February 2018 marks the 7th 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!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The New Greyhound, Princess Victoria Street – Clifton

Prior to being informed that the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) had purchased a Groupon* entitling the two of us to freshly-made crêpes and house vino for a minor monetary set-back of just eight-pounds, The Greyhound, or The New Greyhound as it's currently referred to, had remained somewhat undetected upon my culinary-radar. Yes, although located within the stylish buzz of Clifton Village; an area extensively explored on my part, I'd no doubt unwittingly passed this establishment on a number of occasions...and, I’m afraid to say, without a second glance. Though, with its blink-and-you'll-miss-it exterior you can hardly blame me, for what, upon first glance, looks like an old-school watering-hole for the older generation, fabricates a comfortable, modern yet undeniably quirky space which ultimately proves that looks can indeed be deceiving...!

Date and Time: Sunday 19th February 2012, 15:30
Name of Establishment: The New Greyhound*
Location: 32 Princess Victoria Street, Bristol
Reason for Visit: A timely online offer allowing The BFF and I to celebrate Shrove Tuesday on a Sunday and thus, minus the distractions of one's working-week ...

I'm not quite sure how best to sum-up the overall ambiance of The New Greyhound...for what is, in essence, a pub also embodies the distinct characteristics of the typical Clifton-based bar and yet muddies the waters with its laid-back, indubitably continental, café-style culture. With exposed timber giving way to the contrast of a vibrant red and magnolia colour-scheme, the décor can be described, in my view, as tastefully aloof. Nevertheless, with sunken leather sofas nestled within intimate alcoves, free Wi-Fi and a chilled-out soundtrack overhead, this is a space encompassing that stay-a-while vibe – heightened further by the ever-friendly disposition of the staff. Originating from across the channel (or, France, for the geographically challenged), owner Sylvie Dagallier and her team are chatty and welcoming; engaging in a little banter should it arise (especially, we noted, with those propping up the bar) and as a result, eradicating those unjust stereotypes that we often hear when people refer to 'The French'. This also explains the nature of the fare which although in turn justifies one of the more unusual aspects of the establishment, does not sum up the plethora of oddities overall. Take the focal art work, for instance which, skilfully applied to the wall itself, mirrors the ambiguity of the space to perfection – yes, what could have been a rather classic interpretation of Clifton's prestigious 'Royal York Crescent', is complicated (I believe for the better) with the image of an elderly gentleman sporting stilettos and walking a pig... Beyond this is the back room or 'snug' as it would have once been known which, facilitating open mic nights, gigs and karaoke (Phoenix Night's style), includes a stage replete with baby grand piano and fairy-lit 'bottle bar' – this is certainly not a venue in any danger of being cast off as vanilla, on the contrary, it has plenty of potential to add that 'je ne sais quoi' to the after-hours Clifton scene!
'That' Painting...
Moving on and after cashing in our Groupon, The BFF and I were asked for our preferred shade of vino – both opting for white, we were quick to commend the crisp, refreshing bite of what could have easily been a sophisticated Chardonnay – just lovely and not too pricey either (given the curse of the Clifton price-tag) at £3.50 for a 'petite' glass or £4.70 for 'un grand'. The menu, split between galettes (savoury pancakes made with buckwheat flour) and crêpes (enveloping a range of sumptuously sweet fillings), is facilitated by La Bonne Crêpe;* a business which has been operating in Bristol since 2007, (though originally from a trailer based in Castle Park) and offers its wares at The Greyhound from 5:00pm – 9:00pm on a Wednesday, 12:00 noon – 8:00pm on a Saturday and 12:00 noon – 5:00pm on a Sunday. Back to the afternoon at hand though and, served in intervals, our late-lunch made an entrance. Although it was a little irritating that I had almost finished my dish before The BFF had barely begun, this staggered approach to service did hint at the authenticity of the crêpier’s technique; a notion that our server confirmed, though with an apologetic smile! 