Wednesday, 25 May 2011
The Star & Dove - Bristol
For the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing things. Snatches here, snippets there. The Star & Dove gastropub located in Bristol’s Totterdown area has re-opened. People who know about food have eaten there, and the rumours reaching my delicate shell-likes seemingly confirm that it’s pretty good.
Gastropubs, I love em. I like the informality and the rustic food. I like being positively encouraged to drink pints of beer with my meal. Basically the sum of all a gastropubs parts appeals to my inner Essex peasant. So, I’d vowed to myself (in a somewhat admittedly over elaborate ceremony, involving chanting and farm animals) that as soon as I got the chance, I’d be hotfooting it over to Totterdown with all the single-minded determination of a cruise missile.
Monday was that day. Rolling out of bed with nothing planned, no demands expected, and not a thought in my mungus brain other than the half formed idea that it might be nice to stuff my gullet with tasty things, I suddenly remembered The Star & Dove.
Easily persuading ‘E’ to accompany me, whom as luck might have it, was enjoying a scheduled day off. We hurriedly got ready and it wasn’t long before we were both striding purposefully through the centre of Bristol, Southward bound.
Geographically, Totterdown is South of the river which runs through the centre of the city and therefore to my mind, somehow equates to ‘Sarf of the river’ in London. This also means that, to me, it’s a somewhat mystifying and unexplored part of Bristol, and my mental map has it marked with ‘There be dragons here’.
Luckily the Star & Dove isn’t too far into this heathen wilderness, and it wasn’t long before we were rocking up outside.
Monday lunchtime is probably not the best time to visit a place that has only been open for a few weeks, but needs must, and if a place is open and selling food then you’ve got to argue that anytime is valid for a review.
I hadn’t visited the pub in its previous incarnation; supposedly a pretty decent gastropub of the same name that had closed, and had remained so for a good few months. The new owners are in fact three of the chefs who had worked there previously, returning after a year apart, after working at The Harbourside, The New Inn Backwell and The Robin Hood’s Retreat on Gloucester Road respectively. Unusually, they appear to be sharing all roles, including running the bar and splitting their time between front and back of house. To encounter a ‘barman’, who is also one of the chefs, and also one of the owners isn’t something you come across often.
My first impressions upon entering the pub were of space and light. The place is frigging huge. There are three large rooms around a centrally located bar, with large windows flooding the place with daylight.
Now that I’m older, wiser, more sophisticated and almost impossibly, more beautiful, my automatic first choice is no longer a lager. So, it’s always good to see some more unusual beers on draught, RCH Double Header (oooer), Ruddles County and Abbotts Ale all featured, along with, happily one of my frequent choices, Otter. For the undecided, or those with a ridiculously short attention span, a nice touch is the option to buy 3 third of a pint measure, taster glasses. An offer that ‘E’ took up.
We picked up a menu. Ten minutes later, after much heated debate, vicious arguing and possibly a few heartfelt slaps and blows, we presented a smiling united front at the bar and ordered our food, a selection of starters and smaller plates first, and a larger main dish each.
First we started on some homemade bread with butter and rapeseed oil for dipping. The bread, apparently made each day on the premises was cracking stuff, liberally slathered with butter; we both happily stuffed our faces. I feel perhaps that the rapeseed oil as a dip for the bread isn’t the best choice. Yes, it might be locally produced, but it just isn’t that pleasant when compared to a decent Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Although saying that, we laid our hands on some smoked rapeseed oil recently at a farmers market, and that would be a completely different proposition. It’s gorgeous stuff.
With the nagging feeling that I might have over-ordered somewhat, I started on a large plate of home cured corn beef. The accompanying piccalilli was obviously homemade, and all the better for it. Some more of the excellent bread, toasted this time, and the corned beef, although not outstanding, was good. At £4.50 it was altogether a nice, incredibly cheaply priced plate of food.
