Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Banqueting in Bristol...

Everything that can be said and written has already been said and written about the Heineken Cup Final in CardiffSo, what better than a celebration of the food in the city we based ourselves in for the long weekend – Bristol.

On Friday, the second day of a four day trip that would take in the final in Cardiff - we lunched at the splendid Lock Fyne restaurant. Located towards the old area of the city, away from the glass and steel of the renovated harbourside area, this stunning eatery offers a haven of tranquillity in an old, sunlit, converted granary. The smiling staff are welcoming, wonderfully attentive, the food is exquisite and the bill doesn’t shock. Here, I found the perfect lunch for the day in question; a salad of exquisite lightness, bursting with flavour but full of vitamins and general goodness. The ambiance of the place and the delicious seafood on couscous salad made for a fantastically uplifting lunch. A lovely touch for me was that it was possible to have a glass of Prosecco as an aperitif.

And believe me, I truly needed those bubbles that lunchtime, because how I managed to eat at all after Thursday night, is beyond me. The night before, our first evening in the city, we had found the restaurant of restaurants, the stunning Chinese Cathay Rendevous. This place (including the building) is so magnificent, the food superb and the portions so generous that I would go back to Bristol now just to eat there again.

It was so fabulous that despite wanting to try all sorts of restaurants, we found ourselves walking towards it once again on Friday night. We had another amazing dining experience, with the top man remarking to me, ‘ah, you are not ordering the same as you did last night…’  (How did he remember what I had eaten the night before?)

Over the two nights I tucked into Prawn toasts, Satay Chicken, King Prawns with peppers, Scallops, green vegetables, ginger, spring onions, and all kinds of spices; I could not get enough of magnificent flavours. So many incredible, mouth watering tastes, washed down by lots and lots of Pinot Grigio; this restaurant is a marvellous place.

We had arranged to meet some friends who had travelled over from Dublin for the big match. I wanted to drag them back to the Cathay Rendevous once we got back to Bristol, but to my horror one of the party could not eat Chinese food; it appeared the spices caused some unpleasant reaction. Lucky me then, having eaten there twice already.

In the event, the match proved such a fantastic and uplifting occasion that it really mattered not a jot where we ended up. We eventually ate a splendid late dinner in the ambience of The River Grille at the Bristol Hotel, where we had based ourselves for four nights. The night took on a certain madness that carried on into the early hours; I was so thankful to only have to step into the lift and whizz up to our luxury room.

Sunday then, and with heads buzzing from the night before, a restorative lunch beckoned once again. This time we got a table in the Firehouse – a place I had tried to get six of us into for the night before but it had been fully booked, and now I know why. Once again we tucked into great food, including an enormous, ‘mop up the alcohol’ pizza for me with Larry promptly ordering and raving over the day’s special, a simply massive plate of roast pork, complete with crackling. We ran into a French rugby team also enjoying the food... 

The last meal of the Heineken Cup weekend on Sunday night, and while I did really want to go back to the Cathay Rendevous again, because of living in a part of France where spices and oriental cooking is not the norm, we opted for different Asian flavours and went to the elegant looking Thai Edge.

This whole restaurant is a delight for the senses. The calm ladies who look after you are beautiful, serene and dressed in purple and gold, setting the tone for everything to follow. The menu is enormous, so extensive that you really need lots of time to read it. I ordered a Bellini, which came adorned with a delicate orchid, and began to study the list.

The food is described as being ‘a complete Thai culinary experience’ and I cannot think of a better description for everything we ate that evening. I had never some across Gaeng Pa Gai (Jungle Curry) before; the description said Chicken cooked in chilli paste with fresh young green peppercorns, aubergines, bamboo shoots, snake beans and holy basil. It had a three red chilli rating and it deserved every one of them; this dish was simply glorious, the flavours utterly perfect.

Home a few days and withdrawal symptoms set in. I needed more Asian food and headed up to Toulouse, to the excellent Hyper Asia store where I stocked up, even finding the holy basil. I’ve tried to re-create some of the dishes and they were fine. That’s it though, just fine. Deep down I know that no matter how much I try, I will never be able to capture that special magic of those Bristol restaurants.

We ate in the locality of the Bristol Hotel and were only there for a few days; when the Heineken Cup is next in Cardiff I’ll make Bristol a week’s holiday…and spend more time in the wonderful St Nicholas Market, a real find.

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