Tag Archives: food review

Bell’s Diner, Tasting Menu

A recent review of a 40 course dinner at the Catalonian three star Michelin restaurant elBulli made me reflect on what it takes to enjoy a tasting menu. The photos featured dishes ranging from complicated creations to a simple and solitary prawn and the diners’ awe was reserved for the food.

Bell’s Diner is one of the best restaurants in Bristol and I am glad to say that my experience there was more than just awe for the eight courses. The company, service, and atmosphere provided such a sense of intimacy that I didn’t have the heart to take any pictures and break the spell. The food was worthy of admiration but the exclamations were asides rather than the main event.

Our three hour dining experience was special because my captivating companion Martin and I were the focus and everything else felt like an addition rather than competition for the spotlight.

When I called to make the reservation, I mentioned that I was pregnant and although I worried that I was overreacting, the maitre’d assured me that my health and comfort was the most important thing. At the restaurant I was guided through the menu until he was happy that I understood the selections and my drink was served in the greeting area of the restaurant before we were seated at our table.

Our table was in the first room of the restaurant which, in contrast to the brighter second area with a view of the kitchen, had pale blue duskier surroundings and provided a comforting embrace to all those seated. The homely feel was helped by such additions as the wall of lovely wines right next to us. That’s not to say that the food was not amazing.

Indeed, the tasting menu was superb and curious, starting with a carrot and cumin flavoured amuse bouche followed by a dish which had a cannelloni made of a translucent, gelatinous wrapping around a soft goat cheese centre.

The menu interweaved a selection of light and heavier flavoured creations and one of the latter was the hen egg, poached for two hours at 62 degrees Celsius, served with wild mushrooms, truffle mousse and chevril.

A scallop dish with smoked haddock foam was followed by Perigord truffle poached chicken, two triple cooked chips and creamy foie gras; while for my main, the delicate and richer flavours combined in the John Dory fillet served on a rich ox tail ragu which was a surprising combination that worked wonderfully.

The only thing I avoided was the pine liqueur palate cleanser served before the dessert. I was brought a spoon to enjoy the fresh foam, reminiscent of lemon sorbet, served in a tall shot glass instead.

The dessert was a chocolate case filled with a salted caramel ice cream and a base of ‘pain au chocolat’, a dense chocolate bread base.

There was such an emphasis to detail that all the courses were served on different types of plates ranging from heavy based glass creations to black slate and each course was preceded by an explanation of the composition by our attentive but discreet servers.

Our meal was special because the evening was designed by the staff at Bell’s Diner to make us feel that we were the star attraction. Considering that, proprietor and chef, Chris Wicks was cooking that night, I consider it a great achievement and will happily return for another visit.

Bell’s Diner, 1-3 York Road, Montpelier, Bristol. 0117 924 0357, http://www.bellsdiner.com

Côte, Bristol – Review

The Bristol branch of the Cote Brasserie, which opened today in Clifton, takes up a fair amount space with four or five dining areas and it provides a comfortable setting. There are 19 restaurants in England and they all provide simple bistro cooking with a selection of classic French dishes such as moules frites and duck confit while also serving a rapid menu that includes steak frites and a lighter menu with options such as tuna Niçoise and risotto vert.

I visited today, with my friend Martin, for lunch and there was complimentary filtered water for the table and a few waiters were on hand for a prompt response to requests such as more water and plates for the bread and starter.

The menu suggests that the bread (£1.60) is a freshly baked sourdough served with butter although it seemed like a nice ciabatta.

To begin with, we shared a dish of moules marinières (£5.75), which was mussels cooked with white wine, garlic, shallots, parsley and fresh cream. It was a nice enough version which did not disappoint with its selection of delicate small mussels mixed in with paler and bigger ones.

We both ordered the steak frites (£9.95) for a main which is a thin tenderised piece of meat flavoured with pepper and a herb butter. The dish was well seasoned and the steak was tender without being soft. The frites were served in a small black cup-like tub within which they nestled against some grease proof paper. They were seasoned just right and were probably just as enjoyable as the steak. A side dish of French green beans was chosen as an accompaniment and they were a bright green colour and crisp.

There was no dessert this time although if I had made a choice it would have been either the crème caramel, which is the restaurant’s speciality, or the crème brulee. I may go back again soon just to try the dessert.

Côte won the Good Food Guide award for “Best Value Restaurant in the UK for 2009” and with 50% off until 27 January I would suggest that the value will be exceptional. You will need a voucher (found here) for the discount and do book first as the restaurant was quite busy with people taking advantage of this opening treat.

