Bristol review: Rosemarino

“A starter of fresh herb and taleggio arancini was a wonderfully harmonious taste of early summer”

The lack of pizza isn’t a problem for Mark Taylor at this cool Italian joint 

Before opening Rosemarino, owners Mirco Bertoldi, Sam Fryer and Tony de Brito worked in a number of Bristol’s busiest restaurants, including Riverstation, Hotel du Vin and the recently departed Goldbrick House. Between them, their Italian, Portuguese and English heritage adds a genuinely cosmopolitan influence to this popular business.

Like its Clifton sibling, the Colston Street restaurant draws in a fair few locals (mostly down the hill from Kingsdown and Cotham), but it also appeals to city centre workers, particularly from the hospitals across the road. (Visit at lunchtime and most diners seem to be sporting NHS ID badges.) It has also become a firm pre- theatre favourite for people heading to nearby venues such as Colston Hall, the O2 Academy and the Hippodrome.

With its rustic pine tables, local artwork (a collaboration with Bristol gallery Smithson) on the sage-coloured walls, and a background soundtrack of gentle jazz, Rosemarino has the warm atmosphere of old-school trattorias without the raffia-covered Chianti bottles and oversized pepper grinders.

Open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, Rosemarino takes things up a gear in the evening, starting with aperitivo – that time-honoured Italian tradition of serving post-work cocktails. On a hot summer’s afternoon, what could be more enticing than a properly made Negroni or Aperol spritz? Well, you could try one of the specials, like the Blues Bellini (blueberry purée, blueberry grappa and Prosecco), or the Ciliegia Three Ways (gin, Maraschino liqueur, fresh lime, cherry juice and soda water). That’s if you aren’t seduced by a The Rosemarino (gin, pink grapefruit, soda and rosemary) or a Gin & Et (gin, The Collector vermouth, angostura bitters and bay leaf ), of course.

If wine is more your thing, the Italian-only selection curated by local wine merchant Raj Soni bypasses the generic Chianti and Pinot Grigio in favour of a seasonally changing choice of regional wines from Italy. There is also an emphasis on biodynamic and organic, although not exclusively so. The week we visited, the white wine recommendation was the deliciously crisp and floral Catarrato Terre Siciliane, a rich and zesty unfiltered natural wine from Sicily. There is also an extensive list of grappas, vermouth and Amari (digestive bitters), and beers from Bristol brewer Wiper and True, as well as imported numbers like Menabrea and AMA Bionda, an Italian craft ale.

Of course, it’s not just the sea of impeccably sourced Italian booze that makes Rosemarino such a draw; the food plays an equal part in its appeal. There are no pizzas on offer here, and pasta dishes are few and far between (there was porcini tagliatelle with dolcelatte, wild asparagus and truffle, and a saffron rotolo with beef ragu, smoked tomato and Parmesan crisps on the night we were there), and the focus is seasonal, regional dishes rather than the usual Anglicised Italian staples. Unusual – brave, even – for a city centre restaurant that proudly flies the green, white and red tricolour flag.

A starter of fresh herb and taleggio arancini (£7) that was also available as a main course was a wonderfully harmonious taste of early summer. The arancini’s golden exterior was filled with sticky rice, with a melting centre of taleggio. It came with silky pea purée, sweet broad beans the size of a baby’s fingernail, and a tangle of pea shoots.

From the specials board, a main course of pulcino arrosto (£16.50) was a substantial dish comprising a whole pot-roasted poussin with smoked garlic, borlotti beans, wild asparagus and thin strips of guanciale (cured pork jowl) that melted into the rich, dark jus.

A closing dish of ciliegie con meringa e zabaione (£6) was a seasonal and summery mix of cherries, meringue, Chantilly cream, honeycomb and sweet zabaglione custard.

Now into its second year, the Colston Street branch of Rosemarino may be a cheeky young whippersnapper compared to the well-established Clifton Village original, but it still provides an authentic taste of La Dolce Vita.

ROSEMARINO, 90 Colston Street, Bristol BS1 5BB; 0117 925 3524