Bristol foodie guide: where locals eat and drink
A quirky and undeniably Bristolian beat pulses through the city’s food and drink scene. Get stuck into it via fried cheese sandwiches and spiced chicken pincho skewers
Looking for Bristol restaurants? Check out the best places to eat in Bristol, including cafés, bars and restaurants. Here you'll find local beers and interesting wines, lively bars and buzzy cafés. Check out our local food and drink guide to Bristol...
We also have a dedicated guide to the best restaurants in Wapping Wharf, Bristol's new foodie development made up of shipping containers. Check out our Wapping Wharf guide here...
For more exciting restaurants and weekend ideas for food lovers, check out our best UK city breaks.
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Best restaurants in Bristol
Peter Sanchez-Inglesias’ buzzy Michelin-starred tapas bar brings the finest Andalusian tapas and a carefully crafted sherry list to Bristol’s harbourside, with covers set to double due to an extension into the restaurant's neighbouring site and a waterside terrace for alfresco feasting. Start with a glass of cava as you work your way through the ever-changing menu: a perfectly golden tortilla Española oozes like a poached egg, and the signature jamon croquetas live up to the hype. Charred piparra peppers – an intriguing alternative to padrón – are sweet and mild, or hot and peppery, and veggie diners will swoon over the corn-on-the-cob, coated in a devilled mayonnaise and topped with manchego shavings. There is meat aplenty, too, from presa Iberia and duroc pork ribs to Cornish lamb rump, and those eyeing the seafood will be pleased to know it arrives fresh the night before. Take your pick from the Spanish wine offering or sip on a negroni bianco – a softer, less bitter cocktail than the traditional. The newly added Pedro Ximenez flan – a light, silky and boozy crème caramel – marks an elegant finish to an extraordinary lunch. pacotapas.co.uk
Chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias goes back to his roots to launch a casual Italian dining spot on the Bristol harbourside site of his family’s original restaurant, Casamia. Rosemary gnocchi, braised beef cheek and tiramisu grace the menu alongside daily specials, a wine list celebrating Italian grape varieties and cocktails such as the Joegroni sbagliato. casabristol.co.uk
Fans of Bar Buvette – the space’s previous incarnation – will notice a lighter and brighter décor at Marmo. With a mosaic beneath your feet as you enter, there’s herringbone hardwood floors, cream wood panelling on the walls framed by vino-inspired prints, vast windows and an open-plan kitchen and bar. With such a short menu that’s so well priced – three courses at lunch for as little as £17 [November 2019] – the team at Marmo have made life easier by removing the need for decision making. Simply order it all.
Mussels arrive soft, plump and drunk on West Country nectar (aka cider), their liquor moreishly sweet, saline and mellow from tender shredded leek. Delica pumpkin (so favoured by chefs thanks to its concentrated pumpkin flavour) sings of the season, parcelled up in ravioli, bathed in sage-scented butter, and topped with toasted walnuts. Pork collar, with smashed chickpeas, chard, raisins and pine nuts, is a last-minute substitution for pork belly – Cosmo orders in a whole pig at the start of the week, working his way through the animal with each menu iteration – but doesn’t suffer for it, achieving a golden crust and a blushing, juicy heart.
Chef-owner Pegs Quinn is ex-River Café and cooks with seasonal, produce-led rigour. Expect elevated plates of, perhaps, farinata (chickpea flour flatbread) with charred Friggitelli sweet peppers and borlotti, or pappardelle with chicken livers. Mains from £12; sonnystores.com
In a laid-back, residential corner of Bristol, Wilsons is a quietly ambitious kitchen producing delicious British food in a smart, sustainable way.
You’ve heard of nose to tail, probably even root to fruit, but how about fin to fin? Work your way through the food menu at Wilson’s, and you’ll notice a theme – every part of every ingredient is used. An architectural stack of over-caramelised (purposely), crunchy crusted rye bread arrives with whipped turbot roe, brawn made from the turbot head, and a pure, dashi-like turbot bone broth, alongside the usual pat of butter. (The fish later appears again with pretty borage flowers and snails bathed in borage oil.)
Ingredients are hyper seasonal, and restrained but refined dishes are designed to shout about it. On our visit, a rainbow of Isle of Wight tomatoes the size of giant marbles are painstakingly peeled, and come bobbing around in silky dill oil, before being submerged in a delicate elderflower-scented consommé.
One of Bristol’s most talked about new openings for 2019, Freddy Bird’s family-run restaurant in Westbury Park serves up hearty, regional French dishes which deliver on every level.
