One of Gloucester Road’s newest additions impresses MARK TAYLOR, even if his batting average doesn’t…
Stop tittering at the back, but I have recently started to play cricket after a break of more than 30 years.
Okay, it’s nothing too serious – just a few ruddy-faced fortysomething dads reliving the days when it didn’t take three days to recover from bowling a few overs – but the way the England team has been playing at the moment, we may get a call by the end of the season.
Of course, part of the appeal of spending a sweaty hour playing cricket in the indoor nets at the County Ground is the prospect of a refreshing pint or three at a nearby pub afterwards. The Grace fits the bill for post-cricket beers, particularly as it’s named after WG Grace, the Bristol-born Victorian doctor who played for Gloucestershire, captained England and went on to become one of the greatest players of all time.
Of course, until recently The Grace was the Robin Hood’s Retreat, but it was taken over earlier this year by a brand new team. This is the latest venture from Toby Bywater, James Savage and Dougal Templeton, who also run The Greenbank in Easton and the nearby Zazu’s Kitchen. Such is the buzz about The Grace in the first month of opening that Top Cat (that’s Laura, the Crumbs editor) gently suggests that she should be my companion for the review. And who am I to argue? She pays part of my mortgage, after all.
We meet on the hottest day of the year to discuss Christmas features in the pub’s landscaped, sun-baked garden, although talking sprouts and turkey seems weirdly at odds with our surroundings as bees cling to lavender and our iPhones get so overheated in the sun that they start flashing emergency ‘cool down’ warnings.
Although still very much a pub serving a wide range of local ales (my cellar-cool pint of Arbor is in excellent condition), wines and cocktails, it’s the food that really shines. The chef here is Wilf Penfold, who has worked in a number of decent Bristol establishments, including the Pump House, Berwick Lodge and the Kensington Arms. Penfold is one of Bristol’s culinary rising stars and he doesn’t do fiddly, fancypants cooking, preferring simple, straightforward seasonal food based on top-notch ingredients. Well, you can’t argue with that.
The menu is based around the extremely trendy ‘small plates’ concept (or tapas, if you prefer), as well as pizzettes (small pizzas priced around the £5-£6 mark) which include such temptations as wild mushrooms, smoked garlic and tarragon, or Iberico ham, hazelnuts and truffle oil. The small plates are generous in size and, although two might be enough for most people, TC and I decide to give the menu a thorough work out and order six between us. They arrive at the same time and they are all spiffing, with not a dud among them.
Courgettes, chilli, mint and baked ricotta (£4) is a cool, summery tangle of raw courgette ribbons dotted with the creamy Italian cheese, finely chopped mint and a prickle of red chilli. Pan-roasted monkfish (£6.50) arrives as two thick, juicy pieces of tail smothered in a garlicky, cumin-scented chermoula dressing; slices of pink and tender flat iron steak (£6.50) are teamed with pencil-thin, smoky chargrilled leeks and a punchy, fiery romesco sauce.
A fresh and fruity salad of heirloom tomatoes (£4.50) of various shapes and colours are mixed with Somerset mozzarella and torn basil leaves; crisp, hot sole goujons (£5) in fluffy panko breadcrumb overcoats are served with a well-made tartare sauce; pink-hued lamb and rose harissa kofte (£6), with a swirl of smoky babaganoush, are the ultimate in posh kebabs.
Desserts are just as impressive – a wobbly, refreshing buttermilk blancmange (£5.50) is served with slices of ripe white peach and Lilliputian basil leaves, while a slice of intense, outrageously rich chocolate Nemesis (£6.50) is paired with tart crème fraîché and plump English cherries – although both TC and I whisper that Kirsch-soaked cherries might elevate the dish to even dizzier heights. (We’re not lushes, honest…)
The Grace is one of the most exciting new Bristol openings of the year. It’s a great place for a quick pint, and the food is worth travelling across town (and country) for.
THE GRACE, 197 Gloucester Road, Bristol BS7 8BG; 0117 924 4334