So just when I claim that Greek cuisine is so very difficult to come-by in Bristol I stumble upon another venue where it features rather fittingly on the menu; which, in this case, takes its inspiration from the chef's Mediterranean-come-North African background. I'm talking about Bar Humbug, a venue which, to date, I have only ever frequented for a cocktail or two and yet, this particular evening saw The Boy, Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I roaming the streets of Cotham for somewhere suitable in which to ease our various Bank Holiday inflicted fatigues in the form of reasonably-priced and nourishing nosh – incidentally, this is where we ended up!
Date and Time: Monday 29th August 2011, 18:45
Name of Establishment: Bar Humbug*
Location: 89 Whiteladies Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Impromptu dining with two of my favourite people.
With the preferable outside space fully occupied, our party of three headed in to Bar Humbug's cave-like interior and whilst the squishy sofa-style seating and low tables lit with coloured neon lights were somewhat appealing, we retreated further to the area behind the bar whereby a sturdy arrangement of furniture seemed rather more suitable for our culinary intentions. Here, the lighting picks up a fraction and the wallpaper, swirled with deep metallic hues (with that Alice in Wonderland-style intrigue), is accented with thickly- framed mirrors of varying sizes. This quirky haze, (which just as easily could have been cast-off as dingy) was really rather comforting given our unanimous state of malaise and yet, the soundtrack overhead did little to remedy this; in particular, Jeff's Buckley's rendition of 'Hallelujah', albeit a classic, almost pushed us beyond effective communication altogether!
On to the food and that aforementioned menu which successfully muddles dishes from the continent and beyond; think Moroccan Tagine, Spanish Seafood Paella and Turkish-style Mezze. And, with one course offered at six pounds and two for eight, it certainly wont break the bank, (and thus, the only attribute of this venue that one could relate to Dicken's Scrooge is its name!) After a great deal of indecision, our orders were placed with the casual-mannered chap behind the bar and although admittedly we paid separately, it was obvious that we were together (in that, we were actually the venue's only inhabitants at this time) and so, when our dishes materialised in intervals, it made for a kind of disjointed experience. Furthermore, the food itself was a little hit and miss; both The Boy and the BFF opted to start with the Fresh Falafel Salad which was generously plated and reportedly, full of flavour. Despite, the falafels themselves proving a little dry and crumbly, the salad, appropriately Mediterranean in terms of its content, comprised an exciting (not to mention, colourful) array of ingredients; the simplicity of juicy tomato complimented the twang of feta and distinct saltiness of marinated olives and despite a rogue gherkin or two which seemed a little out-of-place, the dish screamed of sun-drenched beach-side lunches! This was finished with a drizzle of creamy Tzatziki; it's cool palate-cleanser the perfect accompaniment to such a multitude of contrasting tastes and textures.
I went for a main course only, sulking somewhat that the two courses constituted a starter and a main and not a main and dessert! And so, the salmon and dill fish-cakes made an entrance and, accompanied with fries, salad and roasted Mediterranean vegetables (which disappointingly constituted just two slices of grilled aubergine), it really was a mixed bag; from satisfyingly tasty to bordering inedible. Whilst I enjoyed what we shall coin the house salad, (as it was exactly as described above) the fries were extremely salty and the balsamic which had been randomly puddled on the plate seemed unnecessary. The fish-cake itself was a little lack-lustre; on one hand, its arrangement had been perfectly executed with a crisp exterior encasing a smooth, palatable filling and yet it lacked its principle (fishy) ingredient. Consequently, scrimping on the characteristically pink flakiness of the salmon made for a rather bland and colourless finish – I think without the addition of an ample dollop of sweet chilli jam, the dish would have proved an almighty flop. That said, the chicken panini and hot mezze platter (charged at a £1 supplement) were well-received by The Boy and BFF respectfully. The panini (so much more than its description had first implied) combined succulent Moroccan-spiced chicken, melted cheese, Tahini spread (made from crushed sesame seeds) and, as per my main, a helping of sweet chilli jam - this was polished in record time so there was no doubt that this dish secured The Boy's approval! Furthermore, The BFF's mezze platter created a fair bit of food envy (especially on my part); beautifully presented and featuring the likes of (skewered) char-grilled chicken, a coarse and wonderfully garlicky houmous, feta cheese and a crisp samosa, this was notably excellent value for money. The BFF commented that the pumpkin dip was a winner for her with its smooth, moreish sweetness although the falafels were again a little dry and the cinnamon cous cous unappealingly under-seasoned. It is also to be noted that the house salad featured heavily in both The Boy and BFF's dishes and although this had been commended thus far, was received a little less enthusiastically given its unfaltering course-to-course appearance. We also couldn't help but notice the occasional 'ding' sounding from the kitchen which we suspiciously likened to the sound of a microwave – although this could have merely been the timely, and entirely innocent, call for service.
|Salmon and Dill Fish-Cakes|
I can conclude that, friendly, laid-back service coupled with the chilled vibe of this eclectic space was, on this occasion, exactly what we were looking for – OK, so it was a little dreary in terms of its décor and choice of lighting but this was offset by the relaxed attitude that seemed to radiate from every corner. In terms of the cuisine, there were indubitably a few sticking points and yet, the menu really is promising; the three of us agreed that that the multi-continental flair brought to its line-up made for an interesting selection and therefore, difficult decisions all-round regarding what to choose! Add to this, great value for money and an ample, (albeit a little unsynchronised) delivery of well-presented and generously portioned fare and you've already conquered half the battle. I really think that a few tweaks here and there; namely to the dishes authenticity, over-complexity and most importantly the quality of the ingredients sourced, could really make a difference. Accordingly, aspects of the menu earlier referred to as 'lack-lustre' could instead be given the potential to shine.
And now for a second…and third opinion... (well, I could hardly choose between them, could I?!)
The Boy gave Bar Humbug 7/10 and in three words, summed up his experience as 'variety, value and flair'.
The BFF gave Bar Humbug 6/10 and in three words summed up her experience as 'serviceable’, ‘cheap’, yet ‘bland',