BRISTOL IN THE SKY (WITH COCKTAILS)

It’s 9.30pm on a still and clear Wednesday night when we pull up close to the towering crane currently occupying Bristol’s Waterfront Square. Mr TGE shoots me a concerned look, “are you sure you want to do this..?” I squint up at the top of the crane, where the most exclusive table in Bristol is currently dangling 100ft up and give a slightly-more-confident-than-I’m-feeling nod. “Absolutely! I bet it doesn’t even feel that high when you’re up there..” I offer, as I trot off to find out just how wrong I am.

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My table for the evening

Bristol in the Sky is one of the hottest new tickets in town and offers a variety of foodie delights from such Bristol favourites as Rosemarino’s, Henry’s, Romy’s Kitchen and Swoon to name a few. Tickets are on sale for events from the 7th – 12th September and offer a choice of breakfast, lunch, gelato, pie, dinner or cocktails in the sky (prices range from £50 – £150). You can book tickets HERE. So when I was asked if I fancied coming along to try out a cocktail or two with the wonderful Her Majesty’s Secret Service it was an offer I couldn’t refuse….

I did ask Mr TGE if he fancied coming along too but he went a little bit pale and asked me if I remembered the Eiffel tower. Swallowing my snigger I agreed it was probably best this was a lone mission; back in the early days of the TGE household in an effort to win ALL OF THE GIRLFRIEND POINTS I organised a surprise weekend away to Paris for Mr TGE’s birthday. It was a flurry of wine, delicious food and strolling along achingly beautiful Paris boulevards, so lovely! Well nearly all lovely until we reached the top  of the Eiffel Tower and saw the dazzling view of Paris in autumn sunshine stretched out before us. Sighing contentedly I turned to Mr TGE who was curiously no longer there… Looking around I spotted him ashen face and plastered rigidly against the central support beam, breathing rather heavily. After a few quick (incredibly tense) selfies, we agreed maybe it was time to go down…

So, cocktails in the sky, probably not up his street. But as it turns out, totally up mine! Arriving into the plush champagne reception there was an excited crowd of bloggers and writers eager to begin their journey. We could see the dinner table (catered by Menu Gordon Jones, apparently he did something fabulous with eel but I never found out what) above our heads preparing to descend and a thrill of anticipation ran through the crowd.

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First came a little bit of housekeeping between champagnes (or the more bump friendly soft drink options) however. You need to check your bag into the cloakroom, you’re allowed to take your phone up with you but nothing bulkier than that. Next, a quick trip to the loo, there’s no options once you’re up there! Lastly (and especially if you’re doing a dinner or evening trip) make sure you take a warm jacket with you. We were lucky that it was such a still night but the staff warned us that the wind can get a bit nippy. The  final item on the do list was a quick safety briefing (essentially don’t try and strap yourself into the seat as you’ll do it wrong, let the staff do it. Oh, and try not to drop anything once you’re up there!) and before I knew it, it was time to go!

It feels a bit like being strapped into a rollercoaster but even more so – you’re securely fastened into the large padded seat and have a small platform to rest your feet on but other than that you’re dangling! A few nervous and excited glances were exchanged before, with a small jolt, we were up, up and away!

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Now, Bristol is a beautiful city at the best of times but I was honestly blown away by what an incredible view we had. As there are no walls or floor to speak of at the sky table you have a totally uninterrupted view across the city and at night the sparkling lights of the harbourside glitter across the water. It was absolutely breathtaking! But we weren’t there just for the view, no no! We had cocktails (mocktails in my case) to drink! Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of Bristol’s best ‘secret’ cocktail bars with many fun quirky details. I do enjoy a bar that requires you to enter through a telephone box, so expectations were high. Luckily, we were not disappointed. Representing HMSS were Lucas and Ben (the ‘fun and fit ones’ I had been assured on the ground. No offence to the other HMSS bar staff, I’m sure you’re lovely too) who were standing by to get the night started in the most intriguing way. Handing out individually addressed airmail envelopes to each of us containing a mystery bottle, we were introduced to the ‘Mile High Club’ (stop it, all of you!), a beautiful light fizzing glass of lime, honey, prosecco and Greek Masitha! Although I had the mocktail version of this I can honestly say I didn’t feel hard done by at all – it was absolutely delicious and looked just like the real thing so I didn’t feel left out. Bristol seems to have a bit of mocktail aversion, the closest I’ve found in most places is an orange and lemonade to be honest, so it was a real treat so have something quite so special.

