When I first moved to Bristol, there were three restaurants in the city that I was told that I must visit. With Bell’s Diner and Casamia both ticked off my list, six of us finally got round to booking ourselves in for dinner at Berwick Lodge, using Living Social vouchers for the eight course tasting menu that we had bought earlier in the year…
Having already read food blogger Sarah’s account of her and her fiancé’s evening meal at the boutique hotel, I had some idea of what to expect. As we drove up the incredibly long private road to the hotel and approached the building itself, however, I was amazed at the size of the place, considering that the hotel has only ten rooms.
We walked up the red carpet to the main entrance of the hotel where the lovely French man who was to be our waiter for the evening was ready to greet us, and were shown through to the garden for pre-dinner drinks and a chance to browse the menu and wine list.
We didn’t get much of a chance to explore the grounds of the hotel, but what we did see was beautiful. Our pre-dinner drinks (elderflower cordial for most of us, wine for others) were accompanied by a quick wander around the gardens, leading us to discover the helipad tucked away to one side of the hotel, and a massive tree swing that led to some of us regressing back to our childhoods before the meal…
Our drinks were brought over to the table with Homemade cheese sables and olives…
…and followed, while we browsed the menu, by a shellfish consommé with fennel, delicious fresh raw peas, tiny chunks of carrot and tomato and baby prawns. The consommé itself was light and refreshing, but could possibly have done with a little salt.
The wine list is extensive, to say the least…in terms of both number of wines available and price range. Listed by country, with the sommelier’s choices at the front, there are hundreds of options to choose from, ranging from around £20 to £600 per bottle. Alternatively, if you’re there for the tasting menu, you can take advantage of the wine flight: a wine matched to each course for £45 per head.
With our dinner ready to be served, we were shown through to the rather ornate dining area: 3 separate rooms with grand wooden furniture, chandeliers and a beautiful carved wooden bar. The restaurant was fairly quiet on our visit (well, it WAS a Monday…), and we were seated on our own in the area next to the bar. Despite being quiet and appearing formal, hats off to the Berwick staff who judged our group very well indeed – our meal was relaxed and unstuffy, with plenty of laughter and joking.
The bread basket alone was enough to have us salivating…a choice of mini baguettes, sourdough, salt and thyme focaccia and a date and walnut loaf, served with Poitou-Charentes butter. The bread was replenished multiple times throughout the meal at no extra charge – a nice touch.
The time came to work our way through our eight courses, beginning with an amazingly intensely flavoured carrot purée, pickled carrots, sour yoghurt which combatted the sweetness of the carrots, and crumbs of ginger…
…and was followed by one of head chef Chris Wicks’ signature dishes that also appears (in a different form) on the menu at Bell’s Diner: a two-hour twice cooked duck egg with tiny shards of crispy bacon and miniature strips of fried onion, a fresh and vibrant parsley foam and fantastic salted potatoes topped with hay ash. The texture of the egg wasn’t to everyone’s liking…
…but the following course was acknowledged to be one of the best of the evening. A stunningly-presented plate of seared mackerel, still rare in the middle, surrounded by beetroot in a variety of forms: discs of both red and white beetroot sitting on cylinders of the vegetables, miniature cubes of beet scattered over the plate, and a quenelle of beetroot sorbet, the texture and temperature of which provided a deliciously confusing contrast to the fish and the horseradish cream by which the dish was accompanied.
The following dish was one of my favourites in terms of creativity, but was shunned by a less brave member of our party, who was instead served a smoked salmon dish that she raved about. The rest of us enjoyed an amazing ‘snail garden’ of parsley and an aptly earthy mushroom ‘soil’, topped with pickled baby vegetables and the snails. The trail of parsley behind the snail still in its shell was an inspired touch!
The wild sea trout that appeared in front of us next was acknowledged by the table to be another highlight: the fish perfectly cooked and its skin wonderfully crispy, and the freshness of the peas, broad beans and asparagus with which it was served were a great contrast to the saltiness of the fish and the earthy girolles. I’m not entirely sure what the morsel of ruby grapefruit contributed…but then again, I’m not a fan of the fruit!
The star of our lamb course was the tender, pink loin – coated in chopped mint leaves and with a melt-in-your-mouth crackling. It went very well with the onion jus and purée and the smear of tapenade that also adorned our plates. We all felt, however, that the shredded lamb shoulder was a little too salty, and while I enjoyed the ratatouille accompaniment, the vegetables were too finely chopped to really distinguish the individual flavours.
Again, opinions of our pre-dessert were divided. The caramel sauce, caramel cream with a fresh and clean tasting pear sorbet and miniature cubes of Sauternes jelly were a winner for me, and the sugar snap was amazingly delicate and delicious. Others, however, felt that the whole thing was a little too sweet.
We were all feeling very full by this point (well, all bar Nick, who’s an eating machine!) but the dessert of ‘chocolate textures’ was far too good to miss. A chocolate praline biscuit base topped with milk and dark chocolate layers, an iced chocolate quenelle and a sugar snap…the only part that we were confused about was the jelly that nestled between the milk and dark layers, which didn’t seem to have any discernible flavour. It was an incredibly rich dessert but we all cleaned our plates!
Our post-dinner coffees, needed to keep us from falling into food-induced comas on the way home, were served, as at Bell’s Diner, with three beautiful macaroons each: pistachio, rose and our favourite, salt caramel….which was so good that one member of the group couldn’t finish hers but took the remaining two thirds home to eat later!
All in all, a great experience. The £65 per head price tag (for the food only – drinks and coffees extra) may seem off-putting, but for a tasting menu that offers so much in terms of quality, ingredients, surroundings and flair, I’d definitely be keen to go back without a voucher when there’s a new menu available, and will probably try the a la carte option next time. Many thanks to Chris Wicks and his team for a fantastic evening!
Telephone: 0117 958 1590
Address: Berwick Lodge Hotel, Berwick Drive, Bristol BS10 7TD