I'm pretty sure I'm friends with the Buttery's biggest fan...he has been visiting this much-loved Bristol institution on an almost daily basis since childhood and has been singing its praises since he learned how to form the words to do so! OK, so I'm exaggerating a little but it is fair to say that he has been encouraging me to overcome my coffee snobbery and visit the home of the city's best bacon butty for quite some time now. Thus, making the most a rare bout of January sunshine, I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about, finding that it really is one of the City's hidden gems – a greasy spoon with community-spirit at its core...
Date and Time: Wednesday 9th January 2013, 2:30pm
Name of Establishment: Brunel's Buttery*
Location: Wapping Wharf, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Peer pressure and then some...!
Situated on Wapping Railway Wharf where the odd steam train has been known to roll by, Brunel's Buttery is essentially an old-school brick-built outhouse with a small hatch from which your order is taken (and your numbered ticket allocated with which you later claim your grub) – marvellous if you consider the rather intimate space the team have to utilise in order to whip up brekkie for the masses but not quite so awesome if you're after somewhere warm/comfortable/a place to plug in your laptop – delete as applicable. Furthermore, if you're a bit of a princess when it comes exposing oneself to the elements, this is probably not the place for you as a sprinkling of picnic-bench style seating denotes the grand tradition of alfresco dining...on a year-round basis! That said, its dockside location makes for an attractive back-drop and allows for a spot of people-watching. It's also a stones-throw away from a number of Bristol's most iconic landmarks; including the likes of the SS Great Britain and Clifton Suspension bridge; creations of the café's namesake no less.
There is nothing glitzy or over-done about the appearance of this space; it seems as though the quality of the fare speaks for itself as despite the venue's humble disposition, the queue of people that often snakes beyond its well-attended boundaries seems to hint at the notion that its reputation well and truly proceeds it. Yes, although I was convinced that I was an 'Eggs Benedict' kind of girl, the bacon sarnie (£2.80) that I indulged in was undoubtedly first rate. With bread which had so obviously been freshly baked that morning and good-quality bacon which had been generously portioned so to melt the butter spread beneath it, this was the kind of comfort-food to remedy a hangover or mend a broken heart! Leafy garnishes seem somewhat superfluous and condiments are self-served from industrial-sized dispensers on the shelf to the right of the counter – meaning that you're not lumbered with anything you wouldn't necessarily choose to sandwich elsewhere. There are a range of fried favourites to choose from but egg, bacon or sausage sarnies, or any combination there of, seem to warrant the most attention. Chips appeared perfectly executed, golden-brown in colour and served in newspaper-effect cones for nostalgic effect. Furthermore, the range of cakes available would put granny's kitchen to shame; fruit scones piled high with jam and clotted cream were particularly coveted, my dining companion having to cut hers into four so to consume it in a lady-like manner! I also have it on good authority that the rock cakes are to die for; though they are snapped up rather quickly and, as such, I haven't been lucky enough to bag one just yet, (a sound motive for a return-visit if ever an excuse was needed...!) I also liked that the establishment functions as an old-fashioned tuck-shop which, complete with Freddo Frogs and cartons of Ribena, is great for younger visitors or for the big kids amongst us!
To wash down one's spoils, I'd suggest that an 80s style glass mug containing what can only be described as 'builder's tea' is pretty much the drink of choice and although I'm sure that the friendly work-force will fix a brew to your particular requirements, I observed a lot of 'milk and two sugar' orders which gave the impression of a tea-time trend that us coffee addicts simply aren't privy to. Speaking of which, coffee is of the instant variety and thus, the initial cause of my hesitant approach to this eatery...but a fine eatery it is and I'm certain that you would be able to pick one up 'on route' if you just couldn't do without.
Overall, this really was a venue from which to experience the very best that Bristol has to offer; its defining structures, integral naval presence and West-Country comradery. It might not be to everyone's taste but there is no denying its substance; albeit superseding its style – who needs the great indoors anyway?!
And now for the second opinion...
The Buttery's biggest fan gave it 11/10 (no surprises there then) and in three words, paid homage to its signature dish...the 'perfect bacon sandwich'!