Friday night with The Boy and his family and a venue which I have only visited thus far for afternoon drinks; enjoyed overlooking the river from the sunshiney exterior terrace. Yes, I'm referring to the Mud Dock Café, an eclectic space whereby, on account of the website, the menu has 'evolved and expanded over time'; offering an ever-changing menu which, facilitated by fresh and often locally-sourced ingredients, underpins its globally-inspired cuisine. This certainly sounded impressive and so, with a table booked, anticipation of a Friday-night feast saw us through the week...
Date and Time: Friday 12th August 2011, 20:30
Name of Establishment: Mud Dock Café
Location: 40 The Grove, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Civilised family outing with The Boy and his clan!
Climbing the spiral stair-set to the restaurant, exposed to the elements and heels clanking on the metalwork, I think it's fair to say that the 'industrial chic' theme of this venue is obvious from the onset. Reinforced within its interior, raw materials constitute this venue's décor in a big way. Furniture is either scrap-yard-style metal or solid wood; neither of which is particularly comfortable but charming with a quirky minimalism which also transcends to the airy ambiance of this space, largely created, in my opinion, by the circular floor-to-ceiling window which proved the focal point for our visit. In light of the downstairs 'Bike Shed', artefactual bicycles are suspended from the ceiling which, coupled with the trains of fairy lighting makes for an intriguing combination. I felt somewhat in awe of this offbeat domain and, increasingly so when we were introduced to our server for the evening...Now, as a rule I never explicitly name the servers who happen to grace my experience of a particular venue but, what I will say is that the chap who waited our table on the evening in question was spot-on in terms of his rapport with our group. Charismatic and friendly, he answered our (many) questions knowledgeably as well as injecting a sense of humour into the proceedings – even finding a mislaid cardie for The Boy's mum to sit on so that she would be more comfortable, (above and beyond the call of duty indeed...)
Attentions turning to the menu saw The Boy returning from the other side of the restaurant with a photograph of the specials/set-menu board so that we wouldn't all have to make a similar trek – genius! With a mixed bag of orders spanning all three menus (the à la carte, set menu – whereby two courses amounted to £10.95 and the specials) successfully with the kitchen we snacked on bread and olives and supped our particular poisons, in my case a large glass of the Colombard-Chardonnay (£4.80, or £13.95 a bottle). On the subject of tipples, it's worth noting here that there is an extensive selection of wines, beers and ciders available including local varieties (such as Bath Ales and Bath Ciders Bounders) and their European counterparts, (such as Denmark's Tuborg and German Paulaner Wheat Beer). However, when it came to the cocktail menu, The Boy's sis and I were a little disappointed as, despite the lengthy (cycling-related) synopsis provided for each, the end result was an amateur-looking creation in a half-pint J2O glass which, on first sip was overwhelmingly sweet – this was 'The Breakaway' (£5.50) which combined Archers, Vodka and Cranberry Juice...yes a Woo Woo in disguise and unfortunately not a great one either!
So, the website warns diners to anticipate a 20-30 minute wait on food but that didn't stop our stomachs from rumbling until the starters made their timely entrance. Highlights included the beautifully-presented bruschetta which was successfully crisp and generously topped with smoked chicken, stilton and apple, (an unusual combination that reportedly, worked very well).This was in addition to the fish cakes which, although on first look appearing a little burnt, were packed with salmon, panga and green chillis resulting in a wonderfully flavoursome bite! It is also to be commended here how generously they had been portioned; served alongside a fresh leafy salad and sweet-chilli dip. With this in mind, the tomato soup, albeit thickly textured and tasty, was arguably a low point, proving rather an unimaginative addition to the menu given that the dishes offered alongside it featured such a comprehensive assortment of ingredients.
|Salmon and Panga Fish Cakes|
Main courses followed another prolonged interval and I was more-than-relieved when my Thai-spiced chicken breast was put down in front of me. Nestled within a sea of noodles, the meat was well-seasoned and moistly textured. However, the noodles themselves, although wonderfully flavoured with coriander and the zing of lemongrass, were rather soggy; slathered in coconut cream and consequently, difficult to eat (well, without getting oneself into a mess anyway!) I understand that this sloppy coupling was perhaps intended to counteract the sometimes distinguishing dryness of chicken but in actual fact it was simply not necessary in this case and therefore, the noodles could have been stickier and more appealing as a result. Other diners opted for the steak which, accompanied with a handful of chips and a smear of pureed veg proved a little lacking for its £16.95 price tag and the Linguine which almost had too much going on; the feta cheese, in particular overpowering other elements and giving the dish a heavy (not to mention, salty) finish. That said, it wasn’t all bad and indubitably the winner of the evening was the sea bass (£16.75) which, ordered from the specials board, was described as ‘faultless’ by its recipient. Creatively plated both in terms of its arrangement and its content, the fish itself was beautifully cooked and bordered with a half-moon of sliced chorizo, (which, incidentally, I just had to sample!) However, it was the perfectly structured mashed-potato base layer that proved the fundamental talking point as it had been accented with a form of seaweed which textured its otherwise creamy consistency as well as adding a certain ‘je ne sais pas’!
|Thai-Spiced Chicken Breast|
It had become rather late to opt for desserts but nevertheless, we decided that it wouldn't hurt to order a couple to share, (cue, a frantic dash for dishes to be set in front of each member of our party!) The Mud Pie (£4.95) was an obvious choice for me (my step-by-step programme with chocoholics anonymous should commence any day now!) and proved successfully rich, gooey and, of course, chocolaty. Hazelnuts balanced the intensity of the cocoa-hit and added a satisfying crunch to its texture. Furthermore, the vanilla ice cream was of a good quality and yet, I was pretty full-up by this point and for once, glad that I hadn’t kept this indulgence to myself! Others divvied-up ice cream of varying flavours (which our chatty waiter had reeled off from memory) - the lemon sounded especially tempting and, it was noted that both the strawberry and rum and raison were very well-received, not to mention attractively presented.
|Ice Cream with Flair!|
In conclusion, there were some aspects of my evening at the Mud Dock Café that I thoroughly enjoyed; namely, the service, the venue's overall quirkiness and, of course, the company! The fare seemed a little hit and miss in places and unfortunately, with the exception of the sea bass, did not overly wow our group. Don't get me wrong, there wasn't anything drastically flawed with our orders; it was just that the culmination of a pretty hefty bill did not seem to reflect the cuisine that we had received. I commend eateries that offer a focused line-up of well rehearsed dishes although I would suggest that here, the balance is not quite right – with menus scrawled on chalkboards in differing locations and some dishes falling victim of having too much going on whilst others seem rather bland in comparison. I would return to this venue as, in particular, I found the friendly ambiance of the space inviting – it was suitably buzzing for a Friday night and so, I wondered if the evening our table had experienced could be written-off as a blip. Perhaps I will investigate this on another occasion but I certainly won’t be deviating from the set menu in future as for £30 a head, I think I’d rather dine somewhere where quality doesn’t fluctuate quite so much…
And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave Mud Dock Café 7/10 and in three words, described his experience as 'bicycles, banter and (sea)bass!'
NB. Food photography courtesy of The Boy - thank you!