Restaurants in Bristol certainly benefit from the abundance of really rather remarkable produce around these parts, but it's only the very best that turn it into gastronomic delights to make mouths marvel. But that doesn't mean they have to be temples to culinary expense - many of Bristol's best restaurants won't break the bank. We've put together our favourite spots below, so take a look and tuck in. Bon appétit
Bristol's best restaurants
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. Steak and 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 here - between 5pm and 7pm from Monday to Saturday, a 6oz rump steak, fries, sauce and a glass of house wine is only £12.50. If you can get a better deal than that in Bristol, we’re yet to find it.
The site of one of Keith Floyd’s former bistros is in safe hands with Liberty Wenham and Seldon Curry at the helm, who met while both working for famed British chef Mark Hix and have experience alongside the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Rowley Leigh. Seafood features strongly in a menu that changes daily; if you’re lucky enough to see the lobster and rabbit pie (£18), make sure you don’t miss out on one of the best dishes in town.
It may have a Michelin star, but the Pony & Trap is still very much a country pub. There’s also ham, egg and chips (£10.50) on the menu alongside venison faggots, pork belly and pheasant breast. Lunch and dinner are £25 for two courses, or £30 for three. A tasting menu here costs £60 per person, with an optional £25 wine flight. Expect venison, turnip and turnip tops; and hake, chicken wing and bacon broth. The Pony & Trap might be a car ride away from Bristol, but is well worth the trip.
Chomp’s first permanent premises only opened towards the end of 2014, but it already had a loyal and ready following. The bacon baps (£3.50) remain as a morning offering, while the choice of burgers is refreshingly simple compared to the thousands of different combinations on offer elsewhere. For simplicity, stick to the house classic (£10), cooked medium and served in a brioche bun with fries and coleslaw. There’s also an 8oz ribeye steak for £16 and an excellent veggie burger (the 'bloody veggie'). From the beers, try the Chomp house brew, a 6% pale ale especially brewed for Chomp by old collaborators Wiper & True.
Nobody does small plates better than Bell’s Diner, a neighbourhood restaurant par excellence in bohemian Montpelier. Long a fine dining restaurant, a change of ownership in 2013 saw chef Sam Sohn-Rethel poached from the still excellent Manna in Westbury Park to head up the team in the kitchen and produce dishes with inspiration from Spain, North Africa and the Mediterranean. If you’re coming for lunch, you can do no better than the three small plates for a tenner deal. More substantial main courses include chicken oyster pinchos marinated in chipotle with harissa yoghurt (£13) and venison and red wine ragu, soft polenta and chanterelles (£16).
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-owner Sam Leach previously worked in the renowned London restaurant. Closer to home, Sam also spent some time as a baker in Mark’s Bread and, before that, hosted supper clubs with his partner (and Birch front-of-house) Beccy Massey at their various different flats across Bristol. The one-page menu always has just six options: snacks, starters, mains, ices, pudding and cheese. All are excellent.
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 - and it won’t leave your hands dripping with oil. A menu of no more than 20 options means you’re guaranteed that your food has been cooked fresh. The serving area has recently been moved back a few feet, meaning more space for tables inside, and although the original deli idea is no longer at the fore, Indian cookery classes are due to start soon. And you’re guaranteed one of the warmest welcomes in town from Faruk and Shilpi Choudhury, who were still Lord and Lady Mayoress of Bristol when they opened Chai Shai at the start of 2014.
One of the joys of Sky Kong Kong is not knowing what you’ll be eating - other than 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. Moving away from solely her native cuisine, Sky Kong Kong is Wizzy’s opportunity to showcase her considerable talents, cooking at the far end of this former pie shop behind a curtain made from bamboo. Depending on the day you visit, you might be served Provencale fish stew or paella, or Korean-style sashimi, or pad Thai.
It’s been an itinerant journey for Zazu’s Kitchen – but after a move only a few doors down the road at the back end of 2014 it now has a secure footing on the Gloucester Road, alongside a second restaurant on North Street. A popular brunch menu offers Merguez sausages, scrambled eggs and chilli sauce on sourdough toast at £6.95, with smoked salmon or Serrano ham decadent accompaniments to the scrambled eggs on sourdough toast (£6.75). At lunch, the marinated halloumi, tomato and aubergine salad and toasted quinoa (£7.95) is a highlight, and the pan fried pigeon breast, red cabbage and candied hazelnuts for £6.50 is worth sampling for the nuts alone.
