Posts Tagged ‘restaurant’

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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I’m still buzzing from last night’s Mi Casa dinner. I was very excited to be heading there for the second event after the roaring success of the first, though I have to admit to feeling slightly nervous that it wasn’t going to live up to the experience we’d had on the first occasion. I needn’t have been.

I’m in awe of Kristjan, Alexis and the team behind Mi Casa. The dedication, hard work and passion they put into running the restaurant for the evening is incredible and they make it look so easy and effortless. A completely calm exterior may have been hiding a lot but it led to everyone feeling at ease, welcomed, and ultimately what I’m sure they wanted to achieve, at home.

Last night’s food followed a Moorish theme – Spanish with a North African twist – not dissimilar to one of my favourite London restaurants, Moro. It was exquisite. I’m going to simply let the photos do the talking.   




Is it out of the realm of possibility that pop up restaurants could be awarded Michelin stars? In what could be the new ‘pop up restaurant’ category, if they haven’t been met already, Mi Casa is definitely not far off meeting the five criteria considered in awarding stars: quality of ingredients, skill in preparing them and combining flavours, level of creativity, consistency of culinary standards and value for money.

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Harvey Nichols’ Bristol restaurant is set on the 2nd floor of the boutique department store in the Quaker’s Friars area of the modern Cabot Circus development. 

We were booked in last night on the two for one set menu dinner offer, a fantastic sounding three courses each for just £19.50. Who wouldn’t pass up on an offer like that in order to try what has been hailed as an ultra-chic, exclusive and fine-dining restaurant with all the prestige of the Harvey Nichols brand to boot? 

We didn’t get off to the best of starts, when offered water I requested a jug of tap water and was met with the response, ‘would you like a bottle of still or sparkling water?’ but it’s surely where they make up some money from guests taking advantage of the great offer.  

The description of the head chef’s menu states that dishes are ‘based on classic techniques and indulgent world ingredients, as well as the finest produce from the South West.’ This certainly came across when reading the menu, which included south coast fish, Cornish sea salt and, what I’d hope were, local fruit and vegetables. There was also a trip to Morocco among the starters, the orient in the mains and Italy in the desserts. 

The menu suggested we started with a glass of Harvey Nichols house Prosecco. A sound idea, why not? And so we did! It was a great accompaniment to our amuse-bouche of smoked salmon and cream cheese crostini. The flavour was lovely and there was an interesting addition of candied lemon zest which was simply beautiful. It’s just a shame that the crostini was not as crisp and crunchy as I’d have hoped.  

To start, I chose the lamb kidneys with mushrooms, wholegrain mustard and tarragon sauce on toasted homemade bread. The kidneys were served just pink and tender though hard to find within the mushrooms! The sauce was very tasty but the flavour of the kidneys and mushrooms were unfortunately lost as it was so robust.

The Moroccan spiced lentil soup was fragrantly spiced with cumin, but a little overpowered by the very strong garlic in both the soup and the accompanying garlic yoghurt.  

With the confit guinea fowl I’d had my eye on from the website menu missing and having already had kidney to start, I wasn’t tempted by the lamb’s liver main. The orange butter sauce with the roast fillet of gurnard put me off. I’ve had similar before and not been keen. I was unsure of the combination of the final choice but as I’d discounted the other two, it’s what we both eventually decided on. 

The spiced honey roast belly pork, butter glazed butterbeans and crisp crackling was, I felt, confused. The delightfully sticky and succulent pork had quite an oriental slant, slow cooked with star anise, fennel, cumin and coriander seeds which didn’t marry with the butterbeans.  

We chose two side dishes to go with our main course. With a side each, the portions of the main course were perfect.  The Roseval potatoes with butter and Cornish sea salt and the cavalo nero with pancetta and shallot cream were undoubtedly the best dishes of the evening though they didn’t complement the pork dish. Admittedly we chose what we fancied rather than what would go with the dishes but perhaps the waiter taking our order could have questioned our decision?

The waiting staff had, until now, been quite attentive but the arrival of a large group resulted in a slight delay before we could order dessert. Jed’s honey and cinnamon parfait with poached plums and sablé biscuit was light, creamy and smooth but I would have expected the honey and cinnamon to be more striking and was surprised to see plum on a dish in late January. 

My polenta cake was very zesty and refreshing but I was disappointed to find that the orange curd served alongside had split. I explained to the waiter that I thought the curd had split and it was good to hear that my feedback was relayed to the kitchen. We received petits fours on the house by way of an apology. I prefer mine at room temperature but am thankful that the staff at least did what they could to rectify the situation with my dessert.

For the bargain price we paid I feel guilty for complaining but, for a restaurant of this caliber, I would have thought that  the offers are there to entice people back into the restaurant when they would pay full price. Had I eaten from the à la carte menu I would have been disappointed. Perhaps another great deal will bring me back through the door to be convinced that it’s well worth going back when I want to push the boat out on a special occasion.

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When I entered the Cinnamon Club competition to win two tickets to their New Year’s Eve celebration I didn’t for one minute think I’d win. I came up with my Cinnamon Club poem on the spur of the moment, in a random flash of creativity. I was truly shocked to receive an email on 29 December congratulating me on my win!

It was very unfortunate that I wasn’t able to take advantage of the prize myself. I arranged instead for my soon to be parents-in-law to go on my behalf with strict instructions to have fun and report back! They certainly enjoyed their evening and reported back in abundance. I received a blow-by-blow account, have a copy of the menu, photographs and the complimentary truffles!

