February 2017 marks the sixth anniversary of my eating adventures and, as ever, I'm excited about what the coming months will bring for us foodies! In case this is your first visit (if not, welcome back), I'm a 30-something female with a very healthy appetite!...I promise to share with you my experience of each restaurant, café or bar in which I set foot...so, let's go out!


Friday, 27 January 2012

The Social Bar and Café – Cheltenham Road, Bristol

Another tempting Groupon* deal marked another mid-week dinner-date with the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) – this time in the comfortable grunge of The Social; a café-come-bar situated on Cheltenham Road; smack-bang in the heart of Bristol's eclectic Stokes Croft district which, proving somewhat reminiscent of The Loungers chain, proved equally as appealing in terms of its hearty portions of good-quality comfort food...!

Date and Time: Wednesday 18th January 2012, 20:15
Name of Establishment: The Social Bar and Café*
Location: 130 Cheltenham Road, Stokes Croft – Bristol
Reason for Visit: Two course meal for two with a glass of wine each for a mere thirteen quid!

It's fair to say that the BFF and I were ever-so-slightly fraught having negotiated the multiple terms and conditions of this particular Groupon offer. Although unspecified at the time of booking, the two-courses for two deal, (plus a house vino each) was only redeemable on certain days of the week and only after 8:00pm Monday to Wednesday. This, in addition to the fact that one was not allowed to pre-book a table nor able to choose certain dishes from the main menu, (namely the 8oz steak which unfortunately, the BFF had already earmarked for consumption), almost cost this venue our visit – the rules and restrictions proving rather off-putting to say the least. That said, with a near-to-full occupancy upon our arrival;, The Social encompassed an excitable buzz and, coupled with its warm, candlelit cosiness, eradicated any preconceptions based on our experiences thus far. What's more, with a scattering of local artwork*, mish-mash of squishy sofas, a sporadic arrangement of solid wooden furniture and the raw brick work of the well-stocked bar, (facilitating the focal point of this thoughtfully arranged space), you couldn't help but fall in love with its quirky charm – sticky table-tops and all...The ambiance would have been all the more appealing had it not been for the consistent guffawing expelled from an obnoxious character sat nearby whose boozy banter demanded periodic bursts of shouted conversation with the BFF and meant that all trace of any background music became somewhat redundant given its deafening pitch...a shame, but hardly the fault of the establishment itself!

Although it hasn't happened for a while, when it came to choosing from the main menu, the BFF and I were entirely in-sync; both opting to indulge in the 'Perry and Treacle Ham Hock'. Furthermore, we were both equally as impressed with its careful presentation as, despite generously portioned and unquestionably substantial in terms of its content, this was an altogether attractive plate. In fact, with so much going on, it was difficult to know where to start... Weighing up the possibilities, I began by spearing the perfectly-poached duck egg so that its rich yoke drizzled down through the shredded meat to establish a spectrum of flavours; specifically, the smoky notes of burnt sugar which, punctuated with the crisp bite of fermented fruit, just danced on the palate. That said, the root vegetable 'chips' were fairly disappointing as although they looked the part and had been finished with a honey-glaze (which, to be fair, did create a wonderfully sweet after-taste when it came to the carrots), this was not quite enough to mask the inedible bitterness of the parsnips. A well-measured dollop of peas pudding, with its coarse, almost rustic, appeal, provided a refreshing angle in regards to the varying tastes and textures of this dish. Fluffy new potatoes completed the ensemble; their sound execution proving a welcome alternative to the veggies which, I'm afraid to say constituted the only low point; faring a lot better on the the menu than they did in the flesh! However, with an ample dousing of tasty gravy, this was a satisfying mash-up of rich, flavoursome ingredients that really lent themselves to the aforementioned concept of good, honest comfort food!
With just two desserts on the menu, one was forced to choose between the chocolaty option or the non-chocolaty option – hands up who can guess which I decided to indulge in! Yes, as lovely as the Winter Berry Crumble sounded, for me, it had to be the 'Chocolately Chocolate Cake', (yes, this is really what it's called!) Served alongside a dainty jug of double cream, this pud would have been more accurately described as a brownie given its fudgy texture and the oven-baked-crunch of its topping. In fact, had it actually been a cake, I may have been able to finish it – instead, given its decidedly decadent presence, I simply had to admit defeat – a rarity by my own admission (especially given my notorious sweet tooth) but then again, I'd sooner this outcome than be left wanting more...! 

