Some time ago, I managed to get my hands on a 'Gourmet Society' dining card and I must confess that until now, I hadn't got around to taking advantage of it. During my last visit to The Living Room, a venue which I often frequent for a cocktail or two, I enquired what the possession of this membership would grant me in terms of a discount to the à la carte menu. In response, I was told that diners could have two-for-one dishes for each course, provided that a starter, main and dessert were ordered in each case. The BFF (Best Foodie Friend) and I did the maths, understood the bargain that this deal allowed for and proceeded to book a table....
Date and Time: Saturday 30th April 2011, 17:00
Name of Establishment: The Living Room
Location: Explore Lane, Harbourside, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Taking advantage of two-for-one offer bestowed upon me by 'Gourmet Society' dining card.
The Living Room has a smart and sophisticated demeanour which is apparent even before you set foot inside. The front of the venue is wooden-clad and the outside space is adorned with lounge-style pot-plants as well as high-top tables and chairs – perfect for a spot of alfresco dining or a post-work beverage in the sunshine! The interior extends this air of sophistication; decked with wooden flooring throughout, elegant chrome lighting hung from high ceilings, modern art presented about the space and the focal point – a grand piano which sits nobly to the right of the bar, (I have witnessed some pretty impressive jazz playing in the past too although, on this occasion, the piano was unoccupied). Even visiting the toilets is an experience in itself – I have tried to capture this in the image below but you really need to see them for yourself!
The only thing I would suggest as a negative to this open-plan, airy ambiance is that when this venue lacks the presence of other diners it can tend to function as a vacuum, resulting in parties holding almost whispered conversations across the table to one another in order to avoid booming over the subtlety of the low background music!
The food was great overall, yet I think that with a few tweaks here and there it could have been a lot better. I chose the chorizo (£5.55) to start which was presented in a ceramic dish with a generous oiling of red wine and chilli marinade. This was very tasty and the meat was of high-quality with its rich Mediterranean notes. I loved the chilli kick of the drizzle, which, mixed with the spice of the chorizo's own juices and peppery flavour of the incidental rocket salad, deliciously warmed the palate. That said, I would have liked to have been given fresh bread as an accompaniment to this dish as opposed to the over-toasted French stick (masquerading as ciabatta) which was provided instead. This would have made it a lot easier to mop up the remaining marinade which unfortunately, got left in the bottom of the dish. The BFF opted for the tomato, bocconcini mozzarella and pesto bruschetta (£4.25) which she described as 'nice but not mind-blowing' – ingredients were fresh and refreshing, the tomatoes ripe and sweet but there was just something missing that she couldn’t put her finger on.
Main courses were served promptly, almost as soon as the starters were cleared – these were well presented, piping hot and smelt delicious. BFF opted for the rack of lamb (£16.95) and I ordered the chicken breast (£11.95) which was wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with fresh herbs and mascarpone. I enjoyed this dish – the chicken was moist and the rich tomato flavour of the accompanying arrabiata sauce added a real zing to seasoned new potatoes. I concluded that this dish was deceptively filling although appearing a modest portion upon first look – it actually became a little hard-going as the minimal amount of stuffing did not adequately infuse the flavour of the meat which resulted in a bland finish. Of the lamb, the BFF commented that it wasn't quite pink enough for her palate but was enjoyable nevertheless. The well-cooked additions to this dish – the gratin potato and crisp beans - were also well received.
|Rack of Lamb|
Putting any criticisms thus far to one side, I have to say that for me, the highlight of the meal was dessert. Upon recommendation, I ordered the chocolate and salted caramel tart (£4.95) which was just divine! The shortcrust pastry was the perfect platform for the layers of sticky indulgence which came above it. This dish could have so easily been too sweet but the balance of flavours had been adhered to expertly so that this was not the case. A delicate dollop of whipping cream and sprig of mint were the only accompaniments as the main attraction was clearly enough in itself. BFF opted for the rhubarb compote which was served with fresh blackberries and sabayon cream (£4.95) – she commented that the dish had not been warmed all the way through, which was a shame as the combination of flavours were well-balanced and nostalgically similar to old-school rhubarb and custard.
Service at The Living Room was prompt, polite and helpful – our server was happy to answer any questions we had but at times, we did feel a little rushed. The BFF and I sat within the mezzanine area of the restaurant so we were also privy to a lot of rushing in and out of the kitchen below. There was also quite a lot of shouting and crashing from downstairs which provoked a couple of apprehensive glances between the two of us!
I think visiting The Living Room seems to be a lot about the experience. I feel that you pay more for the privilege of dining in swanky surroundings and I'm not sure that I would have chosen three courses had I not been using my 'Gourmet Society' dining card. However, I'm glad that I did as I now know that I would return to this venue for the aforementioned tart if for nothing else! It's also important to note here that the cocktail menu is extensively packed with high-quality creations – I recommend the Watermelon Martini which, with Russian Standard vodka and a squeeze of lemon, is as crisp as it is refreshing. Perhaps I’ve been a little harsh in my review of The Living Room and yet, I really feel that if this venue were to make a couple of changes to the delivery of their menu, dining here would be truly exceptional. Other aspects of this establishment are spot-on – there really isn't much work required to bring the substance up to the standard that The Living Room obviously strives to achieve.
And now for the second opinion...
BFF gave The Living Room 7.5/10 and when asked to describe it in three words chose, 'just something missing...'