Friday 31 August 2012

My guide to eating and drinking in Bristol - Updated January 2015

So, I’ve been living in Bristol for around three years now and I reckon I've now spent enough time stuffing my face and staggering around inebriated to be able to pass some of my hard won accumulated wisdom onto any visitors to the city.

Therefore, I’d like to present to you my favourite places to eat and drink in Brizzle, handily broken down into sections. I should stress, before I get any hateful comments, no doubt accusing me of being an Essex- know-nothing-twat who doesn't know his arse from his elbow, these are ‘my favourites’, and as a result there’s the remote possibility that the places I like may not always tally with what you like.

Although, saying that, you should also be aware that I have impeccable taste and you could do muchos worse than to listen with rapt attention to every glittering nugget of well judged wisdom that is thoughtfully and modestly projected from my handsome mouth with regards to eating and drinking.

Things are constantly changing in the Bristol dining and boozing scene, restaurants close, others open etc  I'll try and keep this guide updated. Just so you know, this post was last updated in January 2015

On that note, let us begin...

Flinty Red
This small Cotham Hill restaurant has a daily changing Spanish- Italian influenced menu, which is always interesting. The cooking is superb, extremely polished yet rustic. The Chefs jointly own the restaurant with the proprietors of independent wine merchants, Corks of Cotham, just down the road. Somewhat unsurprisingly then, the wine list is excellent and well priced.

34 Cotham Hill, BS6 6LA
Telephone – 0117 923 8755
This St Nicholas market restaurant and food hall has only recently started opening in the evenings, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and I’ve already had some very good meals here. The fish and meat on the menu is straight from their own butcher and fishmonger counters and available to buy. The short, regularly changing menus, could probably be best described as modern British. The cooking is very good with the steaks being particularly top drawer. The bread and desserts are made by their own pastry chef, and are also superb (try the chocolate salted caramel cherry brownie).

1-3 Exchange Avenue, St Nicholas Market. BS1 1JW
Telephone – 0117 927 2998
Harvey Nichols
The Bristol outpost of the high fashion department store has a very decent restaurant on the second floor. The dining room is glamorously decorated in a Bond’esque style, featuring lots of gold and plush white carpets. The beautifully presented, classically cooked food is excellent, particularly from the a la carte menu. The wine list is superb and extremely comprehensive. This is definitely the place to head if you feel like a bit of posh.

27 Philadelphia Street, Quakers Friars, Cabot Circus, BS1 3BZ
Telephone - 0117 916 8898

Bell's Diner and Bar Rooms
Right now, this is undoubtedly my favourite restaurant in Bristol. It's so good, I eat here at least once a week. Located in Montpelier, the Chef, Sam is ex Moro, Lido, Flinty Red and Manna and he can really cook. His food is absolutely bloody fantastic, gutsy and full of bold interesting flavours but with some really subtle touches where needed. There’s a definite Spanish influence there, with a passing nod to British and classic French. The wine list is pretty bloody good too.So go, get stuck in and enjoy.

1-3 York Road, Montpelier, BS6 5QB
Telephone: 0117 924 0357
The Pony & Trap
A Michelin starred pub, which actually manages the tall order of being a proper pub as well as a restaurant, just 10 miles outside Bristol in the village of Chew Magna. The six course tasting menu I ate there last year was undoubtedly one of the best meals I’ve eaten anywhere let alone Bristol. At £45 it was an almost ridiculous bargain. Chef Josh Eggleton’s modern British cooking is inventive but remains on the right side of experimental. If it’s available, definitely go for the tasting menu. The wine list is decent and very well priced too.

Newtown, Chew Magna, Bristol, BS40 8TQ
Telephone - 01275 332627
Absolutely cracking modern Middle Eastern restaurant, just South of the river in Bedminster. The food is superb, beautifully presented and good value with an interesting specials board that changes daily

277 North Street, Bedminster, BS3 1JP
Telephone 0117 966 6880
Wallfish Bistro
This cracking little bistro is on the site of the late legendary chef, TV personality and boozer, Keith Floyd's first restaurant. The owners have worked at Hix, Ducksoup and Le Cafe Anglais and it shows. Solid cooking, lovely seasonal ingredients, bargain prices and a menu featuring British classics such as roast grouse. If you're in Clifton (or anywhere in Bristol really) definitely eat here.

