10 things I love about Bristol’s food and drink scene

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It’s hardly surprising, as a local food blogger, that I’m a big fan of Bristol’s food and drink scene. We live in an innovative city that is proud of its heritage, but which is happy to diversify and grow with the times. And while Bristol may still lag behind London in terms of its food and drink scene, I’m convinced that we’re catching up quickly. Don’t agree? Here are 10 reasons why you should…

 

1. The diversity

There really is something for everyone in Bristol – whatever your tastes and budget. From tabletop Korean BBQ at Surakhan to all-American BBQ at the Grillstock Smokehouse; from the street food traders to the Michelin stars of Wilks, Casamia and The Pony & Trap, we have it all. Whether you’re into fast food or fine dining, exotic meats or vegetarian and vegan feasts; whether you want to head out for a leisurely brunch at the likes of Rosemarino or enjoy a 2am Chinese banquet at Mayflower, you’re sure to find something to suit your needs. And the best bit? Bristol is ever-changing, with new restaurants, cafes, bars and shops springing up all over the city, week in, week out. Who needs London?

 

Wall art, Grillstock Smokehouse

Wall art, Grillstock Smokehouse

 

2. The imagination

Here in Bristol, people like to do things differently. Steak Of The Art have given us a steak restaurant and art gallery in the same space. The Playground Coffee Co. have swings on which to sit while enjoying a hot drink. And the Hungry Caterpillar Play Cafe in Bedminster offers parents somewhere to keep the children entertained while enjoying great local food and drink – as well as pop up dining evenings for adults accompanied by children’s entertainers to avoid the need for a babysitter. The Star & Dove in Totterdown focus on recipes from centuries gone by, while we also have 40 Alfred Place in Kingsdown: a fully licensed 40 cover restaurant which anyone can hire out to host their own pop up restaurant for the evening. If you’re looking to launch a food-related business with a difference, the success of existing weird and wonderful companies proves that Bristol’s a good place to do it.

 

40 Alfred Place

40 Alfred Place

 

3. The coffee

Bristol’s independent coffee scene has boomed over the last few years, with places like Small St Espresso, Full Court Press and Didn’t You Do Well raising the bar for coffee in the city. These are people who belong to the Third Wave of coffee: specialists who have a passion for high quality coffee and treat it as an artisanal foodstuff, rather than as a commodity. While many of the chains are more about quantity than quality, many of Bristol’s new independent coffee shops see things differently, talking about coffee in the same way that wine connoisseurs talk about wine. If you’re a coffee chain fan, it’s time to branch out.

 

4. The street food and market traders

While we’re nowhere near as advanced as London in terms of street food, it’s surely only a matter of time until we have permanent street food areas similar to the capital’s Netil Market. We’ve got St Nick’s Market, obviously, with traders such as Grillstock, Pieminister, Eat A Pitta and the Sourdough Cafe serving huge numbers of lunchtime customers. We’ve got the odd standalone permanent street food trader, such as The Food Warren near Temple Meads and the wonderful Edna’s Kitchen (technically a kiosk rather than street food) on the edge of Castle Park.

We also have the guys at Bristol Eats – a fantastic street food collective that pops up in various locations across the city, serving such delights as soft serve ice cream from Vee Double Moo, Indian street food from Gopal’s Curry Shack, Vietnamese dishes from Viet Vite and more. I’m just praying for the day when we have a permanent, dedicated area for our local street food traders…

 

Vee Double Moo's distinctive camper

Vee Double Moo’s distinctive camper

 

5. The determination and passion

When you go out to eat at an independent restaurant, you don’t always know just how hard the owners have strived to get there. Romy Gill of Romy’s Kitchen in Thornbury is a case in point: opening a restaurant has been her dream for years, and she’s worked incredibly hard to get there. Despite being turned down for business loans by a number of banks, she persisted, making the headlines on the national BBC News. NatWest came to her rescue, and since opening in September 2013, she’s worked her hardest to get herself known – both locally, and across the country.

Kieran and Imogen Waite are a couple who have shown similar passion and desire. Their presence on the Bristol food scene began with the Bravas Supper Club, at which they tested out tapas recipes and asked for feedback from diners, using the evenings as a testing ground for dishes to include on future restaurant menus. From the supper club was born their Bravas restaurant on Cotham Hill – and now also Bakers & Co, a San Fran-inspired brunch venue on Gloucester Road. I love the fact that Bristol is home to so many entrepreneurs who have fought so hard to get to where they are – they truly are an inspiration.

