Recently I headed to Backwell for the first time for a Saturday night meal with my partner at 21 West Café Bistro. The two-year-old venue is easily accessible by train from Bristol, and offers two very different settings: a lively local cafe by day, an intimate neighbourhood bistro by night. Manager Jayne and her team have obviously put a great deal of love and attention into the feel of the place. The front door led us into a cosy bar area, from which we were taken round the corner, past the semi-open plan kitchen and into a long and narrow low-lit dining area which was quiet when we arrived, but quickly filled up as the evening went on. Tables are adorned with matching white linen tablecloths and napkins, the walls smartly decorated with paintings and mirrors.
We were also treated to entertainment from a young singer with a guitar, whose soothing voice was the perfect accompaniment for a quiet Saturday date night. While browsing the menus, we took in the blackboards on the walls that highlighted the midweek specials, house cocktails and an upcoming New York jazz evening. It’s certainly a venue that offers something for everyone and the custom-decorated Gromit that is hidden around the restaurant for customers to find, with the aim to raise money for the Grand Appeal, is a lovely touch. The daily changing menus are reasonably priced for a bistro meal, with a three-course meal on a Saturday night priced, on average, at just over £25 a head. Using local and seasonal ingredients, and with everything freshly prepared on site, the menu is predominantly British but pays homage to a range of cultures in individual elements of many dishes.
Reviews I had read before our visit were unanimous in their praise of the 21 fishcakes, so my choice of starter was a no-brainer. The two fishcakes were enormous, filled with meaty chunks of salmon and flecked with dill and capers. Although served with a sweet chilli sauce, this really wasn’t needed; the combination of flavours within the breadcrumbs was fantastic on its own, and the sauce was a little overpowering.
For my partner, the whitebait; again, a portion that could almost have doubled as a main course. Thickly breaded, the fish were perfectly cooked, and served with a seriously potent garlic mayonnaise – the coarsely cut raw garlic was a hit in our book, but may be best avoided on a first date…
He continued his meal with the confit duck leg, the meat falling off the bone, the red wine and thyme jus lovely and rich. The bed of seasonal vegetables and potatoes on which the duck was served still retained a lovely crunch too – a definite winner.
Luckily, this man’s appetite is endless, and he was able to help me finish my incredibly generous sole gremolata main. I was a little perplexed to see that it was breaded, as I was expecting a fresh fillet of fish topped with a zesty herby condiment. Although different, it was absolutely fantastic and served with a side of beautifully crunchy fries.
It would have been rude not to sample the dessert menu, and so C opted for Jayne’s recommendation of the hot chocolate fondant – well worth the 10-minute wait. Any chocolate fondant order comes with the nail-biting moment when you first cut through the shell…but he was rewarded with the sight of the centre oozing perfectly onto the plate. The smile on his face said it all.
Sticky toffee pudding seemed like the perfect warming end to the meal for me, and it was everything a sticky toffee pudding should be: rich, dense, swimming in a hot toffee sauce… it was delicious, but I was glad of the scoop of clotted cream to cut through the flavour.
Service throughout our meal was near enough perfect: it’s increasingly rare to have a bottle of water brought to your table without the need to ask, and our servers struck exactly the right balance between friendly and professional. Although I’d never even considered a trip out to Backwell before, it’s good to know now that I have a reason to go back.
21 West Café Bistro
21 West Town Road, Backwell, North Somerset BS48 3HA
01275 463 744