'La Classique' folded ham, emmental and a fried egg between the creases of a single pancake which, I’m pleased to report, was perfectly executed with a light and fluffy disposition. And, though it's fair to say that I practically inhaled my food given my self-inflicted, post work-out appetite, I was expecting a rather more generous portion especially as, without the luxury of a pre-paid print-out, you wouldn't receive much in the way of change from a fiver – the tiny side-salad accompanying the ‘main’ event failing too to compensate for its lack of substance. The BFF chose the 'Tartiflette' which appeared a little more meaty in terms of its arrangement; quite literally too as it had been scattered with lardons which, combined with crispy onions and emmental cheese, resulted in a flavoursome, well-balanced ensemble. However, given that this particular visit followed a rather vigorous gym session and our savoury numbers hadn't quite hit the spot, we opted to bypass dessert in favour for something a little more substantial elsewhere – a shame but I think we may have perhaps misjudged the nature of the fare which, in reality, constituted a simple snackette rather than the hearty cuisine that one would normally associate with an establishment intending to supplement the effects of its well-stocked bar. That said, there were some rather indulgent-sounding options when it came to a second course; 'Nana's Cottage' (£3.50), for example, with the warming combination of apple sauce, raisins and cinnamon as well as the appropriately titled 'Lovely One' (also £3.50); which, fundamentally a battered Bounty, marries chocolate sauce with coconut and whipped cream – indeed, in the event of having to calm the unruly wiles of my sweet tooth, the latter may just well be the optimum remedy.
'La Classique' - £4.90
In conclusion, a rather mixed bag. Whilst I enjoyed the comfortable yet charismatic status of this space (a space attentively arranged in light of what appears to be a predominantly female input), I think that it needs to establish a greater sense of identity. At present, it can be likened to a single revel (seriously...stay with me) in that its content can not be predicted from its exterior – exciting for some perhaps but not when it comes to attracting clientèle as most people, present company included, wouldn't necessarily step into what looks like a traditional boozer for a dainty crêpe complete with side-salad – a concept you may well liken to those who will not delve into that familiar orange packet for fear of biting into a coffee-flavoured centre! Analogies aside though, I think that the brains behind restoring this 'much-loved local' need to re-design its outer-wear which, to be fair, doesn't currently do its justice. I mean, what about 'The Greyhound' and its somewhat depressing motif (which is essentially an under-nourished-looking canine) says come hither, drink affordable Chardonnay, dine on crêpes?! At least borrow a little of the continental flair from within ('Le Chien Rapide' or even 'Le Greyhound' if you will) and for goodness sake, give the damn dog a beret...just kidding, but you get my point?! In regards to the cuisine, The BFF and I agreed that there was nothing wrong with the quality of the galettes we ordered given that they were both fresh and tasty but, on the other hand, they required a good dousing of miracle grow to warrant their usual £5 price-tag...To that end and in light of the above, I'd consider a return visit but only when the uncertainty of The Greyhound becomes a little more black and white.

And now for the second opinion...
The BFF gave The New Greyhound a rating of 6/10 and in three words, asked for, 'bigger portions please!’…. It could have been worse, her three words could have been; 'a little crêpe'! Ha!


Saturday, 18 February 2012

Joya, Grand Parade - Bath

Avoiding the rush of the main event, The Boy and I tend to celebrate Valentine's Day some time before the commercial hype well and truly sets in. This year, giving each other the gift of a little quality time, we entertained the concept of a mini-break and, travelling the short distance from Bristol to the picturesque City of Bath, spent a couple of idyllic days making the most of each other's company. Subsequently, a great deal of walking and a little ad hoc exploration brought about the discovery of a cutesy Italian restaurant; a find seeming to support the notion that however well you think you know an area (having myself spent three years living-it-up as a Bath-based student), you can never remain totally 'in the know' when it comes to keeping abreast of the hidden gems that indubitably pop-up around every corner...

