Sure, last year was a bit of a weird one, but as well as all those curveballs it threw, it chucked a stonkin’ number of exciting new foodie launches our way, too. Here, Mark Taylor tells the story of 2016’s dining scene in Bath and Bristol…
By any standards, 2016 was an exceptional year for new openings in Bristol, with an unprecedented number of launches confirming the city’s status as having the most impressive food scene outside London.
The year kicked off with the opening of one of the most exciting new restaurants Bristol has seen for a long time. Adelina Yard on Welsh Back is the first venture for Jamie Randall and Olivia Barry, who had previously worked in such notable London establishments as Galvin, Murano and Odette’s. Signature dishes like fermented kale, hand-rolled cavatelli, slow-cooked egg, goat’s cheese and chives demonstrated a highly skilled kitchen serving vibrant, modern cooking at its best.
Also overlooking the water, Michelin-starred Casamia relocated to the old General Hospital in January, and then launched its own pizzeria, Pi Shop, next door in the summer. Most recently, the brilliant Paco Tapas opened to complete the team’s hat trick (see our review on page 110). With a bit of forward planning, you could probably visit all three in a single day – and what a day it would be…
Pi Shop is one of several new high-quality pizzerias to open in Bristol over the past few months, including Bertha’s, whose first permanent site appeared in Wapping Wharf in August. Run by former McLaren Formula 1 team engineer Graham Faragher and his wife Kate, Bertha’s is named after the restaurant’s three-ton, mosaic-covered pizza oven, which runs at a temperature of around 500C and can cook pizzas in under 90 seconds. Seasonal toppings on the sublime sourdough bases include mozzarella, peaches, red onion and goat’s curd.
Bertha’s wasn’t the only reason Wapping Wharf became Bristol’s new foodie hub in 2016, mind. Alongside openings from Better Food, Mokoko, Wild Beer and Small Street Espresso sibling Little Victories, this regenerated spot behind M-Shed also saw the long-awaited launch of Cargo.
A two-storey-high collection of shipping containers, Cargo is now home to Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton’s Chicken Shed, MasterChef finalist Larkin Cen’s contemporary Chinese restaurant Woky Ko, pork-inspired Pigsty, and the first permanent eatery from upmarket pie and mash merchants, Lovett Pies.
But it was the opening of Box-E – a 14-cover fine dining restaurant run by Elliott Lidstone and his wife Tess – that truly stood out at Cargo this year. There’s already talk that it just might get its mitts on Bristol’s next Michelin star, thanks to precisely cooked dishes like smoked bacon and snails with parsnip soup and onglet, celeriac purée and caper dressing. Watch this space.
Bristol’s reputation as a serious food city continues to attract major London restaurant chains, too. In May, popular Vietnamese street food chain Pho moved into Clare Street in the city’s old banking district, whilst The Ivy Clifton Brasserie brought a genuine dash of London glamour to an old bank in Clifton Village. The arrival of Russell Norman’s cool Soho-born operation Polpo caused plenty of excitement when it opened on Whiteladies Road in the autumn too, bringing with it delicious Venetian small plates twinned with a buzzy Soho vibe.
The Italian theme continued with the launch of Pasta Loco on Cotham Hill. The first business from local cousins Ben Harvey and Dominic Borel, this small family-run restaurant has made regional Italian pasta dishes exciting again, and has quickly become one of Bristol’s most popular restaurants, bagging awards along the way.
Even smaller but just as buzzy (and as quirky as it gets) is Zitto & Bevi. It’s a tiny osteria just off Stokes Croft, based on the small, cramped wine bars in Italian backstreets where locals congregate over home-cooked food and good wine. The lasagne and baked polenta dishes are well worth a detour.
Just down the road from there, on Stokes Croft itself, Elliot Doney opened Kale & Kettle, a vegetarian café serving such delights as vermicelli rice noodles in a hot coconut broth, and West African akkras (black-eyed pea fritters) with sesame kale slaw and citrus aioli.
