News/Reviews

No Man's Grace

by Jess Carter

13 February 2018

Since this Redland restaurant opened in late 2014, it’s gained a generous handful of new neighbours. Now, Chandos Road is less of a side street with a good restaurant or two, and more of a destination for anyone wanting an example of some of Bristol’s best grub. Wilsons , Otira, and Otira’s adjoining venue Chandos Social are in on the action there, while mainstay Wilks makes it six years a resident in 2018.

No Man’s Grace was founded by chef John Watson, who had previously been cooking in well-respected kitchens such as that of The Gallimaufry and Michelin-starred Casamia before going it alone.

The concept of ‘fine dining’ has undeniably evolved in the last decade or two, as people's eating out habits have changed. Now, we’re in an era where casual is king; people go to restaurants more regularly and shun formality for a more relaxed vibes. We want to feel at ease, to chat, and to socialise over food, not to spend a meal self-consciously whispering to each other and wondering which piece of cutlery from the vast array in front of us we’re supposed to take up next. That said, these same punters are more discerning than ever when it comes to what’s on their plate; standards are high – especially in food meccas like Bristol. So, while venues have toned down the formalities, quality levels need to be going the opposite direction.

As opposed to shirk the perhaps now ambiguous label of fine dining – as some restaurants have – No Man's Grace has instead played its part in helping to redefine the concept, and have managed to blend a familiar, atmospheric space with refined food and professional but friendly service.

My dinner buddy and I met across the road at the tiny Chandos Social; perched at the bar with a vino each, we briefed each other on the conversation topics they could expect over dinner. By the time we crossed over to the restaurant, the large windows had already fogged up from the warmth inside, meaning all we could see through the now opaque glass was the dim glow of light and movement of blurred shadows. It looked how you’d expect a buzzy neighbourhood bistro to appear on a dark winters night in Paris.

Inside, the venue follows through with that bistro style, with rustic wooden floorboards and furniture, a dark-wood bar lined with stools, and vintage-style cabinets and shelves housing glassware and booze behind low-hanging, naked bulbs. It felt warm and comfortable – and like somewhere we wouldn’t be leaving willingly for a good few hours.

John was in black as opposed to white that night, swapping the kitchen for front of house. He brought us menus and began to run through the list of aperitifs, although we didn’t let him get any further than the Rhubarb Gimlet (£7.50). He had us at "homemade rhubarb gin with fresh blood orange juice".

We ate from the weekend tasting menu, which was new for January. Priced at £45 for six courses, it also offers the option of a wine flight for an extra £32.

To kick off were delicate little mouthfuls of duck liver parfait on shards of crisp duck skin, and crab tartlets, the tiny pastry cases filled with fresh, mild white crab meat and topped with miniature sprigs of dill. Starters proper saw hand dived scallops skewered together with cubes of pork belly, resting in a bowl of silky and light cauliflower velouté. The scallop, lightly seared for golden edges, was creamy in taste and texture, while the saltiness of the soft pork belly and the subtly sweet caramelised cauli performed a careful balancing act. The Chablis that was served alongside had a citrus edge that zipped nicely through that creaminess.

Next, brill and cockles were joined by heritage carrots that had been cooked in seaweed; the delicate umami seasoning from the savoury greenery tied all the ingredients together and turned the accompanying glass of Grüner Veltliner into a different drink entirely. A really well-chosen match, this.

Cheese next: Colston Bassett blue, soft Camembert-style Tunworth, and – a new favourite – the crumbly Cheddar-like Lancashire Bomb. A neat stack of biscuits and a loose quenelle of one of the best chutneys I reckon I’ve had completed the plate.

No Man’s Grace is well known for it’s dessert a-game, but even so, we weren’t expecting to be quite so taken a-back by the forced rhubarb and yoghurt custard pud as we were. Greater than the sum of its already top-quality parts, it combined a gentle acidic tang from the velvety yoghurt with a subtly sweet and tart rhubarb jelly and mild, creamy Westcombe ricotta ice cream. This cool, self-assured dessert felt no need to rely on overt sweetness to hit that after dinner spot and, paired with a fresh, light wine that cleansed the mouth of its silkiness, it rounded off a belting meal.

We prolonged the ending further though with a bottle of red – we still weren’t ready to leave. It might have taken me more than three years to get to this joint, but I certainly don’t plan on being so tardy with my return.

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