Date and Time: Monday 13th February 2012, 19:00
Name of Establishment: Joya Wine Bar and Italian Restaurant*
Location: 6 Grand Parade, Bath
Reason for Visit: An attempt at a touch of Valentine's Day fervour

Situated a mere stones-throw away from Pulteney Bridge and weir, Joya instantly appealed. The cluster of heart-shaped balloons bobbing against the breeze just outside its sweet-shop style, criss-crossed windows enticed us to read through the reasonably-priced set-menu posted within, (which, no doubt intended for its Valentine's-visitors, left us spoiled for choice). Thus, venturing inside to book a table for later that day, The Boy and I were at once won over with, what we considered, a charming, intimately arranged and stylishly decorated space. What's more, given that the deep, wooden hues of the furniture had been offset with swirled upholstery in varying shades of red and pink - not to mention the fact the each table had been dressed with a single red rose - it certainly looked the part for the prequel to the most romantic day of the year...! Returning later that evening and ushered towards our 'reserved' table-for two, we toasted our complimentary Kir Royales in anticipation of the evening ahead and, with a small fire gaining momentum in the hearth, fairy-lights twinkling overhead, flickering candlelight and the subdued buzz of our neighbouring diners, (which incidentally, multiplied somewhat as the evening progressed), the scene was set for a sick-making level of mushy merry-making! That is...with the exception of one fundamental faux pas...'It's Britney Bitch!' Why yes, instead of the customary crooning and ditties of devotion that tend to dominate our airwaves during this passionate period, Joya chose to treat its clientèle to a generous helping of, and I quote, 'the legendary Miss Britney Spears' – hence, not quite in keeping with the romantic ambiance achieved thus far but rather amusing nevertheless!

Moving on to the menu and first, an explanation of the history behind the name of this establishment; Joya is the way that Gioia is pronounced in Italian and Gioia, the shortened name for Gioia Del Colle in Puglia, is the home-town of the brains behind this space. In light of this and as I will explain in due course, there is a clear drive towards providing an authentic Italian dining experience whereby ingredients have been thoughtfully sourced and are of a good quality and dishes balance home-cooked warmth with a fresh, modern stance. Both opting to choose from the set Valentine's Menu (upon which, two courses amounted to £14.95 and three, £19:95), The Boy and I settled for two courses each; he a starter and a main and I, a main and a dessert (naturally). Whilst we were waiting, I glanced at the drinks menu – unsurprisingly, with Peroni and Moretti on tap alongside a range of hand-picked Italian wines, it was rather in keeping with the ethos of the establishment. That said, Bellinis (at £3.95 each) were a nice touch; the 'Bellini Rosa' for instance, combining prosecco with raspberry purée, sounding especially divine! And with that, The Boy's starter made an entrance; a creamy red pepper and tomato soup which, swirled with crème fraîche and topped with crunchy croutons and parsnip crisps, was reportedly piping hot, well-seasoned and therefore, entirely well-received. Embodying the rustic qualities of what was unmistakably home-made fare, I commented that a little bread; perhaps a slice or two of a lightly warmed sourdough, would have accentuated the dish and yet, The Boy disagreed; assuring me that the wholesome appeal of the soup spoke for itself, meaning that anything further would have been surplus to his requirements!
Our main courses were met with approving glances all-round (perhaps even a touch of salivation on my part); the duck in particular proving so beautifully presented that it had been visually devoured before even a mouthful had been taken. Lovingly slathered with a bitter-sweet cherry glaze, this was both tasty and satisfying; the meat itself had been prepared to a standard that I would expect of any restaurant regardless of its supposed calibre and was, quite frankly, a triumph. Separate (warmed) bowls of seasonal vegetables supplemented our mains; here, both carrots and broccoli had been amply provided and well-prepared, though not quite al dente enough in terms of their disposition for my taste! In addition to this, buttered and halved new potatoes lent to the ensemble the satisfaction of a filling carbohydrate and yet, without the fatty pitfalls of their fried counterparts; suitably saintly even if I say so myself! The Boy opted for the 8oz rump steak and based on his 'medium' instruction, had to return the rather bloody cut that he had been plated. What he received the second time around however, besides outstanding service (and a reassuringly long wait), was a brand new steak; this time, perfectly executed and drizzled with a 'brandy, cream and peppercorn sauce'. Furthermore, an apologetic approach to this momentary glitch secured us complimentary shots of iced lemoncello to accompany dessert – bellissimo! Speaking of dessert, I chose to indulge in the chocolate cake – a moist, lightly-textured and wonderfully moreish sponge; sandwiching a thick, fudgy layer of chocolate sauce which, although had a lovely, rich flavour, had been a little over-melted in, dare I say it, the microwave! Despite what we will write-off as an evident lapse in commendable technique, this was a distinctly decadent pud which, adorned with a single strawberry and coupled with an abundant portion of vanilla ice cream, was only begrudgingly shared with The Boy who sat across the table from me with his mouth open like a baby bird - I'm afraid that when it comes to chocolate, any sense of 'sweets for my sweet' goes out the window...at least on my part!
Steak...Take 2