 

Romy's Kitchen - Sign

 

 

6. The festivals and markets

In Bristol, we’re blessed with a whole host of regular markets that have really raised the awareness of a wealth of local food and drink producers. The Whiteladies Road Market on the first and third Saturday of each month, the Ashton Court Producers’ Market on the third Sunday of each month, the weekly Farmers’ Markets and Food Markets at St Nick’s…and that’s just for starters. It’s great to see so many regular events that showcase the very best in local produce, giving shoppers the chance to buy regularly from great local and independent brands.

If the markets weren’t enough, we’re also lucky that the city hosts a variety of food and drink festivals all year round. You can enjoy BBQ and music at the Grillstock Festival every year, as well as Lorna Knapman’s brilliant Love Food Festival at Paintworks and the old Passenger Shed at Temple Meads. We have Eat Drink Bristol FashionFoodies Festival and VegFest every summer, as well as regular large cider festivals and beer festivals at the Passenger Shed. Bristol Food Connections is (fingers crossed) set to become an annual event, and you’ll also find a whole host of smaller festivals taking place throughout the city at various times of year. There’s no denying that we live in a city that’s keen to celebrate its strong food connections via as many events as possible…

 

Ashton Court Producers' Market

Ashton Court Producers’ Market

 

7. The local produce. 

I love the fact that you can drive for just 10-15 minutes out of the city, and you’re surrounded by farmland. I love the fact that you can head to places like Ashton Court and Leigh Woods and forage for wild garlic and other goodies. And I love the fact that there are groups such as Incredible Edible Bristol who are working hard to transform even inner city spaces into productive food-growing areas, aiming to put us on the map as the UK’s first edible city.

We have a wealth of restaurants who use as many locally produced ingredients as they possibly can, and we have producers just outside Bristol, such as Stream Farm and The Story, who deliver to both businesses and individuals within the city, highlighting just how easy it is to eat locally.

 

Wild Garlic at Ashton Court

Wild Garlic at Ashton Court

 

8. The food history

It’s probably fair to say that, in the perception of most people across the UK, Bristol’s only really started to come into its own as a “foodie city” in the last couple of years. The truth is, however, that Bristol has been the home to some big brands and major food and drink innovations for far, far longer.

Brain’s Faggots were invented on Upper York Street, while Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry was first blended in the city sometime during the 1860s. Ribena was originally made by Carters, who were based in Bristol, while in the 18th century, when Bristol was the second biggest city in the UK, it was known for being the hub for imports such as sugar cane, cocoa and rum which were delivered to the city via trade ships.

Bristol is also a city known for its chocolate heritage. Guilbert’s was formed on Park Street in 1910, and still has a shop on Small Street today. Fry’s began to sell their chocolate in their apothecary on Small Street in 1756, moving to Wine Street and Union Street before opening seven new factories across Bristol between 1860 and 1907 – and in the 1920s, they opened their well-known factory in Keynsham, subsequently merging with Cadbury’s. We also have the claim to fame of Fry’s making the first chocolate Easter egg in Bristol in 1873.

With such history, it’s unsurprising that Bristol has grown into the foodie city that it is today, making history for future generations.

 

9. The aversion to chains

Don’t get me wrong – not all chains are bad. They serve a purpose and have their benefits: you know what you’re getting, there are often discount vouchers available and they’re good for big and diverse groups of people who are hard to please. In Bristol, though, there’s a definite aversion to chain shops, restaurants and cafes – to the extent that I’ve even been told before that I shouldn’t review chain venues for Bites.

I’m not saying that I’m anti-all chains. What I’m saying is that it’s great that there are so many people in the city willing to stand up for local independents, creating a sense of locality and community.

Think back to when Tesco opened on Stokes Croft, and the riots that ensued. Think of the outrage and public complaints when Costa decided to open a branch next to the lovely Tart Foodstore & Cafe on Gloucester Road, and also next to Chandos Deli on Whiteladies Road. The number of supermarkets opening on Whiteladies Road have caused concern too, and there were plenty of celebrations when the Starbucks in Broadmead closed down. Much of Bristol is proud of its independent vibe, and while there tend to be no complaints about chains in shopping centres and busy high street areas, there are certain parts of Bristol that, in the eyes of the people, should remain independent.

 

10. The sense of community

I spent five years living in London before I moved to Bristol, and while the food scene there is fantastic, the place has nowhere near the same sense of community as Bristol’s food scene does. Events such as Bristol Food Connections and Eat Drink Bristol Fashion bring together competitors in big, city-wide celebrations of all that Bristol has to offer, while you only have to turn to Twitter to see the camaraderie between those involved in making the city such a great place to eat and drink.

 

One Response to 10 things I love about Bristol’s food and drink scene

  1. Pingback: A review of Henry's Grill in Esher, Surrey by How to cook good food

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