Bristol’s appetite for local produce and sustainability showed no sign of waning with the launch of Old Market Assembly in West Street. Owned by the team behind The Canteen and No.1 Harbourside, this café/bar/bakery/theatre/music venue (that’s a lot of slashes) makes noise about using as much locally sourced produce as possible, and exec chef Scott Hislop creates big-flavoured dishes for pocket-pleasing prices.
Also, sleek new Indian restaurant Nutmeg may have a menu inspired by the 29 states of the Subcontinent, but it’s very much local produce that you’ll find in the kitchen, much of which is sourced within three miles of the city.
The team behind The Ox, Pata Negra and Milk Thistle have yet to back a loser – and their latest project, Bambalan on Colston Street, is no exception. A sprawling, 300-cover, all-day affair, its vibrant Mediterranean food proved a big hit over the summer, when the terrace overlooking the city centre became the place to be seen.
And it wasn’t just the city centre and north Bristol that saw a raft of new openings last year. East Bristol is now one of the city’s most sought-after locations for first-time house buyers, having gained exciting new neighbourhood eateries in Este Kitchen, a Latin American-inspired café in Greenbank, and The Lock Up, a café, bar and restaurant in St George.
Elsewhere around the city, new joints popped up at an unprecedented rate. Tincan on North Street fast became one of the best new coffee shops in Southville, whilst 25A Old Market – sibling of No.12 Easton – brought excellent coffee and food (at last) to Old Market Street.
Other new openings included The Nook, a smart bar serving an interesting menu in a rejuvenated Redcliffe pub, and Rosario’s, which is continuing its success in Bath by opening a second café in an old print shop in Clifton.
That’s a lot of new openings, right? Well it’s not even the half of it. Amy Devenish of The Gloucester Old Spot in Horfield also opened a second family-friendly gastropub, The Duck & Willow, in Downend, whilst the Westbury-on-Trym branch of Flour & Ash expanded its menu beyond the award-winning pizzas with an all-day café offering, including breakfasts, brunches and lunches, made in the pizza oven.
Bristol has always majored on the quirky, and Chance & Counters on Christmas Steps certainly fits into that category nicely. The city’s first dedicated board gaming café, it’s the only place you can enjoy a grilled Wookey Hole aged Cheddar and tomato panini whilst playing Connect 4.
One of the most interesting openings of the year was The Cauldron in St Werburghs, run by Henry Eldon and his partner, Lauren. It’s a unique restaurant for Bristol in that it has no gas in the kitchen, just pits of charcoal, a 60-litre cast iron cauldron, and a Victorian iron stove. Much of the produce on the menu is sourced within a short distance from the kitchen, including ingredients delivered on foot by local growers, and the food is so good that it has already gained a glowing review from The Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin.
The same respected London critic has also waxed lyrical about new Redland bistro Wilsons, run by Jan Ostle and his wife, Mary. Ostle previously cooked at some noteworthy restaurants in London, and his assured cooking and use of game and foraged ingredients ensured Wilsons was one of the hottest new Bristol openings in a year that was positively packed with them.
It might not have sea views, but The Jetty restaurant in the new Bristol Harbour Hotel & Spa opened in October and made an immediate splash with its fish and seafood offering. Occupying the ground floor of the former Midland Bank, it’s part of a fast-expanding collection of Harbour hotels, and stand-out dishes include South Coast lobster and quail pie with truffle mash and Madeira sauce (review on page 112).
Somewhere that definitely does have a sea view, though, is the new Bistrot Pierre on Weston-super-Mare’s front. We’re hoping it’s the first of more new good-quality eateries in the Victorian seaside town just outside of Bristol.
Bath is not exactly short of pizza places, but few have taken the concept as far as Dough, which opened in The Corridor in March. Run by Emiliano Tunno and Massimo Nucaro, the USP is that people can choose alternative bases, as well as traditional sourdough. These include gluten-free, hemp, turmeric, seaweed, multi-grain and even chocolate. They also have an amazing fried pizza, and a vegan pizza with vegan cheese.
