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...!