Located in a hotel the other side of the M5, it’s easy to forget Berwick Lodge’s restaurant when considering dinner. But you really shouldn’t, says LAURA ROWE, when it’s serving some of Bristol’s most thrilling food
Hotel restaurants tend to go one of two ways. They’ll either play it ultra-safe, churning out the same old standards you’ll find in every other hotel restaurant, a policy guaranteed to excite no-one, but at least won’t scare off the solo business types. Or they push the boundaries, innovate wildly, and try to attract a crowd who’ll sleep over specifically for the food. That’s the kind of hotel restaurant I like. And that’s what you’ll find at Berwick Lodge.
Since its restaurant relaunched in October last year as Hattusa, coinciding with the arrival of new head chef Paul O’Neill, special things have been happening at the hotel. Paul’s an ambitious sort. He trained at Claridge’s and was named the 30th Roux Scholar in 2013, and he’s made no secret of the fact that he wants to take the restaurant’s existing two AA rosettes to three, then maybe even attempt a Michelin star in the future. Now that’s fighting talk.
I’d booked in for an overnight stay on the eve of the new spring menu and, as we checked in, the staff were still tasting the new dishes. There are just 12 rooms, but to call them luxurious would be an understatement (they were recently awarded 5 gold stars by the AA, their highest recognition for accommodation). There are four poster beds, roll-top baths, and views across the estuary to kill for. And you certainly wouldn’t know you’re just a few minutes from the M5. I suppose that’s rather the point.
We started with drinks in the lounge, in front of a wood- burning fire: a G&T for him, and a Negroni for me. It’s a good start. The menu certainly points towards the higher end of the market, with starters beginning at £9 and mains at £19, but it soon becomes clear they’re worth every penny.
After a little amuse bouche to enliven our palates (okay, and a couple of glasses of English fizz – my current crush, Nyetimber), we cracked on with a hot smoked salmon number (£10) across the table, and duck liver (£12) for me.
The salmon came in generous peachy flakes alongside cubes of cold potato in a creamy, horseradish spiked dressing, with ribbons of pickled cucumber, slices of tender new-season asparagus and crunchy shards of linseed biscuit. It’s the sort of dish you might imagine the Queen boxing up in her Tupperware, and taking on the lawns of Buck House, chucking the corgis a bit of fish every now and again.
The duck liver was one of the best plates of its kind that I’ve ever tried – such an incredible flavour pairing of rich, buttery hot liver with sharp and sour pickled rhubarb, rhubarb compote, and an incredible aniseed brioche and fennel crumb, as well as lots of intensely flavoured microherbs. It was also perfectly matched by our waiter, who suggested a Cabernet Franc ice wine from Canada, the rich berry sweetness ideal with the fatty offal.
Main courses continued in a similar vein. He’d ordered the cured pork loins with a roasted scallop (£24) that came so perfectly cooked (translucent at its heart, and golden and crispy from the pan on the outside) that it’s a wonder the chef didn’t want to gobble it up himself before sending it over the pass. Its neighbours of cider-glazed pig’s cheek, tiny little turns of apple balls, caramelised apricot-scented chanterelles and double-podded sweet spring baby broad beans were majestic. That is clever cookery, and a seriously well-considered plate of food.
Needless to say, it was hard to get him to pass over his obligatory share (thems the rules when you dine with me), but this time I had a good bargaining tool – my choice of ras el hanout spiced lamb loin (£24). It came suitably red-cheeked, as though it had been sipping on the New Zealand Pinot Noir (Carrick Unravelled) that had been chosen by our lovely waiter, again, to go with the meal. A harissa pastilla mirrored those Middle Eastern spices and added crunch, as did the chickpeas, while the dark plate was decorated with a choice smear of apricot purée and a fresh mint yoghurt. Just superb.
I would have quite happily ordered another main course for dessert, such was the quality of the offerings on the new menu (how does stone bass with warm potted shrimp, braised baby gem, peas, bacon and wild garlic sound?), but the desserts pull their weight here too. The assiette of lemon (£9) might be pricey for a pud, but it takes time and skill to produce a faultless custard slice, vibrant lemongrass sorbet, sherbert marshmallow, crème brûlée and curd. That’s a whole menu on a plate right there.
Meanwhile, his white chocolate Aero (£9) didn’t even see my fork – so quickly did he inhale the passion fruit soup, white chocolate mousse and dark chocolate crumb.
Truly exciting food, the most charming staff and a beautiful setting: Berwick Lodge has serious game.
HATTUSA at Berwick Lodge; Berwick Drive, Bristol, BS10 7TD
Photos by KIRSTIE YOUNG