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The central pathI’ll get my excuses out of the way early. I’ve been meaning to go to The Ethicurean for quite some time but have never made it. Until today.

Bad excuse and reason to pull my finger out number one: It is situated around 10 miles from our house in Bristol and, not being cyclists, realistically it means driving out there, for which I’d have to be the designated driver. When there are so many good places to eat in and around town to which we can walk somewhere else has taken precedence when we’ve been choosing a restaurant.

Rubbish excuse and reason to just head on over there number two: The Ethicurean struck me as the kind of place you’d want to visit on a good day, not in the depths of winter. A bright, warm, sunny, spring day like today is an ideal day to go but having visited, I can imagine going back time and again, in all seasons. Yes, there are the gardens to wander round which is always going to be more pleasant when it’s dry but the café is set up to accommodate all weathers.

The Ethicurean was, until recently, one of Bristol’s best kept secrets. It’s a café (you could argue it’s a restaurant) within the grounds of a stunningly beautiful, organised and expansive walled garden and orchard. It’s that kitchen garden and orchard as well as local produce (foraged, shot, donated or ethically sourced) which inspires Chef Pennington and his team in their compact kitchen.

The lunch menu was relatively short (five or six choices for each course) but varied enough. Thought had clearly gone into what could be produced for such good value within the confines of their small premises and from the seasonal produce available. It wasn’t overly ambitious but neither was it uninteresting.

St. George Mushrooms w/ Jonogold Apple, Ribwort Plantain & MintThe produce was the true focus of each of the dishes, no more obvious than in my starter of St George mushrooms; a raw assembly of thin slices of mushroom, jonogold apple, mint and ribwort plantain. Everything tasted so fresh and was bursting with flavour.

Jed’s ham hock consommé was as equally fresh tasting and at the same time satisfying and soothing. Perfectly clear, slightly salty and intensely ‘hammy’, it contained decent chunks of ham hock, fresh wilted rainbow chard and a poached egg.

Roast Sirloin of BeefThe goat in my meatballs and Jed’s roast beef were incredibly flavoursome. It perhaps sounds like mumbo jumbo to some but I’m convinced that the flavour and texture of the meat we ate was the result of well-cared for, bred, slaughtered and butchered animals. These were animals which had had a good diet and a good (albeit short in the case of the goat) life and were so much more enjoyable as a result.

The vegetables from the garden tasted like vegetables should taste and, I’d like to say that these guys can make mashed potato. It was probably laced with pounds of butter but boy did it taste good!

Not having a sweet tooth, for me it was an obvious choice to end the meal; the cheese platter. A very generous portion of Old Demdike, Gorwydd Caerphilly, Keen’s Cheddar and Blue Vinny with a wonderful carrot pickle, onion marmalade and membrillo. Incidentally, if you’re not driving you might like to have a taster of their homemade membrillo vodka!Cheese Board

For Jed, however, it was a much more painful decision to make. Clearly the Ethicurean know how to make desserts and cakes. With the choice narrowed down to two, it took some recommendation from the waiter to arrive at a final decision of a bit of both! Their signature sticky toffee apple cake (people have threatened to kill them for the recipe) with rhubarb and elderflower cream was gone in minutes to a soundtrack of mmmms. I believe it was good!

Amazing ViewsThe place and staff are relaxed, they’re happy to talk to you about the gardens, the food and its provenance as well as make recommendations. You can even buy some of their produce (jams, apple juice, vegetables and plants) to take home with you.

The view from the dining room is impressive and on a day like today it’s the kind of place you just don’t want to leave.

No more excuses. No more holding back. When the mood takes me, I’ll be there in a flash!

Thank you to througheye for the photos.

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Not wishing to over-egg the pudding, there’ll be no more wedding talk after this post, I promise! In my defence, this isn’t about our wedding but our friends’, who chose to do something a little different, somewhere quite special when they got married in October.

M and E wanted to keep it small, intimate and low-key but didn’t want to miss out on any of the indulgence you really ought to afford yourself on your big day. The result was a highly personal registry office ceremony in Richmond, followed by a brisk walk along the river to Petersham Nurseries and then a big house party.

Pass through the gateway to Petersham Nurseries and you feel like you’ve walked into a page of Homes and Garden magazine. It’s an idyllic oasis just a short step away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. This English country garden of old oozes elegance, is über-photogenic and enchanting.