To sum up, The Social is clearly a regular haunt for many and rightly so given its ability to cater for the diversity of its Gloucester Road clientèle and beyond. Commendably facilitating good quality, locally-sourced and free-range/organic produce, the cuisine is as fresh and wholesome as the attention-to-detail is ever-present – both of which, conjugated with the upbeat attitude of those running the show, ensures a notably positive experience. Plus, offering a different deal each day, visitors to this friendly, inviting space are spoiled for choice in terms of how to save the pennies – and so, to give you some idea, you could partake in the following - Pie and a Pint Monday, Cocktail Tuesdays (whereby such tasty concoctions as an Espresso Martini and the curiously named 'Tom's Lemon Cheesecake are just £4 from 6:00pm – 8:00pm), Wine-Loving Wednesdays (where all varieties; glasses and bottles are offered with 25% off) and of course, the weekly Sunday roast, (which even includes a vegan option). Consequently, the BFF and I could have opted to stay put for a second round of reasonably-priced 'Pinots' but alas, another outburst of raucous laughter, courtesy of our inebriated friend, caused a sudden change of heart...However, a re-visit is most certainly in the offing and if for nothing else, in order to get my hands on that rather ample cocktail list – incidentally, is anyone free this coming Tuesday...?!

And now for the second opinion...
Te BFF gave The Social a rating of 8/10 and in three words, quipped, 'less laughter please'!
References:

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Runcible Spoon, Nine Tree Hill – Bristol

With a degree in English Literature, (albeit achieved a good seven years previously) it is admittedly a rather poor show that I required the use of Wikipedia to familiarise myself with the term 'runcible' and the fact that this nonsense word, invented by English author and poet, Edward Lear, is used in some of his greatest works – most memorably; The Owl and the Pussy-cat...I respect a little originality when it comes to naming an establishment, especially when the elements within reflect its intended appeal. I'd heard that The Runcible Spoon had this in the bag and thus, it's fair to say that I jumped at the chance to join a friend who had chosen this venue as the starting point for her birthday celebrations...

Date and Time: Saturday 14th January 2012, 20:30
Name of Establishment: The Runcible Spoon*
Location: 3 Nine Tree Hill, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Invitation to participate in the foodie-focused birthday celebrations of a friend

