Henbury Arms, Henbury Road: Review
I’ve been told several times before that I “shouldn’t review chain restaurants” on Bristol Bites. And you know what? I’ve ignored that “advice”.
Bristol’s home to a huge number of independent restaurants, but my aim when I first started Bites was to cover as much of the city as I possibly could – which is why I include chains. From Frankie & Benny’s to Five Guys, we’ve reviewed a few chain venues over the years – and the latest to add to the mix is the newly opened Henbury Arms: now a Stonehouse Pizza & Carvery, formerly a Toby Carvery.
After a rebrand and a new interior, the Henbury Arms reopened in February 2017 as one of over 50 Stonehouse Pizza & Carvery pub-restaurants across the UK. It’s a huge place with a bright and airy feel, and its décor is a world away from its Toby Carvery days, but still with a large chain atmosphere. There are plenty of lights to keep the place bright, and lots of separate dining areas, each with a slightly different feel.
Our table was in the main restaurant area, accessed by walking through the main bar, and past the food service areas. After being shown to our table, our smily, friendly waitress explained how it all worked: food is ordered at the bar (quoting the table number on your table), starters are brought directly to your table, if you order a carvery you’re given a token to redeem at the carvery counter, and for any other main courses you’re given a buzzer: wait until the buzzer goes off, then head to the counter to collect your meal, before topping up your plate at the veg and salad bar.
The menu, as you’d expect, focuses mainly on the carvery and the venue’s homemade pizzas, but there are other options to choose from too: burgers, sausages, battered fish, a beef and ale pie and a selection of veggie options make up the rest of the choices. Pretty much all of the mains are served as they come, with diners helping themselves to their choice of veg from the veg counter.
We began our meal with a couple of starters to share: the beer battered salt & pepper mushrooms with a blue cheese dip (£3.79) and the mac ‘n’ cheese balls with a baconnaise dip (£3.99). They arrived impressively quickly, served in separate small dishes on one big plate with the dips – which was fine, but it would’ve been nice to have had a small plate each too.
The mushrooms had a lovely texture and were a decent size – the thick coating of batter had a nice, strong peppery flavour too. They were a bit on the oily side, though, and the blue cheese dip a little bland and artificial in its flavour.
The baconnaise, on the other hand, had no such problem – it was packed full of flavour and lovely and smokey. The coating for the mac and cheese balls was a little too thick, and while they were tasty enough, they were a little underseasoned (and, being a big cheese lover, I reckon they could have done with being a little cheesier too…)
For the main…well, we figured that we couldn’t visit a brand that had the words “pizza” and “carvery” in its name and not go for one or the other! So we both opted for the traditional carvery, which seemed like a bargain at £6.99. Armed with our tokens, we headed to the carvery counter where a cheerful, chatty northerner talked us through the meat options and carved thick slices in front of us.
On the night, there was a choice of gammon, turkey or beef (or any combination of the three that we fancied) – the gammon was delicious (although Chris thought it a little salty), and the turkey full of flavour but a little dry. The beef that Chris chose was on the well cooked side, but judging by his empty plate, he clearly enjoyed it…
Our northern friend also offered us a Yorkshire pudding each (yes please – delicious, although seemingly too uniform to have been cooked from scratch), and we hefted our meat-filled plates over to the veg counter to top them up.
There was certainly plenty of choice: stuffing, onions, peas, carrots, cauliflower cheese, green beans, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes and chips all vied for attention, and while the stuffing tasted a little on the cheap side and the cauliflower cheese could have done with more cheese, the rest of the veg were all perfectly tasty.
Moving on, we were tempted with gravy, baked beans, mushy peas and curry sauce (just gravy here, full of flavour but a little thin), before moving on to a table with a vast selection of sauces and dips. We’re not sure what had happened to the salad bar, as there was no sign of any salad (not that we would have gone for salad with a carvery, but it would have been good to have had the choice.)
We still (somehow) had a tiny bit of space for dessert…and both reverted to being kids again when we realised that there were bottomless ice cream sundaes (£3.49) on offer. Order at the bar and they’ll bring you a sundae glass and a spoon…then you head over to their soft serve machine, fill your glass and top with a whole host of sauces (lemon, chocolate, raspberry and toffee) and a selection of sweet treats such as mini tutti frutti sweets, something akin to Coco Pops and other sugary goodies from their pick ‘n’ mix wall of sweets. And then you go back for more, if you want more. A simple dessert, but one that was packed full of nostalgia…
So, our verdict? Some of the food may have been a little hit and miss, but there’s no denying that it’s great value for money. There’s a very well-priced kids’ menu on offer too, which includes carvery, pizza and more – and there were plenty of families dining around us on the night of our visit.
Sure, it’s not an independent restaurant, but if you’re looking for filling meals to suit a family or a crowd at an affordable price, and with friendly and efficient service to boot, the Henbury Arms is certainly worth bearing in mind.
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.