112 Princess Victoria Street, Clifton. BS8 4DB
Telephone: 01179 735435
Birch is my joint favourite restaurant in Bristol right now, a distinction shared with the excellent Bell's Diner. My friends Sam and Becky run this cracking South of the river restaurant, just down the road from Tobacco Factory and their background tells you all you need to know. St John Hotel, Hawksmoor, Quality Chop House and 40 Maltby Street, to name just a few. The food is truly excellent, they growing a lot of their own produce in an allotment. It really is superb. Absolutely love it.

47 Raleigh Road, Southville. Bristol. BS3 1QS
Telephone: 01179 028 326
Flour and Ash
An absolutely belting wood fired pizza restaurant, just by the arches on Cheltenham Road. Lovely sourdough bases with just the right amount of charring, imaginative toppings (ox cheek ragu is my favourite). A nice selection of wines and beers and a frankly amazing chocolate ice-cream. I'd say this is the best place to get pizza in Bristol right now.

203B Cheltenham Road. Bristol. BS6 5QX
Telephone: 0117 908 3228

Sticks & Broth

The London trend for ramen finally hit Bristol last year, and speaking as someone who's eaten at some of the better places in the Capital (Bone Daddies and Tonkotsu). Sticks & Broth compares really bloody well. The menu features a nice selection of ramen and donburi, which although no doubt, is anything but, somehow feels incredibly virtuous and healthy. Mine's a tantanmen ramen.

48-52 Baldwin Street. BS1 1QQ
Telephone:  0117 925 5397

Just across the road from Canteen in Stokes Croft is Poco. Their breakfast options include a Moroccan breakfast, merguez sausage, harissa, sourdough and awesome creamy scrambled eggs. I like it a lot.

45 Jamaica Street, Stokes Croft, BS2 8JP
Telephone: 0117 923 2233
Wallfish Bistro
Another mention for these guys. They serve breakfast/brunch all weekend from 10am-3pm and it's absolutely belting. It's ridiculously hard to get a good breakfast in Bristol, especially on a Sunday, so go here, have the full English, drink coffee, read the papers and give me a wave whilst I do the same. I'm in there EVERY Sunday, without fail.

112 Princess Victoria Street, Clifton. BS8 4DB
Telephone: 01179 735435

Hart's Bakery
This excellent artisan bakery, located at Temple Meads in an archway underneath the station approach, is a must visit for breakfast if you're travelling anywhere by train (or even if you're not) Ignore the abysmal chain offerings on the platforms and head here for Laura Hart's excellent coffee, superb cakes, pastries and bread (I'm a huge fan of the fennel and raisin variety).  Open 7am-3pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

Arch 35 Lower Approach Road, Temple Meads. BS1 6QS

Workhouse Cafe
Just down the road from the BRI, on the corner of St Michaels Hill, this steamy windowed café serves breakfast Mon-Fri 8-11 and all day on Saturday. Its fast becoming my favourite midweek go to. Laura Hart’s sourdough toast, cracking coffee and a belting full English for £6.50 (I'm a particular fan of the sausage sandwiches, smothered with sriracha), they also serve porridge, if you’re feeling virtuous.

Perry Rd, Bristol, Avon BS1 5BG
Telephone: 0117 329 0889

Bakers And Co.
A new addition to my breakfast listing, and what a belter it is. Located on Gloucester Road and serving excellent food inspired by the San Francisco cafe scene, this buzzing little cafe is fast becoming one of my regular morning go to's. I'm a greedy bastard, so I most often go for the more traditional  'Baker's breakfast', but there are some other excellent, really interesting choices on the menu. No reservations taken, so just turn up and squeeze in.

193 Gloucester Road. BS7 8BG


Boston Tea Party
OK, it’s not an independent, but this small chain only exists in the South West and hasn't reached evil corporation size quite yet, and there’s no denying that their coffee is decent. 

Various Bristol Locations

Full Court Press
This IS an independent, and they serve excellent coffee.

59 Broad Street, Bristol, BS1 2EJ

Small Street Espresso
Another cracking independent coffee shop, right near St Nicks Market.