The Curfew on Cleveland Place West has been a watering hole since Victorian times, but new owners Emily and Dan Brew completely refurbished it in 2016 and it now boasts a modern and chic interior with regular live music and DJs, locally sourced food, and popular deals.
Toby Brett continued to expand his Banwell House group by opening The New Inn in Monmouth Place, which is his fifth pub in the region. A free house serving a range of cask ales and burgers, it is also gaining a good reputation for its well-priced Sunday roasts.
Meanwhile, Joe Cussens and Justin Sleath continued to add to the Bath Pub Company portfolio with the launch of The Locksbrook, a family-friendly, all-day gastropub by the canal, delivering the same high level of quality and style as sister pubs The Marlborough Tavern, The Chequers and Hare & Hounds.
With so many quality new pubs opening, Bath’s craft ale fans were spoiled for choice in 2016, and no more so than at Hunter & Sons in Milsom Place. As well as range of excellent beers on tap, James Hunter’s cool venue also serves expertly made speciality coffee and irresistible dishes like buttermilk-fried chicken waffles.
In other news, Circo relocated to the space underneath The Porter, a move that which has seen the introduction of light bites by Clayton’s Kitchen, such as crispy pork bon bons with cider apple chutney, and Pembrokeshire crab focaccia, to complement the cocktails.
Speaking of cocktails, swish new hotel No.15 Great Pulteney has now launched after months (and months) of building work – meaning its upmarket, kooky cocktail bar is now finally open to the public.
It’s been out with the old and in with the new elsewhere too, with Bath stalwart Mangia Bene closing its doors after 17 years and being transformed by new owners into St James Café Deli, serving fresh salads and homemade ready meals to go, as well as a full range of deli staples.
There was also a change of hands at veteran French restaurant Casanis, which closed after many years. The Saville Row site is now fine dining restaurant Henry’s, run by Henry Scott, who previously worked at The Bath Priory. His modern European food – think confit chicken ravioli with coriander and tamarind sauce, and roast pheasant with wild mushroom orzo risotto and fresh chestnut – is already much talked about. The modern-French theme continues at new opening Chez Dominique on Argyle Street, where former Bibendum chef Chris Tabbitt is currently cooking some of the most enjoyable food in the city (which we’ve only gone and reviewed on page 106).
There’s more of a traditional British theme going on at Clifton Sausage though, which opened its first Bath restaurant on The Paragon – where Cowshed used to be. A sibling to the Bristol original, this sausage-themed restaurant serves six types of bangers alongside other British classics.
Fans of Argentinean steak restaurant CAU in Milsom Place must have been stoked to discover that the restaurant launched its first ever CAU food truck at the Rec. Now rugby fans can enjoy burgers, steak sandwiches and chips at every home game.
Another new opening to catch the eye in Bath this year has been bar and kitchen Juno in Philip Street, with its mix of beer, cider and cocktails combined with stone-baked pizzas, barbecue wings and cycling-themed street art.
The residents of Oldfield Park have more reasons to be cheerful too, with the launch of Fire & Brew, a new pizzeria and craft ale and cider bar, and The Grumpy Baker café, which are both on Moorland Road.
And exciting new openings weren’t confined to Bath itself, with The Bunch of Grapes bringing a genuine flavour of France to Bradford-on-Avon, and The Masons Arms in Frome reopening after a major refurbishment and serving ‘modern country bistro’ food using local produce. Another exciting new opening for Frome was Sam’s Kitchen Deli, which, having only just opened its doors, has quickly replicated the success of its Bath original.
Not a town blessed with a huge number of ‘worth a detour’ places to eat, Chippenham foodies also had reason to rejoice in 2016 with the reopening of The Garden, which closed in February after a major fire. John Paine’s popular café, bar and grill allows diners to build their own meals and the gourmet burgers have a dedicated following of their own.
Good luck, 2017 – that’s going to be one heck of an act to follow…
Have we missed off your favourite new opening of 2016? Tweet us @crumbsmag!