Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Tag: Bristol

Food Friday: Ode to the Chippy

Fish and Chips

Dear Local Chippy,

I read an article today, discussing how chip shops are undergoing a revolution. I’m fine with that, I really am. I’m all up for making sure fish is sustainably caught and freshly cooked (though I think you’re already doing that, to be honest). Even if I’m more of a battered sausage girl myself.

But don’t go going too cool on us, will you? Not like all those burger joints where you have to queue for hours to get into. Don’t forget that the burger is American: it’s overconfident, it knows it can be big and bold and flashy. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, not if you can pull it off. But you, fish & chips, are the British national dish. You can’t quite get away with it. You’re just too humble, almost to the point of self-deprecation, always in disbelief that you are quite so loved.

You are, should always be, those small takeaways with white-tiled walls. Where we queue for our dinner and wait for it to be doled out in paper growing increasingly transparent from grease, careful to not look the other people waiting in the eye. You are the shop I leave with my mouth watering and my hair smelling of vinegar.

I like how you serve my mushy peas in a Styrofoam cup and I like it when you give me piles of the crispy, orange-brown chip ends you hardly ever get in a pub or restaurant (or not enough, anyway). I like how your batter is as thick as the meat it covers and how it crunches when I bite it. I like how you drown my chips in oil and vinegar and grease that drips down my fingers as I eat.

I like that your food works as well in front of the telly on a cold Friday night as it does on a British beach in summer. Even if the latter does involve fending off seagulls with a wooden fork.

I like how you don’t need sexy-sounding names, like those cool burger places. Your names are fun instead, like ‘Paul’s Plaice’ and ‘Frying Nemo’ and ‘Codfather’.

I know you’re not all as good as one another. I know some chip shops don’t quite have the batter recipe right, or don’t deep-fry the chips quite long enough (or maybe it’s too long?) so they’re too soggy, too chewy, not-quite-the-right flavour. I know it’s not easy doing what you do well.
Chippy, I know we’re both too British to be comfortable with me expressing too many emotions about why I like you. So I’ll just say that you’re doing well just as you are. Don’t go changing too much.

See you soon,

Amy

Visiting Bristol this summer and fancy trying the British national dish? My personal favourites are Farrow’s Fish & Chips in Totterdown and Crispies. But others I’ve seen recommended are Fishminister in Southville, Bishopston Fish Bar in Horfield, Argus Fish Bar in Bedminster. Bristolians – where are your favourites?

Image Credit
Fish & Chips: Alamy/Simon Belcher via The Guardian

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Food Friday: Beese’s Bar & Tea Gardens, Bristol

Beese's Bristol by Andrew Bennett

On its website Beese’s describes itself as one of Bristol’s best-kept secrets. Considering how buzzing it was on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I’d argue that’s not quite true, but it’s still not the sort of place you’re likely to stumble upon. Nestled on the riverbank on the opposite side to the Bath and Keynsham footpaths, Beese’s has to be sought out – by foot, bike, car or, more unusually, river ferry.

(The river ferry harks back to Beese’s roots. It was founded by a Mrs Beese in 1846 to provide refreshments to passengers on the Conham River Ferry, which her husband captained.)

Beese's Bristol

As well as putting in the effort to find Beese’s, you also have to be patient to experience this lovely pub. Although I say you’re unlikely to stumble upon this lovely pub/bar/restaurant, that’s actually exactly how we discovered it. An impromptu Autumn walk in neighbouring Eastwood Farm Nature Reserve spat us out into the Beese’s car park. But Beese’s is only open from Easter weekend until the end of September, we’d been waiting six months before finally, finally a weekend where it was open coincided with a weekend where it was sunny and a weekend where we had decided to take a break from DIY.

We had decided to have a light lunch so plumped for the baguettes – egg mayonaise and brie and cranberry. Simple food, done very well.

If you wanted something more substantial, the Sunday roasts smelt and looked amazing and the burgers were making our mouths water a little too. We’ll definitely be back for a larger meal next time. Possibly in an evening, so we can sit outside as it goes dark, beneath the lights strung between the trees.

Alternatively if you just want a snack (Tarr’s ice cream, afternoon tea with scones) or a drink (alcoholic or non), they cater for that too.

