Where to eat in Bristol
Eclectic and eccentric, Bristol’s foodie scene is a beauty to behold. You get the feeling this city is a bit like wonderland – you can turn up one week and have a totally different experiences the next. Turn a corner, you randomly stumble upon, and you’re right in the middle of something lively, and most likely appetising.
Here are some of my favourite places I just so happened upon during my visit…
We walked straight into the Cotham Hill annual street party on our first day in Bristol. Having gone to the Clifton Down area in search of the only butcher (Ruby & White – also a high-standard deli and worth a visit) open on a Sunday, we ended up planning a lot of the week through what we found amongst the cider tasting stalls, children’s activities and various live music hubs. The area is worth a walk around even without a street party, and cafes, restaurants and bars generally have tables and chairs out in the street for you to take a pew.
We journeyed back to the same street for a sherry tasting and supper at the relatively new tapas bar, Bellita. A tasting of eight different sherries, talked through by sherry expert Raj Soni, and accompanied by various tapas dishes was pretty good value at £28.
We went from dry almost white wine-style sherries through to very thick and glossy dessert wine contenders, and found out exactly what our preference was.
The food was well thought out and precise – I couldn’t get enough of the sweet and sour pickle sticks called gildas (£2 each) and had to order more, along with the paprika-leaden braised octopus and mussels with confit tomatoes and aioli (£6).
At the end, rustic-tasting strawberry ice cream (£2.50 a scoop and made at sister restaurant Bell’s Diner, which is worth a visit too if the reviews are anything to go by) was brought out. We were encouraged to pour our last sherry (PX 1927 Alvear) over the dessert as a sauce; I was glad I did.
Tapas is a bit of a thing in Bristol, and it’s quite competitive. I reccommend booking as the best places, as always, are packed.
At Poco, we were victims of such popularity. We couldn’t get a table the Wednesday night but returned for brunch the next day (we’re not ones to miss a meal). The chef Tom Hunt has a cookery book out, full of wholesome but tasty, fibre and flavour-packed food, and his brunches were just as good.
We had highly spiced Moroccan scramble with harrisa beans and chilli (£8.50) and field mushroom, labneh, za’atar, poached eggs and greens on sour bread (£7.50), along with some great (and strong) coffee.
Bristol is home to a few Michelin-starred restaurants and we managed to squeeze one into our little holiday.
Run by a chef and front of house husband-and-wife partnership, Wilks offers a very precise lunch on Thursdays and Fridays of seasonal courses, with a choice of a la carte. Or opt for the reasonable three-course menu for £25.
Homemade fruit bread and butter, amuse bouches, carefully sourced and named produce and a very thoughtful sommelier made our lunch extra special.
The food was precise and stand-out impressive, from the delicately peeled Wye Valley asparagus (we went in spring) with truffle emulsion and lemon curd, to the wild John Dory fillet with sea aster, violet gnocchi and wild mousseron mushrooms, and the theatrical meringue cup of ice cream and strawberries in a sugar cage. Formal, but refreshingly relaxing, I’d go out of my way to come back here. Booking well ahead is advised.
After the trepidation of ringing from a random telephone box in what seems to be a disused doorway, covered in gritty graffiti, a bartender arrived behind the large metal fire door and we were welcomed into the marvellous world of Red Light.
As you venture down the stairs to a basement, your eyes try to acclimatise to the dark as the dulcet tones of Nina Simons or Ella Fitzgerald soften you into a speakeasy experience. Still overwhelmed by the sheer darkness of the underground arches, you are sat down to a booth and presented with a menu. The cocktails are eclectic and experimental – don’t expect your usual tipple. We had Cider ‘n’ Black – amer picon, raspberry syrup, egg white and cider, in a chunky tumbler with one huge chuck of ice (£9). And a brave choice that paid off – an apricot cider vinegar and whole egg ensemble. We left, after a couple of table-served rounds, squinting like newborn moles, feeling like we’d travelled back in time.
Cider, cider – everywhere
But it’s not all nouveau underground dens in Bristol. You can definitely go back to your roots; just grab a pint of scrumpy and go to the park. The Bristol Cider Shop, tucked away on a steep hill up the picturesque Christmas Steps, is perfect for such missions. Don’t let the tiny size of the premises put you off – it holds 120 different ciders, all made with 100% apples and within 50 miles of Bristol with apples grown no more 75 miles away.
All that choice can be overwhelming, so it’s a relief to know that the shop holds cider tastings, either £20 per person twice a month from 6.30-8pm or you can organise a private testing. Whichever you go for, you’ll try 10 different quite generous cider tasters and start with an apple liqueur-based aperitif.
Try dry, medium and sweet cider, the tasting also makes use of the shop’s cider boxes on offer, of which you can buy pints in plastic cartons. At the time of our visit, Crazy Diamond (6.5%), Kingston black and a sparkling Keeved piston cider, produced Normandy-style were on offer in the boxes, but these change regularly. Nick Davis and the co-owner of the shop choose all of the ciders personally and will share their cider knowledge and experience with lively spirit.