Tuesday, 31 August 2010
The Harbourside - Bristol
I’ve been living in Bristol for a couple of months now, and now I’m starting to settle in and take stock of my surroundings, I’ve noticed that it’s a city of extremes – more so than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. On the one side perched upon a hill above the rest of the city you have the impossibly attractive and leafy Clifton; bursting at the seams with beautiful Georgian and Victorian mansions, affluent and just a bit posh.
On the other side of the city centre, you will find what could generously be described as bohemian, Stokes Croft. Inhabiting a position that is almost the exact opposite of Clifton in every respect. But strangely it possesses something of a fair-trade, yet threadbare, tanked up to the gills on Special Brew, cheeky charm of it’s own, that is so ephemeral it’s almost impossible to pin down.
Lying somewhere in between these two extremes is the city centre and harbourside area of Bristol. Home to some decent restaurants, it is extremely pleasant during the day, or on a midweek evening. Its Jekyll and Hyde nature is starkly evident upon the weekend, however, where it plays host to some God awful, two for one; sambuca and Red Bull, puke drenched heaving pits of inequity attracting hideously and often ridiculously attired leathered mobs of hens and stags like moths to a flame.
Into this middle ground, the owners of rough around the edges, trendy eco Bristol street-chic Canteen in the aforementioned Stokes Croft have planted their latest flag, laying claim to a prime and rather attractive corner plot on the harbourside.
‘E’ and myself visited The Harbourside Bistro recently on a whim; it was late and we happened to be passing and hungry.
I’d been hearing mixed reviews about it, to be honest I say ‘mixed’ but more like polar opposite views, ranging from horrendous to some of the best food eaten in Bristol. Added to this a rather unusually lukewarm review from Mark Taylor in the Bristol Evening post, and I was intrigued.
It was a surprisingly mild night, and we grabbed a table outside so we could dine next to the water, and under the stars….ahhh tres romantique….but *cough *…..*splutter* also tres smoky. Our fellow diners, taking the opportunity for some al fresco fag action were lighting up and puffing away all around us. Naturally, being an ex thirty a day man, I am completely unsympathetic to their utter selfishness and damn all their eyes for polluting my inherent purity.
Despite the aroma a la Benson and Hedges, it was quite romantic dining outside on a balmy summer evening, hearing the gentle lap of the water against the boat hulls in the harbour and the tables dimly illuminated by the flicker of candlelight.
Glancing at the menu, we decided to forego the three mains listed and instead decided to order the whole of the intriguingly named ‘Bristol Tapas’ section instead. I have to say; there is something extremely satisfying in responding to a waiter’s question of
“What will you have?” with a definite
“Everything, yes… all of that – yes, the whole menu section, bring it all”.
Although perhaps not quite as extravagant as it appears, the most expensive item being four Giga Oysters for £5, everything else being priced at around the £3 mark.
I’d read somewhere that the kitchen were baking their own organic bread and also, unusually, making their own butter. Which is entirely admirable as far as I’m concerned. We had to order some. The bread was excellent. The homemade butter less so. The garlic and herb flavoured examples were nice, the plain butter tasted like margarine to me. Still impressive.
At this point a profusion of ‘Bristol Tapas’ arrived, all at once.
First up the Giga oysters, which the menu told me were sourced from the River Exe, which Google tells me mostly lies in Devon. These came with lemon and a bowl of shallot vinegar.
The oysters were nice, briny and fresh but lacked something in the preparation. The oysters hadn’t been shucked properly, a couple contained broken shell and all were still slightly attached. Still, although a bit sloppy, it wasn’t the end of the world and the oysters were a nice start.
Next the smoked mackerel pate on Shipton Mill toast. My first thought was what a beautifully presented plate of food. My second thought upon having a taste was “Wow, fishy” which is no bad thing, and shouldn’t be taken as a criticism in any way. I find strongly fishy food a bit too much for me, and despite having a good go at it, I had to let ‘E’, who has no such qualms, finish the plate.
The roast beetroot and goats cheese pate with pickled beetroot and golden beet chutney was much more agreeable to my delicate Essex palate and I happily dug into it. Not bad at all.
The minted mixed beans, sweet baby onions and yoghurt dressing had a distinctly Moro’esque feel to it, and was a bloody nice, well-put together, simple and fresh bowl of food. I’d like to see more dishes like this on the menu.
The last of our tapas dishes was something of a 1970’s throwback styled, organic marinated chicken with baby gem and cheddar, which despite looking like something Fanny Craddock would have churned out was actually delicious.
Lastly, a shared dessert – Lemon syrup tart with raspberry cranachon was quite possibly the best thing I ate all night, beautifully made with a really moist lemon syrup filling surrounded by superb pastry. It was really good.
Talking about it afterwards, both ‘E’ and myself agreed that we’d really enjoyed our al fresco meal at The Harbourside. Eating outside by the water on a summer evening is certainly appealing, although this being the UK, it wont be quite so charming come the rain lashed autumn months.
I really like the enterprise displayed, churning their own butter and the careful local sourcing is to be applauded. But things aren’t quite as slick as they obviously want them to be. The sloppily prepared oysters and the tasteless (albeit home churned) plain butter, showing a slight lack of attention to detail. Saying that, it’s early days, the ‘Bristol tapas’ are interesting, ridiculously cheap and in most cases beautifully presented, some of the dishes were outstanding (Lemon tart, I’m looking at you). I now feel like I really need to go back and try some of the mains.
All in all, I liked The Harbourside, it certainly has a certain charm. It’s exciting to speculate, bearing in mind the obvious ambition in the kitchen, how the menu and the food will evolve and improve as they bed-in. Definitely one to watch.
1 Cannons Road
Telephone: 0117 929 1100