Côte, 27 The Mall, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4JF, 0117 970 6779 http://www.cote-restaurants.co.uk

The Elephant, Review

On St Nicholas St, the Elephant public house opened up at the beginning of June in the bright, white building that once was home to the Market Place. Ben Bartrip and his partner Sarah Eskins opened the bar after returning to England from Melbourne, Australia and they have refurbished the place so it sports a more natural look with the purple of the bar stripped back to the light wood underneath.

The music was easy listening pop and the Australian influence was subtly played out with a song by Icehouse which I hadn’t heard in years.

We were the first in the pub as we arrived for lunch on a Saturday at 12pm. We chose two courses each and a soft drink rather than any alcoholic beverages. No starters this time but the choice included two seafood selections that I may try next time: Steamed Cornish Mussels with Cider & Cream (£5.95) and Pan fried Chilli Prawns served with Aioli and Homemade Bread (£6.95).

For my main I chose the lamb rump served on a bed of sauteed potatoes with green beans, smoked bacon lardons & spinach with a roast onion puree (£12.95). The lamb, as requested, was cooked medium rare and came out quite tender. The bacon lardons helped the seasoning of the dish and the potatoes and green beans were beautifully done. The roast onion purée was interesting but probably redundant.

My eating companion had the African chicken curry with Basmati rice (£9.45) which looked and tasted like a proper curry and not a pub dish made with uncle Ben’s rice and an unidentifiable brown sauce. The rice was fluffy and the sauce, or massala, had distinct traces of oils and herbs and spices. I thought it was lovely, especially after being a little doubtful about ordering a curry in a pub, and he was impressed.

The sad news about dessert was that there were no creme brulees left after a party of 13 the previous night ordered the last of them. My second choice was the warm chocolate brownie with ice cream (£5.50). A nice effort with a rich chocolate flavour but dry and not exactly inspiring. My colleague Hannah had brought in some of her own brownie creations to work the previous week and they were the best I have tasted. Moist, delicious, just the right edge of sweetness with chunks of good quality chocolate throughout. As soon as she starts selling to the public I will let you know, for now it was a shame that the Elephant had to compete.

Graeme chose the cheese board with crackers although it could be served with homemade Breads as well (£8.95). The price seems a little pricey but the quantity was fitting.

The meal was tasty and the setting was comforting and pleasant while the service was quietly courteous. A couple came in and just ordered cappuccinos while someone else ordered a half pint of beer. The Elephant seems to provide variety and more than just your average public house. I would definitely go back for the food and the music.

The Elephant Public House, 20 St. Nicholas St, Bristol BS1 1UB, 0117 929 3561. http://www.theelephantbristol.co.uk/

Three Coqs Brasserie, Interesting

Note: The Three Coqs Brasserie has now closed down

I have many biases when it comes to restaurant experiences and my worst one is being influenced by the people with whom I dine. Bear that in mind as I tell you that I visited the Three Coqs Brasserie recently for lunch with my friend Martin.

We chose a large main dish each, one glass of red wine for him, sparkling water for me and a dish of marinated olives.

Complimentary bread was brought to the table on arrival with a portion of butter. The bread was very nice and tasted home made, although there were only two slices.

I chose the roasted pigeon breast with parsnip purée and crispy bacon (£13) while Martin chose the Cornish hake fillet with roasted peppers, saffron braised leeks and land cress (£12.50).

Now, for the bias. We arrived for lunch at 1pm. The restaurant was mostly empty and we sat by the window although only I had the luxury of watching people pass by outside. The service was polite and efficient and the order was placed within a few minutes. The marinated olives arrived promptly and so did the drinks. Somewhere between 1pm and 1.56, however, the food had failed to arrive. I had chatted with a lady at the next table about the size of the dishes – too small, too expensive – and spent the rest of the moments so lost in conversation that I hadn’t realised the extent of the delay.

The waitress came to our table and apologised. The kitchen never received our food order so it was only about to be cooked. I should note there were only four tables which were occupied at this time of day. We received four pieces of bread and some more butter for our patience. The second batch of bread was also lovely.

The food arrived about 15 minutes after the apology and the portions were dainty and quite pretty. My dish was rich and felt like a little touch of Christmas with the smooth parsnip purée and the jus. The pigeon breast was quite chewy although it did not seem overdone, the meat still had a hint of pink. The bacon was wafer thin and crispy.

I tried some of the hake, pepper and leek as well and it was beautifully summery. Light and well seasoned. I almost wish I had chosen that one, it was delicious.

