Tables covered in chequered linen, flickering tea lights, and soft, bubbly jazz music floating from the speakers is the setting I find myself returning to, the arrival of my wine having snapped me out of the people-watching trance I’d slipped into while staring onto the still-sunny street.
No 12 Easton perches on a corner of the High Street, with little bistro tables and chairs sat out on the pavement in front of its windowed facade. Inside is a small, unfussy dining area, with wooden shelving displaying a few trailing plants and vintage knick-knacks as well as coffee beans and keep cups to buy. Metro tiles and blackboards cover the back wall behind the counter, and adjacent is a wall of wine, where bottles (to drink in or take away) line up neatly, with uniform brown labels hanging from their necks.
This is a casual, multi-purpose space (the glass food counters and collection of children’s books being two of the biggest nods to its daytime guise), which acts as a daytime café, wine and beer shop and, as of last March, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, a relaxed little bistro of sorts.
It was founded in 2013 by Chris Williams (also of No 25a Old Market) and about a year ago was taken on by Madeleine Andrews, the pair having met when she co-hosted a pop-up dinner here. Having worked as a wine and beer buyer, she’s well clued-up in that area, hence the addition of the bottle shop, fully stocked beer fridge, carefully considered list of wines on the evening menu, and my declining to choose from it in favour of her kindly doing the honours.
A glass of Fontaréche Corbieres rosé from France is deposited on the table in front of me. All pale pink and Provance in looks, it promises a crisp, strawberry-laced mouthful. It’s been chosen to match my starter of honey roasted carrots with crumbs of feta and a scattering of toasted flaked almonds (£5.95). Lightly dressed salad leaves mingle with the multicoloured carrots, which have been cooked until they’re slightly shrivelled and almost concentrated. The first mouthful is aromatic with honey, the hint of sweetness rounded by the gently salty cheese.
Across the table are fat, lightly charred spears of in-season asparagus, served on a really nicely done aioli – of which there is a vegan option, should you want it – and fresh lemon (£4.95).
There are, of course, meatier ways to start your meal if you’d prefer, by way of chorizo cooked in cider (£6.95) or smoked mackerel (£5.96).
For mains, the lamb with salsa verde, greens and potatoes (£14.95) just about wins out in my panic ordering over the identically priced Portuguese seafood stew with sourdough. The meat is sliced to reveal a very pale pink middle, while a chunky salsa verde is heaped on top, crisp with tiny cubes of fresh apple. Its sharpness is well-judged and the coarse texture a bonus. Vibrant green, the veg is cooked ideally, retaining its bite and nutrition, and sautéed potatoes are welcome, golden little hits of carb. Underneath all that lurks a swipe of zesty aioli – a nice touch that adds an extra layer of flavour (as does the light and easy Californian red I’m washing it all down with).
The vegan bean ball stew (£11.95) sees beans and nuts bound together to form a meaty texture, the balls slathered in a rich and fresh-tasting Italian-style tomato sauce and resting on a generous bed of fluffy couscous.
Both plates are all but licked clean before the desserts arrive – a sweet-savoury chocolate brownie with peanut butter and salted caramel ice cream, and a light and fresh, almond-topped lemon posset with cardamon shortbread (both £4.95).
This evening is a quiet one, with just another table of two inside and one more out in the revamped courtyard, with the odd customer popping in for wine or beer. (I’ve a feeling quiet evenings might become rarities, though.) While the food prices may be a whisper more than you’d expect in the setting (wines, as it goes, are super reasonable, with glasses from £4 and bottles from £14 to drink in), portions are hearty and the quality is good. If an outright bargain is what you’re after, visit on a Wednesday evening when you can get a main and a glass of wine for a tenner.
No 12 Easton,12 High Street, Bristol BS5 6DL; 0117 951 4524