Plates of food don’t come much more vibrant than those served at Souk Kitchen, which has firmly succeeded in its aim to bring authentic Middle Eastern market dishes to Bristol. Eat from across the Middle East: there’s Israeli couscous salad (£4.50); Iranian cucumbers; Turkish beans and peppers, mechouia (grilled vegetable salad) for £3.95 and shakshouka (poached eggs, peppers, tomatoes and onions on grilled flat bread, £5.10) 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, only a few hundred yards away down North Street.
One of Bristol’s newer restaurants is already packing the punters in with a simple menu that shows it isn’t necessary to pack as many items as possible onto a menu when just two will do. The pair of choices at Flour & Ash are pizza and ice cream. Okay, there are a few starters and sides as well, the pick of which are the white truffle salami (£6) or crispy ox tongue with salsa verde mayonnaise (£5). Pizzas come with or without tomato sauce, prices ranging from £6.75 for the margherita to £15 for aged beef fillet with watercress, Old Winchester cheese, horseradish and rosemary oil. Ice cream and sorbets cost £2 per scoop and are superb.
Located within a restored Victorian walled garden deep in the countryside, 12 miles outside of Bristol, it’s little wonder that The Ethicurean opted to include almost as many photos of its stunning environs as of the food exquisitely prepared here in its recent cookbook. The Ethicurian is a bucolic delight, with sweeping views over the Mendip hills 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.
These days, it's rare to walk down the street in Bristol and not hear Spanish voices, such has been the level of migration to the city in recent years. However, the best Spanish bar and restaurant in town is owned by English couple Kieran and Imogen Waite (who can also be found at their San Fransisco-inspired cafe Bakers & Co on Gloucester Road). The pair may have been born in Bristol, rather than Barcelona, but authenticity is taken very seriously here. Every January, they take all their staff to Spain on research trips. 2015 saw a visit to Malaga, home of Bravas favourite fried aubergine with molasses (£2.90), to meet producers, sample new products and source authentic recipes to add to the menu.
Ethical and sustainable are certainly buzzwords in the food and drink industry these days but some restaurants often only pay the concepts lip service. Not so Poco, which weighs its rubbish every day and then recycles or up-cycles 90% of it, with the ultimate aim of producing no waste. Poco’s commitment to the environment doesn’t stop there – the majority of 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 commitment, the awards cabinet is bulging; but none of this would matter a jot if the food wasn’t up to scratch. Thankfully, it is.
The Lido’s first-floor restaurant with a bird’s eye view of 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. Lovingly restored by the owner of the Glassboat restaurant in the city centre, don’t be put off by seeing ‘Birdfood’ on the menu. This is the tasting menu prepared by head chef Freddy Bird at £40 per person. Bird is a keen and knowledgeable forager of ingredients and makes use of them among the daily-changing dishes, many of which are cooked in an impressive wood-fired oven.
There is no restaurant called Gordon Ramsay in Bristol. Nor a Marcus (Wareing) or Alan Ducasse at The Dorchester. 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 obviously backed himself and he was right to - just over a year after opening in 2012, the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star, making it one of only three in the Bristol area to hold that distinction, alongside Casamia in Westbury-on-Trym and the Pony & Trap in Chew Magna.
A five-foot high Gromit statue daubed as a strawberry packed in the punters at The Pump House over the summer of 2013, in the process raising millions of pounds for Bristol Children’s Hospital. However, The Pump House needs no gimmicks, with chef-proprietor Toby Gritten transforming the imposing former Victorian pumping station into much more than simply a pub that serves good food. It's predominantly British, with tasting menus served most evenings to showcase the chefs’ modern cooking techniques and an a la carte menu offering more traditional pub fare.
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 Pieminister’s ‘Mothership’, a behemoth of a meal, with a pie on top of mash, mushy peas, gravy, grated cheese and shallots. Thankfully, though, us Bristolians don’t have to go all the way to a muddy field to find the Mothership. 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 popcorn crayfish and a cheeseboard, with the pick of the puddings a 'Bristolbocker glory' served with cider brandy.