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'!