When it comes to life outside work, I’m one of those bafflingly inefficient people who constantly feels busy, but doesn’t actually always have reason to be so. This extends into my gastronomic activities. I’m often eating out, and at great places too (not an intentional brag, there), but I don’t tend to switch off, relax the ol’ shoulders and concentrate fully on what I’m doing. Whether it’s because I’m dashing out to eat after finding my fridge empty; it’s T minus four minutes until a mate’s birthday meal right over the other side of the city; or I’m thinking about the early start I have the next day and wondering if I can make it home by 10, I often eat without pausing. I should stipulate, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the food – very much the opposite – just that I’m not very good at hanging out in Presentville while I’m tucking in.
Before you start wondering if I need a hug, I’d best get to my point. When I visited Otira recently, it became apparent that New Zealand-born Stephen Gilchrist and Devonian Kathryn Curtis have created here a wonderful little den in which to hole up and dodge all forms of chaos – mental or literal – for a couple of hours.
Named after a town near where Stephen grew up, the restaurant’s Kiwi influence is clear in everything from the thoughtfully put together dishes to the toilets. (Yep, I said toilets: the walls there are covered in forest print, while the song of the native tui bird plays over the speakers.) The dining room, meanwhile, is pared back and rustic, with neutral tones, bare walls, wooden dressers and soft music playing. Here, there are three options on the menu (its adjoining wine and tapas bar, Chandos Social, has its own offering): two courses for £29, three for £37, or a five-course ‘trust the chef’ affair for £45. (If we’ve learnt anything about each other by now, loyal reader, it’s that I dislike making menu decisions and you dislike me repeating that fact in these pages each month – so I’ll cut to the chase and tell you I had the latter.)
Sourdough was first, lightly charred and served with a small quenelle of soft beurre noisette, which had lovely dark golden flecks and tasted nutty and caramelised. At this point the sun was just about still up, and shone through the bay-windowed façade, catching the polished glassware and silver cutlery on the wooden tables, laid with linen napkins and glowing candles.
‘Head-to-toe pork’ bon-bons were seen off before the starter proper arrived, named ‘tidal rock pool by nanna’s house’, inspired by the coastline where Stephen played as a little ’un. Kathryn – who heads up front of house – poured over dashi at the table, providing a savoury pool for the plump, firm mussels, tiny mushrooms, ribbons of seaweed and delicate sprigs of fennel tops to bathe in. Earthy flavours mingled with those of the sea, while waves of umami and pepperiness broke over my tongue intermittently. To match was a mouth-cleansing white wine, super soft but with a gentle floral kick.
Next, Scottish ceps were joined by lardo, cobnuts, sweet parsnip and confidently fiery, refreshingly pokey rye beer mustard – the idea of the whole compilation, with its soft and crunchy textures, based on the forest floor. Aged short rib of beef – with a dark, crisp crust and flaking centre – was served next, with confit ox tongue that, as you can probably already feel in your own mouth, melted into rich nothingness. My Capetonian companion, who grew up on offal, couldn’t get enough of it, his eight-year-old-self resurfacing with delight.
Predessert was blackcurrant leaf and hokey pokey ice cream – light in texture and sweet with vanilla – which gave way to a confident chocolate finale. The good stuff was paired with barbecued beetroot and candied cocoa nibs, for an earthly and smoky pud that wasn’t reliant on the sweet, nor afraid of the savoury.
Otira is a super-likeable neighbourhood eatery, refined but relaxed, and I genuinely left in high spirits, intent on making more time for dinners like these.
5-7 Chandos Road, Bristol BS6 6PG; 0117 973 3669