With a menu of snacks, starters, mains, sharers and sides (plus a plat du jour with a glass of wine for just £15), you get the feeling Freddy’s trying to feed you up. Let him. A ‘snack’ of chargrilled baby monkfish is the juiciest we’ve ever tried, served with sauce vierge, fresh basil and a decent thwack of woodsmoke. We down massive oysters with shallot vinegar for a saline hit, seriously good olives sweet with garlic and rosemary, and creamy fizz from the Loire at just £5.50 a glass.
A painted Bell’s Diner & Bar Rooms sign still exists above the door at this famed Montpelier restaurant site, taken on by Dominic Borel and Ben Harvey to turn into a traditional Italian trattoria.
Interiors include 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. 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.
Once an engineer for the McLaren Formula 1 team, Graham Faragher and his wife, Kate, started Bertha’s as a street-food business, serving pizzas from a converted canary-yellow Land Rover Defender before opening a bricks-and-mortar pizzeria in Bristol’s burgeoning harbourside food quarter. For Graham, it’s all about a long fermentation for the sourdough – at Bertha’s, it’s between three and five days – and seasonal South West ingredients for the toppings.
The Truffle Shuffle remains a firm favourite with its creamy smoked mushroom and truffle base, mozzarella and mushrooms, as do specials like the Kimcheese – that’s wild garlic and chard kimchi with Devon Blue. “It’s all about the daft ideas,” says Graham, who has also created a number of unusual ice creams at Bertha’s including the Mint Air-Woah (aerated Valrhona dark chocolate churned through fresh mint gelato).
Café by day, tapas joint by night, ethically focused Poco (crowned Business of the Year at the Food Made Good Awards 2018, for the second time) is a long-time member of the thriving indie community of Bristol, with food and drink menus featuring seasonal, British and often organic produce.
The varied but cohesive collection of small plates (which is chalked up on the back wall alongside the producers whose ingredients it stars) is illustrative of Ian’s imagination and skill.
Sweet corn fritters are far more exciting than the image they conjure, and come loaded with jalapeño and rich crumbs of chocolate to offset that sweetness. Each is sat on an aioli-topped kohlrabi slice, for wrapping it in, taco-style. Cornish hake, dusted with kelp powder, is cooked with real care; the soft flesh falls away in thick, moist flakes at the mere suggestion of a fork, and slips into the silky oyster mayonnaise it’s partnered with.
This modern British restaurant in the Cotham area of the city has quickly made an impression on locals thanks to the clever cooking, interesting techniques (they’re big fans of fermentation) and bold flavour pairings from 30-year-old chef George Livesey. Originally from the Peak District, George has worked at St. John, for Dan Cox (executive chef of Fera at Claridge’s), and White Rabbit in Dalston before deciding to head West.
His menus champion the produce of the region, including all the foraged ingredients he can get his hands on (from fiddlehead ferns and pine, to juniper and sea kale). Order off the good-value tasting menus – £45 for nine courses, while set lunch menus start at £15 for three courses.
With personable and passionate service, a cracking cocktail menu that complements the food, and sterling cooking coming out of the tiny kitchen, George and his team are giving well-established names on the Bristol food and drink scene a run for their money…
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.
What’s the vibe? 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.
What’s the food like? 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.
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.
And the drinks? The drinks list features natural and biodynamic wines, as well as local Somerset brandy.
olive says… A brilliant and totally fitting, of-the-moment addition to this vibrant new Bristol restaurant quarter.
Pasta Ripiena is the second opening in two years from Bristol cousins Dominic Borel and Ben Harvey, who have built up a considerable following in their city since launching the original Pasta Loco.
At the smaller Pasta Ripiena, Ben’s brother Joe and his team change the menu every fortnight, developing new dishes and testing the elements of each one for a week before putting them on the menu.
To keep things seasonal, the restaurant gets two weekly deliveries from the Milan fruit and vegetable market. This produce ends up in a range of dishes, particularly stuffed pasta, which is made on site every day. Typical main courses include tortellini of salt marsh lamb, artichoke barigoule, pancetta and ricotta salata, and ravioli of beef shin ragu, crispy coppa, chard and pedro ximénez.
Dominic says: “You’ll find Joe rolling five different styles of stuffed pasta between the end of lunch service and dinner – the PX sherry jus on the beef ragu is sticky, sweet, rich and just plain naughty!”
Do a few lengths in the restored Victorian pool to sharpen your appetite then enjoy a two-course poolside lunch at Bristol Lido (Oakfield Place). Chef Freddy Bird’s must-eat dishes (click here to make his recipes at home) include wood-roast scallops with herb and garlic butter and his salted butter caramel ice cream. Downstairs offers tapas. Booking essential.