A Passionate Pud?!
In conclusion, an 'Ode to Joya' whereby our visit constituted the highlight of our city-hopper-style excursion...thus, for The Boy and I, the relaxed ambiance, top-notch service and, most importantly, cracking cuisine etched this mellow yet memorable establishment on to Bath's rather cosmopolitan gastronomical map – true, there were a couple of slip-ups but nothing that wasn't immediately rectified and in fact, over-compensated by a real aim to please. And thus, amidst the momentary flirtation we engaged in with this beautiful City, The Boy and I just so happened to stumble upon one of the jewels in its crown – recommended...

And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave this establishment a rating of 9/10 and in three words concluded that at Joya, it was a 'joy to eat.'


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Racks Bar and Kitchen – St. Paul's Road, Clifton

Have I mentioned that The Boy belongs to the heroic Sunday workforce? If so, I may have also alluded to the fact that I frequently rescue him from the unjust clutches of out-of-hours retail in order to conclude the weekend with the dinner 'n drinks combo that normal people usually partake in on a Friday night! Subsequently, on this particular evening (and following a couple of warm-up beverages within the warmth of The Alma Tavern), The Boy and I made our way to the venue intended as our main event; Racks Bar and Kitchen for a hearty nosh-up and, courtesy of Voucher Cloud*, on a buy-one-get-one-free basis, (yay!)

Date and Time: Sunday 5th February 2012 , 19:00
Name of Establishment: Racks Bar and Kitchen*
Location: St. Paul's Road, Clifton, Bristol
Reason for Visit: End-of-the-week treat with The Boy

After negotiating the nooks and crannies of this smartly-decorated and rather charismatic space, The Boy and I were ushered towards an appropriately informal table-for-two. Part of The Clifton Hotel and coined; Bristol's 'Premier Sports Bar (with the capacity for over twelve screens of sporting action to be exact), this is a multi-purpose space attracting a varied clientèle. And, with a predominantly wooden-clad interior, flickering candlelight as well as a chilled-out soundtrack overhead (of mainly Keane we noted), it is also undeniably the epitome of cosiness. That said, the facilities were a tad on the grungy side, not to mention freezing cold – nothing like an old-school and typically 'Clifton' building to make you feel like you've gone back to an era whereby you must spend a penny in a chiliy out-house! However, with that minor set back over and done with, our server arrived; a chirpy character with an ample hold on efficient yet laid-back customer service, who duly informed us that although the Sunday Roasts had run out, there was a 'happy hour' in operation whereby certain tipples were offered at a discounted price. With knowledge of their typically (and unashamedly) 'top-end' price tags, a 175ml glass of Zinfandel Rosé barely scraping the £3 mark (which would normally come in at £5) certainly couldn't be sniffed at! The Boy was pleased to discover that Bath Ale's Gem was offered on-tap, a personal favourite which he ordered within the blink of an eye!