Playing it cool…

Helping myself to plenty of nibbles (apologies to the lovely Matt who I sat next to, I definitely ate your share) and sipping my drink, I took in the spectacular surroundings. A cocktail at 100ft sounds like a gimmick and I had been convinced it would be, but it really is so much more than that, it honestly felt like a truly special and unique experience. You can turn your chair round a fair amount  (hello dangling feet…) to improve even further on the view and the crane rotates the table every now and again so that everyone gets a chance to check out the vista from all angles. Gazing out over Bristol my attention was brought back to the table as it was time to crack on with cocktail number 2… and this time it was up to us to mix it!

Placed in front of us were bespoke airplane trays with an array of tiny bottles filled with what looked like various potions. Intrigued, we tucked in to ‘Trayviation’, following the guide to create our own cocktail. The boozy version of this contained Bombay Sapphire gin, marachino liquor a palma violet type spirit as well a cherry to finish the whole thing off! My gin was swapped for tonic and I had a little green bottle of pepper-minty potion rather than violet but other than that my instructions were the same. Armed with our own cocktail shakers, stirrers and ice buckets we crafted our own little works of art (well.. ish). I was actually rather proud of mine as I remembered a Mr TGE tip to wipe the rim of the glass with my lemon rind and then gently curve it over so that you can smell it when you take a sip. It was also fairly pretty as well as being totally delicious. Although these cocktails were specially crafted just for Bristol in the Sky I might have to pop by HMSS and request one of these to be whipped up, it was absolutely gorgeous.

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All too soon (but was probably somewhere between 45 mins – 1hour) we felt a little jolt and realised our time in the sky was over, it was time to head back down to earth. I once again proved how incredibly graceful I am by promptly falling into the arms of the man who unstrapped me (in my defense those seats are pretty high if you’re 5’3”!) which caused a raised eyebrow. “Good cocktails then?” he asked. They absolutely were.

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A big thank you to the Bristol in the Sky and Her Majesty’s Secret Service teams for such a special evening.

Please note: this experience was received free of charge but this didn’t impact my opinion and I was under no obligation to write a positive review. No review is shared with the venue before publication.

 

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SHOP 3 BISTRO

“Clifton neighbourhood bistro, serving moderately priced rustic cuisine” is the somewhat understated description offered by Shop 3 Bistro’s website. I suppose it’s technically true, Shop 3 is nestled away at the Thali end of Regent Street in Clifton Village and has a short but exciting menu with an emphasis on local and foraged produce.

I’ve been meaning to give it a try since its opening in December last year, but somehow it never quite made it to the top of my list. An error on my part…

We visited on a particularly busy sunny Saturday lunchtime, having made reservations earlier in the week. With a couple of tables outside, a couple more on the ground level and larger rooms for groups on the first floor and lower level; it’s a peculiar layout but does allow for greater flexibility.  We were seated with another couple on the ground floor whilst the first floor was filled with a large private party. The décor is understated but pretty with flowers (I assume picked locally?), candles and wine bottle menu holders dotting the tables. The ground floor is particularly light and airy and a great spot to people watch – there was a rather fabulous Scottish wedding party processing past about halfway through the meal which stole my attention!  I also liked the look of the lower level room (I had a quick nose when venturing to the bathroom) filled with cosy tables and flickering candle light. It was empty on such a beautiful day but would be perfect on a winters’ night, especially as there was a rather beautiful old fireplace.