Described as a workers' owned establishment as well as the product of a glorious union between three Bristol-based chefs and one dedicated gardener, The Runcible Spoon is certainly not to be criticised for lacking character – on the contrary, this is a space crammed with curiosities. As a result, mis-matched cutlery, randomly placed ornamental objects, sporadic candlelight and napkins that, in a former life, probably constituted somebody's Grandma's tea-towel collection all feature beneath an over-arching theme of offbeat charm! This also extended to a soundtrack of Christmas Carols, (time to change the CD perhaps!) and an overall ambiance which leaned towards being ever-so-slightly sweaty; the condensation created by the high-energy kitchen steaming up its surroundings and impregnating one's clothes with the smell of home-cooking! And so, descending the rickety wooden staircase to the rabbit's-warren of intimately-arranged furniture below, our party of eight attempted to shoe-horn ourselves around our table – yes, this is not the place to bring the extended family and certainly not ideal if you're looking for a night out with your rugby team! Using the facilities brought about an equally tentative ascent back up to the ground floor; to a tiny room behind a creaky door which, containing a single toilet and sink ensemble, had been wall-papered in its entirety with maps of the UK...random yes, but where else could you trace the route from Bristol to Sheffield whilst spending a penny?!
Moving on to the menu which, facilitating wild and often foraged foods as well as sourcing the best from local, small-scale growers, encompasses a firm focus on seasonal produce and offers a select, ever-changing line-up of well-balanced and healthy dishes. And, reasonably priced at £15 for two courses and £20 for three, (payable in cash only you may wish to note), it gave us all the more reason to indulge – for, as the only venue in town to actually reduce its prices after the festive season yet remain loyal to the concept of quality over quantity, it would have been silly not to make the most of it! Speaking of which, first up came thick slices of home-made bread alongside a complimentary starter of creamy celeriac soup. The latter had been expertly-seasoned and, served in a dainty teacups, proved a nice touch; amply whetting our appetites for the courses ahead. Due to this pre-starter starter, I opted to launch straight into the main event, but of the dishes that others had chosen, the Pork Rillette seemed unanimously well-received given its attractive presentation and tasty accompaniments of crackling and kohlrabi remoulade. On to main courses and it transpired that our entire company had chosen the carnivorous option as opposed to the Portobello Mushroom and Garlic Tart. And so, eight (thoughtfully plated) portions of Braised Salt Marsh Lamb later, our verdicts were articulated and, on my part, noted. Sat on a medley of cannellini beans, diced vegetables and (disappointingly soggy) greens, the lamb was topped with a flavoursome salsa verde which, for me, was the only redeeming factor of this dish; its fresh, palate-cleansing quality offsetting the fatty tendencies of the lamb (which I’m afraid to say was ever-present in my particular cut) and lending to the overall arrangement a little light-relief given its otherwise bland and rather heavy attributes.
Whilst we’re exploring negatives, I feel that I must address the service, (or lack of it). Although I understand the concept of a co-op arrangement whereby perhaps front-of-house duties are not integral to the collective skill-set of the workforce, I thought that the customer service left little to be desired. Our particular server conveyed an uninterested and increasingly aloof presence, barely cracking a smile and, as well as ignoring certain requests that we made, failing entirely to check whether the dishes we had ordered had been received to our satisfaction – a real shame.

That said, dessert was a triumph! The choice of either a mincemeat and almond tart or cherry trifle divided the group somewhat and both, it seemed, were equally enjoyed! I opted for the tart which had caught my eye as soon as I walked through the door – quite literally given that it sat steaming on a work surface just inside, having been recently removed from the oven. Although the crust was arguably a little dense, I was impressed with its subtle spiciness as well as the wonderfully fruity aromas that came through in bursts; further enhanced by the warmth it had retained having been freshly-baked. The creamy custard, flavoured with vanilla pod, finished what I considered an immensely enjoyable pud; reminiscent of the festive season and perfect for a frosty winter's evening – yum! Furthermore, drinks were incredibly reasonable and although vino had been decanted into small tumblers (which although suitably unconventional is, for me, a real pet-hate...yes yes, I'm considering applying for the 'grumpy old' series any day now!) was well-sourced and of a good quality. Local beers and ciders matched the intended identity of the establishment and constituted a refreshing change from the usual bottled imports so readily available elsewhere! However, the highlight was indubitably the three-pound price tag of a G&T – just marvellous!
In conclusion, my experience of The Runcible Spoon was a little hit and miss – I’m not sure that my dining companions were quite as disappointed but I certainly will not be rushing back. For whilst I admire the ethos of this establishment and appreciate its position and appeal amongst Bristol’s cosmopolitan community, I’m afraid, for me, it lacked the finesse to warrant a return visit. The intrigue of the Runcible Spoon analogy is all very well but I think that, given the choice, I prefer the gleam of a polished knife and fork!

And now for the second opinion...
A fellow diner gave The Runcible Spoon a rating of 7/10 and described the experience as 'shambolic but atmospheric!'

References:

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Bordeaux Quay – V Shed, Canons Way, Bristol

With so many strings to its bow given its status as a restaurant, brasserie, deli and wine bar, as well the home of the Bristol School of Food and Wine, it was unanimously envisioned that Bordeaux Quay would amount to nothing less than a masterpiece in terms of its culinary expertise. Subsequently, with a coveted Groupon* for a three course meal for two at the restaurant within our possession, it was fair to say that the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I were really rather excited about this particular dinner-date - with our table booked and the evening in question rapidly approaching, we simply couldn't wait to discover whether this prestigious venue exceeded our high expectations...

Date and Time: Thursday 12th January 2012, 19:00
Name of Establishment: Bordeaux Quay: The Restaurant*
Location: V-Shed, Canons Way - Bristol
Reason for Visit: Pre-Christmas Groupon purchase which the BFF and I couldn't wait to take advantage of!