Arriving early, there was time to explore the nursery, bask in the autumn sunshine and relax in the teahouse before they were ready for us. The restaurant is housed in one of the Victorian greenhouses within the nursery and as you walk through the door you’ll be instantly astonished by the impeccable attention to detail and decadence. Yes, you’re walking on a gravel floor more suited to your wellies than your stilettos but you’ll definitely want to dress up for the occasion.

Surrounded by plants, stunning candelabras, antique dressers, crockery and textiles and seated at chic mismatch tables and chairs complete with price tags should you wish to take one home with you, it’s easy to see why Petersham Nurseries has such a good reputation and is the place to be seen for ladies who lunch. Which girl wouldn’t want to experience this fairy tale place?

Serving a group of 18, it was understandable that the menu was short, though no less interesting than the full weekly menu; a selection of antipasti style starters followed by a choice of three mains and two desserts or cheese. Head chef, Skye Gyngell, uses local produce combined with authentic ingredients to create a menu with a very definite Italian slant, perhaps influenced somewhat by the nursery’s Italian owners.

To whet our appetites we were brought pane carasau (a wafer thin Sardinian bread) with olive oil before we moved onto the starters; sharing plates of buffalo mozzarella with roast artichoke, seasonal vegetables with bagna cauda (an Italian dip made with olive oil, garlic and anchovies), bruschetta with San Daniele ham and tomatoes, and bruschetta with wild mushrooms and garlic. With such good quality ingredients, there’s no need to doing anything fussy, and indeed these dishes weren’t over-complicated, just well-executed.

     

There was a meat, a fish and a vegetarian option for the main course as well as a child-friendly linguine with parmesan. Sadly no one opted for the endive gratin, mache (lamb’s lettuce) and walnut dressing but there was an equal split between the polpette (large meatballs) with fine beans and polenta and the sea bass with roasted fennel and tomatoes, Roseval potatoes, olives and capers. Impressive portion sizes, perfectly cooked fish, good, balanced flavours – very satisfying plates of food.

          

Not having a sweet tooth, I went for the cheese, a tangy pecorino with Muscatel grapes (but surprisingly no biscuits or bread!), a couple went for the chocolate fondant with crème fraiche but the biggest hit was the boozy pud; raspberries with mascarpone and Savoiardi biscuits heavily soaked in grappa.

A special mention must go to the Prosecco and wines which were of a very high standard. The wine was chosen before-hand by M and E so we didn’t get to see a list but from our experience I’m sure you wouldn’t go far wrong with any bottle you plump for.

Nothing wrong with the service either; friendly, smiling staff were attentive but not imposing, service during our leisurely four hour lunch was relaxed and there was no rush to get us out.

We did finally make our exit through the gift shop (do so at your own risk, you’re bound to be tempted by the goodies!) heart-warmed and left with a lingering sense of delight from a visit to a place whose memory is sure to bring a smile to our faces for some time to come.

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Alexis and Kristjan know how to feed a crowd. Testament to that is the speed at which you now have to book your place for the Mi Casa pop up restaurant. Missing out on a place at the first of the Mi Casa pop up nights at the Big Chill bar, we managed to bag one at the second sitting on 2nd June. 

The small room upstairs at the Big Chill bar, with its beautifully ornate ceiling and tongue in cheek wall hangings, was a world away from the previous venue* at the Benjamin Perry Boathouse (not least because Alexis had a full kitchen to work in!).

A tight squeeze forced you to become familiar with your neighbours, lovely they were too, but on the day of a heat wave in Bristol, was a little too stifling and uncomfortable. On another day, the venue would certainly have been more charming.

Mi Casa is a communal dining experience. Diners sit in rows on long tables and food is served on boards and platters to share. It’s all about interaction – with the food and with your neighbours. It’s conversation, it’s discovery, it’s family-style dining on a large scale. Above all it’s ‘fine’ dining. Not in the sense of white tablecloths, waiters in tuxedos, small portions and hefty prices but fine in the sense of skilled and high quality.

A foraging trip for Kristjan and his son led to the loose theme of the menu and the Dirty Old Town artwork up for auction (sadly the artists had created the artwork at the previous session and we were unable to see them at work). ‘Where the wild things are’ served up wild fennel, elderflower and sea beet among the plethora of delightful dishes.

