The Historical Dining Rooms, Totterdown: Review

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Historical Dining Rooms - Menu and butter knife

 

Upstairs at The Star & Dove in Totterdown, Bristol diners can now be transported back as far as the 12th century with a variety of dishes that, you’ll be pleased to hear, have been modernised to some extent by chefs Tim Denny, Leigh Pascoe and Matt Duggan to make them more suitable and exciting for the modern palate. I was introduced to their latest venture – The Historical Dining Rooms – at a launch night in June 2015, and was blown away.

Enter via the black door at the end of Windsor Terrace, and you’ll head upstairs, where you’ll ring the butler’s bell to gain access to the Regency-styled dining room. With space for 26 diners, it’s an intimate affair: wooden floors, lower walls and tables sit alongside various vintage trinkets, plenty of green paint and framed photos and historical artefacts that give you the feeling of having been transported back in time.

 

Historical Dining Rooms - Interior

 

Before our meal was served, we were lucky enough to be given a tour of the team’s rooftop garden, containing edibles such as meadowsweet, mew, heritage potatoes, angelica, medlars and an attempt to pioneer the reintroduction of barberries to the UK. There are also beehives, which will produce honey and wax for the restaurant – it’s a beautiful space which aims, says Pascoe, to “reintroduce our British heritage back into cooking”.

 

Historical Dining Rooms - Garden

 

Returning to our table, we began our evening of sample dishes from the menu with a basket of bread baked on the premises, served with both an incredibly creamy whey butter and a wonderful serving of pork lard topped with crispy onions: an indulgent treat that set the standard for what was to follow.

 

Historical Dining Rooms - Bread

 

A scoop of Parmesan ice cream, based on an 1888 recipe, was a little granular in its texture but quickly dissolved in the mouth, a confusing dish with the brain expecting sweeter flavours. The so-called “crisp biscuit” was fantastically flavoured, although sadly not as crisp as we would have hoped.

 

Historical Dining Rooms - Parmesan ice cream

 

The menu descriptions are definitely required for some dishes, and this was certainly the case for the “Skuets”, dating from 1753. As it turns out, skuet simply means skewer, and a sealed glass jar was opened at our table to reveal a wonderfully scented smoke. After the smoke had cleared, we were able to remove the contents: finely chopped veal sweetbreads and bacon skewered with rosemary, rich in flavour and tender in consistency. The fricassee of sheep’s tongue with which they were accompanied was fantastic too, adding a vinegared tang which was tempered by the crisp apple sorrel leaf balanced on top of the dish.

 

Historical Dining Rooms - Sweetbreads 1

Historical Dining Rooms - Sweetbreads 2

 

We continued to go further back in time with our “Turbot, fired”, dating all the way back to 1596. The turbot itself flaked perfectly, and was served with a samphire hash with a smooth hollandaise-like sauce, crispy fried capers, a thick cucumber purée and a crispy leaf of Dorset sea lettuce that melted away to a chewy consistency in the mouth. Probably my favourite dish of the evening.

 

Historical Dining Rooms - Turbot

 

Pre-dessert, we were treated to the chefs’ take on Punch A La Romaine: a historic drink that was served on the Titanic as an after-dance tipple. A tart lemon sorbet and both crisp and soft meringues were served in a glass, over which a boozy warm rum syrup was poured…a decadent pause between courses that preceded dessert.

 

Historical Dining Rooms - Punch

 

And what a dessert it was. The “Diverse Strawberries”, based on a recipe from 1430, featured a sweet strawberry terrine, a strawberry crisp and a whole claret-washed strawberry, served with the finest cubes of verjus jelly, an aerated almond cream, a bee pollen crumble and borage flowers from the garden: a dessert offering a wealth of flavours and textures that was the perfect end to a fantastic meal.

 

Historical Dining Rooms - Strawberries

 

Those booking a meal at The Historical Dining Rooms have a choice of menus: the seven course Bill of Fare for £48 (standard) or £38 (vegetarian) or the a la carte menu which sees starters priced from £7 and mains from £15. For the quality of the food, the diversity of the ingredients and the work that has obviously gone into creating the menus, the prices are incredible – and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this unique Bristol dining experience.

 

Please note: our meal was received free of charge, but this in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the venue did not see this review before it was put up on the site.

 

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