We were presented with lunch menus which were short but interesting, with lots of fresh and unusual ingredients on offer. I was so nearly tempted by the ‘four rock oysters’ (£12) from the starters – your choice of natural with shallot vinegar or battered with tartare sauce – but as we were slightly restricted on time had to pass that by. One for next time though. While we perused our options we were presented with some beautiful almond focaccia, served warm with oozingly soft butter. Soft, chewy and tasty it was a promising sign of things to come.

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Main courses range from around £10-£20 with a selection of sides at around £4 each and a summer special at £12 including a glass of wine.  I was nearly swayed by the vegetarian option –  Harbourne Blue goat’s cheese soufflé, tempura courgette flowers, heritage tomato panzanella, gooseberry & basil sauce verte – but the summer lunch special seemed too good an opportunity to miss so Mr TGE and I both plumped for it. Described as “Corn fed chicken ravioli, foraged Scottish girolles, hen’s egg, broad beans, roast corn”, I was completely unprepared for the beautiful plate of  food that would shortly arrive. Feeling decadent we also ask for a side of “Hispi cabbage, bacon and goosefat” (£3.50).

Champagne was served to the tables around us as it seemed to be that kind of a Saturday, whilst we sipped our elderflower cordials (I’m currently growing a human which is really interfering with my champagne intake). They were wonderfully refreshing and sweet without being sickly. And then the main course arrived…

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It was so pretty I even forgave the description of ‘hen’s egg’ (I assume it’s a hen’s egg guys, you only need to mention it if it’s not a hen’s egg. Ducks egg, sure mention it. Dinosaur egg? Make it a feature! Hen’s egg? That’s just a standard egg then. Anyway I digress.).  The ravioli were generously filled with plump and flavourful chicken and sat upon a slick of rich and savoury sauce. Girolle mushrooms were dotted prettily around the dish while disks of ripe roast corn hid beneath flowers. A confetti of broad beans sprinkled the dish adding to the range of textures and colours – it’s one of the most attractive dishes I’ve eaten in a long time, it’s fairly Instagram worthy!

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Importantly though the taste more than matched the appearance with little bursts of delight in every mouthful. It felt like astounding value for £12. The side of cabbage was so delicious it shouldn’t be allowed, we wolfed it down, fighting over the last spoonful. Bacon and goose fat are exactly what cabbage has been missing it turns out.

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As we had piously avoided the champagne it seemed only fair to indulge in a little dessert at this stage. Although we’re usually very good at sharing deserts we were on such a roll we decided to try one each. I opted for the summer fruit and frangipane tart with white peach sorbet, orange blossom sponge, fennel and lavender sugar (£7.50). Mr TGE was feeling rather adventurous and opted for the curiously named, “I asked for chocolate and I got it… with mushrooms”  – dark chocolate mousse, vanilla ice cream, cookies soil, sponge, mushrooms and moss (£6.90).  We were both intrigued to see what the mushrooms would add to the dish and it turns out… not much in our humble opinion.

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The chocolate pudding… with mushrooms!

The chocolate elements were sensational and as with everything we were served, it was beautiful to look at. The dark chocolate mousse had an intense rich flavour, whilst the sponge was light and airy. The mushrooms were… mushrooms. They didn’t particularly add anything to the flavour and the texture was a little rubbery – it was a culinary bridge too far for us. Next time we’ll ask for just the chocolate.

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My summer tart was fungi free and (nearly) faultless however! A little jewel box of brightly coloured delightful things, it was a pleasure to eat. The tart was a lovely mix of tangy fruit and sweet frangipane which was beautifully matched by the orange sponge. The white peach sorbet was light and refreshing – I quite fancied it in a cocktail glass with a shot of gin over the top. There were little puddles of fragrant citrus gels which I swished the tart through for an extra pop. The only thing that didn’t work for me was the slick of fennel sauce which I didn’t notice on the plate until I swiped the sponge through it. I’m just not a herby pudding kind of girl, it’s just not my thing, I find the herbs always overwhelm the other delicate sweet flavours.  I know, I know, peasant tastebuds.

