Billed as restaurant, theatre, bakery, live music venue, café and bar, The Old Market Assembly is in the heart of one of Bristol’s most historic areas. The locally and ethically sourced food is modestly priced and globally inspired, and the daily changing menu seemingly has something for everyone, whether vegan or meat-eater.
Old Market started life in Medieval times as a market on the outside of the city walls and has been the centre’s edgy cousin ever since. By day secondhand furniture shops, pawnbrokers and charity shops; by night takeaways, massage parlours and nightclubs means the streets are a million miles away from Bristol’s harbour district or affluent Clifton. That’s probably the whole point, as the team behind it also run The Canteen in the increasingly gentrified Stokes Croft area (home of Banksy graffiti and anti-Tesco riots a few years ago).
The building itself was a grand bank in the era of Victorian opulence. More recently it has hosted a couple of nightclubs before lying empty for years. Four massive pillars support a ceiling edged with ornate friezes and an impressive stained glass dome dominates the centre. The kitchen is open but discreet and a bar offers plenty of local beers, decently priced wine and an excellent range of spirits including locally made rosemary, orange and cardamom gin. A gallery provides more tables and sofa areas, with shelves of books and children’s games for daytime visitors.
Everything on the menu is designed as a main course but can be shared as starters. My guest and I began by sharing a kebab. Succulent lamb patties, homemade flat bread, tahini yogurt and chilli sauce served with tabbouleh, winter slaw and celeriac hummus was a rich marriage of flavour, spice and heat.
For main, Hungarian beef ghoulash with slow-cooked, beautifully tender Hereford skirt and blade provided a hearty solution to a cold night. The pumpkin, chickpea and kale salad topped with Bath blue cheese was exactly the kind of vegetarian food a meat-eater can indulge in. Intense flavours and textures mingled with each ingredient loud enough to complement the delicious molten cheese. Executive chef Scott Hislop, who runs the family of restaurants, has put passion and expertise into the food, which is excellent value for money, with most dishes under a tenner.
Elsewhere, groups of friends pull tables together, couples share more intimate conversations and at the bar passers-by are tempted by the homemade sausage rolls and local ale. It’s a good mix. From the moment this place opens in the morning, with its fresh-baked pastries and coffees, through reasonably priced lunches and child-friendly informality, to when chunky candles are lit come dinner-time, the clientele and the atmosphere evolves to suit. Live music kicked off at around 9, as it morphed from restaurant into venue.
For me the dining experience was over too quickly – a shared starter and main later with only a few cakes on the bar to choose for dessert. That said, since its launch in November this is clearly another of Bristol’s new cool kids. And with its affordable menu and inviting atmosphere it’s definitely one to watch.
The Old Market Assembly
25 West St
Written by Pete Lawrence, February 2016
Images by Paul Blakemore
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