When it came to the menu, The Boy and I found it somewhat challenging to choose between the broad range of pub-grub classics and comfort-food favourites and, after a great deal of um-ming and ah-ing, The Boy finally settled on the fish pie, (£7.95). Here, a combination of mashed potato and melted cheddar encased an ensemble of salmon, king prawns and mussels which were immersed in a subtly-flavoursome fennel sauce and accompanied with a side-portion of crisp, seasonable vegetables. He reported that although decadent, the topping was extremely rich due to its extortionate cheese content and, as a result, completely overpowered other elements of the dish. Consequently, The Boy had to remove a layer of what he found to be a good-quality cheddar with a mature bite, in order to explore the more intricate flavours which existed beneath its rather heavy disposition. That said, Rack's line-up of home-made pies did prove a highlight of the menu and, included within the £5 lunch options, can be enjoyed at an even more reasonable price than they fare 'à la carte' - the chilli beef cottage pie with sweet potato mash and melted Gruyère stood out for me; a dish which unquestionably warrants a return-visit! On this occasion though, I opted for the famous 'Racks Burger' (£10) which I'd heard described as a 'best-seller'; even rivalling its nearby counterparts (The Burger Joint's wares for instance). This meant that I had rather high expectations which I'm pleased to report were, on the large part, met. Thus, it's fair to say that the medium-rare and obviously hand-made beef patty, liberally spread with a vibrant tomato and onion chutney and finished with melted Gruyère was just plain delicious! In fact, my only criticism was that there was slightly too much bread constituting the 'bun' and, albeit fresh ciabatta, just wasn't necessary. In light of this, I improvised somewhat - creating a chip butty or two...classy or what?!
I'm ready for my close-up!

Feeling rather full after our mutual carb-fest, The Boy and I decided against dessert, (though I did eye up the 'home-baked toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream' (£5.50)...well it would have been rude not to!) As a result, we left feeling well-fed and given the fortunate money-saving input from Voucher Cloud, a lot less lighter in the pocket than anticipated! We agreed that we would return to Racks and yet not before finding out a little more about the promotions offered on a day-to-day basis...In light of this, please be advised that the website does not detail what we considered a rather sporadic 'happy hour', though I did note that Tuesdays host the 'We Love Wine' deal whereby all bottles, (both vino and champers) have 25% off. Furthermore, and rather incidentally, the website also facilitates purchasing 'Racks' branded golf balls, just in case you find yourself wondering what to buy the man who has everything! And so, if you're in the area and/or happy to pay 'Clifton prices' for your cuisine, you could certainly do a lot worse than Racks – on the contrary, this is an establishment offering a relaxed, homely ambiance, chatty service and hearty pub-grub. For those entertaining a rather more healthy lifestyle, there are lighter options to choose from, not to mention a temptingly tasty line-up of antipasti, but on the whole, we're talking good, honest comfort-food; a little heavy in places but downright satisfying...nothing like a full belly to give you the warm and fuzzies!

And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave Racks a rating of 7/10 and in three words summed up the cuisine as 'pie versus cheese!'


Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Hole in the Wall – The Grove, Queens Square - Bristol

An impromptu meet-up with friend, 'D' brought about the classic scenario of opting where to dine given our differing criteria and, quite frankly, just where to choose in light of the city-centre's plentiful and wonderfully diverse collection of reputable eateries...We finally decided upon The Hole in the Wall; a popular gastro-pub offering, what we agreed to coin, home-cooked comfort food with a sophisticated edge. What's more, with a menu whereby light bites and full-on feasts go hand-in-hand, we anticipated that it would no doubt facilitate our individual wants for the evening's natter n' nosh-up...

