Why should Axminster and Plymouth have all the fun? The Whiteladies Road branch of the River Cottage Canteen is the third instalment of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Canteen brand, and an eagerly-anticipated opening on Whiteladies Road, currently known for its many empty premises.
Located in a Grade II-listed 19th century former church, the Canteen features a split level dining area and a separate bar section, with the whole premises (we were told by our waitress) seating 140 people. A private dining area is also available for up to 20 people.
The design of the premises comes from Simple Simon Design – the company behind the look and feel of other Bristol businesses that include Beerd, Spicer & Cole, Manna and Prego. A rustic yet modern feel is what they’ve come up with, with wooden floors and tables, beautiful beamed ceilings for the upper floor, and a large open plan kitchen lending itself nicely to the bustling canteen feel.
The focus on local produce at the River Cottage Canteen is clear: the reverse of the regularly-changing menus features a huge amount of detail about the provenance of the ingredients used, and blackboards in the restaurant list out local suppliers, including The Community Farm in Chew Magna, Sunseed Organics, Sheepdrove, The Story, and Ivy House Farm in Frome.
A complimentary bread board of rosemary focaccia and white sourdough accompanied us on our journey through the drinks menu: again, including local suppliers such as Orchard Pig, Bristol Beer Factory, Lovely Drinks and Extract Coffee. A little disappointing to see that the only English wines on the menu were from Suffolk, however.
Intrigued by the list of seasonal cocktails, mostly priced at around the £6 mark, I opted for a Rhubarb Black Cow (£5.95) – a refreshing and light blend of Dorset’s Black Cow vodka, fresh rhubarb puree and elderflower presse. Delicious.
Choosing the food, however, was a little more tricky – everything on the menu (below) sounded amazing…
Eventually, it was the smoked venison loin (£7.50) that I chose as my starter – a beautiful plate of food, with wafer thin slices of the cured meat accompanied by mixed leaves, pickled shallots, capers and fennel crackers.
Unfortunately, the crackers were undercooked and floury, so these were left to one side. The rest, however, was fantastic. The smokiness of the venison combined well with the slight tang of the sweet pickled shallots, and the capers were actually fried, removing some of their acidity which could otherwise have been overpowering.
The potted crab addict that I was dining with had no choice but to order the River Cottage version (£8.25), which he described as the perfect portion size, and fresh and light. It was great to see a relatively thin layer of butter on top, unlike other places we’ve tried, and the presence of fried bread as opposed to toast added something a little different.
Pulled pork (£14.50) for the main for both of us, and another generous plate of food. The pork itself was perfectly tender, and we were both impressed by the depth of flavour of the jus with which it was served. While tasty, the celeriac gratin was a little soggy, but the kale with lemon and rapeseed oil (£2.50) and chips with Cornish sea salt (£2.75) that we ordered as sides really did hit the spot.
The pairing of Berkswell and Dorset Blue Vinny didn’t excite me enough to order the cheeseboard, so the praline parfait (£6) it was. The slight saltiness of the shortbread offset the incredible sweetness of the coffee syrup (I’m not really a dessert person…!) and the parfait itself was…well, perfect, with plenty of crunchy praline pieces dotted throughout.
An enjoyable meal, using local ingredients, and served in a relaxed but buzzing environment…what more could you want? I have a feeling that the River Cottage Canteen is going to be a massive hit, and a huge boost for Whiteladies Road.
Please note: this meal was received free of charge, but 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.
Find The River Cottage Canteen on the Bristol Bites Directory…