Eastwood Farm Nature Reserve

It’s also in the perfect location for a post-food walk. Very few people seem to take advantage of Eastwood Farm Nature Reserve, which is right next door. To be fair, that suited us fine (so don’t tell too many people about it!). We sat and watched ducklings paddle round one of the ponds (or ‘lagoons’) and meandered through the woodland and by the river. The perfect end to our lunch date.

Whether you’re planning to eat out with a partner, all the family (it’s very kid-friendly) or catch up with friends, Beese’s is the perfect place to while away a Sunny afternoon or evening in Bristol. Simple, beautiful and just plain lovely.

The Details
Beese’s Bar & Tea Gardens
Wyndham Crescent, Bristol, BS4 4SX

Booking is available and probably recommended for larger parties. However there are a few T&Cs.

Getting There
Public Transport: Get the No 1 bus (which starts at Cribb’s Causeway and goes to the city centre via Park St) to the Good Intent Pub, Brislington

A number of Bristol ferry companies run boat trips from the city centre.

Beese’s has a car park (where you can also leave your bike). If you’re on the other side of the river, you can park in Conham Road car park and contact Beese’s, who will ferry you across!

For more details, see Beese’s informative website

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Picture credits
Header of Beese’s: Andrew Bennett via Flickr
Beese’s beer garden: Good Bristol
Eastwood Farm Nature Reserve landscape: Chopsy Baby
All others my own, please credit if using

Journey south: Totterdown & Knowle, Bristol

colourful Totterdown houses, Bristol
With all these entries about far-flung adventures, I’ve been neglecting the ‘Bristol’ bit of this blog recently (again!). It’s not an excuse, but sometimes I take living in such an exciting city for granted, to the extent that I become uncertain whether what I’ve enjoyed recently is really worthy of a blog post.

And then something happens, like Bristol being named as the best city to live in the UK by the Sunday Times, that makes me appreciate how lucky we are to live here, to have so much right on our doorsteps.

In the spirit of ‘right on the doorstep’, today’s post is all about the first Bristol neighbourhood I called home, Totterdown and Lower Knowle. Although they may not be the most well-known areas of Bristol, both have a lot to offer. And, if you first visited Bristol by train, they also may have even given you your first impression of the city (hopefully a more positive one the beautiful Parcel Force building, too!). If you sit on the left of a carriage, look out for the rows of brightly-coloured houses peering over the cliff edge, marking the start of Totterdown.

These communities may be a little out-of-the-way for the average Bristol visitor (or even anyone who lives north of the river), but here are just seven reasons they’re worth turning left out of Temple Meads station.*

The Office

This tiny bar opened in 2012 and has fast become a local favourite. It looks ‘cool’ (exposed brick, industrial-style lights – you know the drill) yet feels welcoming rather than try-hard.  It’s a particularly lovely spot on a warm day, when they open up the glass screen-fronts onto the patio  and the sun streams in. And while a patio set not-too-far-back from the busy Wells Road, one of the main routes out of Bristol, doesn’t sound like the most pleasant of spots, somehow it manages to be a really relaxing place to wile away the hours with a pint (or two). They also serve tapas, which I’ve heard a lot of good things about.

 A Capella, Wells Rd, Totterdown, Bristol

A Capella

Whether you want a full English breakfast, a light (or not-so-light) lunch or a huge pizza, this award-winning restaurant is the place to come for tasty, good value food at any time of day (the pizzas – which can be eaten in or taken away – may not look cheap, but even those with huge appetites would be hard-pushed to finish one on their own). Other bonuses: friendly staff, it’s bring your own and they will put their (amazing) cake in a take-away container if you’re too stuffed to eat it there (or if you’re just walking past and have a craving for a slice or two, but don’t have time to stop). Incidentally, while all the cakes are excellent, I particularly recommend the carrot and ginger ones.  

Interior of Thali Cafe, Totterdown

Thali Café

I may have written about this restaurant before, and it’s not unique to Totterdown, but a list of my favourite places in the area wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the amazing Thali Cafe.

Farrows Fish and Chips

If there almost always being a queue isn’t enough to convince you of how good this takeaway is, the fact that it’s won a number of awards – most recently storming away with the title of Bristol’s best budget eatery – should do.