Rogue mushrooms and fennel aside it was a truly outstanding meal for an incredibly reasonable price. Service was attentive, friendly and relaxed throughout, we’re already looking forward to going back. And if the Christmas menu I saw is anything to go by, then Shop 3 Bistro only has more delicious surprises on the way…

Check out Shop 3 Bistros full menu HERE 

 

THE MALAGO

Bedminster has no shortage of wonderful restaurants and North Street proudly gleams as the jewel in its foodie crown. Recently opened, The Malago (previously Zazu’s Kitchen) has pride of place in the centre of things, making it  a prime spot to stop for brunch, dinner or cocktails. Or all of those actually, I do enjoy a brunch time cocktail. We strolled down on a particularly wet Sunday to admire the amazing street art created during Upfest (find out more here – LINK) to try it out.

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One of my favourite Upfest pieces

Run by brother and sister team, chef Helly Highland and front of house John Carnegie, The Malago put its focus on friendly service, local suppliers and modern British cuisine. We ventured in during one of the rare breaks in the rain and were immediately warmly greeted, seated and given water and menus to peruse. Already this was winning for me, so many restaurants fail to do one, or all, of these basics. We had the option of the brunch menu (served 9am – 3pm), lunch (12-3pm) or the outside BBQ running all day during Upfest. The BBQ smelled incredible and we were salivating over the choices, especially when the waitress described in detail the options. I won’t even attempt to recreate that here as I won’t do it justice but it was just like one of those M&S food adverts where everything goes a bit slow motion and it’s not just any BBQ… this is a Malago BBQ…

The tempting brunch menu proved too hard to resist however (though the last time I had a brunch at Zazu’s kitchen it took 90 minutes and when it eventually arrived I was informed they had run out of bacon so had substituted it for a tomato… of such things brunch dreams are not made!) and I was torn between the American pancakes with streaky bacon and maple syrup or ‘The Malago’ which was the full works. Mr TGE had no such indecision and went straight for that and, knowing I would have chronic food envy if I didn’t,  I followed suit. We were apologetically told that there was about a 45 minute wait on food, which we expected during Upfest weekend, but they would try to get it to us faster. We weren’t in a rush and were happy to sit back, relax and enjoy the coffee. As the heavens opened again the restaurant flooded with more customers and soon there wasn’t a seat left with families, couples and groups of art fans clustered around tables.

As it happens we didn’t actually have to wait that long, 25 minutes later a beaming waitress proudly delivered our two heaving plates and apologised again for the wait. We really weren’t bothered but the staff clearly were which I think speaks very highly of them, they seemed genuinely interested to see that we had a lovely time with them which we appreciated. The brunch itself was an absolute winner. Thick cut bacon, plump flavourful sausages and a cheeky little bubble and squeak meant I knew I had chosen the right option. When in doubt go for everything – and it really does contain everything – poached eggs, sausage, bacon, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomato, bubble and squeak and finished off with toast. What a start to the day!

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Everything you could wish for in a brunch (minus the black pudding…)

I was halfway through before I noticed that I was actually missing the black pudding element – however Mr TGE had such an almighty slab of it he was happy to go halves rather than request any more. We happily munched our way through the plate, occasionally nodding and smiling at each other before returning to munching; this was truly a well brunched morning.  When the waitress came to clear the plates we commented on how much we had enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. She nodded enthusiastically, telling us that she had never worked somewhere with quite such lovely people. And do you know what? I can believe it. If ‘friendly neighbourhood local’ is the vibe they’re going for they’re definitely succeeding.  Leaning in closer in a conspiratorial fashion the waitress asked us if we’d been here for dinner yet… we replied that we hadn’t and she shook her head. “You need to come for dinner” she insists with a slightly dreamy look,  “it’s just… so good. It’s real fine dining and it’s just… so good!”.