Small Street, BS1 1DW

Didn't They Do Well
More cracking coffee, this time on Park Row

20 Park Row, BS1 5LJ7

Found at the top of Whiteladies road, down a staircase almost hidden underneath an Indian restaurant. This low lit cocktail bar is all 1930’s Berlin understated elegance. Best enjoyed sat up at the bar watching the extremely knowledgeable staff do their thing.

52 Belgrave Road, Clifton. BS8 2XP
Telephone – 0117 946 6084

Milk Thistle
Located in a historic harbourside building, behind an unmarked door. This buzz and they might let you in cocktail bar has to be seen to be believed. Think gothic, wood panelled English country house spread over a couple of floors. The bar staff know what they’re doing and make fantastic drinks.

Quay Head House, Colston Avenue, BS1 1EB
Telephone - 0117 9294429

Hyde & Co
Up at the top of Park Street, just by The Triangle, this smaller sister bar to Milk Thistle, has a similarly eclectic, gothic, English gentleman vibe going on. It’s a fantastic place for a cheeky cocktail.

2 The Basement Berkeley Crescent, BS8 1JY
Telephone – 0117 9297007

The Rummer
A historic Inn in St Nicholas Market, now a very good cocktail bar. The selection of spirits behind the bar is huge.

All Saints Lane, Old City, BS11JH
Telephone – 0117 929 0111
Red Light
Just opened as of October 2013, this is Bristol's newest hidden cocktail bar. Located downstairs, behind a dingy, unmarked doorway covered with graffiti in Unity Street (Look for the feint red glow in one of the alcoves) Access is granted by using the payphone. Superb drinks, knowledgeable bar staff. A Plymouth gin Martini, dry with a twist is the house standard, that's all you need to know.

No1 Unity St, BS1 5HH
Tel: 0117 9291453

The Doghouse
The latest 'speakeasy' style Bristol cocktail bar, located just off of Corn street. Head downstairs into the atmospheric stone vaults and have a Plymouth gin martini, theirs are pretty bloody good.

12 St.Stephens Street, BS1 1EL
Tel: 0117 9255207

Bar Buvette
A pop-up French natural wine bar on Baldwin Street that also does a fine selection of charcuterie and cheese boards. Frankly, this is probably my favourite place to drink in Bristol right now. I LOVE IT. There is no finer way to spend an evening. Honest.
Their license is currently due to run out at the end of January (moves are afoot to extend it). Go while you can! Then join me crying my eyes out, if and when it closes.

31 Baldwin Street. BS1 1RG 


The Green Man
A fiercely independent proper boozer up the hill in Kingsdown with a nice selection of seldom seen beers, ciders and ales. There is a small but very decent food menu. Its wood panelled interior is a very pleasant place to sit and have a drink and a chat. This is about as far away from a Wetherspoons or a trendy bar as you can get. If you wanted to show someone a real-deal proper English pub, this would fit the bill.

The Green Man, 21 Alfred Place, Kingsdown, BS2 8HD

The Arnolfini
On a sunny afternoon in Bristol, there is no better place to be than sat outside the Arnolfini bar, on the harbourside with a pint. Ok – just about every other frigging person in the city has undoubtedly had the same idea, but it’s still worth joining the throng and queuing at the bar before sprawling yourself on the quayside.

16 Narrow Quay, Bristol BS1 4QA

No 1 Harbourside
On this side of the harbourside on the weekends it’s hen and stag do central, drinking it up in the rubbish chain bars on the strip. If that’s not your thing, then head here. A large independent bar with decent local beers, ciders and ales with the added bonus of a small menu of pretty good, cheap and filling grub. Think beer battered hake fillet with fries and homemade tartar sauce, lamb stew or white wine mussels, all with soup included in the price.

No. 1 Canons Road, BS1 5UH

No 1 Harbourside’s sister bar located in Stokes Croft. It’s more or less exactly the same except it’s ram packed all the time with a young, arty and trendy crowd. A decent place to sit outside with a pint and watch the comings and goings of the Croft, which lets face it, would keep even the most jaded people-watcher enthralled.

Hamilton House, 80 Stokes Croft, BS1 3QY

Seven Stars
This historic pub, just over the Bristol Bridge, in Redcliffe is what I’d call a proper boozer. Winner of the CAMRA Bristol pub of the year in 2010 and 2011, there’s a fantastic selection of unusual real ales and ciders, a dartboard and a pool table. Which is all you need really.

