Friday, 23 May 2014

Bristol fashion

Ox cheek ragu with ricotta & sorrel dumplings
at Bell's Diner, Bristol

It had been a while, but the first Bristol Food Connections 11-day festival this month was the perfect excuse to pay another visit.  The format appealed because it necessitated visiting different areas of the city instead of the usual crowded events around the quayside.  It was a day-trip which meant we couldn't stay for any of the organised evening events; not even a tempting Cheese School event at Hart's Bakery.  With names like Joe Schneider of Stichelton Dairy; Tom Calver of Westcombe Dairy; Charlie Westhead of Neal's Yard Creamery; and Todd Trethowan of Trethowan's Dairy plus The Wild Beer Company and Raef Hodgson of 40 Maltby Street/Gergovie Wines, it was not an easy prospect to pass up.  But let's start where we did, with breakfast at Hart's Bakery.

Hart's Bakery, Bristol
Tucked under the arches of the approach to Temple Meads railway station, its location couldn't be handier for a train traveller.  Two minutes off the London to Bristol service we were nursing cortados made with locally roasted Extract Coffee and tucking into toasted spiced, fruity, Festival Loaf with muscovado butter; light, moist, lemon cake and apple crumble slice.  With the bakery occupying the far end of the arch space, there's the irresistible aroma of baking breads and croissants, cakes and tarts, pasties and sausage rolls to lure the hungry traveller.  The front space is taken up by a shop counter and cafe.  The feel is more like being invited into someone's kitchen than a commercial space and it's all the better for it.  Good coffee, great food, lovely service, a welcoming atmosphere and you get to take home a damn fine loaf of bread.  I know for sure that next time I visit Bristol, not breakfasting at Laura Hart's Bakery is unthinkable.  

Bristol is a city made for walking.  Gorgeous Georgian architecture, green squares, candy-coloured terraced house overlooking a revitalised harbour side, and thankfully there are plenty of good independent coffee shops and restaurants in between.  I was never going to stick to my usual 2 cups of coffee  a day in this city so we stopped off at Full Court Press (FCP), supplied, amongst others, by Clifton Coffee Roasters (already familiar thanks to its recent weekend guest appearance at Kaffeine).  The skilled and knowledgeable barista was happy to share local knowledge as well as good coffee.  We found FCP was just around the corner from Small Street Espresso which was also on our hit list so, sadly, had to give that a miss - next time for sure as this is the place that kick-started speciality coffee in Bristol.  Later we made it to Didn't You Do Well on Park Row which hadn't been on our list but came up in conversation on the day.  It proved to be a good recommendation - HasBean coffee, shots pulled on a Slayer Seattle-made machine in a beautiful, calm, pared-back room.

Didn't You Do Well

So where to lunch?  There were lots of recommendations so the final choice was made on proximity to where we found ourselves at the right time.  Bell's Diner, in the Montpelier district, won out. We checked with locals several times en-route to make sure we were going in the right direction and every single person said "Oh, Bell's Diner, it's great", and it was.  At lunch it's that, lately much-derided, 'small dishes' kind of place and it's a formula I like.  A dish of fresh peas in their pods came with slices of Manchego; Imam Bayildi was tender, smokey and silky; succulent, sweet scallops on cauliflower puree were topped with earthy morels and brown butter; and ox-cheek ragu was suitably melting beneath a trio of featherlight ricotta and sorrel dumplings.  I can't comment on the puddings as we didn't get that far but Prosecco was on tap and a house Molino red was an easy-drinking bargain.

Scallops with morels & cauliflower puree
Bell's Diner, Bristol

There were so many more places on our list.  Apart from Small Street Espresso there's The Lido; Flinty Red; Wallfish Bistro; The Rummer; Edna's Kitchen.  I'm also very keen to get back to Bristol soon to eat at newly-opened BIRCH in Southville for simple, locally sourced and home-grown food. OK, I admit I know owners Sam and Beccy, but believe me you too need to go.

My go-to person for Bristol food recommendations is local food blogger Food With Mustard. She's a mine of information and all round good egg.

Now, if only Hart's Bakery was open beyond 3pm (to fuel the journey home)  Bristol would be getting dangerously near to perfect.