Just as at previous Mi Casa evenings we’ve attended, the memorable food kept on coming. One thing’s for certain, you’ll never go home hungry!

Herby wild fennel cakes with sauce vierge were followed by Somerset asparagus with slivers of Manchego and an amazing macarona almond and sherry vinegar puree before we received plates of sea trout delicately cured with elderflower.

We moved on to morcilla (Spanish black pudding) with perfectly cooked scallops, broad beans and sea beet before being treated to grilled quail, rose petals and pistachios (you needed your fingers for this one) served with lemon and mint Jersey Royals.

As if that wasn’t enough, the meal was rounded off with two desserts; English strawberries with mint sugar and a rich chocolate pudding which came with unusual accompaniments of olive oil, sea salt shortbread and peanut brittle.

Simply stunning. We can’t wait for the next event. If the rumours are true, it will prove to be their most adventurous and exciting yet. Can I book my place now?!

*The Mi Casa hosts are always on the look out for new and dramatic venues suitable for a communal dining experience – any ideas, please get in touch with them.

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We were up and at it on Saturday morning, hitting the road early for a trip to Lyme Regis, home of Hix Oyster and Fish House. The Fish House has been on my ‘restaurants to visit’ list for a while now so I was excited to be on my way. Fresh British fish can be hard to beat and such a special treat, fitting for a belated birthday lunch.

The restaurant is in a prime location in Lyme Regis on the hillside overlooking the small harbour and, on a sunny day like Saturday, with a view for miles down the Jurassic coastline and out across the glistening sea. The modern ‘beach hut’ has floor to ceiling windows on two sides and the layout of the tables means that you can enjoy the magnificent view wherever you’re sitting.

The menu changes daily and, as you’d expect, is predominantly fish based, though on Saturday there were a few dishes for those who’d prefer meat and a couple of vegetarian starters. It was also great to see so many sea vegetables appearing on the menu.

We kicked off the meal with a glass of Prosecco and some rock oysters, one of each variety between us (Carlingford Lough, Brownsea Island, Portland Royals, Devon Yealms). Wonderfully fresh and tasting of the sea.

From the starters, we chose monkfish cheeks with peas, bacon and tarragon, Fowey mussel and Burrow Hill cider broth and soused Torbay gurnard with sea purslane.

The monkfish cheeks were meaty and tasty but the bacon and tarragon were lost in the peas. Such strong flavours, you’d expect them to stand out. The broth was delicious, topped with a few plump mussels, but to me was more a potage than a broth. More a criticism of the menu writing than the dish itself! The flavour of the soused gurnard was perfect, such a shame that the skin had been left on making it impossible to eat and that in parts the fish was still raw. When we raised the issue with the waitress, we were offered an alternative and chose the Fish House salad. This was a take on a Nicoise with mackerel fillets in place of tuna – nice but not spectacular.

For our main courses we chose grilled fillet of Portland Race sea bass with Atlantic prawns and sea spinach, grilled Dorset Blue lobster with wild garlic and chips (it was my birthday!), grilled Bigbury Bay dabs with green sauce and Barrington potatoes, and chargrilled lamb cutlets with deep-fried sweetbreads and wild garlic.

The sea bass was beautiful and a picture on the plate (the photo doesn’t do it justice).  Disappointing though that the Atlantic prawns had been replaced by clams without a word of explanation or a check to see if the subsitution was acceptable. The lobster was finger licking good and the wild garlic sauce a perfect combination, only to be let down by the seriously late arrival of the chips. The dabs and green sauce were tasty but a salsa verde made by hand rather than in a blender would have really elevated the dish. The lamb cutlets turned out to be one thick and slightly underwhelming chop, though the sweetbreads a crispy and interesting addition to the dish.

The kitchen, which we discovered at this point was running without a head chef owing to a serious knife wound, redeemed itself with the desserts; a refreshing blackcurrant sorbet, a palate cleansing lemon sorbet and a tangy, though untraditional (the cake base ran through the cheese mixture), cheesecake.

The food aside, the service is what let the Fish House down the most. When eating out and paying the relatively high price that this kind of restaurant commands, I like to be made to feel welcome and special. Instead I felt we were just another punter and an imposition, our waitress at her most cheerful as we said goodbye. The restaurant wasn’t busy during our visit and with three waitresses on hand a more personal and friendly touch could have been offered.