I’m absolutely sold, make that dinner for two please!

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See the Malago’s full menu here

 

Added bonus of the week: If you’re ever in Coventry and in search of a decent pub dinner, check our The Greyhound Inn . We stumbled across whilst desperate for an early dinner and trying fervently to avoid the Frankie & Bennie’s that had been so highly recommended from the car salesman – and thank goodness! Great food, much better than your standard pub grub!

Greyhound Inn pie

Beef bourguignon & stilton flake pie

THIS GIRL COOKS (AGAIN)

After my previous roaring success at cooking (This Girl Cooks) this rather grey Saturday seemed the perfect time to roll up my sleeves and give it another bash. What culinary heights could I scale, what flavour combination could I innovate, what fabulous feast could I unveil? I searched and pondered trying to find the perfect challenge until eventually it came to me… vegetable soup! The jewel in any chefs culinary crown, I think we can all agree.

Recipe:

1. Look in your fridge, what vegetables do you have? Congratulations, whatever is there is probably fine.

2. Find your favourite Harry Potter film (Order of the Phoenix) online and start watching while you chop all your ingredients into tiny cubes. Don’t weigh the ingredients, it’s probably fine.

3. Ooh Umbridge is such a villain isn’t she? All pink and evil with kittens and a twinset.

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4. Heat a little oil in a pan and fry your cubed veg for a few minutes until it starts to soften.

5. Add some stock. If it doesn’t look like you’ve added enough add a bit more. Add a bit of salt and pepper if you like, why not? You’re cheff-ing like a pro now!

6. Dumbledore’s Army training montage time and Ron promises to go easy on Hermione seconds before she blasts him across the room. Incidentally that scene always makes me think of this  – Harry Potter told from Hermione’s perspective

7. Leave the soup to simmer for 10 – 15 minutes – this is probably just enough time to call your Mum.

8. This is not enough time to call your Mothership – turn the hob off when you can and settle down to find out all about the latest gossip from tai chi.

9. It’s probably about an hour later by now – return to the hob and blend the soup until it’s smooth.

10. Harry this is obviously a trap what are you doing??  Sirius is fine! Why does nobody listen to Hermione? Jesus Christ. Preheat your grill to about 200 degrees.

11. Taste the soup and season if needed. Cut off a wedge of camembert and place in an oven proof ramekin under the grill for as long as the next bit of the film is.

12. “Get away from my godson!” It’s not quite the almighty “not my daughter you bitch!” but then we can’t all be Molly Weasley.

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13. “Nice one James!” Oh Sirius, right in the feels. Pop in some toast.

14.  Nooo!! Sirius!! Just when it was all going so well.

15. In between sobs it’s now time to make your chutney. Do this by having a Mother who delights in making chutney and regularly gives you jars. Done.

16. The camembert should be gorgeously gooey now and piping hot all the way through. Ahh Harry’s giving a pep talk to his friends about life being worth living while wearing a corduroy jacket… he’s just the worst sometimes. Also on a fashion note was anyone else really disappointed with Dumbledore’s costumes throughout the films? In the books they sounded so wonderfully colourful – scarlet, emerald and violet, embroidered with golden stars! Yet in the films he’s always in some form of grey dressing gown! Hmm.

17. Congratulations, you now have vegetable soup with baked camembert and homemade chutney! Mischief Managed!

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CAFE REVIVAL

New restaurants are bursting onto the Bristol food scene like 4th July fireworks and trying to keep up is like trying to jump onto a very delicious bus primarily made of artisan burgers (Asado and Burger Theory – looking at you here). There’s no cuisine craving that cannot be catered for – burgers, sushi, steaks, bao, noodles, fish, street food, curry, modern British, fine dining, cheap eats, vegetarian, vegan – you name it and I guarantee you there is somewhere is Bristol that excels itself at that very speciality. Yes ‘new’ in Bristol is the Big Thing.

