Formally the Dovecote – a Vintage Inn destroyed by fire in June 2014 – The Ashton officially opened on 3 April 2015 with a fresh, seasonally-inspired menu and high-spec refit... Invited to attend before the onslaught of the general public, my dining companions and I were treated to a comprehensive tour of the facilities before sitting down to the fantastic dinner that ensued…
Date and Time: Tuesday 31 March 2015, 19:30
Name of Establishment: The Ashton
Location: Ashton Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: A complimentary two-course menu tasting, (otherwise known as an offer I couldn’t refuse!)
Upon stepping into The Ashton, it becomes apparent how much thought has gone into its new lease of life as a ‘concept establishment’ whereby a country-club style ambiance is the culmination of rustic wooden furniture, tasteful minimalism, roaring feature fireplaces and creamy-coloured décor. Our party were ushered towards the first floor function rooms; sinking into plush carpets whilst exploring the potential for private dining and corporate meet-ups. Although large tables and throne-sized seating may well limit the capacity of each room, we thought that this would not necessarily lessen their appeal given that the upstairs space is available to hire free of charge, (not to mention if a little manoeuvring could take place!) At our table, we sipped at our chosen beverages, selecting from a broad range of wines, beers and cocktails; our server directing me towards a Romanian Sauvignon Blanc which, as promised, was suitably refreshing; leaving a lemon-lime acidity on the palate. We nibbled at toasted chickpeas and edamame which had mysteriously lost their crunch – the rustic bread faring rather better; served alongside plump green ‘Nocellara’ olives, dukkah and a rich-tasting olive oil.
|Scallops of the Day|
At this point, I should mention the service which was consistently on-point throughout the evening. Despite first-day nerves and minor teething problems, the staff we encountered were friendly and helpful; projecting a genuine sense of pride, especially in terms of the menu which proved extensive and diverse. Here, contemporary British fare is delivered with innovative twists and at times, experimental aspects which, if truth be told, were not always well-received and in my view, not entirely necessary. This leads me on to the main courses which arrived after a reasonable pause – the malted pear which accompanied the venison steak (£17.95) a perfect example of said experimentation; its obscure presence the only element of this ensemble that left its recipient cold. Others ordered the 28 day dry-aged Casterbridge rib-eye steak (£20.95) which, as per the venison, was amply executed; pink to the eye and tender to taste. Since the lamb rump (my primary selection) was unavailable, I opted for the slow-cooked pork belly (£17.95) which, although found to be a little fatty in places was oh-so-tasty – its ginger beer glaze establishing that lovely contrast between sweet and salt. In fact, beautifully juxtaposing both texture and taste, this dish constituted my top indulgences; melt-in-the-mouth scallops, creamy mash, crisp green beans and the salty scrunch of crackling – yum! That said, the addition of a Bramley apple and vanilla purée was perhaps a step too far; its fragile sweetness almost insipid and certainly not what one would expect to drizzle over what was otherwise a succulent hunk of pig!
Initially unanimous in our decision to resist the dessert menu, my dining companions and I soon caved in the face of warm chocolate brownie, sticky toffee pudding and English custard tart (all £5.95) – the latter the only dish receiving criticism given its bland disposition and distinct lack of wobble, (which it's fair to say had been eagerly anticipated)!
|Pudding Porn #1 : Sticky Toffee|
|Pudding Porn #2 : Chocolate Brownie|
In conclusion,The Ashton is a comfortable, sophisticated retreat with a dynamic menu and service which suitably reflects the calibre of the space - a space which has been thoughtfully arranged in terms of its aesthetes whereby mood lighting and a subtle soundtrack (interrupted only momentarily by the fire alarm) resulted in an altogether enjoyable dining experience. As the majority of our dishes were received on a complimentary basis, the group agreed that we ordered without the usual financial limitations that might otherwise work against us. We therefore questioned whether The Ashton would typically be a venue we’d choose outside of that ‘special occasion’ remit. I mean, although it would be a fantastic location for a family celebration, anniversary dinner or a date with the wow-factor (take note guys), it’s not your average gastropub...which is fine of course depending on its intended clientèle. An affordable set menu could be the way forward here if it transpires that the top-end prices put people off. Personally, I have plans to return for Sunday lunch (based solely on the quality of the meat sampled thus far), plus for a spot of alfresco drinking given the picturesque outside space that overlooks the rolling hills of the nearby Ashton Court Estate. All we need now is a little summer sunshine to bring the latter to life…until then!
And now for the collective opinion…
Our group gave The Ashton a rating of 7/10 and in three words, suggested that those at the helm of its reinvention would be wise to, 'keep it simple'; losing those aforementioned quirks as the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves...