Strawberry Thief, Broad Street: Review

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 Strawberry Thief - Exterior

 

We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to beer in Bristol. Now those who like their beers a little more on the Belgian side have somewhere to call home, with the opening of Belgian beer bar Strawberry Thief on Broad Street in the city centre.

Why Strawberry Thief, you ask? The venue is actually named after one of the most famous wallpaper patterns created by William Morris. It may seem a random connection, but Broad Street had a strong association with the printing industry in the past, and the Edward Everard Building – whose facade can be seen from the Strawberry Thief – was home to one of the city’s most prolific printing firms.

While we already knew what Strawberry Thief was all about on the evening of our visit, it could be hard to work it out for the uninitiated. The large floor to ceiling windows are simply etched with the venue’s name and reveal a tea room-like set up inside, with a jumble of wooden tables and chairs, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, an old feature fireplace and framed William Morris wallpaper prints adorning the light blue walls. It also struck us how light it was inside, which added to the lack of a bar feel.

On walking through the door, we were greeted by a waiter in the traditional uniform of a white shirt and black trousers and shown to an empty table: all very formal indeed. The front room of the venue has no bar (and no bar was visible from where we were sitting), but we were soon brought a beer menu to peruse.

On the list was a choice of five different draught beers, including a Pauwel Kwak Belgian amber ale (£3.70/half pint), the 8% Kasteel Rouge which blends the dark Kasteel Donker with cherry liqueur (£3.70/half pint), and Witbier Blanche de Bruxelles (£5/pint), which was chosen by Chris and was beautifully fresh and citrusy. The rest of the menu sorts the bottled beers by type, including Pilsner, Blonde, Tripel, Witbier, Saison, Dark, Fruit and Sour – it was from this final lambic list that I chose my Lindemans Cassis (£4.20/375ml). I’d already tried the very sweet peach variety at Aviator Bar earlier this year, but preferred the Cassis with its massive depth of flavour thanks to oak ageing and its secondary fermentation with the addition of blackcurrants.

 

Strawberry Thief - Blanche de Bruxelles

Strawberry Thief - Lindemans Cassis

 

While this place is all about the beer, there is also a short wine list (three reds, three whites and a rose), all available either by the glass or for between £18 and £22 per bottle, along with fizz, spirits, soft and hot drinks. A food menu is due to arrive in 2015 – but in the meantime, they have quiche.

We decided to explore the place after our drinks – the front room leads through to a small and darker snug-type area, which leads straight through to the bar and a few additional tables. Again, the bar had the same kind of feel as the front room: elegant and formal and quirky, all at the same time.

 

Strawberry Thief - Bar

 

It’s clear that this is a venue designed with men in mind, if only from the fact that you’ll find one male and two unisex toilets at the rear of the bar area…

There’s no denying that the service we received during our visit was great: the waiting staff were formal yet friendly, and offered assistance with the menu should it be required. However, the atmosphere of the place just didn’t feel quite right…

Our feeling was that it wasn’t the most relaxing place to sit and enjoy a drink after a long working week: the room was far too bright, the layout bizarre and the seating not particularly comfortable. I also feel that in places like this, where Bristolians are being introduced to drinks that can’t easily be found elsewhere, it’s nice to be able to sample a few options before making a decision: places like the Beer Emporium on Small Street allow you to stand at the bar and chat through what’s on offer with the bar staff, sampling the draught beers to establish what works for you. This isn’t the case at Strawberry Thief: I’m not denying that they have some great tasting notes in their menu, but it was that level of informality and discovery that I felt was lacking.

It’s an odd place. A great place for Belgian beer lovers to work their way through a wide variety of options – but we just didn’t feel like it was a place to sit, relax and while away an evening. I’d be interested in hearing what others think…

 

2 Responses to Strawberry Thief, Broad Street: Review

  1. I absolutely agree with you on the atmosphere not feeling quite right. I have been now 3 times and I have the same feeling each time. They could do with big curtains at the windows, comfy chairs/sofa, better lighting, nice music (I can’t tell if they play any), fire in the fireplace, and stop the serving at the table thing. I also think they should provide small portions of cheese + celery salt, which is what you will get with your drink in Belgium.
    The bar is rather empty most of the time, which makes me think that they should fix this atmosphere issue pretty quickly if they don’t want to have to shut down soon.

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