Park Street’s filling up with new additions recently. As well as the pop up Mayfest Cafe opposite College Green (open during the 2012 Mayfest only), and La Tomatina tapas bar and lounge in the old Sue Sheppard building, the road is now home to Bristol’s latest pan-Asian restaurant: Toro.
The venue is housed in the former La Riva Italian restaurant near the top end of Park Street. Retaining an exterior branded in red, the restaurant features a small dining area with a well-stocked bar and window seats, as well as a larger, raised area further back.
On arriving, we were presented with two menus: the standard Toro menu, as well as a separate Chinese menu. Main courses are competitively priced on both menus, ranging from around £6 to £10, with some of the Chinese dishes peaking at about £15. If you work nearby, there’s also a great value lunch menu, with selected dishes plus rice for £5.95.
As with most Asian restaurants in Bristol, the amount of choice was staggering, and it took us a while to decide. While I stuck to the standard menu, Laura chose a very brave main course option from the Chinese menu!
For her starter, the self-confessed prawn addict chose the salt and pepper king prawns (£7.95). A little on the pricier side, but a generous portion size. The prawns were well cooked, and the pepper in the batter added the perfect amount of heat. She was also pleased that the batter was quite light, which may not appeal to some but suited her tastes perfectly. The one let down, in her eyes, was that the prawns were served unaccompanied: it would have been nice, she said, to have more of a garnish and some sort of dipping sauce on the plate.
After asking for a recommendation for my starter, I was served the Szechuan style aubergine (£4.95) – something I probably wouldn’t normally have chosen for myself. The skinless wedges of aubergine were slightly crispy on the outside and wonderfully soft in the middle, and accompanied by a sweet and sour-style sauce with a real kick: both from dried chillis and sliced fresh red chilli. I’d definitely order this again.
Laura ambitiously ordered, from the Chinese menu, what we were told to be the hottest dish on the menu – the Waterfall Spicy Beef (£10.95), along with a side order of plain chow mein (£4.95). We were warned that it was a big portion and easily enough for two to share…and they were right – Laura ended up having about half of it packaged up to takeaway.
While she claimed that it wasn’t too spicy for her, it looked terrifying. Small pieces of dried red chilli (including seeds – looked similar to the contents of a jar of “Very Lazy” chillis) jostled for space with larger chunks of red chilli, which were deemed to be the real killer in terms of heat. Added to this was a liberal application of chilli oil, and finally the beef (tender and obviously slow cooked) and beansprouts. She did well, and said she’d happily order the dish again, but it’s not one for the fainthearted! I must admit, I was surprised when we were told that the kitchen staff, when making the dish for themselves, make it even hotter…
I decided to go for the noodles in soup stock: a build-your-own-dish section of the menu. Choose from five different soup bases, four varieties of noodle, and one of thirteen different combinations of meat, seafood and vegetables.
Prices are charged based on the meat/seafood/veg option that is chosen, and my Toro Special was the most expensive on the menu, at £8.95. Considering the number of different elements to the dish, it’s hardly surprising: my bowl turned up to the table filled with beef, chicken, squid, prawns, scallops, fish balls and fish cake, plus beansprouts and a topping of fresh sliced cucumber.
The vermicelli rice noodles that I had chosen were cooked well and plentiful, and the Malaysian coconut and curry laksa soup base warming and tasty, but I would have preferred the spice levels to be a little higher.
Desserts are advertised on laminated cards placed on each table, and consist of the standard bought-in fare that you find in many Oriental restaurants. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but even the simple option of Thai sticky coconut rice with fresh mango would be an easy but important addition to the menu. Having said that, I’ve since seen a photo on Twitter of a new homemade addition to the dessert menu, so maybe things are changing.
We both agreed that we’re keen to head back and try more of the menu – fortunately (bar a few niggles) our experience didn’t mirror that of other diners whose reports we have seen. They’re introducing a new bubble tea menu too, so that’s an added incentive for me to head back! Recommended.
Please note: Toro knew who we were when we booked our table, but this in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the company did not see this review before it was put up on the site.
Find Toro Pan Asian on the Bristol Bites Directory…