Bianchis, Bristol: restaurant review
Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised Critic Mark Taylor and olive reader Jenny Purcell compare notes on this Italian-inspired Bristol opening
About Bianchis, Bristol
A painted Bell’s Diner & Bar Rooms sign might still exist above the door at this famed Montpelier restaurant site, but there are some new owners in town. The latest from entrepreneurial cousins Dominic Borel and Ben Harvey – they’ve opened three more Italian restaurants across Bristol – Bianchis is inspired by traditional Italian trattorias.
The inside has had a refurb, without losing its character – with bottle-green banquettes and wood panelling, crisp white tablecloths, and a modern geometric print in the bar – and there’s a mix of bookable tables and those reserved for walk-ins. There’s a suitably grown-up nod to the restaurant’s Italian roots right from the off, with a bitter aperitivo list (negronis, Aperol and Campari spritzes, vermouth and tonics), and plenty of Italian wines, but there are also a few curveballs to look out for – including an Essex pinot blanc, an Austrian orange wine and a trendy Greek red.
When it comes to the food, the team goes further than the pasta-centric offerings at its other sites (Pasta Loco and Pasta Ripiena). The menu – divided into cured, raw, antipasti, primi (showcasing their pasta-making skills) and secondi sections – makes the most of local West Country producers: think braised quail with pancetta, coco blanc, turnip and girolle agrodolce; and roast hake with Dorset clams and baby fennel. The kitchen is headed up by Pegs Quinn, who boasts the River Café on his CV.
The pro restaurant reviewer
Bristol-based journalist and restaurant reviewer Mark Taylor has written for a number of publications in the past 20 years, including olive. @MarkTaylorFood
The punter restaurant reviewer
Jenny Purcell lives in Weston-super-Mare. Her guilty pleasure is homemade Korean chicken burgers and her best dining experience was eating at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in Padstow.
Our pro's Bianchis, Bristol restaurant review…
In just three years, Bristol cousins Dominic Borel and Ben Harvey have made an indelible mark on the city’s dining scene. Their much-loved original restaurant Pasta Loco was followed by Pasta Ripiena, a city-centre joint specialising in stuffed handmade pasta. Then, earlier this year, the family opened deli/wine bar La Sorella, and now has taken over a site that had been home to one of Bristol’s most iconic restaurants for 40 years. The dark wooden dresser in the dining room (a greengrocer in the 1950s) has survived the refurb, but Bianchis is fit for purpose as a thoroughly contemporary Italian trattoria. *I was recognised.
Razor-thin slices of marinated octopus were drizzled with high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and spiked with capers, fresh marjoram and chilli. Salt marsh lamb and oregano ravioli in a tomato butter emulsion was a poised and well-balanced dish, the plump pasta parcels generously filled with lamb delicately perfumed with fresh oregano.
A grilled pork chop the thickness of a decent paperback was juicy and still smoky from the chargrill. It was topped with some salty prosciutto, a punchy salsa rossa, red onion and sage-scented potatoes cooked in butter until crisp and crunchy. A thick piece of poached cod was teamed with briny Dorset mussels and clams that still tasted of the sea, and squeaky braised green beans.
Lemon tart boasted the right amount of zip from zesty Amalfi lemons, while Frangelico panna cotta achieved the correct creamy wobble, the nutty flavour from the liqueur enhanced by crushed hazelnuts and slices of poached pear.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A cool modern Italian trattoria with prices kind enough to encourage locals to return often, rather than just for special occasions, Bianchis is the neighbourhood hangout we all dream of having on our doorstep.
Total for two, excluding service: £84.50
Our punter's Bianchis, Bristol restaurant review…
Reggae music made our shoulders shimmy and smells from the kitchen made our bellies rumble as our server greeted us with a smile. Knowledgeable and enthusiastic, she explained the menu to us and helped us decide how much to order from the savoury courses on offer.
We arrived at 6pm on a Tuesday, and it took a while for the place to liven up. Our first three courses were cleared within 50 minutes, so we felt our evening was over before it had really begun.
My carpaccio antipasti created a citrus explosion in my mouth as tangy nuggets of capers burst against firm slices of raw brill, doused with an emulsion of sharp lemon juice and olive oil.
Bianchis takes pride in its homemade pasta and rightly so. The stand-out dish of silky pappardelle ribbons tossed through robust, chianti-stewed beef shin, seasoned by salty parmesan and peppery olive oil, slipped down effortlessly.
Confit duck crespelle – fluffy egg pancake – was rich with creamy taleggio but lacked any real taste of the duck which was in the form of a paste running through the mixture. Sweet, balsamic-roasted figs, bitter radicchio and green beans were a welcome contrast that broke up what resembled a cheesy omelette.
My favourite flavour combination of dark chocolate and amaretto was whipped up into a velvety mousse and sweetened with a soft, marshmallowy Italian meringue and juicy poached pears. A contrasting texture of a crumbled amaretto biscuit or two would have been a nice touch.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The dishes are reasonably priced individually but when it’s recommended that you order several courses, it soon mounts up. Unfortunately for a meal costing more than £100 for two, there was no real sense of occasion.
Total for two excluding service: £118.50