In a nutshell
With Rob Howell (previously of Michelin-starred The Pony & Trap in Chew Magna) as head chef, Root is a new veggie-focussed restaurant in Bristol’s Wapping Wharf development.
Root takes the place of Chicken Shack, which closed this summer when the Eat Drink Bristol Fashion team (the brains behind both restaurants) found they’d soon need to start compromising on their ethical values or the quality of their food. Unwilling to sacrifice either, Root was born instead with the renewed aim of offering dishes that are delicious, sustainable and affordable.
Plants hang in the floor-to-ceiling windows, glossy green tiles line the walls between licks of purple paint and crates of fresh produce sit beneath a blackboard of specials. The kitchen is open, in every sense – chefs chat to diners across the bar.
We learn that Rob heads to the fruit and veg market once or twice a week to see what takes his fancy, while all fish is sourced from Cornwall, the oysters from Porthilly. Rob also keeps a healthily stocked larder to ensure there are always interesting ingredients to hand, whatever the season. He’s currently fermenting turnip in a salt solution – over three months, we’re told it’ll ‘cook’ itself to perfection. Spot the sauerkraut, too, under a golden-brown cider rarebit.
Designed to be gentle on the environment, the one-sheet menu of small plates is proudly almost all veggie, with just a few select meat and fish dishes. The drinks list features natural and biodynamic wines, as well as local Somerset brandy. We order on recommendation and, as we relax with a couple of Gin Bramble cocktails in hand, well-crafted plates begin to fill up the bar before us.
Warming, woody cauliflower steak – cooked with or without butter, to suit vegan diners – is heaped with more cauli, in the form of purée and shavings. Cashew milk makes for a rich, creamy base, while a squeeze of lemon zings.
English burrata, framed by swirls of seeded dukkah and smoked rapeseed oil, is a heavenly blend of creamy and crunchy textures. Onglet tartare (one of the rogue meat dishes) is a marvel. Beneath a nest of moreish matchstick fries (made from leftover potato scraps) and plump, raw steak pieces is a cured, pickled egg yolk. The yolks are left to cure in brine for half an hour then pickled for a further couple of hours, which produces their seductively silky texture.
Round things off with the cherry mess: the cream and tart fruit pieces are tucked beneath an intact meringue which you must ‘mess’ yourself with a few hearty spoon thwacks. As if puddings weren’t therapeutic enough.
A brilliant and totally fitting, of-the-moment addition to this vibrant new Bristol restaurant quarter.
Price range: Very good value for money, with small plates ranging from £3 to £9, and puddings between £5 and £6.
Words | Rosie Sharratt, August 2017
Photography | Root