It’s fair to say that the opening of the South West’s largest restaurant in our humble city has split the camp somewhat amongst us Bristolians – on one hand there has been a degree of apprehension (with premature comparisons to the likes of Flavourz and Cosmo being arrogated) and on the other, there are those who have eagerly anticipated a decent replacement for the Baja nightclub that formally occupied the space in all its teeny bopper glory! Being of the latter mindset and considering the impressive statistics doing the rounds online and in the press, I was really rather excited to be invited to attend a pre-launch taster session alongside representatives from a number of local businesses and the City's ever-present student population in advance of its official opening to the general public on the 1st December 2011...
Date and Time: Tuesday 30th November 2011, 19:00
Name of Establishment: Za Za Bazaar
Location: Harbourside, Canons Road - Bristol
Reason for Visit: Special pre-opening night taster for local businesses of which The Boy and I attended on behalf of the all important business of food blogging!
Stepping around the last of the workmen and into the sublime foyer of Za Za Bazaar, it became instantly clear that although the aesthetics of the space had been glitteringly perfected, the practicalities had not yet followed suit. However, despite learning of last-minute difficulties with the door locking system and hearing, throughout the course of the evening, various alarms cut through the globally-inspired soundtrack overhead, (not to mention witnessing the comings and goings of a number of hi-vis clad bodies from the lofty heights of our intimately placed table-for-two), this only momentarily punctuated the overall buzz of the venue's successful night-market concept (and the sense of culinary adventure that it brought about) with a collective awareness of first-night jitters.
Arriving a little shy of our seven-till-nine time slot, The Boy and I were initially shown through to the downstairs bar, delighting in its spacious, ambient feel. Tastefully decorated with equal measures of opulence and quirk as well as channelling elements of far-off lands, pastel-coloured paper lanterns, hang in clusters and a mosaic of cut-out z-shapes reinforce the venue's branding whilst drawing one's attention upwards! Not for long though as the bronze shine of the bar gleams from its central focal point. Here, the polished performance of the resident mixologists more than made up for any of the technical hiccups that we perceived thus far as, both friendly and knowledgeable, The Boy and I were expertly directed towards beverages suited to our particular preferences; he, a Singha Thai beer (£3.95) at 5% with a decidedly crisp bite and I, a Twisted French Martini (£5.95), a sweet and tart aggregation of Stoli vodka, raspberry, vanilla and fresh pineapple. Whilst we're on the subject of cocktails, there is a phenomenal line-up including those tried-and tested classics as well as a range inspired by four of the seven continents; America, Europe, Antarctica and Asia – of the latter, the Masala Mojito especially appealed with its mix of Mount Gay rum and bitters with fresh mint – lovely, (especially given the Happy Hour deal which runs from 5-7pm, Monday to Friday!) Besides this and perhaps expected of a venue incensed by world-wide stimulus, there is an extensive range of beers, wines and spirits on offer including varieties seldom available elsewhere. Furthermore, whilst sipping at my pungently prepared concoction, I studied the menu of bar food – with small plates and sharers as well as a lunch menu, sandwiches and the fantastic and filling range for those with a more hearty appetite, there is certainly something to suit each and every want which is, in fact, undoubtedly the over-arching ethos of this establishment.