Ushered up a grand wooden staircase to the second floor by our smartly attired host, the BFF and I were, in the first instance, invited to indulge in pre-dinner drinks amidst the plushly decorated lounge. Opting to kick-start the proceedings with a French 75 (£9.50) proved to be an exquisite experience; the cocktail itself comprising a decadent combination of Hendricks Gin, fresh lemon juice and sugar with a crisp measure of Perrier-jouët grand brut champagne to constitute a little fizz. However, its piste de resistance was to follow whereby, upon serving, a procedure took place which was as impressive as it was, no doubt, integral to the finished article's important balance of sweetness and tart. As, with a wave of his hands and a spritz or two from a small spray-bottle into the atmosphere above the glass, the bar-tender dispensed a fine mist of citrus oil which lent to the concoction the smell of old-school sherbet lemons and facilitated the fresh, palate-cleansing quality of what I consider the perfect aperitif. The BFF chose an Italian White; a 2009 Verdicchio Classico (Villa Bianchi, Umani Ronchi) which, at £4.50 for 175ml was vibrantly fruity with a distinct nuttiness - lovely.

Next, and with our slightly sipped drinks in tow, The BFF and I were shown to an intimately-placed table-for-two in the venue's elegant restaurant which, we were pleased to find overlooked the twinkling lights of the harbour below. This is a sophisticated space with high ceilings and a spacious ambiance as well as minimalistic décor which is punctuated with contemporary wall art and the odd touch of opulent flair. Tables had been dressed with crisp white linen and each line-up of polished silverware gleamed under the glow omitted from the chunky light fittings overhead which, coupled with sporadic candlelight contributed to an inviting and laid-back vibe. Top-end restaurants can so often lean towards being stuffy resulting in all manner of the 'we are not worthy' practice of whispered conversation but luckily this could not have been further from the case - our server, for instance, proving chatty and sweet as well as courteous and efficient; a rarity which reinforced, somewhat, our first impressions of this venue. To that end, we were firstly invited to choose from a rather well-stocked bread basket which, including the likes of malted sour dough and ciabatta, had been freshly baked on the premises that very morning. Encouraged to take more than just one piece eradicated any sense of adhering to an etiquette (whereby the question of; 'will I look like a glutton if I pile my dainty side-plate with carbs?!' did not have to enter one's mind) and being asked to pick from no less than four types of table water (we chose filtered tap), heightened our awareness of being within the domain of what we recognised as 'fine dining' at its finest!

Complimentary canapés came next which consisted of two pairs of bite-sized morsels; the first, a halved, deep-fried brussel sprout which, sandwiching a thin layer of anchovy paste, constituted an unusual union of two distinctively flavoursome foodstuffs. The second, a puffed gruyère cheese round with a creamy filling also packed quite a punch – in fact, so much so that, it's got to be said, I could have consumed a number more quite happily: yum! This amply whetted our appetites in readiness for the timely arrival of our starters; Root vegetable and roast pepper terrine with romanesco cauliflower for the BFF and Duck liver, mostarda di vaghera and pork terrine for me. Both dishes were beautifully presented, textbook in terms of the presence of colour and contrasting both in texture and taste. With so much going on, my terrine was unbelievably tasty; chunky and satisfying with crisp ciabatta toasts, an aromatic basil purée as well as a generous measure of orange and cranberry chutney to accompany the main event. 
Duck Liver, Mostarda di Vaghera and Pork Terrine
Root Vegetable and Roast Pepper Terrine