Entertainment was laid on in the form of a live jazz band and an illusionist. I have to admit to being sceptical when I heard that there was an illusionist but am still in awe of the story of the rabbit trick – just how does a rabbit in a clenched fist turn into 10 bunnies when the hand is opened again?!

Food highlights of the evening were the canapes (chargrilled monkfish with chilli and lemongrass, chilli chicken sausage with masala mash, chickpea and yoghurt gnocchi with coriander chutney), the Kerala style lobster soup, the side dish of black lentils and the pistachio and cardamon kulfi.

The food was good, beautiful and well presented, delicately and expertly spiced but not sublime.  The wine list could break the bank and there is quite a high service charge to pay. Even still, I look forward to a time when I can experience the grandeur of the Cinnamon Club myself.

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Christmas comes but once a year. That may be so but the Christmas celebrations are aplenty. Saturday was our second of five Christmas meals this year!

It has become a tradition that one weekend in December we meet up with a friend of ours, Phil, for Christmas food and drinks. Each year we choose a different local gastropub or restaurant and on Saturday it was the turn of the relatively newly opened Hall & Woodhouse in Bath.

Hall & Woodhouse are the Dorset brewers famed for Badger Ales so we knew the drink would be good at least. We got off to a great start with a pint each of Pickled Partridge, full of Christmassy flavour but not too dark and heavy like many seasonal ales. The conversation flowed as well as the beer and our attention turned to lunch. Local produce and Badger Ales are abound on the winter menu which was well thought out with plenty of choice but not so much to render a decision impossible. My eyes instantly fell upon the “Stargazy” pie, as did Phil’s, and Jed plumped for one of his favourites, chicken and ham pie.

“Stargazy” written as such because the Hall & Woodhouse pie isn’t a traditional one made with pilchards, sardine or mackerel but is authentic in its presentation with a crayfish poking up through the pastry, gazing at the stars. The pie was filled with crayfish, prawns, scallops, monkfish, smoked haddock and new potatoes in a white wine and herb sauce and was topped with puff pastry. It was decadent and very tasty, the only thing letting it down was that there just wasn’t enough sauce. It was all gone by the time I’d made it half way through.

Jed’s chicken and ham pie consisted of hand torn chicken, ham hock, carrots, shallots and greens braised in a white wine and herb sauce, topped with puff pastry and served with olive oil mash. It was a comforting pie but strangely accompanied by a rich beef gravy. Our waitress explained that the little jug of gravy had been added to the dish because comments had been returned to the kitchen that some sauce was needed with the mash. Hopefully our comments of replacing the beef gravy with some of the liquor from the pie or adding a spoon to the tray to allow you to spoon some of the sauce from the pie over the mash were also passed on!

Whilst Phil and I tucked into the West Country cheese board, Jed finished with a trifle like no other trifle I’ve seen before! This one with Blandford Fly ale and sticky toffee pudding within. It must have been good because it wasn’t around for long! 


We had a great afternoon and were looked after very well by our waitress. It’s a shame she left before we did but we were assured our tip was put on one side for her. Merry Christmas and we hope to see you again!

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November has been a month of two foodie firsts for us. Our first underground supper club experience a couple of weekends ago and, last night, our first dinner at a pop up restaurant.

The pop up phenomenon hit London some time ago and has been going strong with restaurants appearing for one night only on barges, in warehouses and disused buildings. You name it, someone is sure to have the skills, the foresight and the contacts to be able to turn it into a chic and exclusive dining venue.

Last night was, as far as we’re aware, the first pop up to hit Bristol. Our chef for the evening was Alexis, by day a chef at Papadeli, and front of house was run by Kristjan, formerly manager of the Riverstation and now teacher at the Bordeaux Quay cookery school. The surprising venue was a scout hut on the waterside, the Benjamin Perry Boathouse at Phoenix Wharf, where we joined around 40 other guests for a Spanish-themed meal.

The team of three girls in the kitchen and two guys front of house must have been working like trojans to pull off the meal and service with such high quality and class. Hampered by traffic delays because of the bad weather and starting late, you’d have never have known they were so far behind schedule getting ready for service.

As guests arrived, the buzz in the room grew louder and the Spanish guitarist began to play and sing. The atmosphere was in warm contrast to the freezing weather outside.

The dining experience was communal – we were sat on long tables and the food arrived on boards and in large bowls to be passed around and shared, with neighbours helping to serve each other.

Our four course meal consisted:

  • Tapa of aubergine caviar with flatbread, piquillo peppers stuffed with goats cheese and pine nuts, braised squid with potato
  • Cocido of chicken, beef and chorizo with a romesco sauce, chick peas, savoy cabbage and butternut squash, fennel and orange salad
  • Seville orange cake with Pedro Ximenez soaked raisins and cream
  • Manchego and membrillo

The aubergine was heady with garlic and silky smooth, the sweet Spanish peppers, which are charred over wood and peeled by hand, were delicious with the tangy goats cheese and the squid, which had been braising for hours, was deliciously tender and fragrant with orange.

Cocido is a national Spanish dish with many regional variations. It is a rustic stew with a light stock, simmered for a long time until the meat falls off the bones. This version happily transported me back to my time living in Northern Spain.


The cake was moist and topped with caramelised Seville orange zest and the plump raisins were bursting with sherry as you bit into them. The cheese and quince jelly were the perfect end to this sumptuous Latino banquet.

The evening drew to a close with guests writing comments and leaving contact details for the hosts on a large makeshift board with a view to being invited to the next Bristol pop up in the, hopefully, not too distant future.

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