Later, making our way upstairs to the restaurant and lining up to be seated warranted our first glimpse of the seven shiny stations (namely, Indian, European, Tex Mex, Far East, Salads, Desserts and, of course, the Bar) – all of which sported neon signs, promoting that street-food, help-yourself vibe and most importantly, attracting diners to sample its wares. The Boy and I reasoned that it would be wise to visit the furthest culinary cube from where we sat in the first instance and so, began our foodie foray at the Indian cuisine, finding an authentically spiced and delicately fragrant collection of dishes including Butter Chicken, Goan Fish Curry and Lamb Rogan Josh. Plus, with an amazing scope of starters and sides - including Dosa, freshly baked flat-breads and Tandoori Aloo,we were spoiled for choice and could have easily maxed-out our appetites at this station alone. However, a little self-discipline allowed us to move on to the European selection whereby The Boy commented that the Piri Piri chicken was the highlight of the evening for him without question. Here, I opted to bypass the Great British classics as although I appreciated the novelty of fish, chips and mushy peas, I considered it too heavy an option for a endeavour of this kind. Furthermore, the pizza, although flavoursome, proved a little limp in texture – the meat feast in particular lost its topping as soon as it was lifted from the plate! Onto the Tex Mex pod and the burger bar which proved an unquestionable hit with its seeded wholemeal buns, vast range of fresh fillings and succulent home-made beef patties which, incidentally, are cooked specifically to your taste. The burritos and fajitas are also made to order and given that the one-off dining price is so reasonable (see details below), I would visit for this section alone. To compliment this particular fare, we found tacos and nachos (of both regular and tomato/paprika varieties) which can be topped with a range of beans and chillis. The Chilli Con Carne was a winner for me, embodying the perfect balance of rich meat and tomato alongside the warmth of sweet chilli and an exotic aroma constituted by a combination of spices. My full stomach prevented too thorough an inspection of the Far East pod but The Boy commented that the noodles which were prepared at his request, were a tad on the soggy side. I must admit that the salad and sushi were also rather neglected on this occasion but unable to resist, The Boy just had to check out the quality of the hummus which he concluded was a little thin but well seasoned and encompassing that distinctively home-made coarseness. At this point, my dessert stomach came into play and arming myself with a plate, filled it with a variety of macaroons (some more accurately executed than others), the girliest cupcake I could find (from a huge selection presented over three tiers) and a range of bite-sized desserts; Tiramisu, Panna Cotta and Crème Brûlée to name but a few. Pleased with my selection, less the Crème Brûlée which disappointingly lacked its characteristically crunchy topping, I noted that I could have also chosen to partake in the delights of a chocolate fountain, healthily opted for fresh fruit or even helped myself to a 'Mr Whippy' ice cream cornet which, topped with hundreds and thousands, was nothing less than the real deal! An array of Indian desserts completed the bill; the Rasmali (Saffron scented milk balls flavoured with pistachio) particularly appealed but alas, I simply couldn't eat another thing!
In conclusion, Za Za Bazaar is clearly an ambitious venture and yet, in the grand tradition of the all-you-can-eat buffet, it knocks spots off the aforementioned alternatives. International chef Nitin Bhatnagar and his talented workforce clearly strive to ensure that the notorious quality versus quantity debate remains dormant given the calibre of the chefs that have been appointed and the fierce attention to detail that exists at every turn – the success of these efforts derive a distinct lack of the hit and miss culture which can typically be associated with the quality of the ingredients used in an establishment of this kind. Sure, there will always remain dishes that are not quite to one's taste but for that reason only and not because they have been poorly cooked or would be better placed on an Iceland Party Platter! In my opinion though, there are a handful of concerns which I hope will addressed in due course – firstly, I feel that the size of the venue could prove as much of a hindrance as it is its unique-selling-point. It's all very well to allow for a capacity of over 700 diners and yet, with a full-house, the traffic generated at each station would surely prove chaotic and unpleasant - nothing that a little crowd control couldn’t fix however! In addition to this, the simple logistics of travelling from the furthest pod back to your seat with an un-warmed plate of food will inevitably result in a less-than-perfect dining experience (especially in terms of certain dishes, Fajitas for instance, which should be sizzling upon serving). Most colossally though, the lack of information for nut allergy sufferers (of which The Boy qualifies) is most certainly an issue - although the labels (albeit more often than not incorrectly positioned) signify vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, they exclude this rather more life-threatening condition! As a result, The Boy had to ask at each canteen which dishes would be safe for him to indulge in without being caused any significant damage – luckily, the accommodating staff were more-than-happy to oblige but, I feel, adding this information to the description of each dish (and ensuring that they are in the right place) would be preferable for complete peace of mind. I will definitely return to this venue, the service is faultless and the quality, and diversity, of the fare is indubitably top-notch. As my review reflects, there is infinite choice and far too much to appreciate during a single visit – thus, I am already planning my second....and third visit....in order to gain the utmost from the Za Za Bazaar experience!
And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave Za Za Bazaar a rating of 8/10 and in three words, described it as, 'best buffet experience'.
Lunch buffet - £6.99 Monday-Friday and £9.99 Saturday and Sunday
Evening buffet - £12.99 Monday to Thursday and £15.99 Friday to Sunday