Next, and following an appropriate wait between courses, our mains made their grand appearance. I had opted for the Rainbow chard, pine nut and goats cheese rotolo which, brushed with a saffron and sage butter, established a rich array of flavours across a varied spectrum; with low earthy notes giving way to a delicately fragrant after-taste – wow. The BFF had chosen to treat herself to the dish of chargrilled beef fillet, braised shin and oxtail; an experience which rendered her speechless for several minutes! When she regained her poise, she commented that this was, without a doubt, one of the best meals she'd ever had – the meat proving expertly cooked and the grilled polenta and roast garlic purée proving the perfect accompaniments.
Rainbow Chard, Pine Nut and Goats Cheese Rotolo
Finally dessert and the chocolate fondant for me and the duo of strudel for the BFF. Now, it's increasingly commonplace for me to scour a venue's menu in advance of a visit to check for dishes (usually puddings) that particularly appeal, (come on, we all do this, right?!) The downside is the danger of building anticipation; crushable with that first tentative mouthful. Although sometimes, the concept of a pre-planned pud surpasses one's expectations and this was, without a doubt, one of those occasions. A perfectly executed dessert if ever I saw one – moist sponge encasing a warm liquid chocolate centre served alongside an ample scoop of white chocolate ice cream and finished with a dusting of crumbled praline, (whoa, reliving the experience is almost as satisfying!) The ice cream was a marvel in itself; its defined sweetness accented with notes of vanilla just danced on the palate. The BFF was equally as impressed with her strudel – she described the ricotta and raisin fusion as 'decadently creamy' and reported that coupling pear with macademia nut brought about a tasty, full-bodied flavour. A frosty ball of apple sorbet completed her dish; it's refreshing zing proving an interesting angle to the originality of its overall arrangement.
Duo of Strudel
Chocolate Fondant










Consequently, a fantastic night at a top-end restaurant; the faultless fare, polished yet comfortable surroundings and personable service made for an unforgettable experience. A glimpse at the price tags allocated to the dishes we had ordered warranted that sharp intake of breath; prices which, of course, were not applicable on this particular evening due to our beloved Groupon print-out. For a special occasion however - one that demands the wow-factor - this is clearly the place to book a table! Given that the restaurant's menu is altered Monthly in order to facilitate fresh, seasonal produce and to promote the provenance of the ingredients sourced, there is enough in terms of diversity to keep Bordeaux Quay's loyal following on-board. This, in addition to the fact that there are other aspects of this establishment to explore, (which, if the attention to quality is universal, will be well worth a visit), has certainly made me eager to return – the only problem is, with such a fantastic foodie foray to mark the beginning of 2012; the benchmark for fine dining has been well and truly set, I challenge Bordeaux Quay's counterparts to even come close...!

And now for the second opinion...
The BFF gave Bordeaux Quay a rating of 10/10 and in three words, described her evening as, 'rich', 'refined' and 'sublime' – praise indeed and deservingly so.

References:

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Mackenzies Café/Bar – Canons Road, Bristol

Prior knowledge of the somewhat liberal Happy Hour offered at roomy, river-side café-come-bar, Mackenzies, made it the obvious choice for an early-evening drinks and download session with good friend, 'D'. Though this review will also draw on previous experience of the venue's cheap and cheerful fare, the fundamental aspect of this particular visit - to indulge in a number of reasonably-priced beverages - will ultimately take centre stage...

Date and Time: Saturday 7th January 2012, 17:45
Name of Establishment: Mackenzies Café and Bar*
Location: Canons Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: A Banter 'n Booze Bonanza!

Starting as we meant to go on, friend 'D' and I got the drinks in...Given that 'D' is predominantly of the pie 'n pint persuasion and in light of the fact that it was well within the remit of the aforementioned Happy (three) Hour(s), (which run from 5:00pm until 8:00pm Monday to Friday, all day Wednesday, and from 3:00pm on a Sunday; if you're after the specifics) it became inevitable that I indulge in a double-dose of Mojito action! Although admittedly this is, on the large part, my cocktail of choice, the BOGOF offer denotes that both concoctions must be the same variety and so, one is somewhat denied the luxury of 'mixing it up'! That said, the friendly, laid-back staff were more-than-happy to stagger my drink order so to eradicate the possibility of a crushed ice melt-down which could have so easily watered down what I found to be its rather generous alcohol content! Furthermore, although I doubt that the resident ‘mixologists’ will be winning any awards for their efforts, it's fair to say that cocktails are both accurately blended and respectably presented which, given their humble price tag, is commendable even outside of the ‘Happy Hour’ deal. Meanwhile, 'D' began on his pint of Amstel which, amidst the modern surroundings; featuring comfortable leather-effect furniture, a spacious ambiance and neutral décor, seemed to go down rather well. As the evening progressed however, it was noted how chilly the space had become, not to mention the distinct lack of clientèle. If truth be told, the night was young and I'm well aware that 'D' and I were visiting well before the onslaught of the late-night socialites and yet, given its harbourside location, (which incidentally, was a rather covetable destination during my teeny-bopper era given its reliable vibrancy) it was for me, uncharacteristically tame!

