Bambalan, Colston Tower: Review

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“The most fun you can have with flatbread” reads the slogan at the bottom of our bill at Bambalan, which has recently opened in the Colston Tower – but we’re not sure we agree.

The latest venture from the team behind Hyde & Co, The Milk Thistle et al, Bambalan is a vast café-bar located within the Colston Tower, its entrance opposite the Colston Hall on Colston Street. Open from noon until midnight, Monday to Sunday, a breakfast offering is apparently on the way soon too – but we decided to visit for an early evening meal.

The entrance to Bambalan is pretty unobtrusive, and the steps up to the first floor café-bar a little unappealing: an undecorated stretch of concrete that takes you up to the smoking area and the front door to the venue. There’s also a terrace out the back which is pretty spacious – we imagine it’ll be heaving with post-work drinks crowds on sunny days.

 

Bambalan - Terrace

 

Walk inside and you’re faced with an amply-stocked bar, offering a huge list of drinks. There are two draught offerings from Wild Beer, plenty of bottled beers and ciders, wines, soft drinks, spirits – and a Hyde & Co sister venue wouldn’t be right without a selection of tonics, vermouths, coolers, long drinks and even cocktails by the jug.

When we approached the bar, we were asked if we were planning on dining – and on giving a positive response, were told that we were welcome to head through to the restaurant area where our drinks orders would be taken at the table. It was only when heading to the back of the venue that we saw the beautiful mural that adorned one wall…

 

Bambalan - Interior 2

 

…and we took a seat at one of the blue faux-leather booths by the large windows overlooking the smoking terrace and the Colston Hall.

We ordered drinks – a little surprised that the draught beer offering was available in either half or two-thirds of a pint measures, rather than a full pint – when questioned, our server told us that Bambalan is sticking to the Belgian way of doing things.

All very well, but we’re not in Belgium, and I’m sure plenty of the terrace drinkers this summer will be after full pints…

Two-thirds of a pint of Wild Beer’s Bibble (£4) and a can of Diet Coke (£1.75) ordered, it was time to take a look at our surroundings. It’s an interesting place – a real mish-mash of different styles. The open plan kitchen at the back of the venue is a lovely focal point, but the rest of the dining area looks a little unfinished and haphazard.

I’m not really sure how to describe the vibe of the place. It’s industrial in some ways, with exposed, dirty-looking metal vents on the bare white ceiling and red wires trailing from the light fittings – it looks a little untidy. We were in one of the aforementioned blue booths, but there’s also a raised area with tables for two, as well as long, wooden tables in front of the kitchen, with incredibly uncomfortable-looking wooden and metal seats.

 

Bambalan - Interior 1

 

The whole place had an air of being less than finished, leaving us wondering if this was the look that they were going for, or if work on the place had over-run…

But anyway, on to the food…

We’d been excited about Bambalan’s food menu since we first saw it: the combination of a charcoal robata grill, a wood-fired oven and a charcoal rotisserie promising a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-inspired menu with a vast amount of choice. It was great to see that there were plenty of vegetarian options, and dishes containing nuts are also marked as such on the menu…

Chris was swayed by the pide menu: a choice of five different Turkish flatbread pizzas, all priced at £7.50 each. It was the combination of slow cooked lamb, asparagus and a saffron and cumin yoghurt that most appealed, and it was certainly a beautiful looking dish when it arrived.

 

Bambalan - Lamb Pide

 

The crust was beautiful: crisp on the outside, and light and airy in the middle. The asparagus was cooked perfectly and the yoghurt was bursting with flavour, but the lamb itself was disappointing. While tender, the rich and deep flavour that we’d associate with slow cooking just wasn’t there – it was pretty bland.

This imbalance of flavours was present in all three of the mezze dishes that we tried too. Our favourite was the baked lamb meat balls with harissa sauce (£5): three generously sized and beautifully spiced meat balls, packed with dried fruit, fresh herbs, pine nuts and big slivers of onion. We had the same issue again, though – the flavour of the lamb itself just wasn’t there. The sauce was beautiful, though, lovely and rich, and well-spiced but not spicy.

 

Bambalan - Lamb Meatballs

 

There were both positives and negatives to the ras el hanout chicken skewers with coriander and hazelnut pesto (£5) too. The pesto was fantastic, the hazelnut flavour coming through more than the coriander, and the thin strips of preserved lemon were the perfect pairing for a chicken dish. The chicken itself, though, tasted over-charred – a real shame.

 

Bambalan - Chicken Skewers

 

The final dish we tried was the sweet cured salmon with feta, charred courgette, dill and sumac (£5). The portion was generous – there was certainly a decent amount of fish – and the yellow and green courgettes were perfectly charred. Take a look at the picture below, though, and you’ll see the huge amount of olive oil that was used to dress the dish – it was a pretty strongly flavoured oil, too, and detracted somewhat from the delicate salmon flavour.

 

Bambalan - Salmon

 

While we were almost swayed by the ice creams and sorbets for dessert (the pineapple, ginger and chilli sorbet sounds particularly good…), Chris opted for the Bambalan baclava sundae (£6) instead. It was a bit of a surprise. A good quality vanilla ice cream, flecked with vanilla seeds, wasn’t layered with baklava, but with pistachios, dried fruit, filo pastry and a spiced syrup – it was more reminiscent of the Christmassy flavours of a mince pie than traditional baklava. The pastry was a little soggy and chewy, but he still enjoyed his dessert – he just would have preferred the traditional honey and pistachio baklava flavours.

 

Bambalan - Baklava Sundae

 

I’m saving the best till last here, as my dessert was definitely the highlight of the meal. My “Eastern Mess” (£6) was too big for me to eat, but I gave it my best shot. The cream was drizzled with a sweet rhubarb syrup and both crushed and whole pistachios, poached rhubarb, a drizzle of burnt honey and the most fantastic pink peppercorn meringue. Crisp on the outside and gloriously chewy in the middle, the peppercorns weren’t as pungent as you may expect – just enough for a hint of flavour.

 

Bambalan - Eastern Mess

 

Our bill arrived, with a discretionary 5% service charge added: a service charge that, I was surprised to see, was keyed straight into the card reader without asking if I’d like to pay it, which (to me, at least) defeats the point of the word “discretionary”.

Sadly, based on our experience, I don’t think we’d rush back to Bambalan – hopefully, though, these were just teething issues, and we look forward to hearing what other people think…

 

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One Response to Bambalan, Colston Tower: Review

  1. First time been hear very nice will be back

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