beijing Bistro – a tasteless but cheap oriental restaurant – but I can’t.

It’s a nice restaurant. The staff are friendly. The midday meals are great value at £5.95. The space is open and cheerful and the food is pretty good.

It’s not amazing. It’s better than Vincenzo’s across the road and it’s not as good as Jamie’s. It’s also not as good as Mamma Mia’s on Park Row which has character and a lovely family friendly atmosphere and setting. A great place for a first date and somewhere where you could make a nice tradition of visiting for intimate occasions.

La Riva feels a little more functional. I had the quattro stagioni pizza and it was nice. Martin, my dining companion had the risotto alla pollo but was so busy playing with our daughter that I’ve no idea if he liked it or not. Let’s assume he did and let’s go on assuming that he liked his white wine as well. My sparkling water was delicious, by the way.

I don’t have much more to say about La Riva. It’s a nice enough Italian restaurant on Park St. I would be very unhappy if I received a marriage proposal there but it would be one of my first choices for a quick and tasty meal at lunchtime.

Zazu’s Kitchen, Stokes Croft

The bright dining area with Story I by Mila Furstova, a £4,500 art work, on display may be surprising for Stoke Croft but wait until you taste the food. It is shockingly elegant and delicious.

Of course, if you’ve already eaten at the Runcible Spoon you may be a little less taken aback at one more of the area’s restaurants providing good, local and seasonal offerings.

What stood out for me was the chips. I still keep thinking about the perfectly seasoned, hand-cut chips which were ordered as an aside. (A side as an aside, get it? I’m being silly.)

They were even better than the posh chips with parmesan and truffle oil at Jamie’s on Park Street.

I had a whole mackerel which was almost beautifully cooked. It was nice but slightly, and I mean barely, overdone. However, the raspberry and lemon sauce was just right with the salad and samphire and the fried new potatoes also very good. The dish was of exceptional value at £7.95 and it was equally to, if not better than, the one at Jamie’s for £13.

The restaurant provides no menus. The dishes and specials of the day are written on a blackboard. The orders are taken at the front which was interesting as we were seated at the back.

A few rattles, a broken cup and the general cooking noises seemed loud to my ears which were mindful of the fact that my five month old daughter was sleeping but she didn’t seem to mind.

Many people passed water glasses over her pram as they helped themselves through the free dispenser.

I’d like to go back for a rooibos espresso and cake sit for a while. Zazu’s Kitchen is friendly and warm and feels very inviting. If you’ve passed by outside you’ll definitely be surprised at how much more spacious it is.

Not huge, but there are six or seven tables at the back and some space at the front for the cafe. Our party of six was lucky to book on a Saturday as it got very busy.

I recommend the chips. I hope to have more recommendations in the near future. This restaurant is a much more authentic choice to Jamie’s and I keep picking on it because the meal was almost identical but much cheaper and tastier.

For further details on the background of Zazu’s, see Bristol Culture.

Zazu’s Kitchen

By Jontangerine

Zazu’s Kitchen, 45 Jamaica Street, Stokes Croft. 0117 923 2233.

Clifton Kitchen, sometimes you can’t please everyone

Clifton Kitchen issued a Groupon voucher for two courses and a glass of wine, on May 10, at a price of £21 for what would cost £54 ordinarily . Once the voucher was bought, a second email was sent out with some amendments and then a third. A final email today announced that the deal was cancelled.

I thought that it might be volume of vouchers that were bought as there have been other ‘horrible’ stories about small business suffering after Groupon.

I spoke to owner Richard Marques-Jones and mentioned that 772 vouchers, as the Groupon page still states,  seemed like a lot to cover in four months. The voucher expires in October.

“772 is way off the mark, the final total was over 1000. The volume was manageable as 10% dropped out after the first amendment email.

“The problems were caused by no-shows, we turned away full paying customers only to find that tables booked by [G]roupon voucher holders weren’t actually going to turn up.”