The next negative conveniently leads me to discuss the venue's cuisine – a low point due to the abrupt manner in which it ceased to be available (signalled promptly at 6:00pm with a flourish of menu collation) and not its content…surely offering Bristol’s hungry masses the option of affordable edibles well into their Saturday-night festivities would warrant a number more bums on seats and thus, the buzz that I found myself craving...no, expecting. The tapas-style mini plates at three for £10 and five for £15 are, by far, the highlight of the menu – three proving enough to share with a gal pal (during a previous visit) and including the likes of Lemongrass King Prawn Skewers (served with peanut sauce and mango salsa), Spicy Chicken Quesadillas and Calamari. Besides this, it would probably be easier to document what Mackenzies do not offer in light of their bulging menu which spans a number of culinary classics; from healthy salads, grills and burgers to stone-baked pizzas, Mexican Fajitas and the age-old tradition of sausage and mash. You can also opt for brunch (whereby the breakfast rolls, made with baked foccacia particularly caught my eye), Sunday lunch or even bring the kids who have a menu dedicated to their needs, (a thoughtfully arranged menu led by its nutritional content rather then the quick-fix of chicken nuggets and chips!) The dessert list was, in my view, seriously lacking any pizazz but overall, can we assume that this venue has fallen victim to the commonly found beast whereby attempting to achieve too much with the content of one’s menu can prove overwhelming for those choosing from it? If this is the case, it arguably spreads very thinly the care and attention applied to each dish and therefore, could potentially allow for an imbalance in terms of the quality versus quantity debate – yes, that old chestnut!

In conclusion, despite constituting the third 'Mackenzies' in the South-West, (the others, situated in Swindon and Cirencester, seeming just as well executed in terms of their fresh minimalistic appeal as per the images on the venue's website) it has not yet found its niche – instead, it proves a chameleon of an establishment which flits between the realms of affordable eatery, café and bar. There are promotions-a-plenty which attract families to its fare by day and a pre-club fan base to its well-stocked bar (and makeshift dance floor) by night. I think that visiting as an individual, outside of these anticipated bands of clientèle is perhaps where the waters become muddied – an ambiguity which could be addressed with a little consideration of the venue's intended ethos. In light of this, revising the opening hours of the kitchen may be the first step to ensure that the average Joe isn't left hanging in the event of yearning for a little snacketteTai, Cosmopolitan and Pina Colada to name but a few) as well as the pleasant surroundings which embody that relaxed, almost continental vibe, you could definitely do a lot worse!
And now for the male opinion...
Friend 'D' gave Mackenzies Café and Bar a rating of 7/10 and in three words, expressed his criteria for a return-visit – 'later tapas please'!

References:

Friday, 6 January 2012

The Cross Hands, Fishponds

Discovering a gastronomical gem a mere ten-minute stroll from one's house is really rather satisfying...simple things pleasing simple (foodie-focussed) minds and all that! Convenientally situated where the road forks at the tip of Fishponds' busy high street is The Cross Hands; an appealing find encapsulating an air of sophistication and clear gastro-pub status; thus, firmly placing it in a different league to other nearby eateries and public houses - most of which, it's fair to say, prove a little rough around the edges at the best of times! Therefore, I'll proceed to explain in a little more detail how stepping into The Cross Hands instantly secured it as my preferred 'local' as well as the reasons behind why it will inevitably establish itself as new-found favourite amongst other venues that offer the ever-desirable concept of posh-pub-grub...
 