Date and Time: Wednesday 1st February 2012, 20:15
Name of Establishment: The Hole in the Wall
Location:The Grove, Queens Square - Bristol
Reason for Visit: Mid-week dinner date with friend 'D'

Named after the spy hole that enabled 18th century sailors and smugglers to keep watch for customs men and press gangs, (no doubt in light of its former glory as the 'Coach and Horses' which, as prime recruitment territory for the Navy, would function as the watering hole for prospective seamen) The Hole in the Wall has managed to achieve a warm and inviting ambiance despite proving rather minimalistic in terms of its décor. Its interior is dimly lit and, to be fair, a little on the dingy side but proving both spacious and comfortable with clusters of leather-effect seating arranged sporadically about the space, it has retained a charming demeanour; accentuated perhaps by the open fire that warms its clientèle during the Winter Months and it's vibrant location which is crowded with al fresco diners/drinkers in the Summertime. Friend 'D' and I opted for a table in the downstairs bar...well, not quite opted as the upstairs restaurant seemed mysteriously out-of-bounds and the downstairs dining area was already at full capacity but regardless of the specifics, we were really rather spoiled with an over-sized and extremely cushy booth which, situated close to the well-stocked bar, allowed us to promptly call in the next round and yet, when it came to cuisine, order 'à la carte'.

First though, that aforementioned bar and indubitably, the brains behind this establishment take their thorough line-up of beers, wines and spirits very seriously. The wine list is revised seasonally and a 'Cask Marque' accreditation ensures a proper pint – furthermore, there is a rather tempting selection of sparklers, an imaginative cocktail menu which lends a few twists to the tried-and-tested classics and, for the discerning drinker, a VIP Wine Club which, once joined, bestows to its members exclusive offers, events and networking opportunities, (oh yes, sign me up!) To that end, I ordered a sizeable measure of the Pinot Grigio della Venezie, Rosé (£5) which was as fruity as it was deliciously creamy – heaven. Friend 'D' took advantage of the numerous continental lagers on tap – Heineken, Peroni and Beck's Vier to name but a few!

Moving on to the cuisine and the menu itself which adheres to the concept of the modern British classic - offering a broad spectrum of dishes from light-bites and sharers to a tempting array of main courses; 'from the land', 'from the sea' and 'from the garden'. Kiddies have their own dedicated menu and a range of money-saving offers run throughout the week: most notably for us females, Wednesday's Ladies Night whereby three courses are just £15 – bargain! Besides this the (rather more manly) Thursday-night Rothschild Grill deal with two-courses (with steak as the main event...obviously) and a glass of vino for £15.95 and Fish and Fizz Fridays whereby you can accompany your two courses for £14.95 with a bottle of champers, yes...the real deal...for just £19 – roll on Friday! Back to the evening at hand though and after a reassuringly long wait, our dinner made an entrance. For me, the Chicken Supreme (£8.95) which although elsewhere may constitute a chicken breast crudely doused with a claggy measure of barbecue sauce and slathered with melted cheddar, here, brought about a thoughtful combination of varying tastes and textures...The chicken had been marinated in a sticky lemon, ginger and chilli glaze which, reminiscent of a palate-warming sweet chilli dip, was both fresh and flavoursome. Plus, topped with a medley of salsa-style salad and accompanied with dressed roquette, this dish was as nutritious as it was tasty and, had the fries been replaced with, say, sweet potato wedges or fluffy new potatoes, would have proved downright saintly as well! Praise too for the duo of pan-fried fishcakes (£7.95) which friend 'D' suggested stood out as a lighter alternative to other main courses; a notion supported upon ordering whereby the chap behind the bar suggested a side-dish to accompany the main event....Politely declining however, 'D' was more than satisfied with the dish set before him; reporting that the fishcakes were simply delicious and packed with good-quality fish as opposed to padded out with potato. A salad of mixed leaves completed the arrangement alongside an ample dollop of crème fraîche which, accented with the zing of citrus, added a refreshing angle to the light appeal of this ensemble.
Not your average Chicken Supreme...!
The Light Choice - Fishcakes