We’d heard good reviews before our visit and more since so maybe we just caught them on an off day. Perhaps we’ll be able to go again sometime soon and our experience will live up to the stunning setting. 

If you’re in the area on a bright day and wanting to give it a try, my recommendation would be to head outside onto the balcony with a glass of wine and a tray of oysters to soak up the view and take in the sea air. Watching people out there whilst we were eating, I couldn’t help but think that that’s the good life!

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After a rough week at work we were looking forward to our Friday evening getaway. We didn’t travel far, just 20 minutes or so in the car, but where we ended up seemed like a world away.

As we headed up the driveway to the car park of Berwick Lodge, we were greeted by the hotel’s chickens, rabbits bounded freely in the grounds, squirrels scrambled up trees and house martins swooped past as they dived out of their nest in the eaves in search of the next morsel of food for the chicks.

Privately owned and opened in 2009, Berwick Lodge has just 10 rooms and suites, a drawing-room, large dining room and gardens set among 15 acres. It is the luxury boutique hotel experience.

After swooning over the ginormous bed in our room and taking in the view from our private balcony, we made our way to the elegant drawing-room where we sipped our aperitif of pink champagne, nibbled on canapés, perused the wine list and soaked up the atmosphere.

We were shown to our table by the window in the dining room and our eight course tasting menu experience designed by head chef, Chris Wicks, began.

Chilled pea, asparagus velouté

This essence of pea and asparagus topped with a sour cream foam was served in a shot glass at room temperature. Refreshing, silky and a taste of spring. 

Salmon ‘mi cuit’, cauliflower, raisin, ginger

Lightly cured salmon with cauliflower puree, golden raisins and ginger jam. A beautifully presented and executed dish, sadly not my cup of tea. But there lies the excitement of a tasting menu – a chance to try new or interesting combinations some of which you’ll love and others you’ll be pleased you tried but may not pick again.

Diver-caught scallops, smoked pork belly, coco beans, chorizo, gazpacho

This one was a stand-out winner as soon as we read it on the menu and it was most definitely our favourite course. Bold flavours matched with delicate scallops, a combination of smooth, soft, crispy and crunchy textures and one of the best pieces of crackling I’ve ever eaten! Please sir, can I have some more?!

Coco beans, in case you’re wondering, aren’t chocolate! They’re tiny haricot beans from France, traditionally used to make cassoulet.

Snail garden, parsley purée, mushroom soil and baby vegetables

This was the fun and tongue in cheek dish of the evening. The snails, cooked in garlic butter, had been removed from their shells, the baby vegetables were lightly pickled and still crunchy to contrast against the parsley purée, and the ground, dried mushroom gave an earthy flavour to the dish.

Red mullet, pickled sea weed, artichoke, salsify, crab lasagne

Though incredibly tasty, there was a lot going on in this dish. The red mullet, artichoke purée and pickled sea weed worked beautifully together whilst the silky lasagne, generously filled with crab and salsify could have been a dish in its own right.

Creedy carver duck, beetroot, kumquats, foie gras, pain d’épices

The perfectly cooked duck breast with crispy skin, tangy kumquat sauce and beetroot purée were delicious. Served with spinach instead of pain d’épices, it was nonetheless wonderful.

I’m not a fan of foie gras and don’t agree with the production method but, on tasting it, could appreciate the part it had to play in making the dish a whole.

Sauternes verrine, crème caramel, caramel cream, william pear

A lovely palette cleanser, elegantly presented. The dainty glass was filled with layers of  pear sorbet, caramel cream and caramel sauce with Sauternes and finished with a crispy shard of caramelised sugar. 

Chocolate texture

A chocolate lover’s dream; rich chocolate ganache and chocolate ice cream. Need I say more?

Say cheese

As if that wasn’t enough, we decided to push the boat out further and see what the cheese board had to offer. The trolley was wheeled over to the table and the waiter presented each of the 16 cheeses. Several agonising minutes ensued whilst I made a decision. One goats cheese, one soft cheese, one hard and one blue. Then came the jaw dropping as the waiter sliced hunks of cheese and laid the plate in front of me! Obviously overwhelmed by what had just happened I forgot to take the photograph!