Date and Time: Thursday 29th December 2011, 18:45
Name of Establishment: The Cross Hands
Location: 1 Staple Hill, Fishponds – Bristol
Reason for Visit: Early-evening dinner-date with The Boy

Built in 1884 and having undergone a major refurbishment - which subsequently led to its reopening in December 2010 - The Cross Hands is one of those places that you will have passed multiple times, turned to your significant other and said, “we really must try that place!” For The Boy and I this was quite literally the case and, stepping into the homely ambiance this establishment so effortlessly embodies, we really wished that we had curbed our curiosity sooner..Decked out with hard-wood flooring and solid wooden furniture, there is something indubitably rustic about the space and, complemented with green hues, low-hung chandeliers and sporadically placed candlelight, it is both warm and inviting; facilitating either a cosy catch-up with friends or romantically placed table-for-two - depending on your drinking, or dining, companion(s) of course!

On this occasion, The Boy and I had popped in for a light supper and so, opted against the early evening bargain (available Monday to Thursday from 6:00pm – 7:00pm) whereby a feast of two courses for two, plus a drink each amounts to just £24. Instead, we both chose a main course from the a la carte menu; he the 'Proper' Chilli Con Carne (£7.50) and I the Butternut Squash and Sage Ravioli (£8.50). You should also be aware that, contributing a little diversity to the day-to-day fare, there is also a 'specials' chalk-board which is frequently updated to offer a number of rather special, and seasonal dishes. Meanwhile, heading to the bar to place our orders, it was noted how friendly the service was, not to mention efficient despite the rapidly growing queue of people no doubt hoping to secure their orders before the aforementioned deal's 7:00pm deadline. To drink, The Boy opted for a pint of Bath Ale's Gem which is offered on-tap alongside a vast selection of lagers, real ales and ciders including; Peroni, Sharp's Doom Bar and Thatchers Gold. And for the lady? A small glass of their house white; a crisp and zingy Spanish Macabeo, lovely!

Food was a little while in coming but reassuringly so as we were informed that dishes are made-to-order using the best in 'fresh, seasonal produce'. This transpired to two beautifully-presented dishes and although a little on the pricey side (though arguably no more so than the usual gasto-pub price-tag), both were particularly well-received. The Boy's chilli constituted sizeable chunks of beef in a thick, subtly-spiced and satisfying sauce which had been topped with a cooling blob of sour cream. The boiled white rice momentarily wiped the smile from his face however, reportedly comprising a cheap and rather unhealthy aspect of an otherwise top-notch dish, (I'm told that a wholemeal alternative – just as amply portioned and expertly prepared - would have eradicated the sulk entirely!) That said, the piste de resistance was decidedly the handful of home-made tortilla chips which were wonderfully crisp, earthy in terms of their flavour and, quite simply, delicious. The ravioli was, in my view, a little lacking in quantity, (though perhaps I was slightly hungrier than first anticipated) but each parcel, generously filled with a rich butternut squash purée which could have so easily proven bland had it not been seasoned to perfection, brought about a taste sensation that just danced on the palate. The parmesan crackling was a little 'blink and you'll miss it' but its distinctive twang was notably present and provided the necessary contrast to the sweetness of the vegetable matter – lovely. As is customary in light of my notorious sweet tooth and, I'll be honest, has been known to represent the sole reason for a return visit; I checked out the dessert menu. Unable to choose between the decadence of 'Warm Chocolate Fondant with Vanilla Ice Cream' (£5.50) or the traditionally tempting 'Bakewell Tart with Raspberry Jam Ice Cream' (£5.00), I concluded there that there was nothing for it but to pencil in at least two further visits; after all, they don't say that the proof is in the pudding for nothing!

And so, with weekly promotions to keep its (in my view, non-existant) rivals at bay as well as a Saturday acoustic lounge, Sunday-evening open-mic night and regular comedy sessions, this is a venue to keep its clientèle coming back for more. I certainly intend on 'regulating' my visits because, after all, a pub that offers top-notch food, a well-stocked bar and regular entertainment as well as the friendly warmth of a thoughtfully arranged space certainly ticks all the boxes in my book...if you're in the vicinity, try The Cross Hands for yourself – for me, it's Fishponds' finest in quality fare!

And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave The Cross Hands a rating of 9/10 and expressed his satisfaction with the following (rather random) three words; 'nacho nacho man!' Methinks he didn't think this one through...!

References: