Bristol has more than its fair share of uber-cool, Instagram-worthy restaurants. Industrial interiors, potted plant jungles and edgy soundtracks aren’t usually more than a short stroll in vintage high-tops away in this city.
If I didn’t know better, then rocking up (as I inevitably do) to these kinds of digs in my chunky knitwear and garishly coloured backpack, with a rush-induced sweat about my brow like a schoolchild who overslept on the first day of term, would have me come over a little (lot) self-conscious. I do know better, though.
I know that however cool and bohemian our Bristol venues seem, I’ll fit right in with my dishevelled disposition, needy dog and an average luggage load of three bags (no, not including the ones under my eyes), because this is a city that knows how to do hospitality. However cool (or not) you may be.
Jamaica Street Stores is one such stylish hangout. Foliage-infused warehouse feels preside (the former printing space shares a building with art studios), with concrete floors, vintage school-style chairs, huge hanging pots overflowing with greenery, unplastered painted brick and an ace playlist compiled by someone unmistakably cooler than you (and me, easily). It’s also super friendly and relaxed and has a menu with more than enough substance to back up that style. Happy days.
Opened in 2017 by a group of creative, food-loving friends, this place was making local press – not to mention countless people’s Twitter feeds – back in August this year, when it sadly and suddenly shut its doors, a sign hung up in the glass thanking customers for their business.
See, most of the owners had fingers in other pies, and as various commitments grew and opportunities presented themselves, it seemed like the right time for them to shift their focuses elsewhere.
Not Charlie James, though. The co-owner and former River Cottage head chef had other ideas and, bringing in his brother Phil (who was working in Charlie’s old RC role), he turned the closure into but a brief hiatus, reopening the restaurant after a matter of weeks.
If you’re a fan of River Cottage, you may well notice some crossover in the menus, with the brothers having given new life to some of the dishes they came up with during their time there. The bill of fare has also moved away from small plates in favour of a three-course format, although lots of the dishes come in small or large sizes (meaning if sharing is caring as far as you’re concerned, you can still do the small plates thing).
We’re quick to order the Fowey mussels cooked with leek, bay, cider and cream (£7/£12) and served with focaccia, while it’s with heavy hearts that we pass up on the raw venison with salted egg yolk.
The squash risotto (£7/£11) with aged Cornish Gouda and crispy sage – got to love some crispy sage, especially in autumn – is silky and decadently cheesy, with hunks of soft orange veg sat on top.
Mushroom ragu (£13) sees chunky slices of golden ’shrooms in a blonde sauce – all creamy and buttery – served alongside crispy fried wedges of polenta, pimped up with a whiff of truffle. A generous dusting of finely grated parmesan has settled on the dish like snow, melting into the warm sauce.
Penne pasta comes muddled with venison bolognese (£8), the minced game a really pleasant, more earthy alternative to the regular beef. That, along with the rich tomato sauce it was slow-cooked in, and the addition of more of that Gouda, means I shamelessly hog this plate which I’d promised to share, practically nose-diving into it after the first bite. My greedy basset hound was giving me her best eyes, but she knew well enough this bol was a lost cause.
Dessert is a wintry dream. Toffee apple cake (£5) is served with silky cinnamon ice cream, shards of hazelnut brittle and good slathering of toffee sauce. I missed bonfire night this year but this toffee-coated dream almost makes up for it.
Loads of us were glad to hear about the reopening of this place – the rest probably never even realising it had shut, thanks to the speedy turnaround. All that matters, though, is that now’s a better time than ever to visit. Unless you’re a basset hound. I mean, you’re welcome in, but you’ll get none of my lunch.
Jamaica Street Stores, 37-39 Jamaica Street, Bristol BS2 8JP;
0117 924 9294