Three hours later, replete, we returned to the drawing-room where we were brought coffee and macaroons (pistachio, chocolate and cherry).

Time, then, to get acquainted with that large bed!

After a leisurely and small cooked breakfast, which included eggs from the Lodge’s chickens, we packed, checked out and drove off, leaving the peaceful tranquility behind. Sad to leave but rejuvenated by our stay.

We were dining and staying at the hotel on a Living Social deal. It was excellent value for money and the fact that we were there on a deal had no impact on the service we received. Our Berwick Lodge experience was dreamlike. There was no rush, no pressure, no snootiness, just pure indulgence.

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We’ve been to the Victoria Park many, many times since it opened in September; for a quiet drink, a lazy weekend breakfast, Sunday lunch and evening meals, so it is high time I wrote about this local (to us) treasure.

Until just a few years ago we didn’t have a really good local pub around Victoria Park. Yes, we had the Shakespeare, pleasant enough but a little rough around the edges, and a little further afield, the Windmill, but nothing on our doorstep. There was a time even that we’d cross the road so as not to have to walk past the front door of the Cumberland and the Raymend Hotel wasn’t exactly inviting. The area was crying out for a decent local pub and if it is was going to serve good, home-made, locally sourced food then all the better.

This arrived in the form of the Star and Dove. It had its teething problems since the owner was a chef, not a publican or business man and this showed, but the food was great and the atmosphere welcoming. We could finally pop round the corner for a pint and a bite to eat and know we’d get some good food at a fair price.

The pub changed hands, the ethos remained for a while but the teething problems never went away. We became disillusioned with the place and again started wishing for something better to come along. Maybe our fairy godmother waved her magic wand or perhaps the stars were aligned in our favour, or luck would just have it, I don’t know, but early last summer the now closed Raymend was showing signs of life.

The builders were in, posters appeared in the windows advertising for a chef. It was all looking positive. Several weeks and walks past later, I was caught with my nose up against the window trying to catch a glimpse of what was happening inside! The father of one of the new owners was helping out with the renovations and was only too pleased to tell me all. A group of friends, local lads, had seen the premises on the market and knowing the area was in need of a good pub decided to embark on a new venture.

Hopeful opening dates came and went as the extent of the work needed on the old, neglected building became clear but the door finally flung open to customers last September. We haven’t looked back. The pub has everything we had wanted and more.

The staff are friendly and go out of their way to accommodate your every request, so much so they were more than happy, though slightly bemused, to serve me deep-fried smoked paprika squid for dessert (well, I’m not a pudding person, am I?!).

The food, from a monthly changing menu, is cooked by head chef, Steve Gale, formerly of Harvey Nicks 2nd Floor restaurant. This is his first job as a head chef and he couldn’t be doing better. The food is seasonal, it’s local where possible, it’s value for money. It’s a well thought out combination of pub food staples, revived classic British dishes and influences from the chef’s travels around the world. The range of influences could spell disaster but the kitchen always produces a melting pot of great dishes.

The beer garden is massive, a lovely green space amongst the Victorian houses with an uninterrupted view across to Dundry. Glorious on a sunny day and soon to be enhanced with an outdoor kitchen.

Get in early for Sunday lunch to avoid disappointment and stay late into the afternoon to relax with the papers. There’s a book group meeting monthly, a Stitch and Bitch group, a mum’s and toddlers group and a quiz night. Open for coffee and cake in the mornings, sandwiches at lunch and a full menu in the evening. Three real ales on tap, local ciders, an interesting range of soft drinks and a good wine list.

Living south of the river has never been better. The Victoria Park is one more in an ever-expanding list of excellent local businesses to support.  I love it and want to shout about it…though not too loudly…I’d hate for us to have waited so long for somewhere like this to arrive and for the word to so spread quickly that we don’t get chance to really savour it!

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Which chefs? Nathan Muir of The New Inn, Backwell. Josh Eggleton of the Pony & Trap, Chew Magna. Toby Gritten of the Pump House, Hotwells. Jonray and Peter Sanchez of Casamia, Westbury-on-Trym. 

When and where? 26 January: The New Inn, 9 February: The Pony & Trap, 23 February: The Pump House, 9 March: Casamia. 

The premise? The chefs joined forces to host an exclusive four-course dining experience at each of their restaurants. Four venues, four menus, one course per chef at each event. 

