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!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Byzantium - Portwall Lane, Bristol

It really was a case of third time lucky when it came to reviewing Byzantium – the basis of the second visit was due to the shortcomings of the first* and the third was due to the fact that when we arrived on the second, house-mate 'B' and I were the only two people in the restaurant – a phenomena (amounted to the adverse weather conditions in this case whereby a dusting of snow causes a National stand-still) which would have unquestionably resulted in a complete lack of ambiance. Subsequently, we opted to postpone our visit to a later date...cue visit three which unfolded as per the ramblings that follow... 

Date and Time: Saturday 26th January 2013, 19:30 
Name of Establishment: Byzantium* 
Location: 2 Portwall Lane, Bristol 
Reason for Visit: A good-will gesture entitling myself and 'B' to dinner-for-two – a measure which, despite saving us a small fortune, did not impact on the content of this review in any shape or form...

Pushing open the heavy, iron-clad doors to reveal the rich colours, unique décor and Mediterranean-style buzz of Byzantium is typically quite a treat – the careful contrast between its air of opulence and the humility of its rustic charm is certainly a million miles away from the nondescript warehouse that the space once was. Its name – just in case you were wondering – refers to the ancient capital of the Eastern Roman Empire – a fact which lends an identity to the cavernous curiousness which extends beyond the pillared atrium (and after-hours dance floor) to the well-stocked bar area and again, to the candlelit restaurant to be found at the summit of the venue's sweeping marble staircase. Even the toilets, complete with modern beaten copper sinks and the brass urns that have been regenerated to incorporate plumbed-in taps, are perfectly in keeping with Byzantium's eclectic quality. That said, the aforementioned ambiance that we had hoped for given the muted manner of visit two was simply not to be. The magicians and belly dancers that have been billed to entertain diners upon occasion were no where to be seen and although there were a number of occupied tables (increasingly so as the evening progressed), the absence of any background music made for that awkward, I-feel-I-must-engage-in-whispered-conversation-with-my-dining-companion sense of unease. Our server reinforced this etiquette; conversing with us in hushed tones – yet, although this was a little off-putting, I really can't praise her enough as she was friendly, professional and efficient for the duration of our visit.

On to the food and with a menu comprising a whole host of modern Mediterranean favourites (what else), we whet our appetites with what I like to refer to as 'brolives'; a duo of, what in this case constituted, lightly-toasted bread flecked with sun-dried tomato and a ramekin of disappointingly, shop-bought-tasting olives. We actually asked for one helping of the above to share between us but given the modest quantities that ensued, we were really rather relieved that our server had misunderstood our request and brought us a portion each - I'm not actually sure what I was expecting for little more than a couple of quid but even so...! To follow, we unanimously opted for the duck ragout (£15.95); a flavoursome ensemble of succulent meatiness, smoother than smooth olive oil mash and smoked garlic chutney. The game 'chips' which completed the dish looked suspiciously like they had been sourced from the Walkers' factory and had unfortunately fallen victim to a little 'sogging' and yet, seemed to enhance the overall presentation of the dish which was commendable to say the least. Another plus point was the quality of the ingredients which, we had been informed, had been locally-sourced; the duck in particular faring tender, tasty and virtually free from fat.

Candlelit Canard!

Given that January's pay-day had not yet come to fruition, we chose only to stretch to the 'house' rosé which was fruity yet crisp on the palate... That said, it's certainly worth noting that Byzantium offers an extensive wine list, not to mention a delectable assortment of cocktails.

Now, for 'afters' and although there are several plated options, it's all about the famous 'Dessert Lantern' which is made up of six miniature morsels that have been arranged over a two-tiered lantern, or tier-less metal cage on this particular occasion. Now in theory, I LOVE this concept – especially as I'm quite the glutton when it comes to anything to satisfy my sweet tooth – but I'm afraid that this didn't quite materialise with quite the same degree of pizazz that had been gloriously implied on paper. Thus, of the six, I thoroughly enjoyed only two; namely, the white chocolate eton mess (with its light consistency and subtle sweetness) and warm peanut butter cookie. That said, when it came to the latter, 'B' wasn't convinced...bestowing my good self with a double-act of soft, chewy, pea-nutty joy! Without sugar-coating the issue, I'll suggest that the others didn't even come close; the Ginger Cheesecake proving especially bland and the rum and raisin brownie described as disappointingly average.- so average in fact that I couldn't even bring myself to finish my share which, given its chocolaty disposition, is an absolute travesty. A cube of apple and rhubarb crumble and a bite-sized custard tart completed the selection; both of which were visually delicious though somewhat lacking in the taste department. You know that when you can't quite decide whether you're enjoying something enough to warrant another mouthful...yeah that...!

In conclusion, Byzantium clearly has the potential to offer the wow-factor and then some…As a licensed venue for tying the knot, there’s simply no where else like it in Bristol and, after the best part of fourteen years, I think that the issue isn't one of initial appeal, it's one of despondence which to be fair could be easily remedied with a touch more effort, (I mean, surely an empty restaurant for two Saturdays in succession would ring alarm bells with even the most unobservant among us …) It’s that familiar imbalance between substance and style and despite the pull of its decadent interior, the captivating glow from St Mary Redcliffe church - which provides the vista for the entire first floor - and the intricate assemblage of the dishes overall, there really is no excuse for mediocre cuisine at top-end prices. Maybe a little re-think is on the cards; either in terms of the menu's content or possibly in relation to those responsible for what goes on within the glass-fronted kitchen that we, the public, are unapologetically privy to. For, despite the care allocated to appropriately facilitating the *best* ingredients, the dishes they amount to are inadequately executed; well, at least on the large part. It seems to me that although the ancient city of Byzantium flourished for over one thousand years, its namesake would do well to 'up its game' if it is to survive for even a tenth of that duration...food for thought perhaps?

And now for the second opinion, 'B' gave Byzantium a rating of 4/10 and in three words, described it as, 'a big disappointment'. Incidentally, I have appended her original letter of complaint to the venue, for information.

*Initial letter of complaint, sent 23rd December 2012: 

I wanted to contact you after having our office Christmas meal with you on Friday evening as everyone in our group was disappointed with the night as a whole and did not feel that it was good value for money.

Firstly the plastic garden chairs were extremely uncomfortable and the food was disappointing especially the main course which was very dry. Everyone however did enjoy the desserts.

The lack of music while we were eating did make it feel as though we were sat in a Wetherspoons eating our meal.

We cannot fault the service though as the food was very quick coming out.

From the description of the night before hand we were all expecting several magicians and belly dancers, although it turned out that there was only one magician which we only saw very briefly at out table and only the one dancer.

We complained twice about the chairs but nothing was done and we were talked to as if we were complaining over nothing and told "well I didn't buy them" by one waiter. It gave us back ache, watched people nearly fall through them.... Half of the room had nice wooden chairs yet we felt like dirt on your feet. We paid £40 per head to then have out stuff cleared off of tables, furniture whipped away and dancing to the worst DJ any of us have heard in a long time.

Open: Tuesday to Saturday from 17:00-2:00.
Closed: Sunday and Monday.

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