But it wasn’t just the volume of vouchers and the customers who booked but did not show up.

“The final straw was the threat to break my neck by a customer who ignored the emails sent out by Groupon outlining changes. This was a police issue, but there are limits to what I’m prepared to put up with”.

Following this it is unsurprising perhaps that an email was sent out from Groupon today to inform those of us with vouchers that the deal had been cancelled and refunds were about to be issued.

The no shows and the violent threat weren’t the only reason this turned out badly. Marques-Jones said that “[they] are now subject to a torrent of vitriol from a small minority of individuals, as a business owner and father of 3 I could do without this.”

Clifton Kitchen has had some great reviews from Foodies around Bristol and beyond but also some recent ones that were a little more cautious about going back.

I was excited to buy this voucher as I have used such special price deals previously and most were successful and quite pleasant. I had been particularly looking forward to exploring the restaurant that used to be Keith Floyd’s first bistro and it’s a shame it turned out like this.

I still intend to visit however as there is a prix-fixe offer available Sunday lunchtimes: 2-courses from only £14.95 or 3-courses from £18.95 which still sounds quite good.

The Runcible Spoon, Stokes Croft

Reasons not to review a restaurant on opening night: things can go wrong. Reasons to review: when things go wrong you can blame it on the opening night. I hope that all further sittings are lacking in the slight issues we encountered.

The new restaurant Runcible Spoon is a confusing mix of excellent food and the casual atmosphere of Stokes Croft. Set up by some members of last year’s pop-up restaurant Cloak and Dinner, it retains a similar feel.

Customers on opening night were served a banquet meal for £25 each which is something that will be available each Saturday night.

The first course was a serving of black pudding scotch eggs; a success because of the much nicer and softer texture than sausage meat. Also, well seasoned and cooked.

The almond and wild garlic soup, which followed, was tasty, thick and enjoyable in a hearty and rustic style. I couldn’t taste the almonds much but they added to the texture.

The mussels were superb and were better than ones I’ve had at Cote, Zerodegrees and Bordeaux Quay. The bacon made the white wine and cream sauce delightfully delicious although the service meant that only one person on the table still kept their spoon. Emily, of Bristol Bites, and I used half a mussel shell and I used my bread to dip in the sauce . One slice each. Poor form.

The horseradish mash was smooth and flavoured enough for taste but just less than painful for the sinuses. The meat was a little chewy and the kale looked uninteresting so I left it. The main was good and I don’t mean to sound as critical as I do because I definitely enjoyed it.

The trinity creme dessert, a brulee by another name, was delicious, the caramelised sugar was just right, slightly browned, crisp and delicate. There were vanilla seeds in the cream and it was warm enough but not too hot. An excellent dessert and almost as good as the one at Flinty Red which is the best one I have had so far.

Unfortunately, and note the motif, we were left without spoons again so I ate half my dessert with my perfect cardamom shortbread biscuits. Others ate their poached pears by holding them from the stem.

The alcohol choices were limited and the prices were a surprise until the end. Not expensive.

The opening night was cash only and I am not sure whether this will remain. There were some issues with opening night which will undoubtedly be resolved. I am a little less certain about what they can do about the cramped interior. There were eight of us at our table and getting in and out was a major issue. Also, the rooms are windowless and a tad cosy, leaning towards claustrophobic. The previous establishment was the Cafe Kino which has opened up across the road in premises that are bright and open, almost clinically so, in direct contrast to the little restaurant on Nine Tree Hill.

Notwithstanding all of this, and the pervasive sense that runcible actually means missing*, the food makes it worth a visit.

A half empty/full bowl of mussels

The Runcible Spoon, Nine Tree Hill, Stokes Croft. 0117 3297645, eat@the-runcible-spoon.com, http://the-runcible-spoon.com/

* hat tip to my friend Martin who pointed out the irony of the missing spoons