So, on a beautiful sunny Friday, when your Dad offers to take you out to lunch anywhere you fancy, and in a city of infinite new choice, where do you choose? That’s right, somewhere old.

Cafe Revival located next to St Nicks market on Corn street is Bristol’s oldest coffee shop, it’s been serving up cappuccinos (or Ye Olde Cappuccino as they would have been… probably, I dunno) to Bristolians for over 200 years.  Set across 3 floors there’s an array of nooks and crannies to explore; though my favourite place to sit is one of the corner tables on the second floor by a window. The ground floor cafe is great to grab a quick bite and the 3rd floor ‘Snug’ is perfect if you need somewhere quieter; but for me the second floor has the right amount of bustle and on a warm day when the windows are open you can hear the buskers outside. I’m aware that sounds potentially terrible but luckily in Bristol we’re not just a culinary blessed city, we’re pretty musically blessed too (mainly – no Wurzels tweets please).

The Fathership landed into the city centre bang on time (he is ROCKING that bus pass, city driving and nightmare parking is for LOSERS ) and arm in arm we stroll over to Cafe Revival. With only minimal elbow shoving from me, we manage to bag my favourite table and settle ourselves in to look at the menu. As usual I offer to pay and as usual we laugh and laugh at what a hilarious idea that is. Sometimes, if I’m feeling extra hilarious, I might even hold my purse for a while and wave it around a little – a jolly charade that elicits even more mirth! Ho ho ho, daughters eh?

We peruse the menu with lunch options ranging from sandwiches, soups of the day, hearty salads, hot wraps stuffed with delicious combinations, jacket potatoes heaving with fillings and toasted paninis. None of it is groundbreaking, it’s not ‘fusion’ or concept dining – it’s just really solid tasty lunch. We both plump for a classic BLT sandwich and coffee, the Fathership dutifully disappears off to the bar to place our order. And pay. Obvs.

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After a short wait creamy coffees are cheerfully delivered followed by the main event, the BLT. Is there anything better than a really good BLT I ask you? It’s comfort food for the soul, one of life’s simple pleasures (especially when your Dad is paying). The sandwich is delivered hot, the thick cut bacon fresh from a sizzling pan. The lettuce is crisp and the tomato ripe the bread soft and thickly buttered. It is a classic BLT, only let down by the side salad that has been drenched in dressing most of which I leave. But overall it’s a winner, how can it not be with bacon that good? And for under a fiver it’s a bargain too, that’s a lot of lunch for your buck!

We munch contentedly as we put the world to rights and all too soon it’s time to go back to the office. As I wander back I think about what Ye Olde TGE would have been like 200 years ago, how would she be spending a sunny Friday lunchtime?

Probably happily munching on a BLT at Cafe Revival while her exasperated Ye Olde Dad picked up the bill. Again.

 

THE JOY OF LEFTOVERS

Sometimes the perfect night is an event.

It starts sitting in a large velvet armchair at The Bristol Harbour Hotel’s Gold Bar, ludicrous cocktail in hand. My ludicrous cocktail of choice at this particular bar incidentally is a ‘Mr Pink’  – Pama Pomegranate, Pinkster Gin, Martini Bianco, Cranberry, Orange and Plum Bitter. Heaven! A tiny silver platter of posh popcorn will be served alongside and whilst sipping the ludicrous cocktail of choice you’ll have an opportunity to put the world to rights and ponder how much better everything would be if only you were in charge, starting with free cocktail Friday (#VoteTGE).