If the dishes had arrived on time, if we hadn’t snacked on the bread and butter and waited over an hour then the meal may have seemed rather meagre for the price. With unlimited funds, I would love to dine there again. I would order two more dishes at least and then finish with dessert as well. That would be my choice for a complete meal.

I found it enjoyable and I liked the food but would suggest you heed the warning on the website that the cost is between £25 and £34 per person. Not cheap but very nice, locally sourced and organic where they can be.

Three Coqs Brasserie, above Clifton Down Shopping Centre, Clifton, Bristol BS8 2PH | Tel: 0117 949 3030

Souk Kitchen, So Loud But Hard To Resist

From the outside, Souk Kitchen looks like one average sized room with a bright and colourful menu posted on the window. The bright pink, yellow and blue of the menu is not exactly what I expect from middle-eastern cuisine with its modern brightness. I also find it surprising that they do a breakfast menu but it’s 11.40am and it will have to do since the Tobacco Factory does not open until noon.

We are seated quickly at the last empty table and the service is friendly. The dark brown tables look similar to the ones at Flinty Red and the wooden white chairs are comfortable. The place itself though is so loud. We can barely hear ourselves across the table and have to repeat things and point to menu items. There are 10 tables in the restaurant and four of them are playing host to infants. There’s a very cute six-seven month old who finds it entertaining to practice her new noise-making skills. At the start of the meal this is lovely but by the end it has become mind-numbing.

Suki: tea of the month – Mango Tango £1.70

Weekend specials
Vegetable chorba soup, cauliflower puree, toasted almonds + bread £3.95
Souk Mezze + grilled flat bread £7.50
Chicken Shawarma wrap, hummus, red cabbage & fennel slaw £6.95

The food specials sounded delicious and colourful but I didn’t think there was much you could do with breakfast. I was wrong.

They had ‘the local’ for £6.25 which comprised Lincolnshire sausages, grilled back bacon, two free-range fried eggs, fresh grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms, homemade bubble & squeak cake, toast with butter + jam or marmalade; eggs on toast with possible extras; basket of toast; basket of pastries; granola;and french toast with the possible toppings of – cinnamon +almond French toast, with seasonal fruit compote, crème fraîche and maple syrup £3.95, – Crispy bacon, grilled banana and maple syrup for £4.50.

I didn’t go with any of those and instead we both chose something that sounded more like a special, the Shakshouka, which for £4.95 was described as a typical Middle Eastern breakfast dish of poached eggs cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions + spices, served in the pan with homemade zatar flatbread (extra grilled merguez sausage £1.50 or feta 50p). I ordered mine with both sausage and feta while companion chose only the feta.

The dish was very tasty and the eggs were cooked (poached) well but with a yolk still runny while the whites were firm. There were peppers in the sauce which itself was well seasoned and fresh tasting. The feta cheese was very good, and I’ve tasted many varieties over the years. This was a salty and firm cheese that wasn’t too sour while the heat from the food helped it become even creamier. The sausages were firm and spicy and well suited to the dish.

The breads were also very good with a spicy rub as a topping and served warm in a basket.

I ordered a decaf Americano which I enjoyed and there was a special little touch of bringing heated up and frothed milk as an accompaniment (a shame I didn’t use it). My companion ordered a green tea which was served in an individual teapot so that it was freshly brewed from tea leaves rather than a tea bag.

If I was awarding marks then Souk Kitchen would easily get 5 / 5 or 10 / 10 for food. The service and atmosphere, however, were a whole other story. Admittedly there were only two people serving and while the guy seemed distantly friendly, the service from the woman was poor and sloppy. My coffee was sloshing away as it was placed down with the waitress barely breaking stride before she was off to the table behind us. I saw her smile only once when an older woman walked out after asking her a question and not waiting for a reply – it was more of a ‘why are people so strange’ expression that included a smile. It was the kind of service that didn’t expect a tip so I didn’t leave one.

The noisy children and the groups of people on tables made the place very loud and conversation for us was nearly impossible. I ended up writing in my notebook while he read a book he had with him.

The food may be too tempting though, enough to overcome the atmosphere. Some more dishes:

  • Chargrilled lambs liver, cabbage, walnut & barberry bulgar pilau, pomegranate & cinnamon molasses £10.50
  • pan fried salmon, zatar roast anya potatoes, roast red peppers, courgettes, harissa & mint £10.95
  • Greek yoghurt panna cotta, saffron poached fig £3.95

They sound quite hard to resist.

Souk Kitchen, 277 North Street, Southville, Bristol, BS3 1JP, 0117 966 6880