1 Thomas Lane Redcliffe, Bristol BS1 6JG

There's been something of an explosion of craft beer bars in the past few months in Bristol, I've drank my fair share in all of them. Here's the ones I particularly like.

Aberdeen based 'Punk' craft beer brewers have made it to Bristol. I particularly like the Punk IPA

58 Baldwin Street, Bristol, BS1 1QW
The Crofter's Rights
Formerly a live music venue, The Croft. This recently opened Stoke's Croft craft beer bar is a great place to hang out on a Friday or Saturday night. The interior is stripped back to sod all, but still looks cool and I particularly like the bleacher style seating opposite the bar, a health and safety nightmare for the inebriated.  If you're in for the long haul, drink Harbour Light.

117-119 Stokes Croft

The Barley Mow 
Bristol Beer Factory's 'flagship pub', 5 minutes walk from Temple Meads. This is a lovely little pub with an awesome selection of craft beer. Highly recommended. I particularly like Magic Rock, Simpleton.

39 Barton Road, St Philips, BS2 0LF

Small Bar
This is a regular (almost daily!) haunt of mine. An excellent craft beer bar with an ever changing list to choose from. It really is superb. Absolutely love it. Go!

31 King Street. BS1 4DZ


China Capital
I've struggled to find decent takeaway food in Bristol, I'm still looking for a good Indian, but when it comes to Chinese/Thai/General Asian goodness, then China Capital is incredibly hard to beat. In fact, it’s so frigging awesome I've decided to restrict myself to only ordering once a month, to when I'm feeling particularly lazy and don’t want to cook. I particularly recommend the udon noodles and the chicken satay skewers.

24 Ashton Road, BS3 2EA
Tel: 0117 953 9666

Monday 20 August 2012

Four days spent 'owning' a restaurant

I suspect many of us who while away our days thinking or writing about food, harbour secret restaurant owning ambitions. Not serious intent of course, just happy daydream fodder, idly picturing in our mind’s eye the look of the place, the menu, the wine list, perhaps even the name above the door. Because we all know what makes a good restaurant and what makes a frigging awful one, right? Our individual visions, pure and true would obviously be sure-fire winners and have punters queuing round the block to sample, say, the delights of a Mongolian-Cajun-fusion restaurant, which solely sells Jagerneister…by the pint.

Massive lottery win withstanding, for most of us, that’s about as far as it will ever get and our dreams will forever remain, just that.

Not for me.

Last week ‘E’ and I were ‘loaned’ the keys to a restaurant and spent four days running it exactly how we wanted to, more or less.

The Runcible Spoon is a friendly little Bristol neighbourhood bistro, which I like a lot and have written about in the past. The co-operative (very Bristol) of chefs who own it had decided to take a well-deserved holiday, and decided to close the place throughout August. Knowing that our ‘Basement’ supper club had been forced to move venues, they very kindly offered us the use of the ‘Spoon.

What a frigging opportunity eh? The only nagging doubt we had was whether we could hack it in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, we are well used to cooking set menus for fairly large groups at the supper club, but the numbers are fixed, you buy exactly the right amount of ingredients, there’s no waste and everyone gets the same. Contrast this against unknown numbers of diners, a high chance of either running out of ingredients (or possibly worse, buying too much, so loads of waste), and having to cook every single plate of food to order. It would be a real test of our abilities and nerves. Resisting an almost overwhelming urge to immediately purchase a Marco Pierre White style headscarf, we decided to crack on with planning exactly how we were going to pull this caper off.
Deciding that the best way to go would be two evenings, Thursday and Friday, then straight into an all day weekend menu on Saturday and Sunday, we started pilfering our back catalogue of ‘Basement’ menus for suitable dishes. The process we went with was for us to compile our own menus separately, and then meet back to compare notes. Naturally, this structured and well-ordered meeting of minds involved much impassioned discussion, swearing and shaking of fists, ending with a refusal to actually speak to each other. Two days and some intense counselling from friends later, we had an evening menu consisting of 3 starters, 2 mains and 2 desserts, and a final savoury flourish, our signature rarebit.
Another bruising bout of discussion left us with a room full of broken furniture and a single screwed up ball of paper, on which was scrawled the weekend menu. Mainly consisting of (hopefully superb) Bacon Sandwiches, which are a surprisingly rare find in Bristol and the pièce de résistance, Momofuku style Volcanoes (a bread roll, stuffed with potato dauphinoise, caramelised onion and with our nod to the West country, topped with Keen’s cheddar). For the rest, we planned on making up dishes from the evening leftovers.

