No, no, no: no to crispness in the air; no to wool scarves; no to slow cooking; no to evening reading.
“I’m looking forward to autumn,” says the genial server as she welcomes us into Californian-inspired Quay Street Diner and takes us to our table with all the enthusiasm and positivity of a real-life West Coast dweller.
It’s the start of September and I want to cling on to summer’s T-shirt weather and optimism, thank you. And surely this is the place to do it – somewhere as traditionally un-British as the summer season itself.
The vibe evokes Californian feels: dark teal panelling and sanded-back wooden tables echo the shades of sea and sand. Fairy lights stretch across the ceiling adding a feeling of fiesta, and lush green pot plants bring the outside in.
It was a sad day when the site’s former incarnation, Roll For The Soul – a bike café and workshop – closed. As a community interest company, it was a social hub, drawing in cyclists and diners with keenly priced food and coffee and evening events. A confident offering was needed to fill its boots, and former co-owners of Grillstock, Jon Finch and Ben Merrington, stepped up to the challenge last year with the promise of live fire cooking and the “best brunches in town”.
Footfall is high on Old City’s Quay Street – a multitude of surrounding office blocks ensuring a steady stream of passers-by, morning ’til evening. The food and drink here is good value too – what you want after a hard day on the grind, and the promise of another one tomorrow.
An Apple Garden cocktail from the reasonably priced drinks list (all cocktails £7, with two-for-one deals 4pm-7pm every day) does a good job of expelling that early autumn chill.
Next are sweetcorn fritters (£3.95). The chef’s not scrimping on filling – they’re thick, packed with juicy kernels and comforting potatoey stodge. There’s a decent-sized pot of sweet-chilli sauce on the side too, so you can dunk them whole. We try the chicken wings as well (£4.50), with a spicy sriracha honey glaze. Dishes like these, with a couple of craft beers, are the perfect unwind after a day at the desk, or a fun way of kicking-off a night of music at nearby venues SWX or The Lanes.
Baja fish tacos (£7.50) are next up for me. They tow a different line to the fish tacos offered by the likes of Masa and Mezcal and Cargo Cantina, which focus on perfected Mexican authenticity and detailed flavour in bitesize offerings. Quay Street Diner makes up in size for what it lacks in refinement. Big, meaty chunks of fried fish sit atop beds of shredded red cabbage – tangy with good crunch. There is a pile on each of the two hand-size tacos – plenty big enough for gluttonous me. The pineapple chilli salsa is the perfect accompaniment; the juicy cubes of sweetness pep up the tempura-battered fish and lift the chipotle mayo and salsa roja, making each mouthful good and lively. I upgraded my tacos to a ‘plate’ (£11.50), but next time I’d think again, as the mini portions of guacamole, black beans and plain tortilla chips don’t bring much extra flavour to the party.
Across the booth, J is getting stuck into a SoCal favourite – the ’dog. Her eight-inch pork snag is “all-natural”, apparently, and she’s ordered it katsu-style, topped with curry sauce (although not as much of it as she’d hoped), pickled ginger and crispy onions (£9). It’s an upgrade on the currywurst I won’t go back for in Berlin, but comes just by itself so, visually, I’ve come up trumps with my order.
We add on sides too (maybe it’s a good thing it’ll be too chilly to put my bikini on again this year): £2.50 for a big basket of salty, crispy fries and the same for the ’slaw (which was a touch too creamy for us).
Vegans are well catered for here and the weekend brunches – huevos rancheros, steak and eggs et al – sound spot-on.
As a keen cyclist, I still lament the fact there’s no one here to sell me a cut-price tyre pump, or to check my derailleur assemblies as I eat. That said, I’m going to need my sunshine fix throughout the impending winter and, as a city-centre worker, this is where I’ll be going for Californian sun.
Quay St Diner, 2 QuayStreet, Bristol BS1 2JL; 0117 403 1152