Victoria Park, Bristol

Victoria Park

Not a local BS3/4er and looking for somewhere to sit with your Farrows chips (or A Capella cake/pizza)? Or just fancy a post-breakfast/lunch/dinner walk? Head down to Victoria Park, one of my favourite spaces in Bristol. It even has a table tennis table (though you do have to supply your own bats and balls). Watching the sun set over the city from the top of the hills is particularly special.

Perrett's Park allotments + balloon

Perrett’s Park

That said, views from Perrett’s Park are arguably even better.

Gaines Greengrocers

This might look like a bit of an odd addition to this list, but I couldn’t not mention Gaines. You’ll recognise it from the bright array of fruit and vegetables spilling onto the pavement (not literally! They have crates and boxes and tables, you don’t have to pick produce off of the floor!). But Gaines doesn’t just sell your five-a-day. This tiny store is a bit like Mary Poppins’ bag, packing in more foodstuffs than you’d ever think possible, including (but not limited to) freshly baked bread (or baking ingredients to make your own), organic grains, fairtrade chocolate, tofu, tasty peanut butter and even matzah. The owner, Jason, and his co-workers are genuinely friendly and helpful, too. Good food served with a smile – sums up the spirit of this part of BS3 and 4 for me!

Totterdown houses from Albert Road railway bridge

*This is far from an extensive list of things to do in Totterdown and Knowle – there are plenty of places that are still on my ‘to visit’ list but I’m assured are really nice (in particular the Star & Dove, Duchess of Totterdown and Assilah Bistro). And I haven’t even started mentioning the many pubs, either!

Image Credits

Colourful Totterdown Houses (first pic): The Guardian

Office Bar and Canteen, A Capella: Courtesy of Tripadvisor

Thali Totterdown: Thali Café website

Victoria Park: Toulouse and the Vegetable

Perrett’s Park: Gaelallan on Panoramio More Totterdown houses (last pic): Rwendland via Wikipedia

A Sunday stroll at Tyntesfield

This Sunday, before yet another trip to B&Q, we ignored the fact that it was drizzling, pulled on our walking boots and made a diversion to Tyntesfield.

Once home to the Gibbs family (who made their fortune importing guano), Tyntesfield is a Gothic revival house in Wraxall, on the outskirts of Bristol. It’s now owned by the National Trust.

The house was closed this weekend (it reopens on Saturday (8th March) for summer season, which gives us a good excuse to revisit soon), but there was still plenty to explore in the grounds and gardens. We were perhaps lucky that it was quite quiet when we visited; we were the only people in the rose garden and there was only one other family in the kitchen garden. I’m sure it would be equally pleasant when busy – more buzzing perhaps – but it just felt really peaceful when we were there. The rose garden would definitely make for a perfect reading spot if it was a bit warmer (though I imagine then it wouldn’t be as quiet. Catch-22!).


We – unintentionally – happened to turn up on crafts market day too, which takes place on the first Sunday of every month. This was quite food-orientated when we were there (and predominantly preserves and cakes), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We were also very tempted by some of the hand-crafted wooden benches on offer – unfortunately we’d taken the car with the small boot this time, but we won’t be making the same mistake again! (Another excuse to revisit…)

And obviously no visit to a Trust property is complete without a trip to the café for tea and scones – the perfect end to a slightly soggy walk.

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Full disclosure: I’m a Trust employee so get free entry to properties. However this post is in no way affiliated to the Trust and this trip was taken of my own accord and in my leisure time.

Food Friday: River Cottage Canteen Bristol

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Considering this blog is called ‘Bristol vs the world’, so far I’ve spectacularly failed to post much about the ‘Bristol’ side of things (though in fairness to myself, I have only been in this guise for a month. Any posts over two years were written before I moved here on another journal. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). So for today’s Food Friday, we’re going local – in more ways than one.

Sitting on Whiteladies Road, Clifton, River Cottage Canteen – a venture from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – opened just last year. He may not be a resident chef, but his influence is very much present. The Canteen’s big ‘thing’ is organic, seasonal produce – and I believe 90% of food is sourced from within a 50-mile radius of the restaurant.

The first time we came here, I’d heard good things but was a little worried – I know people who love a certain chain of restaurants with a celebrity name that proclaims to be affordable, but I personally find it massively overpriced, especially considering the quality of food you get. The fact that River Cottage Canteen sits in a similar price category to the other chain (£10-£15 for most mains) didn’t help matters. These niggles were somewhat assuaged by the incredible smells coming from the open kitchen when we came in – and after one bite of the soft, flavoursome complimentary bread I knew I had nothing to worry about!