A ridiculously huge shopping list, a timeplan, a quick tour of the ‘Spoons kitchen, a daytime music playlist and a brand spanking new ‘Basement’ website later, we were almost ready get on with it.

Gonzalez Byass makers of our favourite sherry, Tio Pepe, had readily agreed to provide the booze on a sale or return basis. At their suggestion we arranged delivery of half bottles of fino, red in the shape of a cracking Berionia Rioja Reserva, and white, a Vinas Del Vero Gewurztraminer. They also agreed to supply some bottles of Matusalem, a 30-year-old dry Oloroso, as a match for the rarebit.

Unfortunately, we both had to work, so after collecting the restaurant keys, prep didn’t start till late Wednesday night. We were on top of it; we had a plan and our own restaurant to implement it in.

Thursday morning flew past, deliveries came, one after the other. Meat, Vegetables, a whole pallet load of booze. Resisting a strong urge to wade into the sherry then and there, in a disgusting display of excess, ‘E’ and I instead were head down in the kitchen working through a prep list as long as your arm. At this point, the indomitable Kate arrived, a glamorous yet grizzled veteran of the restaurant game, she had agreed to work as our front of house. We also had the unheard of luxury of a Kitchen Porter, Alice, completely overqualified for the job really, being an old hand at waitressing and also a recent Ballymaloe graduate. She would be able to help out anywhere she was needed basically.

As is the way with these things, in the blink of an eye it was now late afternoon, and we hadn’t made much of a dent in the to-do list. This realisation injected a feint undercurrent of panic into proceedings, and we both unconsciously upped the tempo. The thing is, being in an unfamiliar kitchen, without a considerable amount of your normal everyday kitchen kit slows you down a fair bit. Also factor in that every single job, even the most mundane always takes longer than you think it will and the potential for abject humiliation was rising by the minute. I suddenly had a wave of fear wash over me, my stomach knotted and I had to fight back a rising feeling of panic.

On the plus side, the ‘Spoons professional oven, a sexy rather expensive wonder of technology was proving frigging lovely to use. Balanced and even, with a button to check current temperature, it even automatically overcompensates slightly over the desired heat, for when you open the door. I had to spend some quality time fawning over it; delicately caressing its buttons and basically playing with its knob.

6:30pm, exactly 30 minutes until the doors would be flung open, the first customers would be arriving and potential chaos. We were still cooking. I was hoping there would be a small lull before things kicked off proper, time for a mug of tea, a chat, with ‘E’. Kate and Alice, a walk through proceedings, and a chance to mentally prepare. No. We were going straight into service still completing our prep. Talk about making things hard for ourselves. Strangely enough, I now felt completely calm, and despite being patently not, pretty much on top of things.
Our first customers arrived, smiling and were ushered to the dining room downstairs. I saw Kate preparing a drinks order, and I tried to get on with the last few bits…. then almost, in slow motion, our first ticket was tucked into the holder with a “Check on” and that was that, we were off.

The next few hours passed in a blur, ticket after ticket came into the kitchen. Making dishes to order felt at first a bit clumsy, until I settled down and found a bit of a rhythm. The right frying pan for sautéing potatoes, my mise en place laid out just so, the right saucepan for poaching an egg. It’s hard to go into it with no experience of the menu and the kitchen equipment; I was fumbling my way through. It was unbearably hot and hectic. ‘E’ and I danced around each other, trying our hardest to ensure that every tables order went out together, as hot as we could make it. We both burnt ourselves often, and had a few hissed words with each other as tensions spilled over, but for the most part we stayed on top of it and suddenly, the fluttering strip of orders was reduced to just one and then none. To go through such intense all encompassing activity and then suddenly stop, left me in a bit of daze. I’ve got to say it; the mental-high of working through pressure like that and coming out the other side intact is huge.
The odd ticket came in, but compared to the deluge we’d steamed through earlier, it wasn’t anything to tax us, two now gaunt, hollow eyed and bedraggled looking 'sort of' kitchen veterans.
At this point, right at the end of the evening, the expensive super oven switched off and refused to come back on. Luckily, that was pretty much it for the night, but we had to repeat the whole thing again tomorrow, and we’d obviously be needing an oven.