And from one modest appetite to eyes bigger than belly, I decided to cap off the evening's festivities with pudding; feeding my chocolate addiction with the Belgian Chocolate Brownie with vanilla ice cream. I'm sure there's no need to tell you that, on the large part, this decadent dessert appealed to my sweet tooth...and yet, as brownies go, this version was somewhat mediocre – not quite warm enough for my liking and so, lacking what I colloquially refer to as the 'squidge factor'! As well as this, the addition of a handful of chopped nuts wouldn't have gone a miss! Thus, although I didn't struggle to finish it, I don't think I'd order this dessert again...though with ten (yes, ten) other options to choose from, there is plenty to tempt those in need of a serious sugar-hit!
The shadowed area depicts my attempt to dive in...!
Overall, an enjoyable evening all round. The Hole in the Wall is an atmospheric space with friendly staff and top-notch pub-grub which, in all fairness, exceeded our preconceptions of home-cooked comfort food. A great deal of thought has clearly been allocated to the menu's content (both in terms of the fare and the beverages to accompany one's meal) and the fact that good-quality produce has been sought, and locally-sourced where possible, bodes well for the overall dining experience – even if you're denied the privilege to sit in the actual restaurant! I think the only criticism is that there is almost too much going on in light of the shear number of dishes to choose from and, given the notorious quality versus quantity debate, it can be questioned whether 'D' and I were merely 'lucky' with our gastronomical adjudications or if consistent attention to detail warrants all-round success despite the multitude of plates the kitchen must have to contend with. And so, in our predominantly decision-based culture whereby the procrastination which reared its ugly head in light of choosing where to dine in the first place gave way to deciding what to choose from The Hole in the Wall's extensive menu, it seemed that, on this occasion, our conclusions served us well and, in fact, all that's left is to determine is who will join me for the next Fish and Fizz Friday...ah, decisions decisions...!

And now for the male opinion...
Friend 'D' gave The Hole in the Wall a rating of 8/10 and in three words, described the cuisine as 'light', 'tasty'...'recommended!'


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Bella Italia – Baldwin Street, Bristol

Every once in a while, I am invited to join my mum and her gaggle of girl friends for an evening of good food and conversation. On this particular occasion, that they had chosen Baldwin Street's version of Bella Italia as the base for their natter n' nosh-up; an establishment at the source of many happy memories given that, over the years, it has facilitated a number of special family get-togethers, (which I’m sure it will become necessary for me to allude to in due course). As such, I was more than happy to join them for an evening of tasty Italian fare and maybe even on my part, a nostalgic glimpse of good times past ...

Date and Time: Tuesday 24th January 2012, 20:00
Name of Establishment: Bella Italia*
Location: 8-10 Baldwin Street, Bristol
Reason for Visit: 'Tarts' Night Out, (their words, not mine...!)

Although this popular Italian chain occupies a number of spaces in and around our fair City (with outlets in both Cabot Circus and 'The Venue' at Cribbs Causeway), its Baldwin Street branch seems to encompass a little more in the way of authenticity - perhaps due to its street-side charm or its intimately arranged and invitingly candlelit surroundings which, on a smaller scale to its rather more commercially situated counterparts, is comparably 'busy' in terms of its décor and yet a little less 'in your face', (if that makes sense?!) Thus, the attributes of a traditional 'trattoria' (which 'Bella' often tries too hard to adhere to) are ever-present and yet achieved, on the large part, with a degree of subtle sophistication. That is, minus the sizeable map of Italy detailed, in all its patriotic glory, on one of the richly-coloured walls...I'm sure the aim was to eradicate any ambiguity that may have existed beforehand in regards to the identity of the space, (if, for instance, you have just been hatched!) but it really isn't necessary and, if we're going to be really picky, it even proves a little patronising! That said, with an upbeat soundtrack overhead and a good helping of friendly, efficient service, our party of five soon settled in to enjoy the evening at hand...

