Tag Archives: Bristol

Back to school

8 Sep

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It’s been eight years since I left school – two since I left university – and I don’t miss it. At all. I still love learning new stuff, though, especially when it comes to food. So obviously I was overjoyed when I got a place on Bordeaux Quay‘s tapas course as a birthday present.

Today was the day. Under the guidance of the lovely Kelly Sealey – who may just be my new favourite person – me and eight others learnt how to make (deep breath): black olive tapenade, tortilla, mussels with shallots and sherry, lamb pinchos, romesco sauce (which we ate with Parma ham) and empanadas filled with chorizo. Oh, and as if we hadn’t eaten enough by that point, Kelly had prepared crème Catalan in advance for pudding.

It was a great environment for a class. We were paired up (I was with a nice gentleman called Nick) and then shared the cookery between the two of us at a station. Kelly showed us how to make a dish, and then we went off and did so. Then we reconvened at the front of the kitchen and ate the results together along with a specially matched wine. It was informal and plenty of fun; the afternoon flew by.

If I had to pick a favourite dish from the list, it would potentially be the tapenade – which is ironic, given that I don’t actually even usually like olives – or the romesco sauce, which I’ll definitely be making again. I’m also chuffed to have finally produced a Spanish omelette – indeed, any omelette at all – that actually looked the part, rather than simply a mess of eggs on a plate.

So, I learnt a whole bunch – including lots that I’ll be using in my own kitchen, and now I can’t wait to have friends over for tapas. What’s more, I did so while eating, drinking, giggling and generally enjoying myself. What could be better? I only wish that actual school had been more like this.

(Apologies for the lack of photos in this post – perhaps understandably, I was a bit too busy learning how to cook tapas at the time.)

*insert Blondie guitar riff here*

11 Aug

It started with an excited text message from a friend who lives in Oxford: “Atomic Burger have opened in Bristol! You must go – they’re amazing!” The name did ring a bell – I’d probably heard him raving about the Oxford branch before – so, after a quick scour of the menu online (sold!), I went.

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I can see why America has private healthcare: heart surgeons are almost definitely in cahoots with whoever invented this starter. Potato croquettes, wrapped in bacon and then smothered in a gooey layer of cheese and scattered with jalapeños. If I hadn’t been sharing it with someone else, I’d probably have needed a bypass on the spot. But what a way to go.

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The best thing about Atomic Burger, though, was the genuinely madcap range of burgers on offer, ranging from one with mini pizzas in place of the bun, through to ones topped with nachos or pulled pork. I went for the Mel Gibson: salt beef, thousand island dressing, cheese and gherkins. It was probably the toughest decision I’ve had to make all week, but admittedly I do lead quite a sheltered life.

It was also a good decision, because the combo worked perfectly – juicy, medium-cooked burger, with the tang of gherkin offsetting the richness of the other toppings. Best burger I’ve had in Bristol or Bath, I’d say – and that’s including The Burger Joint and The Market. Oh, and the ‘sci fries’ (chips with a chilli and garlic rub) were moreish like popping bubblewrap.

My only niggle was the service: slow, fairly uninformed and for the most part lacklustre. We had a couple of nice, enthusiastic waiting staff, but statistically that had to happen, seeing as we must have been passed between every employee in the place. It’s only been open for a few weeks, though, so I didn’t come away feeling too pessimistic on that front.

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On a final, positive note, they sell wine in litre bottles like this one. I’m definitely going back ASAP.

Stokes Croft: why I love living in Bristol

15 Jul

Photo courtesy of heatheronhertravels.com.

Here’s a snippet of conversation I often find myself having. Person: “You work in Bath, so don’t you ever think about just moving there?” Emma: “Yeah, I do consider it.” Person: “Why don’t you just do it?” Emma: “I dunno. I still might one day. I just… kinda like Bristol.” And I think areas like Stokes Croft, which is about 20 minutes’ walk from where I currently live, are a big part of that.

Ignore what you’ve seen on the news – last summer just wasn’t a very good one, alright? Let’s not dwell – and Stokes Croft is a massively community-focused area, brimming with independent character. And it’s bloody great for eating out.