As the last guest left, the front door clicked shut, a weary ‘Team Basement’ gathered around a table and alcohol was produced. We wound down, chatted and had a booze driven debrief on how we thought the evening had gone. A little worse for wear, ‘E’ and I finally got home to bed at 2:30am.

Back at The ‘Spoon for 9am, Evie, one of the owners, was waiting for us and had arranged for an engineer to come in and have a look at the busted oven. Diagnosing the problem instantly as ‘overheating tripping the switch’ the oven was functioning in minutes, by virtue of him pressing a hidden reset button on the back. He then proceeded to thoroughly milk us, his customers, by performing various, and no doubt needless diagnostic checks. His final bill. £80, for basically pressing a button.
Damning the oven engineer’s eyes, we moved on and began prep. We’d planned on Friday being more leisurely. Having done a lot of the organisation and big cooking jobs the previous day, so were confident this wasn’t going to feel anywhere near as hectic. And so it was. We worked through the list, had time for a bit of a breather before service, after feeling the heat the previous evening, we weren’t nervous and were actually looking forward to it all. At ten to seven, and just about to open the doors, a final check saw me looking around for the roasted fennel, a component on one of the main dishes, it had gone in the oven ages ago…. fuck! Quickly opening the oven doors I surveyed the blackened, steaming wreckage of the fennel, and felt physically sick.

After five minutes of recriminations and tension induced blame apportionment, we had to crack on and try and get some more prepared, rather than roasting it, we’d parboil it and then sauté it. All of this was taking up precious time. People were arriving and starters were going out already.

Fantastic. Someone had skipped starters and ordered the fennel dish. It wasn’t anywhere near ready and as we scrambled around, tickets started to back up, and more were coming in. The pressure levels in the kitchen were going through the roof, but somehow, I’m not sure how, heads down, working like automatons we got through it, plate after plate heading off the pass, in what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually around 3 hours. So much for a more leisurely day then.

Exhausted, at the end of service, after cleaning up, we gathered again round the table and had a drink and a chat about the weekend’s menu and dishes. Saturday and Sunday were going to be all day menus. Some dishes could go back on the menu as they were, and some could be recycled – the leftover cooked pork joints, shredded and served with green sauce in rolls, for example. When we knew exactly what the next days menu was going to look like we headed home. ‘E’ and I got in at midnight.
Up at 6:45 for an 8am start, I was making Volcanoes half hour later, and was selling 7, pre-ordered to a single customer by 9am. Things were going well already, we had a time plan and were on top of things, feeling fairly fresh and optimistic. Whilst leaving Klaus, our Kitchenaid to mix more dough, ‘E’ and I hefted the restaurant signboard out onto the pavement outside and straightaway heard a massive bang from within, accompanied by Alice seemingly shouting ‘FIRE!’ Dropping the board we ran back into the kitchen to a sight almost as terrible as a raging conflagration.

Alice had in fact shouted ‘FRYER!’ The countertop wasn’t level, and Klaus the Kitchenaid’s strenuous dough mixing exertions had made the whole thing vibrate wildly. The industrial deep fat fryer nearby, helped along by the tremors had worked it’s way to the edge and upended onto the floor. The horrific sight that greeted us was a 5 litre thick slick of vegetable oil spreading rapidly across the whole kitchen.

Panicked and cursing liberally, as a group we descended on the spillage with bundles of blue roll, a mop and a flat rubber broom, which seemed curiously designed for just such an incident. There is absolutely nothing worse than cleaning up oil, we slipped and slid around the kitchen getting smothered in it. 45 minutes later, the floor sparkling and us now noticeably less so. We opened the doors for our first crack at the all day menu.
Customers started arriving, tickets started coming into the kitchen and straight away everyone seemed to be ordering the same thing, herb potato cakes with bacon and either fried or poached eggs. Unfortunately, we’d had no time to pre-poach the eggs and providing that many to order, whilst trying to cook everything else was quickly becoming a problem and holding things up. We made a hasty command decision to drop poached eggs from the menu, and only offer fried.

