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Bristol's best restaurants
Why go? For quality steak at a bargain price.
Located beneath a Wetherspoons pub, this effortlessly stylish restaurant is the first from the team behind popular bars Hyde & Co, Milk Thistle and Pata Negra. Pairing steak with cocktails is nothing new, as anyone who’s been to Hawksmoor in London will tell you, but this is Bristol’s first stab at the concept and it works incredibly well. Booking is highly recommended for the early evening deal: between 5pm and 7pm from Monday to Saturday, a 6oz rump steak, fries, sauce and a glass of house wine costs just £15. We're yet to find a better deal in Bristol.
Why go? For Bristol’s finest seafood dishes.
As you can probably guess by the name, seafood is central to this restaurant's menu, which changes daily. The theme even extends to the fish-shaped water bottles. Chefs Liberty Wenham and Seldon Curry met while working for famed British chef Mark Hix and have experience alongside the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Rowley Leigh.
Why go? For huge portions.
This Italian neighbourhood joint has won best breakfast and best Italian restaurant at the Bristol Good Food awards three years in a row, and its dishes are certainly deserving. Vegetarians could eat here quite happily though there’s enough on the changing menu for meat eaters too. Choose from antipasti, risottos, pasta, gnocchi and homemade bread – and make sure you leave room for dessert. Ingredients are fresh, local and seasonal.
Why go? For out-of-town country grub that doesn’t disappoint.
It may have a Michelin star, but the ever bashful Pony & Trap is still very much a country pub at heart. The menu features comfort-food favourites such as ham, egg and chips alongside dry-aged steak, chargrilled pork and smoked pancetta. Why not push the boat out with a tasting menu (£70 per person, with an optional £30-£50 wine flight)? Expect steak tartar, turbot and seaweed butter with scallops and grapefruit to start. The Pony & Trap might be a car ride away from Bristol, but it's well worth the trip.
Why go? For arguably the best burgers in Bristol.
Chomp has amassed a loyal following since opening in 2014, perhaps because it favours quality over quantity. The choice of burgers is refreshingly simple compared to the thousands of different combinations on offer elsewhere. For simplicity, stick to the house classic, cooked medium and served in a brioche bun with fries and coleslaw. There’s also an 8oz ribeye steak and an excellent veggie burger (the ‘bloody veggie’). Wash it down with the Chomp house brew, a 6% pale ale specially brewed by collaborators Wiper & True.
Why go? For super attentive service and a well-thought-out tasting menu.
We wouldn’t usually advise slapping down a non-refundable £100 before sampling a chef’s cuisine. But we’ll make an exception for this Michelin-starred restaurant that serves impeccably cooked and delightfully presented seasonal dishes. Yes, the five-course tasting menu will set you back £118 per person, (unless you make a mid-week or lunchtime booking when it reduces to £98) but if you blow your special occasion fund here, you won’t regret it.
Why go? For reasonably priced small plates.
Nobody does small plates better than Bell’s Diner, a neighbourhood restaurant par excellence in bohemian Montpelier. Despite a change of ownership in 2013, the site has remained a place for fine dining for more than 40 years. These days you’ll encounter dishes inspired by Spain, North Africa and the Mediterranean. The menu features salt-baked celeriac, wild boar stew and wood-fired quail. Try the lot – most dishes are under a tenner – and your taste buds will thank you.
Why go? For a one-page, no-frills menu for the indecisive eater.
The ever-changing, stripped-down menu, whitewashed walls and few decorative touches at Birch are all very St John, and that’s no coincidence – chef and owner Sam Leach previously worked in the renowned London restaurant. Closer to home, Sam also spent some time as a baker at Mark’s Bread and, before that, hosted supper clubs with his partner (and Birch front-of-house) Beccy Massy at their various different flats across Bristol.
Why go? For top-notch curry without the grease stains.
The small potted herb garden outside is an indication that Chai Shai isn’t your standard curry house. Instead, this is Indian food via Bangladesh that won’t leave your hands dripping with oil. A menu of no more than 20 options guarantees your food will be freshly cooked, while an upstairs dining room has been added to cater for the curry-hungry crowds. And you'll receive one of the warmest welcomes in town from Faruk and Shilpi Choudhury, who were still Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Bristol when they opened Chai Shai at the start of 2014.
Why go? For organic Korean dishes with a twist.
One of the joys of Sky Kong Kong is not knowing what you’ll be eating. What you will know is that you’ll be eating very well and paying very little. Korean chef and owner Hwi Shim (Wizzy to her friends) moved to Bristol after working in Michelin-starred restaurants in London, including Nobu and Hakkasan. Sky Kong Kong is Wizzy’s opportunity to showcase her considerable talents: she cooks behind a bamboo curtain at the far end of this former pie shop. Depending on the day you visit, you might be served provençale fish stew, paella, Korean-style sashimi or pad Thai.
