Some good restaurants simply offer inspired takes on a standard formula, but others mix it up a bit. One such is the Creole Brasserie, lurking above eye-level on the corner of Whiteladies Road and Cotham Hill, as MARK TAYLOR discovers…
Jamaican-born Abie-Gail Pixley and Frenchman Frederic Arbaud have such a colourful, international background that opening their own restaurant together must have been a given as soon as they met. The potential for something interesting was just too good to pass up.
Pixley has spent most of her working life in the catering industry in the Caribbean, while Arbaud grew up in Provence, where he worked in restaurants and pubs (as well as sales repping for KitchenAid!), so neither are strangers to good cooking and quality ingredients. Their concept for contemporary Creole and Cajun cuisine is a new one for this region. It marries French, West Indian, Spanish, African and Portuguese cooking, so it only seems natural that they should choose a multi-cultural melting pot like Bristol as the location for their first restaurant venture.
Creole Brasserie has been created in the restaurant that was occupied by the blink-and-you-would-have-missed it Three Coqs Brasserie. Before that, it was home to the more successful Budokan, although the new owners probably want to wipe the slate clean and not dwell on this site’s topsy-turvy past too much. With its side entrance and first-floor position, it’s not the most obvious restaurant when you are at ground level, but once you have climbed the stairs to the light and airy dining room, it offers a bird’s eye view of the Whiteladies Road junction with Cotham Hill. This makes for fabulous people-watching potential.
The restaurant itself has had a few subtle changes since it was the Three Coqs, the most immediately noticeable being a new lounge area with sofas. A pile of plump pineapples and limes on the counter of the open kitchen is the first obvious clue that this is a restaurant with West Indian roots.
At lunchtime, a set menu offers two courses and a drink (soft, beer or a glass of house wine) for the attractive price of £9.95. Options on that menu include warm jerk chicken salad and pepper bread croutons; chargrilled rib-eye steak sandwich; black eye pea fritters and sweet potato couscous.
The a la carte menu is available at lunch and dinner, and although it is constantly evolving, it might include lobster pumpkin bisque; jambalaya (chicken, smoked sausage, prawns, mussels and rice simmered in a rich stock); or Creole-style crab gratin with toasted pepper bread and green salad.
We started with a sharing platter (£14.95 for two people), which was a sort of ‘greatest hits’ from the starters section. There was a portion of braised baby back ribs with sticky Cajun sauce – the barbecue-style glaze of the meaty, falling-off-the-bone ribs boasting a dark, rich sweetness from a marinade made with Guinness. There were citrus chicken wings so gloriously sticky that they demanded finger bowls, if not a power shower, and delicate sesame-crusted shrimp balls with a fresh and lively salsa of tomato, coriander and onion. A salad of deep-fried Cajun goats’ cheese with roasted cherry tomatoes completed a generous starter alive with vibrant flavours and textures.
From the set menu, marinated pork loin steak with Creole rice came as slices of tender meat with a surprisingly fiery marinade clinging to it, and a gently spiced bed of rice.
Salmon fillet ‘en papillote’ (£12.95) arrived at the table encased in foil, the opening of which revealed a plume of fragrant steam from the lime, ginger and thyme trapped inside. The fish was perfectly cooked and accompanied by wilted greens, Scotch Bonnet butter that provided a noticeable degree of heat and a traditional West Indian ‘bammy’ (a type of flatbread).
To finish, a shared dessert of ‘drunken’ brioche and butter pudding (£4.95) was a rich and boozy combination of brioche, marinated raisins and dried fruits.
With its combination of Cajun, West Indian and European cooking, Creole Brasserie offers a unique dining experience, with a range of full-flavoured dishes at a fair price. It’s well worth the detour.
Creole Brasserie First Floor, Clifton Down Shopping Centre, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2NN; 0117 9739885;www.creolebrasserie.co.uk