Not only did it smell good, it looks pretty attractive too. Housed in a converted church, a number of the original features – including stained glass windows – have been retained. Together with the wooden floors and furniture, it’s simple and unfussy, but that’s somehow that’s what makes it so appealing. Quite like the food.

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The open plan also creates a great atmosphere – a constant, underlying chatter comes from surrounding diners (anyone from young families to older couples seemingly popping in after a walk) to create a buzz, but it never but really impedes your conversation.

This is probably helped by the fact that – even though they could probably fill more tables – they don’t try and cram you in. Although I appreciate some restaurants don’t have that luxury – and I often like to eat in those places – it really frustrates me when bigger restaurants pack you in so tightly that you feel like you can’t move your chair back an inch for fear of clipping the person behind, or when their conversation seems to invade yours somehow. River Cottage Canteen has none of those problems. Overall the experience is just very, well, pleasant.

The staff really help with making that experience. The menu isn’t especially fancy in terms of the ingredients it uses, but it does feature some unusual combinations (polenta lasagne) and words (‘speltotto’, meaning pearl barley risotto) and they’re more than happy to explain these to you or give you a rundown on a particular dish, what it features and sizes – without making you feel stupid.

And then, most importantly, there’s the food. My potted crab was delicious and the texture was perfect – smooth, but not so much so that it felt more like a pate or baby food! This dish was actually on the ‘lighter’ menu (meant for small lunches or starters) and so was only served with an artichoke salad and crostini. However with a side of chips it was the ideal size for a main meal. And the chips were well worth it – the perfect balance of crunchy on the outside, soft on the in and the seasoning was just right.

My sister, predominantly a vegetarian (too complicated to explain in a short blog!) went for the speltotto which she really enjoyed. I may have snuck a taste and can confirm it was really tasty. Not too heavy and while you could taste all the individual flavours, they also worked together really well.

John went for fish and chips. I’m not usually a huge fish fan, but he forced me to try and bit and even I have to admit it was pretty tasty – nice and meaty and not too, well, fishy… (I’m told that’s the sign of a good fish dish, so is intended is a compliment!) I do enjoy a bit of batter, too.

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And then there were the desserts. When we ordered two the waitress warned us that we’d regret not having one each. We – already quite full but taken by how good other people’s had looked – laughed at what we assumed was a joke.

It was not. We shared the chocolate and coffee cake and a slight variation on their rhubarb and vanilla mess (they had run out of meringues, so it was served with ice cream instead), but I could quite easily have wolfed down either (or both!) on my own! Both were rich, but not in that way where it’s really heavy. Needless to say that we left our plates very, very clean!

Another thing worth noting about River Cottage Canteen is it’s great drinks list, which also sticks to the local ethos – Bristol Beer Factory and Orchard Pig (both for ciders and soft drinks) both make an appearance, alongside your typical wines and a few cocktails (alcoholic and virgin).

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The only thing that might be a slight negative for some is that service can be a little slow – on both occasions we’ve been there have been quite long gaps between taking orders for each part of the meal unless you prompt them – though the actual food didn’t take too long to be brought out. For us that wasn’t a problem – we didn’t feel like we were being rushed out for the next table and thoroughly enjoyed our leisurely two-hour lunch. But if you have a limited amount of time then it might just be worth mentioning it at the beginning of your meal.

Overall our meal – three mains (well two mains, and one ‘lighter’ meal + chips), two desserts, one bottled beer and one bottled soft drink – came to £55, not including a tip. Not too shabby!

I don’t think it needs to be said that I would thoroughly recommend the River Cottage Canteen (although now I have…). If you’re looking for good value, tasty food in an informal, unpretentious environment then this is the ideal place for friends, families and couples alike. Book your table now!

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The details
Where: St John’s Court, Whiteladies Rd, BS8 2QY
Website: http://www.rivercottage.net/canteens/bristol/
How to book: Under 6 people in your party? The easiest way is online. For larger groups, phone 0117 973 2458
Menu: Changes every day (I won’t link as it’ll be out-of-date almost as soon as the post goes live!) but sample ones are available online

Photo Credits

All photos except exterior shot via River Cottage’s Flickr
Exterior shot via Zawtowers