Photo courtesy of jontangerine.

Last night I went out to The Runcible Spoon. It’s a small, modern British restaurant that makes everything from scratch. It’s also a co-op venture, with a goal of keeping prices low. I had a starter of smoked and soused mackerel, followed by a main of saddle of lamb, lamb moussaka and broad beans. My friend and I shared a bottle of wine, and were given an appetiser of soup, plus petit fours afterwards. Including tip, I spent just £25. And it was all delicious.


Photo courtesy of stanjourdan.

Another favourite of mine is the Canteen. The menu changes daily (sometimes even on the fly throughout the evening) to reflect the emphasis on seasonal produce. The only feasible reason to be saddened by this is that you’re unlikely to be able to eat that really tasty thing you had last time – be it warm lamb belly salad, beef shin ragu or pan-fried duck breast with sweet-and-sour sauce – again. Again, the focus here is on reasonable pricing rather than big profits: mains are usually £7 or £9, with a free starter of soup and bread included. The bar staff are always thoroughly lovely, too.


Photo courtesy of jontangerine.

There’s also Cafe Kino. Their home-made rosemary tossed chips are possibly the best thing to happen to weekends since the invention of brunch. They’re one of the few places that actively offer mustard on a sausage sandwich, rather than just giving you a funny look when you ask for it. (Seriously, it’s not like asking for arsenic or rat poison – other places should take note of this.) It’s another co-op, “working to create an atmosphere of respect and understanding in which everyone is valued”. As such, you’re as likely to see families with kids as you are groups of punks. I only wish there’d been a vegetarian cafe like this in Exeter when I was a teenager.

And this is before I’ve moved on to the beautifully dainty macaroons from Patisserie Leila, the £5 halloumi and pine nut pizzas at The Bank or the fantastic atmosphere at The Social or The Bell on a weekend evening. Basically, it’s a chunk of Bristol full of great food and drink, served by people who really believe in and care about what they’re doing. How could I not love that?

The Milk Thistle and a taste of the high life

14 Jun

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When a friend insisted on taking me to The Milk Thistle, I was initially slightly ambivalent about the idea. On one hand, I loved the name (it reminded me of one of my favourite Conor Oberst songs, for a start) and I’m a sucker for a good cocktail; on the other, the bar’s website features a list of ‘house rules’ and I am at heart a small-scale scruffbag who gets intimidated by the idea of having to be approved just to enter a drinking establishment.

I needn’t have worried. Behind the unassuming central Bristol façade – you genuinely wouldn’t suspect there was anything there from the outside – was a cosy space reminiscent of a country house library. Complete with taxidermied badger sporting a necktie above the bar. The menus were glued into the pages of hardback novels (ambivalence? What? Where? Menus in books!), and the service was charm personified.

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I ordered a Mermaid’s Tears, involving rum, crème de violet, lime and rock salt, among other ingredients (sadly it’s not listed on the website’s menu, so I can’t be more specific). It tasted like someone had crossed a seriously decent Margarita with a Parma Violet, and had just the right delicate, salty twist at the end. I’m easily sold on anything involving salt, so I was veritably giddy with joy.

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My friend went for a Foux-Roux, which alas I can only be vaguer still about the contents of. It incorporated ginger, but was subtle and layered, rather than overpoweringly fiery.

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And oh, the bar snacks… I’m pretty sure that when Felicity Cloake wrote her recent Guardian Word of Mouth blog post about the perfect Scotch egg, she in no way involved confit duck. Judging by the Scotch quail’s eggs (served with grain mustard mayo) we had, she really should have. Meaty and dense, they were a delight. The same goes for the pork scratchings – elegantly presented in a teacup and not too greasy, lifting them out of the realm of ‘shamefully guilty pleasure’ – and the cutely named ‘wasabi pea shooter’.

While it’s not cheap – two cocktails and some nibbles came to just under £23 – it was definitely an experience I’d like to repeat. Although there is one thing I feel justified in my ambivalence about: I’ll never be content with a humble packet of Scampi Fries again. Sigh.