Bag a table by the window (or on the terrace) in the glass-fronted River Station (The Grove) to catch the action in the harbour. Go all out in the smart upstairs restaurant with mains such as roast hake with parmesan crust and cannellini beans, the two-course set lunch in the relaxed downstairs café-bar is a bargain.
Koocha Mezze Bar
Koocha Mezze Bar is a Persian, all-vegan cocktail and mezze bar with a contagiously sparky, easy-going spirit, in Bristol’s independent quarter. Run by long-time vegetarian turned vegan, Noda Marvani, Koocha’s bold, all-black exterior hints at the snug, stylish space within. There are also bright blue picnic tables on the patio outside for warmer days but Koocha’s brought the outdoors in, too; festoon lighting against a dark ceiling makes for an atmospheric, dining-under-the-stars feel. The menu’s short and sweet, with one page for mezze, mains, sides and desserts then another for drinks — including plenty of vegan cocktails and signature G&Ts. Menu highlights include the koopa – earthy rice balls, deep-fried and loaded with cinnamon and turmeric – and spiced, slow-roasted cauliflower teamed with saffron yogurt and pomegranate seeds. Almost everything here is made from scratch (including the seitan used in the kebabs) and what Koocha don’t make themselves they look to the Bristol community to supply. Desserts are brought in from Elspeth’s Kitchen — a vegan, gluten-free bakery down the road from the restaurant — and bread’s sourced from Bristol-based Abunoor Pitta Factory.
In a nutshell: Located in smart Clifton, Nutmeg serves up seriously delicious Indian cuisine (read our guide to some of the best Indian restaurants in the UK here). With its buzzy, welcoming atmosphere, this restaurant doesn’t mind if you’re dressed up or down, but the dishes are certainly special enough for a celebration.
What’s the vibe like? In its dishes, decor and demeanour, Nutmeg is wonderfully colourful. Street-art-style murals on the walls are pure Bristol, while wooden floors and red banquettes add polish.
What's the food like? Owner Raja Munuswamy and head chef Arvind Pawar source ingredients from local indie suppliers, including Ruby and White butchers and Bristol Sweet Mart. While the tasting menu focuses on one region at a time (on our visit the northern region of Kashmir), cycling every two months to keep things fresh, the à la carte features flavours inspired by all 29 of India’s states.
After a tray of well-balanced homemade chutneys, the amuse bouche of golgappa puri – a traditional street snack of deep-fried tried filled with tamarind water, chilli, chaat masala and chickpea – proved to be one of the standouts of the night. We also found ourselves particularly enamoured with the main course’s yakhni gosht – rich, slow-cooked lamb that was moreishly tender, warm with ginger and cumin and cooled with a hung yoghurt sauce.
Paired with a fruity pinot noir rosé, the pudding rounded the evening off beautifully; a deliciously syrupy jalebi acted as the perfect foil to a fragrant ball of homemade rose kulfi ice cream.
And the drinks? Highlights include a wine menu with helpful food pairing suggestions, a roster of lightly spiced gins and a short offering of Indian-inspired cocktails – we enjoyed an elderflower champagne creation.
For a pre-dinner bite, cross Whiteladies Road to small, buzzy Bravas (7 Cotham Hill), which, with its exposed brick walls and hessian coffee sacks, could be a backstreet tapas bar in Spain. Make sure you try the lamb à la plancha with hazelnut and parsley salsa or the tortilla with homemade aïoli.
Tables are much sought after at this cool and cosy bakery-café, where, behind that historic Tudor façade, owners, Tam Galliford and Amy Symonds, create ace celebration cakes and lush afternoon teas. Sandwiches and unusually interesting scones (sour cherry and toasted pumpkin seed, for example) are followed by a variety of modish bakes, such as thyme and sea salt chocolate cookies or lemon mascarpone choux buns. Tam and Amy like to use products from fellow Bristol indies, such as Circumstance Distillery’s whiskey in their white chocolate truffles. Their house coffee blend was created with Radical Roasters. ahhtoots.com
The queues snaking out the door tell you all you need to know about Hart’s Bakery. Set under the arches at Bristol Temple Meads railway station, swing by for epic sausage rolls and Saturday Bread.
Two Day Coffee Roasters
As unpretentious as coffee shops get, Two Day Coffee Roasters sells an impressive selection of beans by weight, as well as cups of coffee to go (there are no seats). The Bristol coffee scene may have grown over the past few years, but these guys were right there at the start.