9 March: Casamia 

Tables for the four evenings were fully booked shortly after the events were advertised so we were very lucky to have bagged a table at Casamia last night. 

After taking our time walking up the courtyard to have a good nose into the kitchen, we were greeted at the door with beaming smiles. Our coats were whisked away, we were shown to our table and, in the style of Michel Roux’s Service, given the magic touch as we took our seats. We’d been given an early bird slot of 7.15 and arrived to find an almost desolate restaurant but it soon started to fill up and the atmosphere enlivened. 

The maître d’ presented us with a black envelope containing the menu. We were thoughtfully asked to review it and let him know if we had any food allergies or if there was a course we preferred not to eat. Alternative dishes were available. 

Nervous excitement was beginning to build as we really didn’t know what to expect from any of the dishes. Casamia’s menu style is to provide some reference to the ingredients in each course without giving anything away in terms of cooking technique, presentation or how the whole dish might unfold.

The order of proceedings was going to be the Pump House on starter, The New Inn on fish, Casamia on mains and the Pony & Trap on dessert.

We were brought our aperitifs, together with some unexpected antipasti. The antipasti were deliciously moreish: fruity Sicilian green olives, salt and pepper toasted macadamia, roasted almonds, a bundle of home-made star anise grissini and a truffle drip. 

The antipasti were cleared away and replaced with a tiny spoon and an odd-shaped wooden ‘bowl’, followed shortly afterwards by a second surprise: an egg box (!) containing two beautiful duck egg shells. The eggs were filled with warm, silky scrambled egg, cured pork and topped with thyme foam. Exquisite. 

Some freshly baked bread arrived next with home-made butter. There was a choice of soft poppy seed roll with crisp crust or an incredible olive oil and rosemary focaccia.

This was an evening with the chefs of four restaurants but so far our hosts had done well to stamp their Michelin starred mark on the event not only with the food but also the attentive service. 

Our Pump House starter was ‘cured mackerel wrapped in Serrano ham, rhubarb and watercress’. The mackerel was firm and strong tasting and the ham very salty but eaten with the watercress puree, poached pink rhubarb and delicate strands of candied orange zest, the dish really worked. Rhubarb and mackerel is a classic combination you rarely come across, mackerel, beetroot and horseradish being so much more common, so it was great to try something more unusual. 

The New Inn was in charge of the fish course, described on the menu as ‘turmeric cured sea bass, frittata of Cornish crab with sorrel’. Wow! I was torn between wanting to eat fast because it was just incredible and eating slowly to savour every morsel. The cured sea bass, similar in texture to gravadlax, was delicately flavoured with turmeric. No, I’ve never come across that before either! White crab meat was rolled in a very thin sorrel omelette and dotted around the plate were green shoots, spots of turmeric aioli, crunchy slivers of apple and cubes of pickled turnip. A stunning and inspired plate of food I could have eaten over and over. 

The home team were up next with ‘beef cheek, baked potatoes, pickled onion, horseradish, puffed corn’. The beef cheek had been slowly braised and was similar in texture and flavour to corned beef/brisket whilst the pickled onions were like fairy bowls; individual layers of halved silverskin onions containing a drop of pickling liquor. From what I’d seen on Ramsay’s Best Restaurant and read in reviews, I expected there to be one element of the dish which would be playful. I wasn’t disappointed, this came in the form of the mushroom flavoured popcorn (if only all popcorn tasted that good!) which we were instructed to sprinkle over the food like salt and pepper. 

To round off the meal, the Pony & Trap served a humorous dessert reminiscent of breakfast, though I think my doctor would be horrified if I was eating this for breakfast every morning! ‘Cornflakes pannacotta, cereal bar and banana’. This was a dish of three parts: a golden layer of cornflake puree topped with milky pannacotta, caramelised banana served with banana parfait and a super-sweet nutty cereal bar. Dessert really demonstrated the creativity of the chef. 

The menu was very well conceived considering the quite different styles and influences of the chefs. The talent of each shone through but together they did incredibly well to make the meal cohesive. An amazing showcase of what these fantastic Bristol chefs have to offer. 

Feeling satiated but not over full, we left planning when we could visit each of the restaurants to sample their own menus. First up, The New Inn next weekend!

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