I’ve never cooked so many bacon sandwiches in my life, and I started to think that working in a greasy spoon café was obviously a much harder gig than I’d have given credit.

As the day progressed, bacon sandwich orders started to wane, and pulled pork rolls with green sauce started to fly out of the kitchen instead, along with Volcanoes. This continued until about 4:30pm, when apart from the odd customer, things quietened down.

We closed the doors at 7pm, utterly exhausted. Our third day over, I was so tired I was almost falling asleep standing up. We had the now traditional debrief, and headed home. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Sunday, our fourth and last day running a restaurant. Happily, no accidents or disasters. The doors opened at 11am, and off we went. It was busy, far busier in fact than Saturday but we were now old hands at this; knew which pans were best for which job, where all the equipment was located and as a result we worked quickly and steadily.

It was incredibly satisfying to start seeing menu items crossed off the blackboard as gradually we started to run out of ingredients. We’d bought a mountain of bacon from our butcher, and after the first day I was doubtful we’d get through it all, but it was all gone.
Again, as it got to late afternoon, around 4pm, things started to die off again, and then I saw a couple eyeing the signboard outside, where Kate had billed the Volcanoes as ‘The best thing you’d put in your mouth all weekend’ and I popped my head out to explain what they actually were. It turned out they were looking for something to eat, and somewhere to meet friends. They came in and sat at the window ordered some beer, a volcano and some pulled pork sandwiches. 5 Minutes later, their friends arrived, and ordered more beer, volcanoes and pulled pork. Another pal arrived and ordered more of the same. We were kept busy for the rest of the afternoon, and they spent over a £100 between them. They even took volcanoes away.
When we finally closed at 7pm, we’d pretty much sold out of everything, which was a huge relief, the idea of throwing expensive ingredients away as waste doesn’t bear thinking about really.

Now we had to pack up all of our kit, get it all out and leave The Spoon looking as spotless as when we arrived. A couple of hours later, between the four of us we had the majority of it done. ‘E’ and I would come back on the Monday to finish it all off.

We sat down around the table for one last time, got the booze out and together celebrated a job well done.

At the end of the day, no one had waited that long for their food, it had all gone out of the kitchen hot, and looked decent. We’d had no complaints whatsoever. That’s about as good as it gets, considering it was the first time ‘E’ and I had worked in a kitchen together, cooking food to order. Obviously, we were helped immensely by the fact that Kate and Alice were so good at their jobs, real professionals adding a veneer of slickness to our dog and pony show, no doubt.

Working in a professional kitchen, off tickets, was a revelation for me. Yes, extremely hot, pressured, frantic and exhausting but at the same time, incredibly rewarding and addictive. When we were all working together as a team, at full tilt and dish after dish was flying off the pass and tickets were being spiked one after the other, it’s actually exhilarating, a real high.

As for the lows, it’s fucking hard work, almost ridiculously so. Even for just four days, the hours we put in were immense. Personally speaking, at the end of all that I was covered in burns, utterly exhausted and generally feeling a bit minging and spotty.

After paying staff, suppliers and The Spoon for the use of their restaurant, we didn’t exactly make out like bandits. The amount of work we did was out of all proportion to the profits. This restaurant lark is a hard game to make money from, there’s no doubt about that. I have a deep and newfound respect for anyone who’s no doubt knocking their cods off in kitchens or dining rooms up and down the country.

Finally, did the reality of my four-day restaurant ‘owning’ experience kill the dream? Happily, No. It just brutally opened my eyes to how much work is involved in actually pulling it off.
I’d like to thank both Kate and Alice for their hard work and professionalism, Jeremy and Louise at Gonzalez Byass for all their help and supplying the best alcoholic drink EVER, Dave Giles Butchers, Scott at Powell’s of Olveston, Ben at Charlie Hicks, Rory at Roy Ireland, Somerset Dairy, Herbert’s, Trethowan’s, Bristol Beer Factory, Darren at Grape and Grind, Andrew at Tart, The Runcible Spoon for actually lending us their restaurant and finally everyone else who supported us over the four days. Oh, and our mate Liz, up the road who let us put all our glass in her black recycling box.

You’re all awesome.

To see what we do next, visit…