Across the table, ‘E’ was rapidly working her way through a glass of freshwater crayfish, topped with some caper rapeseed mayonnaise. I tried some, and it was absolutely delicious. Once again, ridiculously underpriced at £2.50. The only minor niggle we had with this dish, was that upon nearing the bottom, there seemed to be a bit too much liquid, suggesting that the crayfish could have done with a more thorough draining off before piled into the glass.
‘E’ had ordered Porter Rarebit. To be honest, we weren’t sure about this dish at all. Yes, it certainly tasted of Porter, but strangely didn’t taste at all of cheese. It was more of a golden paste on toast, rather than a traditional grilled and bubbling rarebit. It wasn’t unpleasant, just a bit lacking in flavour really. I’d prefer to see this ditched from the menu, and a well put together standard rarebit, made using decent local ingredients, put up in its place.
So, a bit of a mixed bag to start with. Mostly good, albeit with some minor easily remedied niggles and one pretty duff dish.
But then, my main arrived and somewhat astonishingly saved the day. It looked bloody awesome; in fact it was probably one of the nicest looking plates of food I’ve seen outside a Michelin starred restaurant. I’m not sure the photo does it justice, but I sat and admired it from every angle for a good couple of minutes. Salt Marsh Lamb, Blood pudding, egg and Lamb Bacon. It was basically a whole load of beautifully cooked meat temptingly draped around an egg. I was like a pig in shit and demolished it in record time, all the while marvelling at the attention to detail, the interesting cuts and the bits and pieces artfully placed around the plate.
Truly outstanding and for £10 just a bit of a steal.
Meanwhile, although perhaps not garnering the ecstatic torrent of praise my food had provoked, across the table ‘E’ was soundly satisfied with her dish of cider braised mushrooms, wild garlic and baked potatoes. It looked great and I couldn’t say no to a quick taste. It was very good, full of herbs predominately dill - surprisingly, a great match with mushrooms and a combination I haven’t tried before. Altogether a really decent plate of food and at £7, a lot of work for again, a very low price.
Finishing up with a dessert of mead set cream with lavender shortbread that was pleasant, but had on paper, sounded a lot more interesting than it actually tasted.
I sat and mulled over the meal we’d just eaten.
I came to the conclusion, that it’s a bloody interesting menu, and that some of the food is absolutely spanking which proves that the Star & Dove could be amazing. My salt marsh lamb dish was off the chart in a scale of excellence, and it was absolute food porn to look at too. Although the side was let down a bit by the not so great dish (Porter Rarebit, I’m looking at you), and a minor niggle with the crayfish prep. It’s always just a bit frustrating when a meal isn’t consistent.
Also, if I was being a complete pedant, and had my ‘cheesemonger’ head on, the generic Stilton and Mature Cheddar on the menu really need to be replaced by some of the excellent British handmade artisan cheeses available. It’s that much more exciting to see ‘Stichelton, Colston Bassett or Keens on the menu, rather than Stilton or Cheddar which suggests the use of cheaper, catering stuff and could be the reason why the rarebit was so bland.
Saying all that, we both left more than happy with the lunch we’d just eaten. The Star & Dove is serving nice booze and obviously doing interesting things in the kitchen, (a pickled chicken dish on the menu certainly caught my eye, as did the rather interesting looking ploughmans that passed by our table, apparently served with a shot of celery juice).
The whole menu is blatantly underpriced and the Sunday lunch menu we saw looked superb. The owners went out of their way with regards to customer service, the chef even supplying ‘E’ with a free, ad-hoc, lemon curd and oat dessert when it transpired there was gelatine in the mead cream that we’d ordered.
To be fair, it hasn’t been open long, and they’re obviously just settling in. Hopefully with just a bit more attention to detail and some more consistency, The Star & Dove could be a real Bristol destination.
I’ll definitely be heading South of the river for another visit.
The Star & Dove
St Lukes Road
Telephone: 0117 933 2892