What are you doing next Tuesday? Monday night is for regrouping after the weekend (or having a couple of wines to anaesthetise yourself ), then Tuesday kicks off the mid-week lull: house chores, exercise classes, Whatsapp admin. You might treat yourself to a Meerkat Movie, but any other kind of soirée seems to verge on extravagant.
Unless there’s a complete steal to be had, that is – then, a jaunt is totally justified. And I recently found one in Southville. Birch – the compact little eatery that was taken over by new owners in autumn 2018 – is serving up three dishes for £20, Tuesday through to Thursday, which means you can indulge in an impressive small plate experience without spending like it’s the weekend.
Birch was originally founded in 2014 by Sam Leach and Beccy Massey, the pair deciding to leave the biz in 2018 to become farmers and cider makers. Locals – and diners the city over – lamented the sale of the neighbourhood bistro when they heard it was up for grabs. Soon enough, though, along came brothers Tom and Ali Masters, who snapped up the business and got its second chapter underway, with chef Lee Bloomfield in the kitchen (who front-of-house pro Tom had partnered up with before at the Seymour Arms in Blagdon).
On this murky November night, the interior feels a little clinical to me; a bit of a snugger vibe might tempt in a few more passers-by (they love to peer through the huge front window to see what they’re missing), although the restaurant isn’t exactly empty. The decor is fresh and cool, though, with white walls and lime green upholstery.
When it comes to the food, simple, seasonal small plates is the name of the game, and the menu packs in enough intrigue to make it worth the schlep from further neighbourhoods.
Take, for example, our celeriac and white truffle soup (£5). It’s amazing how the chef has transformed such a hulking, nobly root into this bowl of refined, heavenly liquid for just five of your golden nuggets.
The earthy aroma gives us a taste of what’s to come – comforting, indulgent and oh-so restorative grub. Recommended is the Korean tuna tartare (£8),
which is a bit off-theme from our other choices, but that’s the beauty of a small-plates mash-up – surprise dishes can sometimes be killer. A glistening patty of dark-red tuna is topped with a shiny orb of orange egg yolk. There are those who have a natural affinity with tartare and those, like myself, who need a gentle prod, but it’s worth the leap of faith here, with the moreish sesame dressing pepping up the tuna and fragrant pine nuts adding hits of sweetness and bite. Elegant slices of oiled crouton are ready to be loaded up with the fresh fish.
Recently, I’ve noticed Bristol outfits have really upped their arancini game, and none so much as here, where the tarragon in the deliciously gooey innards sings loud and in perfect harmony with the buttery rice and creamy mozzarella (£6), not to mention the portabello mushroom ketchup that’s for dipping,
There’s also a five-bean casserole, made murky green with a coarse salsa verde (£6) – the refined cousin of the stuff being served up in rustic Italian farmhouses with hunks of crusty bread and good plonk.
The largest two plates arrive last, and what has gone before pales as we take in these lofty dishes. Guinea fowl (£15.50) is buttery soft, the generous portion of meat encased in salty, crisp skin. Braised savoy cabbage, pancetta and a rich foie gras jus make a regal bed for this fine bit of bird. Tender pork belly and salty crackling is cleverly layered and cut into neat triangles, while a disc of heady black pudding is cut through by burnt apple purée (£13.50).
We agree there’s just about room for pud – tonight, a slice of soft treacle tart with a dollop of Dorset clotted cream (£6) and decadent chocolate fondant with a wickedly oozy centre (£6).
I return home at 10pm to find the washing still in the machine, the recycling needing to be sorted and the breakfast bowls waiting for me on the kitchen counter – but I’m in far too much of a good mood after this feed to entertain any of those chores.