Date and Time: Friday 16th December 2011, 19:30 for 20:00
Name of Establishment: Tart Café and Foodstore*
Location: 16 The Promenade, Gloucester Road - Bristol
Reason for Visit: That much-loved festive phenomenon…the Office Christmas Party!
“How about Tart...?” Replied Andrew Griffin, head chef at Tart Café and Foodstore on Bristol's vibrant Gloucester Road. He went on to say that he would create a bespoke three-course menu with the festivities fixed as we saw fit – plus, we'd have the smart surroundings of Tart's Parisian-styled space to ourselves and for thirty pounds per head…it was a no-brainer really! However, taking twenty-five of the University of the West of England’s finest administrators to one of my favourite eateries did not come without its anxieties – first of all would my colleagues feel that my high praise for this venue was justified having read my glowing reviews of the Tart after Dark Supper series and on the other hand, would my party behave themselves to allow for a return visit on my part without a red face!? Needless to say, I needn't have worried as what unfolded was a truly fantastic evening...Kicking off the merry-making with a complimentary Kir Royle, my guests began to arrive, stopping as they did so to admire their surroundings. Promoting the notion of classy Christmas décor, each table had been crisply attired with white linen and silver (rather sophisticated-looking) Christmas crackers. Candlelight flickered atmospherically and seasonally-inspired jazz played out subtly overhead – allowing for conversation to flow and the buzz of the party itself to take centre stage. Furthermore, each and every guest received a warm welcome – just part of the service to which I have become accustomed; effortlessly friendly and faultlessly attentive.
Just as I was invited to hand-pick the content of the menu, I was also responsible for the seating arrangements and despite rejecting a specific table plan (though deciding on an arrangement of one table of nine and two tables of eight), the ever-professional team remained unfazed and starters were promptly served. The French Onion Soup; a dish which I had previously sampled at the 'Tart after Dark Retro Supper’ certainly didn't disappoint with its intricate flavours which combined the distinctively punchy notes of ripe onion with a delicately sweet baseline. The sizeable Gruyere cheese-topped crouton, an island in the centre of the dish, added a new dimension to the varying tastes and textures, adding a little salt which offset the aforementioned sweetness to perfection. Other diners chose the smoked salmon which, layered with beetroot and dressed leaves on top of a dainty potato pancake, was reportedly light and refreshing. On the other hand, the Chicken Liver Pâté was chunky and satisfying; attractively plated alongside home-made chutney, crunchy toasts and pickles which had been imaginatively constructed into a ‘Jenga’-style formation.
|Smoked Salmon Starter|
Main courses constituted a choice of three hearty and suitably Christmassy dishes; the traditional turkey was doused with lovely gravy and served with a helping of well-seasoned stuffing, two amply-sized pigs in blankets and a number of wonderfully fluffy roast potatoes; the latter lavishly crisped-up in goose fat (something which, although delicious, proved rather problematic for the vegetarians amongst us who began to tuck in before they were warned of this carnivorous aspect of their preparation).That aside, it’s fair to say that all three options were well-received and although I opted for the turkey, delighting in how expertly it had been executed (and thus avoiding its typically dry tendencies), I also insisted on sampling the confit of pork (for research purposes of course) which, coupled with a generous dollop of creamy mashed potato, was undoubtedly the star of the show with its topping of flavoursome crackling. The meat-free alternative was a butternut squash, sweet potato and spinach lasagne which although I did not catch sight of was reportedly tasty though a little burnt on the top. The ‘trimmings’ consisted of a number of sharer dishes; spiced red cabbage, honey-roasted carrots, extra roasties (which I'm ashamed to say that we all but fought for) and...yep you guessed it...that Yuletide treasure...brussel sprouts! Dessert comprised a cranberry and mandarin baked cheesecake – a real stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth experience which proved incredibly rich but perfectly balanced in terms of its flavour. The tart notes of the cranberry compote expertly contrasted the sweetness of the mandarin and lent to the dish a palate-cleansing quality; concluding the comforting, almost wintry undertones of the evening's fare to perfection. Incidentally, (and just a little example of the thought put into the dishes I had chosen), I had teased Andrew prior to the evening at hand in regards to the distinct lack of chocolate on the menu, reeling in mock-horror in my capacity as a self-confessed chocoholic...hence, it did not go unnoticed that subsequently, chocolate had been incorporated into the base of the cheesecake – a lovely touch and gratefully received on my part I can assure you!
|Tasty Turkey...and look at those Pigs in Blankets!|
Others chose the cheeseboard which had been adorned with a range of indulgent varieties; Barkham Blue, Ticklemore goat’s cheese and Keen’s Cheddar. I think that those who had opted for this struggled somewhat with the mammoth portion they were given – I certainly intended to get in on the cheese-related action but alas, just couldn’t eat another thing! And so, ‘Mr Proper Portion’ had done it again...we were stuffed…that is, until plates of mini mince pies were brought to each table. These were melt-in-the-mouth delicious with home-made appeal that you just can't buy in a shop – yum! And so, our evening drew to a close and as our numbers diminished, only the hard-core revellers (myself included) remained to mop up the last of the vino. As is customary for the Monthly Tart after Dark Supper evenings, Darren from nearby Grape and Grind* had chosen both a red and a white to compliment the nature of the evening's cuisine. Our table had settled on the red, a soft and fruity Mas de Vigneron, alongside a bottle (or two) of the house Prosecco – because after all, every party warrants a little fizz!
Overall, high praise all round for the entire Tart team – owner Jenny and her girls were the perfect hosts and Andrew and his fellow chefs cooked up a storm in the kitchen, evident, of course, by the top-notch quality of the cuisine. Despite the venue proving a little chilly at times (perhaps due to the sub-zero temperatures outside), a festive atmosphere was perfectly achieved and it’s fair to say that a good time was had by all ...thank you for making our Office Christmas Party a success and here's to a fabulous 2012 for the lovely team at 'Lovely Tart'!
And now, for just a collection of the opinions from our office....
“I had the pork – excellent! And I’d love to know what they put in their mash - it was superb!“ CC
“I would give the food 9/10; it was very tasty and hot. The venue was just a bit chilly at times, but the service was great and it was nice being able to have a chat rather than having to shout to each other.” DC
“[Tart was] such a great venue. I can’t wait to go there again during the day…” LRM
“The cheesecake was, by far, the star of the show for me!” RS