Just like the transformation of boozer to gastropub, Japanese Izakaya bars evolved from sake houses into places to grab traditional dishes to eat with your chosen poison. These relaxed, social Japanese bars started to gain momentum in the UK maybe three or four years ago and Bristol has welcomed two of its own recently. First, Larkin Cen’s Woky Ko: Kaiju and now – next door, as fate would have it – Seven Lucky Gods has been launched by the local trio behind the Hyde and Co group.
These guys have proven themselves adept in the past at spotting popular, slightly niche concepts with real Bristolian potential – think speakeasy cocktail bars, for starters – and they seem to have done it again.
Up on the first floor at Cargo 2, Seven Lucky Gods emanates some pretty cool urban vibes. Red underlighting illuminates the natural-edged wooden bar tables that wrap around the kitchen, and the space is filled by music that’s cranked up a touch more than you’d usually expect, although not so much you have to shout over your sushi. (That said, I’ve since heard it being pumped out a little louder, late evening.)
To drink, I’m a nanosecond away from ordering an Asahi (which comes on draught here) to quench my post-work thirst, but then catch a glimpse of the cocktails – of which there are seven, named after the virtues associated with those aforementioned gods. Seeing as it’s been curated by Imbibe’s Bartender of the Year for 2019 – Dan Bovey from sister site Hyde and Co – and taking into account this group’s rep in the drinks sphere, it would be an oversight to skip these concoctions. I kick off, then, with a coupe glass of the slightly sour and refreshing Joy – gin, shiso, lime, falernum and Lillet Blanc.
The food menu is arranged into five clusters of small plates. Snacks (edamame beans et al) precede food cooked over the robata charcoal grill (home to the yakitori), then there’s sushi and sashimi, fried stuff (I’m paraphrasing the original document here), and veg. It’s been curated by the group’s long-serving executive chef Todd Francis and is cooked by a team of cool, young chefs, who have literally nowhere to hide in the very open kitchen. Good job, then, that they have no reason to shy away from attention – not with food like this.
Edamame beans (£3.50) come with charred pods, blackened in places and coated with fiery shichimi and lemon, while the chicken katsu arancini (£4.50) is suitably stodgy with plump rice and thick curry sauce.
From the grill arrives nasu dengaku (£5.50) – sticky miso charred aubergine – topped with a tangle of pickled vegetable laces and sesame. The aubergine is a spot-on vehicle for the sweet caramelisation from the grill and the gratifyingly umami flavour from the miso, allowing both to shine in its loose, silky flesh. Really great stuff.
The salmon sashimi (£6) looks all artsy in a smooth and weighty charcoal-coloured bowl, and the peachy meat is so feather-soft and delicate it almost feels like it dissolves on my tongue. Easy work on the gnashers, that one. Tofu, fried and lightly crisp on outside, is nice and loose within and almost bursts in the mouth – it comes with sweet tomato, pickled ginger and miso yuzu mayo for a super fresh effect (£7), although, when sat next to the other plates, sort of fades into the background a little.
Korean fried chicken has been done now, right? Well, before you decide your life needs to move on from the millennial incarnation of KFC, try the version these guys are knocking out (£6). The tender, juicy meat is coated with a robust and crunchy batter, itself slicked with a sticky, vibrant red sauce that gives off a slow-burning but confident kick of fire.
The most surprising attendee of our dinnertime assembly soon made itself known as the spell-check hating Iberico katsu sando. (Honestly, I just had to retype that four times.) It might look just like a sandwich made with a thinly sliced white tin loaf, but get it in your gob before you cast any preconceptions.
Super light and tender pork tenderloin slices (no chewy fat, just blushing pink meat) are coated in breadcrumbs and fried until golden. The meat is joined in the bread by white cabbage for crunch and dark, flavoursome tonkatsu sauce (£10). The sandwiches are cut into fingers, a la afternoon teas.
Fun vibes, great-quality food (which also has a good sense of humour and novelty attitude – although not enough to outshine the delicious flavours) and a comprehensive drinks menu make this Wapping Wharf newcomer a favourite, for me.
Seven Lucky Gods, Cargo2, Wapping Wharf, Bristol, BS1 4RW; 0117 929 1310