Punch Bowl Alehouse and Kitchen

by Jess Carter

13 April 2018

We're all about value – and reckons it’s rather good at this city centre pub

Although this building has been a pub with ‘Punch Bowl’ above its door since 1876, it’s been part of the Old Market furniture for even longer than that. Now Grade II listed, it recently began a new chapter entirely, being acquired by South West brewery Wickwar Wessex last summer. It’s now part of an 18-strong family of individually run pubs and bars, including The Jersey Lily on Whiteladies Road and the historic White Lion in Bristol city centre.

Couple Sarah Welsh and Adam Gibson (general manager and head chef respectively) moved here from The Grace on Gloucester Road last May. They reopened the pub in July once the bulk of the refit had been completed, although the work has been on going. Now titled ‘Punch Bowl Ale House and Kitchen’, its new name hints towards an emphasis on food.

We sat at a table in the window – which was lined with festoon lights – right at front of the pub, overlooking the street. At the back, meanwhile, is a dedicated dining area, where you can see into the kitchen, and find a door leading to the pretty outdoor terrace. Rustic wooden floors and furniture, low-hanging lights over the bar and a collection of vintage mirrors all help create a cosy little hideout on the often hectic Old Market drag. A TV was quietly showing the football, pleasing sports fans without putting off the rest.

In terms of the liquid offering, these guys of course have a couple of Wickwar’s own beers at the pumps (Bob and Try Time, when we visited), amongst others. Good they were, too – and with ales at £2.90 they’re surely some of the best value in the city.

Adam’s pub menu was a pleasant surprise; not only for how well it read, but also its size. There were no pages or sub-sections to flick back and forth between while silently wondering what the difference actually is between a ‘main’ and a ‘pub classic’; instead, one piece of A4 paper listed precisely four starters (which can also double up as bar snacks, being things like marinated olives, homemade bread and the like) and six main courses, including one burger and one steak option. Bosh. No messing. The menu also assures you that everything – from the burger buns to the tommy-K – is made in-house by the chefs. So far, so promising.

The baked Camembert for two (£13) arrived as a perfectly soft and oozy wheel of warm cheese, with a helping of chutney and plenty of that home-baked bread to scoop it all up with. To be fair, this alone probably could have fed us for the evening, but we naturally pushed on with main courses.

Options on the menu change up every few weeks, Sarah tells us, depending on what ingredients are at their best. The newest dish on the list was the harissa whiting; served with bulgur wheat, pine nuts and purple sprouting, it carried the pretty agreeable price tag of £11. In the end, though, we picked out the wild mushroom and tarragon risotto (£10), and mustard and herb pork tenderloin (£12.50).

The risotto (which we chose to have with Parmesan, but there is the option to have it with Cheddar instead, for a veggie version) wasn’t your usual version of this vegetarian go-to. Instead of being loose and creamy like you’d expect in a risotto, it was more like a baked rice in style, the plump, well-cooked grains coated only in flavour, for a drier finish. Confidently seasoned, it delivered a fiery smack of black pepper – only thing was, with my tongue tingling from that it didn’t manage to pick up too much of the more delicate wild mushroom flavours.

Meanwhile, soft slices of pork showed off their well-timed colouring, the flesh displaying just a whisper of peachy pink, atop a bed of colcannon – fluffy mash hiding chunks of bacon and rich green cavolo nero. Finished off with the first of the year’s wild garlic and a drizzle of rich jus, it was a comforting favourite of the night.

The list of desserts was happily easy to choose from, too – lemon posset (£4) or nothing – so we were soon happily dunking spoons into a light and silky, citrusy posset, topped with tart berry compote.

This friendly, chilled out pub promises great value, well-kept beer and unexpectedly thoughtful cooking – can’t go far wrong with that combination, can you?