We were lucky enough to have acquired a print-out, courtesy of 'Voucher Codes'*, that entitled us to main courses on a buy-one-get-one-free basis; an offer which our server encouraged us to take full advantage of; persuading us to order a sixth dish to share between us, (or to take home, depending on how full-up we all fared). Whilst we were waiting for our main courses to make an entrance, (as starters had been shunned in favour of making room the extra pizza we had opted for), I sipped at a crisp-noted Pinot Grigio. Offered at the mid-point of the typical chain restaurant drink pricing structure, my 'vini bianchi' was decidedly average – in fact, with Peroni on tap alongside all the usual suspects, there is nothing particularly notable about the line-up of predominantly Italian themed beverages on offer here and yet, nothing especially offensive either!

Moving onto the cuisine and the range of pizza 'n pasta favourites that graced our table – for me, the Carne Mista (£9.25); a pizza comprising a feast of Italian meats – spicy pepperoni, salami, chunky ham and smoked pancetta. This was both rich and satisfying and yet, us pizza devotees did agree that the bases, although advertised as 'thin and crisp', were ever so slightly soggy – a shame as it was otherwise noted that the toppings were of a good quality, fresh-tasting and amply portioned. One member of the group opted for the Melanzane alla Parmigiana (£8.95); a flavoursome arrangement of aubergine which had been layered with béchamel, slow-roasted tomato, basil and thyme sauce as well as cooling mozzarella. Despite the initial niggle that its topping appeared a little burnt, this wholesome, oven-baked fare was described as 'incredibility tasty' by its recipient. Furthermore, pairing the substantial content of this dish with a generously plated baby gem salad brought about a delicious contrast; the splash of lemon oil that featured here proving somewhat palate-cleansing given its citrus zing. Evident by the menu itself, Bella Italia clearly strives to offer a bona fide dining experience whereby its influences are determined in regards to specific Italian regions and its main attractions are paired with a suitable vino from the aforementioned line-up. Despite the broad range of dishes on offer, the menu has obviously been thoughtfully arranged and if, unlike me, you tantalise your taste buds with something a little more off the beaten track, (as opposed to jumping straight to the pizza options, salivating at the mere thought of the imminent carb-fest), you wont be disappointed - the Conchiglioni di Mare (£9..85), for example certainly appealed; giant egg pasta shells filled with cod, prawns, mascarpone and lemon zest in a creamy saffron sauce with baby spinach – yum!
Melanzane alla Parmigiana
Onto dessert and although I've been duly informed that 'Bella' serve up a blimmin' good Tiramisu, I soothed my notorious sweet tooth with the Cookie Dough Lava Cake (£5.25); an extremely gluttonous pud constituting...yep you guessed it...warm cookie dough which, packed with melting chocolate chips and topped with a good-quality vanilla 'gelati' and a drizzle of caramel sauce was rather sickly but for me, a winning combination that would definitely warrant a return visit.
A whole lotta yum...!
In conclusion, a lovely evening all round – I guess that the sentimental connections I have to this establishment, whereby it would often function as the starting point for the theatre outings I took as a child with very special members of my family, will always hold it dear to me. Yet, there is definitely something a little less mainstream about this branch of Bella Italia; be it the old-school building which it has occupied for so many years (previously Bella Pasta if you can remember back that far), its vantage point for people-watching given its atmospheric road-side location or perhaps its cosily arranged interior. Whatever the case may be, there is no doubt that there is something setting it above its counterparts and with the reliability factor in its favour given its reputation for classic Italian cuisine, not to mention the numerous money-saving opportunities to take advantage of, this venue seems to tick all the boxes when it comes to an enjoyable, yet reasonable night out.

And now for the second opinion...
My lovely mum gave Bella Italia a rating of 8/10 and in three words summed up her experience as; 'always reliable fare'.