Cool venues: 1766 Bar and Kitchen

There’s a new kid on Bristol’s King Street, serving up-to-the-minute fare in a gloriously historic setting…

Me and King Street, we’ve got history. I’ve racked up decades’ worth of memories on this road (and that’s without even delving into the stories that I can’t remember): sloshing around lumpy cider while rock-stepping at the Old Duke’s Jazz Festival; ’80s celeb spotting in Italian trattoria Renato’s; poltergeist hunting in the haunted King William Ale House (seriously, my elbow was nowhere near that pint).

Yes, all of us Bristolians have a past with King Street, but admittedly not to the extent that the Bristol Old Vic has. The oldest continually-working theatre in the English-speaking world was built here in 1766, 80-odd years after the street was first laid. But while it’s long been famous for its theatrical activity, the food and drink offering has never before caused a stir. Well, now that it’s out the other side of its major £26 million refurbishment, things are a-changing, and the new 1766 Bar and Kitchen (see what they did there?) is gaining a real fan base.

Behind the impressive full-height, glass-fronted foyer is a relaxed café-bar and raised dining area – the open-plan space all wood, copper and black iron. So far, so modern. But then there’s the exposed brick wall at the rear, which is actually the original facade of the Georgian theatre and a winning backdrop to the lofty space.

There’s a cool, young Italian chef behind the new breakfast, lunch and dinner menus too – Coco Barone. She’s previously cooked at Bristol mainstays such as Rosemarino and Glassboat – and their loss is certainly 1766’s gain.

The breakfast menu ticks all my innermillennial desires – waffles, smoked streaky bacon, kale, halloumi, dukka. And with prices under £10, it’s less spenny (sorry, pricey) than some other brunch digs in the city.

Best value, though, is probably the lunch menu – £13.95 for two courses and £17.95 for three – so as the clock strikes 1.30pm on a chilly March day, I meet with JC (not that one – just the humble Crumbs ed) there. It might be a grey day, but it’s uncannily lightfilled in here (down to the enormous ceiling windows, rather than JC’s divine presence).

As we take a pew at an understated wooden table, talk turns to religion (well, if our worship of the new series of Fleabag counts) and I reveal I have given up meat and fish for Lent. Sadly, abstinence skyrocketed my cravings and I confess I’ve been miserable – she forgives my order of buttermilk chicken followed by smoked haddock tagliatelle.

Now, this is buttermilk chicken and then some, with the thickest, crispest of spiced jackets tightly wrapped around moist and tender thigh meat. The two pieces sit abed a devilishly spicy Sriracha mayo, lifted by spring onions and coriander and finished with fiendishly good (surely homemade) pickled chilli.

My main boasts hefty flakes of flavoursome haddock, mixed into sunshine-yellow ribbons of pasta. Lashings of dill and chives pack a herby punch in the wholegrain cream sauce, and it’s only after I guzzle the whole bowl that I repent my gobbling of two such rich dishes on the bounce.

Across the table, JC finds her fish starter equally satisfying – her smoked mackerel rillette is chunky in texture with a well-balanced smokiness. Noodles of pickled cucumber and carrot not only pep up the plate in terms of colour but do a great job of cutting right through the richness.

Her chargrilled aubergine main with chickpea fritters and garlic and basil yoghurt looks quite the showstopper. The aubergine is nicely blackened, the flesh having been scored and cooked until loose and velvety, and it lies over a mound of multi-coloured quinoa along with golden chickpea fritters. The freshness and tang of the pastel-green yoghurt cools the dish’s overarching but gentle spice, and pomegranate seeds punctuate it with bursts of sweetness.

Searching for the lightest thing on the menu for dessert, I spot the soya lemon posset, which sadly doesn’t come up trumps in its possetiness – or lemoniness. I feel sorry for this rubbery pud with its cheerless beige hue and lack of zing. Still, across the table, JC’s chocolate mousse is joyful – velvety and light, layered with salted caramel and vanilla cream.

Despite lacking diners on a Tuesday afternoon (as word gets around this will surely change) the atmosphere is great, with freelancers and their Macs on the low tables taking advantage of the good coffee and wifi, and the box office creating hubbub. This is a great spot for a catch-up over good-value food, and the extended evening menu (£17.95 for two courses) is full of promise, too.


1766 Bar and Kitchen, Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol  BS1 4ED; 0117 907 2682