Our MARK TAYLOR might not be a dedicated follower of fashion, but he knows good food when he spots it…
It’s the carpet fitters and plasterers I feel sorry for. After all, if any more new restaurants and bars follow the continuing fashion for exposed brickwork and stripped floorboards, they’ll soon be out of work.
The on-trend look of having everything exposed and stripped back to its bare bones is all well and good for brash city-centre joints run by tattooed and bearded purveyors of pulled pork and craft ale, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to cosy neighbourhood bistros in the leafier, Guardian-reading suburbs.
Delmonico is clearly a fully paid-up member of the National Carpet and Floorlayers Association (Bishopston branch). The restaurant is luxuriously carpeted throughout, which not only adds a warm, homely feel to the place, but also reduces the inevitable noise levels of a busy restaurant with bare boards. Perhaps I’m getting old, but there’s nothing worse than having to shout at your dinner guest over a hubbub of other diners and the clicking heels of the waiting staff.
Currently celebrating 13 years since it opened, Delmonico is in many ways an old-school restaurant, but it’s one that has also moved with the times. Much of its success is in its consistency and that’s down to the fact the kitchen team has remained pretty much the same since it opened, thanks to the winning combination of owner/chef Nick Hennessy and head chef Tyrone Tippins, who’s worked here since he left catering college.
There have been a few changes overall in recent months, as the restaurant has extended its opening hours to be more flexible as a daytime café, while remaining a destination in the evening. The dining room has been lightened up, including the tables, which have been sanded back, and this has enabled the restaurant to breathe a bit more; it feels decidedly more spacious.
There are still some art deco touches, such as the sidelights and the vintage Martini and port advertising posters on the walls, while the soft sounds of jazz enhance the relaxed, unstuffy mood.
The food here is broadly European in style, although occasional influences from further afield creep in with the likes of a veggie-friendly Thai curry with tofu, red pepper, courgette, mange tout and baby corn. A silky and smooth chicken and duck liver parfait (£5.95) with a tangible note of thyme and a healthy splash of Armagnac was well-made, and served at the correct temperature for ease of spreading on the ample slices of hot toast. It was served with a homemade relish that was as fruity as it was piquant. Across the table, a spicy, fragrant carrot and butterbean soup (£5.50) with a mild hint of curry about it was well-balanced and comforting.
At £19.95, the chargrilled 28-day aged Black Angus sirloin steak was the most expensive main course on a menu that offers plenty of great value around the £15 mark. The steak, cooked carefully and precisely the ‘more rare than medium’ requested, boasted a good, deep flavour. Crisp, golden chips and a creamy, sweetish mushroom and balsamic vinegar sauce completed a highly enjoyable dish that worked in harmony with the smooth and plummy Il Meridiane Nero D’Avola 2011 from Sicily.
My friend, meanwhile, was making light work of a slow-roasted confit of duck (£14.95) with crisp skin and juicy meat that tumbled off the bones into a sumptuous red wine sauce that also included Grand Marnier, almost as if doffing its hat to the 1970s classic duck a l’orange.
Desserts (all £5.50) are made on the premises, and they are proper old-school puds that would probably send a WeightWatchers points calculator into meltdown. An outrageously rich and boozy chocolate pot flavoured with Amaretto arrived with a crunchy homemade pistachio biscotti, while a warm and very almondy frangipane tart with a crumble-style topping was studded with cranberries and pears – presumably a guilt-trip fruit addition to counter the huge ball of thick clotted cream served alongside.
At a time when so many new restaurants try to reinvent the gastronomic wheel, Delmonico offers finely tuned versions of reassuringly familiar food at an affordable price. As for following fashions, it sweeps all that stuff under the carpet.
✱ DELMONICO, 217a Gloucester Road, Bishopston, Bristol BS7 8NN; 0117 944 5673; www.delmonico.co.uk