Ease yourself into the day with brunch at one of Bristol’s longest-standing food institutions, the Primrose Café (Clifton Arcade, 1 Boyce’s Avenue). Go for the All-In-Two cooked breakfast, haddock fish cakes, or a slab of its legendary chocolate and salted caramel cake.
Transport yourself to the Med at Papadeli (84 Alma Road), a deli-cum-café-cum cookery school whose ‘papa’ is affable ex-chef Simon MacDonnell. If you’re staying beyond the weekend, book onto a weekday evening cooking class. Otherwise, devour a chocolate brownie in the café or snap up a Sorelle Nurzia Italian Easter Colomba cake in the deli.
Spicer & Cole
Amble back into classy Clifton for tea at Spicer & Cole (9 Princess Victoria Street), the antidote to faceless coffee shop chains. Ingredients are locally sourced and the sandwiches and cakes are handmade on site. The carrot cake is addictive.
Hyde & Co
Round off the evening with a cocktail at Hyde & Co (2 The Basement, Upper Byron Place), Bristol’s prohibition-style bar. We recommend a Stroll in the Grounds; Somerset cider brandy shaken with sloe gin and lavender sherbet, topped with Camel Valley fizz.
Tucked away in tranquil Kingsdown, the cosy Green Man (21 Alfred Place) could almost be in a Somerset village. Savour a pre-dinner pint of Bristol Best, made with British malt and hops by Westcountry brewers Dawkins (who own the pub). If you’re not booked elsewhere for dinner, the home-cooked food is good too.
The Bristol Cheesemonger
Shopping in a shipping container is cool, right? Literally in the case of The Bristol Cheesemonger, since the space is also refrigerated; proprietor Rosie Morgan sells excellent More Wine bag-in-box wine and the most marvellous array of British cheeses, including an awesome trio of cheddars (when in the West Country…).
Bristol Sweet Mart
Head to Easton (east of Bristol city centre) to find Bristol Sweet Mart, a glorious South Asian emporium where you can buy anything from tiffin boxes to bunches of herbs, chutneys, fresh pickles, pulses and grains (make sure to nose through the gargantuan selection of spices).
Wai Yee Hong
Apart from having one of the funniest Twitter profiles out there, Wai Yee Hong is a behemoth of a Chinese supermarket, requiring a whole day to fully explore its shelves. Charge round with a shopping trolley stocking up on all things Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai.
You can spot the queues long before you reach Mark Newman’s artisan bakery (291 North Street) on the popular North Street. Bag a loaf of his sourdough, still warm from the ovens behind the counter, or settle down with a paper and croque Monsieur in the café next door.
St Nicholas' Market
Soak up the atmosphere at St Nicholas’ Market (Corn Street) which offers everything from wheatgrass juice to handmade Pieminister pies (try the Heidi with Somerset goat’s cheese), and pulled pork sandwiches from Grillstock Smokeshack. At the gorgeous Source food hall & café, grab a Gloucester Old Spot sausage roll or stock up on local goodies.
Arch House Deli
‘Hopping’ green chocolate frogs made with popping candy by James’ Chocolates and sold at Arch House Deli (Boyce’s Avenue) make novelty Easter presents. Stock up your own fridge with West Country cheeses such as Montgomery Cheddar or local charcutier Vincent Castellanos’ pâté de champagne.
The Bristol Cider Shop
The Bristol Cider Shop (7 Christmas Step) is one of the numerous independent vendors on Bristol’s medieval Christmas Steps, stocking over 100 local ciders. Try the champagne-style Pilton cider and Julian Temperley’s Somerset Pomona, which is great with cheese.
Reg the Veg
Take your pick from the veg-laden cart outside another Bristol stalwart, Reg the Veg greengrocers (6 Boyce’s Avenue). Reg has moved on and it’s now run by John Hagon and son Tom. Vegetables come from nearby Failand or in the case of asparagus, the Wye Valley. There’s Bradley’s apple juice and Ooh! Chocolata bars made in Nailsea too.
The best cookery school in Bristol
Square Food Foundation
The benchmark for all cookery schools, Barny Haughton’s Square Food Foundation runs many courses throughout the year, for all ages and cooking abilities. Its Day of the Dead pop-up demo and feast will be a knockout.
Where to stay in Bristol
Double rooms at Bristol Harbour Hotel (above) start from £155, b&b. For the best deals on rooms at Bristol Harbour Hotel, click here
For more info see visitbristol.co.uk.
Words by Claire Thomson (Bristol-based chef and the author of three cookbooks), Mark Taylor, Rosie Sharratt, Tory Parks, Kate Authers and Helen Salter
Photography by Sam Gibson, Mike Lusmore, Getty, Kirstie Young