Bristol is now widely considered home to one of the best food scenes in the country. However it can be difficult to wade through the mass of burger joints – delicious though some of them may be – to find something new to eat. In fact, there are plenty of unusual dishes or ingredients being used around the city if you know where to look. What follows is a quick overview of just a few of them.
Dating back to 1849, the Lido in Clifton is one of the oldest surviving lido’s in the UK, allowing all year round swimming as well as, more importantly, offering excellent tapas and a la carte menus in the overlooking bar and restaurant areas. Sourcing top-quality, largely Mediterranean produce, the Lido is an ideal place to relax and sample seafood such as sea urchin – smooth, creamy and slightly briny – or, if you are very lucky, percebes; the alien-looking gooseneck barnacles that fishermen risk life and limb to harvest in northern Spain. Or just have the patatas bravas and their infamous ice cream selection.
For all things wild, fermented and pickled, and some of the most exciting, innovative and accomplished cooking in the country, head to Bulrush on Cotham Road South. Universally praised by local and national journalists as well as the greedy people of Bristol, Bulrush continues to delight and inspire. Chef-owner George Livesey makes intelligent use of kimchi, kombucha and other ferments to impart complex tangy or acidic notes to his sublime, intricate plates, many of which feature foraged ingredients such as chicken of the woods, celery-like alexanders, hawthorn ketchup, deep-fried moss or curd from tart sea buckthorn berries. He also has a predilection for the unconventional use of miso, the umami-rich Japanese fermented soybean flavouring, in desserts. Its distinctive salty, savoury elements work much better than might be expected, just try it for yourself in a gloriously silky parfait with shiso and cherry sorbet.
One sure-fire way of experiencing something new is by heading to a restaurant specialising in the cuisine of another country or culture. Chinese food, itself comprising several hugely varied and disparate categories, offers aromas, tastes and especially textures that can be alien to western palates. Mayflower in the Haymarket is not afraid to utilise a bit of the largely unfancied ‘fifth quarter’ of offal, in the form of fish lip and webbed duck feet hot pot, frog’s legs, or pig stomach with pickled vegetables in a black pepper sauce – possibly an acquired taste!
Meanwhile for some more unusual seafood dishes head to Watersky for braised abalone (sea snail) in oyster sauce or jellyfish salad. Similarly worth a visit are Friends and Dynasty.
For more sociable and educational experience, try attending an Eat Your Words event. Masterminded by arguably Bristol’s premier food Twitterer, @foodwithmustard, Eat Your Words sees some of Bristol’s finest restaurants hosting exclusive feasts in homage to books or chefs that have inspired them. Previous events have included Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories at Wallfish Bistro and Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi, at vegetarian restaurant Flow.
The inaugural dinner in February last year was held at Birch, the small but perfectly-formed Southville restaurant owned and run by Sam and Beccy Leach whose modern, seasonal, sustainable approach encapsulates everything good about Bristol’s food scene. Diners feasted on deep-fried lamb’s brain with tartare sauce and roast veal bone marrow with parsley salad, dishes from Ferguson Henderson’s ahead-of-its-time waste-not-want-not masterpiece Nose to Tail Eating. Most recently the same restaurant served whole pilchards in puff pastry, a take on the 16th century dish stargazy pie, said to have been created to celebrate the courage of a fisherman who braved severe storms in order keep the inhabitants of his Cornish village fed.
You may not love everything on the menu but you are certain to be presented with something unfamiliar. Along a similar vein, 91 Ways hosts supper clubs aiming to bring the people of Bristol together by hosting charity suppers showcasing cuisines from all the different cultures found throughout the city.
It may seem like pizzas are pretty ubiquitous throughout the city and, admittedly, it’s not hard to source a greasy, doughy cheese and tomato-smothered covered disc but there is a surprising amount of innovation shown by some of Bristol’s new-wave pizzerias. From the use of offal like pig’s trotter (with bacon, mushrooms and ricotta) or bone marrow (with shallots, parsley and capers) at pioneers Flour & Ash to surprising vegetarian toppings such as kimchi, nettles or wild garlic at acclaimed Bertha’s, creativity abounds.
Gourmands even have the extravagant possibility of adding freshly-grated truffle to their pizza at Pi Shop – try it over their carbonara, consisting of coppa, 36 month old Parmesan and egg yolk, though be prepared to fork out £30 for the privilege.
With Bristol’s ever-changing, rapidly-progressing food scene, surely it won’t be long before many of these offerings are considered old hat as foodies seek the next big thing. Fried chilli crickets at Cargo Cantina, anyone?
Big thanks to Chris Jordan who moonlights as the infamous, straight talking @PXandTarts for writing and providing photography for this article.