Another of my Living Social vouchers used up last weekend, this time at Byzantium, opposite St Mary Redcliffe Church. I’d heard mixed reviews of the place, from “it used to be great 10 years ago” to “we had a great Christmas party there”, so I was keen to try it out for myself…
The converted red brick Victorian warehouse, attached to the casino next door, looks to be nothing special from the outside, but walk through the door and you’re transported to another part of the world. Downstairs consists of an expansive drinking area, with a well-stocked bar, low seating, marble floors and and a beautiful marble staircase leading up to the dining area, which has a warm, ancient Mediterranean feel thanks to the stone pillars, reddish-coloured walls and low lighting.
Dishes selected for the menu, however, made the place seem a little confused: more English flavours such as lamb and purple sprouting broccoli sitting alongside more Asian (confit duck leg with Asian slaw and a black rice vinegar reduction) and Mediterranean (baked fillet of ling, petit pois a la francaise, smoked Cheddar Mornay) influences. Price-wise, you’re looking at around £6 for starters and £14-£16 for mains, with side dishes (£2.75) needing to be ordered separately.
My dining companion decided on the garlic tiger prawns with a fennel, orange and apple salad (£6.50) for her starter. This particular friend is renowned for finding most dishes she chooses in restaurants to be too salty, so I wasn’t surprised when this was her first remark! This time, however, the saltiness of the prawns worked, combining well with the sweetness of the apple.
I chose one of the vegetarian starters: a courgette and goat’s cheese cannelloni with peperonata and rustic crisps (£5.95). The crisps were delicious, made from very thin slivers of potato skin – a tasty and novel idea for using up some of the vast amount of peelings that I’m sure they must end up with. The cannelloni itself, however, was a little bland: unseasoned strips of cooked courgette wrapped around a huge piece of goat’s cheese. Great combination of flavours with the peperonata, though.
For her main, C opted for the pan-fried rump of lamb, served with purple sprouting broccoli and a black cherry sauce (£15.95). Judging by the empty plate, I’d say that she enjoyed it, but she did have an issue with the fact that she wasn’t asked how she wanted her lamb cooked.
My main had intrigued me when initially looking at the menu: a poached chicken breast in cardamom, lemon and cumin stewed lentils, served with a mint dressing (£13.95). That was where the intrigue stopped, sadly – the chicken was over-cooked and the promised flavours didn’t come through in the lentils, the taste of which was unfortunately more reminiscent of an Oxo cube…
Our dessert looked absolutely fantastic: a “lantern of desserts” featuring 6 mini dishes each. The waiter explained what had been set down in front of us – a black cherry gateau, jaffa cake shot, lemon meringue, apple parfait, a nutty cream on a patisserie biscuit and “bread and cheese”, which turned out to be a quenelle of bizarrely texture cheese paste/mousse on a thin slice of baguette.
All of the items on the lantern (bar the cheese) tasted fine, but didn’t quite live up to the expectations that we had when the dessert was initially placed on the table. Everything tasted as if it had been removed from a (VERY cold) chiller cabinet just before serving which just made the whole thing seem like a bit of an afterthought.
All in all, I don’t think either of us would have been particularly impressed if we’d paid full price for the three courses…a shame as the place has been around for over 10 years now (it opened in 1998), and I’ve been told that it used to have a fantastic reputation as a fine dining venue. The setting and the views of the church from the window are beautiful, the staff were both friendly and attentive, and the table-to-table magician was an added novelty for the evening (as an aside…I was informed on Twitter that Derren Brown started his career here when he began performing whilst an undergraduate at Bristol University!) I just hope that the place can regain some of its former magic…
NB: The Living Social deal has ended, but you can still get a voucher for 25% off your total bill at Byzantium from Vouchercloud by clicking this link.
Address: 2 Portwall Lane, Bristol BS1 6NB
Telephone: 0117 922 1883