Looking for somewhere to get a cheap bite to eat before our Friday night visit to the Bristol Cider House, we remembered the voucher that we had for 40% off main courses at Tampopo in Cabot Circus (you can print off a copy here) and decided to take advantage of the fact that it was valid on a Friday night…
The name ‘Tampopo’ is apparently taken from the title of a cult Japanese film: a film where the heroine (named Tampopo – meaning ‘dandelion’) finds herself on a quest for the perfect bowl of noodles. And this is the aim of the restaurant: to focus on the food of East Asia and to create ‘faithful reproductions of classics free from gimmickry and interpretation’.
The Cabot Circus restaurant is one of six branches of this mini-chain, with three restaurants in Manchester, one in Leeds and one in Reading. On first impression, it’s very Wagamama-like in its style: long benches at which you sit with other parties of diners, a similar style of food, individual orders scribbled on the paper place mats placed in front of each diner, which show a map of where in East Asia each of the menu’s dishes originated.
After ordering our drinks (jasmine tea for me, green tea for another, and a pretty disappointing fresh lime soda for a third diner), we turned our attentions to the menu. Featuring traditional dishes from Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, the menu is rather large, and includes dishes with which we were more familiar (Pad Thai and Singapore Noodles, for example), as well as some more unfamiliar options such as the Vietnamese Bo Xao Magi – strips of rump steak with a black bean sauce and lemongrass.
With 40% off our main courses, we decided to treat ourselves to a starter. Nick and I shared a Tampopo platter (£11.25 for two people, £5.25 for each additional person), designed to give diners the opportunity to sample a range of starters from different countries available on the menu.
The Vietnamese Goi Cuon – rice paper rolls filled with vegetables, glass noodles and herbs – were tasty but a little soggy. The Japanese minced pork Gyoza dumplings were delicious, and the Thai coconut prawns were without a doubt one of my highlights. I also loved the Thai Tod Man Khao Pod (sweetcorn fritters) and the Korean Bulgogi (marinated beef), but the chicken satay skewers were, unfortunately, a little undercooked.
Our starter was served with a plate of various East Asian dipping sauces and condiments – satay, sweet chilli, chilli and peanut, soy and ginger and Nuoc Cham sauces, and a delicious kimchi that was quickly polished off.
Onto the mains, and three of the four of us had all opted for the Singaporean Laksa (£10.25) – a yellow noodle soup with chunks of chicken, prawns, strips of cucumber, fresh mint leaves, red onion slices, tofu and a quartered lime in a ‘fiery coconut broth’.
The soup itself was delicious: a large portion of a beautifully fragrant soup with plenty of noodles, prawns and meat. Only one let down in our eyes, namely the level of heat. With a picture of three chilli peppers next to the menu listing and the word ‘fiery’ in the description, we were expecting our laksa to pack a punch…but ended up having to ask for a bottle of chilli oil to add more heat.
A pretty good meal, all in all, for a quick bite to eat which would have worked out at around £15 per head each for two courses without drinks, if we hadn’t had the voucher. The niggles with the food were pretty minor, but it was the service that was slightly more of an issue. The evening did feel like a meal in a chain restaurant in that respect, with service a little robotic and, at times, slow – we were left waiting for quite a while to receive the bill after we asked for it, with our server choosing to take orders from other tables instead. It’s the sort of place where you don’t expect the world’s best service, though – for us, it was (and has been in the past) somewhere for a cheap, reliable and slightly different choice of venue for a meal with a group of friends. I know I’ll be back in the future.
Address: Glasshouse (Level 3), Cabot Circus Shopping Centre, Bristol BS1 3BX
Telephone: 0117 927 7008
Find Tampopo on the Bristol Bites Directory…