Why go? For excellent-value Middle Eastern-inspired plates.
Purveyor of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine, Souk Kitchen manages to serve up a feast for the eyes as well as the belly. Expect to find mezze dishes for under a fiver, including Iranian gherkins and Turkish slaw, plus shakshouka (poached eggs, peppers, tomatoes and onions on grilled flatbread) from Tunisia. However, it’s not just exotic ingredients from warmer climes on offer here. The sausages are from Gloucester Old Spot pigs and most of the bread here is made by Mark’s Bread a few hundred yards away down North Street.
Why go? To stuff your face with pizza and ice cream, obvs.
Flour and Ash is delicious proof that it’s not necessary to pack as many items as possible on to a menu when just two will do. Pizza and Ice cream are the match made in heaven here. Plus a few starters and sides thrown in for good measure, the pick of which includes truffle polenta chips and smoked sardines. Pizzas come with or without tomato sauce, and prices range from £8.50 for the Margherita to £14 for ox cheek and red wine ragu with grana padano, bechamel sauce and basil. Our tip: arrive before 6.30pm on a weekday or 6pm at the weekend to take advantage of the £9 pizza deal.
Why go? For dinner with a view.
Located within a restored Victorian walled garden deep in the countryside, 12 miles outside of Bristol, the Ethicurean is a bucolic delight, with sweeping views over the Mendip hills and beyond. Before or after your meal, take a stroll through the gardens to see where many of your greens have come from. You might even discover the apple-pressing hut where strong muscles are needed to squeeze the juice from the fruit grown in the orchard around you.
Why go? For the best tapas you can get without hopping on a plane to Spain.
The best Spanish bar and restaurant in town is owned by English couple Kieran and Imogen Waite (who have just opened their second tapas bar, Gambas, at Wapping Wharf in London). The duo may have their roots in Bristol, rather than Barcelona, but authenticity is taken very seriously here. Every January, they take all their staff to Spain on a research trip. In 2015 they went to Malaga, home of Bravas favourite fried aubergine with molasses, to meet producers, sample new products and source authentic recipes to add to the menu.
Why go? To eat well and feel smug about it.
Ethical and sustainable are buzzwords in the food and drink industry these days but some restaurants often only pay them lip service. Not so Poco, which weighs its rubbish every day and then composts or recycles 95-100 percent of it, with the ultimate aim of producing no waste. Poco’s commitment to the environment doesn’t stop there – the majority of its ingredients are sourced from the UK, most of the vegetables come from community farms in the Bristol area, and only fish caught in Lyme Bay and graded by the Marine Conservation Society is served. Thanks to this, the awards cabinet is bulging. But none of this would matter a jot if the food wasn’t up to scratch. Thankfully, it is.
Why go? To replace the calories you burnt in the pool, and then some.
Lovingly restored by the owner of the Glassboat restaurant in the city centre, this first-floor spot that overlooks the water below is easily one of the best rooms with a view in Bristol. There aren’t many places where well-dressed clientele mix with fellow diners in fluffy dressing gowns who’ve come straight from the pool or a spa treatment. Don’t be put off by seeing ‘Bird Food’ on the menu. This is the tasting menu prepared by head chef Freddy Bird, a keen and knowledgeable forager of ingredients which he uses to create daily-changing dishes, many of which are cooked in a wood-fired oven.
Why go? For modern European dishes that taste as good as they look.
If you’re going to put your own name above the door you’ve got to be very confident in your own ability as a chef. The nearest Bristol has got to an eponymous restaurant is Wilks, owned by James ‘Wilks’ Wilkins and Christine Vayssade. Wilkins backed himself and he was right to – just over a year after opening in 2012, his restaurant was awarded a Michelin star, making it one of only three in the Bristol area to hold that distinction at the time.
Why go? To marvel at Bristol history while you chomp on locally sourced grub.
Having been transformed by top chef Toby Gritten, this grand old former Victorian pumping station is now a scenic dining spot. The menu serves British fare, with fish shipped in daily from the coast and fruit and veg donated from local allotments. Opt for the à la carte menu for traditional pub food or book a table for a lazy Sunday when all the main courses come with goose fat roast potatoes and seasonal veg. Yum.
Why go? For festival food right here in the city.
Anyone who’s been to Glastonbury festival will tell you it’s possible to survive for days on Pieminister pies and cider alone. This is especially true if you choose the Mothership, a behemoth of a meal, with a pie on top of mash, mushy peas, gravy, grated cheese and shallots (also available in a vegan version). Pieminister was founded in Bristol, with its original Stokes Croft home recently refurbished and better than ever. If the pies don’t get you drooling, other menu options include halloumi chips and mac 'n' cheese. The bottomless brunch is guaranteed to banish an impending hangover.