A pair of Bristol’s finest
August 2, 2018
Kate Hawkings’ Instagram profile describes her thus:
“Food and booze trollop/writer/restaurateur. Will do anything for oysters and/or Campari. Bristol-based but gets around”.
Her book “Aperitif” was published in June 2018.
Her restaurant turned out to be Bell’s Diner & Bar Rooms, located in a lively neighbourhood. I booked for dinner.
Not surprising then that sherry, vermouth and all aperitifs feature. It’s always “gin o’clock” here.
Menus come in ’70s album covers; ours was a classic by Neil Sedaka, the drinks list came in Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland”.
They say that on Wednesdays you can bring your own vinyl.
The food is mostly Spanish, with Moorish accents. Dishes are bigger than tapas, so we were recommended to order 2 or 3 each.
Jamon Butter and Bell’s Bread was a winner with Bell’s Pickles; sourdough bread grilled till the crust is crunchy, then drenched in melted butter, imbued with deeply savoury cured ham. The pickles were samphire, red cabbage, rhubarb, mild chilli and a banderilla – a cornichon, an olive and a cocktail onion on a stick.
Each time butter featured on this menu, I expected a little bowl of cool butter to be served alongside the dish. Each time it was incorporated; melted, rich, indulgent (chilli mint butter with prawns, grilled with salt and paprika).
Roast Red Pepper, Manchego, Kalamata Olive and Almond Salad was a perfectly satisfying marriage of ingredients and textures, underpinned by the smoky silkiness of the charred peppers; this is a kitchen that knows how to char.
Hake was sauced with cherry tomatoes, fennel and tarragon; savoury, salty-and-sweet, fragrant and aromatic.
“Chicken Pintxo marinated in red pepper paste with tzatziki”. Again it read like a fairly predictable kebab, again it delivered much more: a generous skewer of chicken, charred and spicy, with plentiful creamy yoghurt.
It’s all done with a sense of enjoyment and fun, interplayed with a sophisticated understanding of food, and the grown-up drinks list. Some wines are usefully offered “by the taste” as well as by the glass. Suppliers are credited, including local merchant R. S. Wines.
For more about the book “Aperitif” by Kate Hawkings, click here:
Bell’s Diner & Bar Rooms, 1 – 3 York Road, Montpelier, Bristol BS6 5QB
I’m looking forward to trying Bellita, “Boisterous little sister of Bell’s Diner” one day soon….
The following day we met for a family lunch at Paco, a tapas bar near Bristol’s Harbourside. Opened by the Sanchez family, who have the restaurant Casamia next door, it won a well-deserved Michelin star within a year.
The Chef’s Menu is a seemingly endless flow of faultless ingredients, treated with skill and respect, sometimes with unexpected touches: Boquerones were not the familiar white vinegary ones, they were plump silver anchovy fillets, rinsed of their salt and doused in plentiful olive oil. Finely sliced Galician smoked Beef Cecina was another highlight.
Tortilla Española was unctuously runny with egg yolk. Quail were boned, stuffed with a mix of Sobrasada (chorizo paste) and date molasses, then basted with duck fat, and grilled over coals in the open kitchen.
The epic lunch concluded with an accomplished Crema Catalana, dusted with aromatic spices.
Paco, 3A, The General, Lower Guinea Street, Bristol BS1 6SY