Mr Pink

Mr Pink

Afterwards you’ll move on for a long and involved dinner at a newly opened Bristol hot spot, ideally with a tasting menu.  Everything will be seasonal and locally sourced, there will be a flavour combination you weren’t expecting to work but delights you and there will be definitely be some kind of herb in an ice cream, which you pretend to like but actually would prefer just vanilla (Basil ice cream is a crime, A CRIME!). The wine will have been thoughtfully chosen to complement each dish, the origins are important, the price isn’t.

But sometimes, in fact actually quite often, the perfect night is one spent on a squashy sofa with leftovers. The menu is whatever you didn’t eat yesterday, the wine is whatever was on special offer in Sainsburys (by the way sometimes The Ned Sauvignon Blanc is on offer for about £7 down from £10-£11. You’re welcome).

This particular perfect night is a most definitely a leftover night. After a busy week I’ve got the house to myself, pyjamas on and Netflix has a fresh new season of Orange Is The New Black ready to binge on. The weekend stretches ahead and I have absolutely no intention of cooking (I did that before https://thisgirleatsweb.wordpress.com/2017/04/02/this-girl-cooks/) Luckily for me Mr TGE made a huge pot of chili con carne last night and there’s a hefty bowlful left just waiting…

Mr TGE  has an interesting history with chili as  it took about a year of us living together for him to realise one of the key ingredients was, in fact, chili powder. No really, after many delicious bowls of essentially Bolognese with kidney beans, I gently ventured that perhaps a little more heat could be included next time…? A prolonged blank stare, stutters of denial and some recipe googling later and we were all happily agreed that chili powder does actually belong in chili. Halcyon days.

After that initial stumbling block though he makes the chili to end all chili. It’s packed with spice, garlic and peppers in a thick rich sauce.  And, as with all the best leftovers,  it tastes even better the day after cooking.

So here’s to leftover nights, squashy sofas and affordable wine – the saviour of the busy week!

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BOX-E BRISTOL

Box E nightHave you ever seen one of those YouTube videos of kids being surprised by their parents with trips to Disney Land? And the kids just get totally overwhelmed by being too happy too quickly and they burst into tears because they don’t know what else to do? That pretty much sums up the Box-E experience for me. I’ve done this on occasion before where I enjoy something so much that I get increasingly distressed throughout because I know that the nice thing is coming to an end and I can’t imagine going back to that cold, bleak time before the nice thing started.

But I’m starting at the end, let’s go back to the beginning…

It’s bank holiday Friday and the hottest day of the year so far. Bristol is blooming in the heatwave, with happy crowds gathering at the harbourside to drink in the sunshine. I mean obviously we’re not in the sunshine, Mr TGE and I are so northern European we’re practically blue skinned, so we find shade, but most people are out and about.

Another reason for the bustling crowds of course is the opening of Cargo 2 – the larger second section of the Wapping Wharf development boasting restaurants, shops and even a yoga studio. It’s wonderfully busy with free Greek Souvlakis being handed out from The Athenian and tasters galore from The Bristol Cheesemonger, Cargo Catina and Gopal’s Curry shack. Cargo 2 is an exciting addition to the already popular Cargo 1 and offers an incredible amount of choice – Tare, Spuntino and The Pickle Brisket are top of my to do list right now. But we’re here for something particularly special and go up to the top level of Cargo 1 to take our seats at Box-E’s Kitchen Table.

Box-E is a small but perfectly formed 14 seat cargo restaurant run by Tess and Elliott Lidstone, offering a short menu of seasonal food.  As it’s such a beautiful day diners have spilled out onto the decking outside, glasses of delicate rosé being delivered as we arrive. We’re booked in for the full tasting menu with matching wine flight at the 4 seater kitchen table.  The 4 seats run along one side of the kitchen, we’re so close that I can feel the heat from the oven. Luckily a large fan has been placed at the end of the table and is pointed directly at us. “We didn’t have a fan yesterday”, Elliott explains, looking slightly haunted by the memory, “it’s much better with the fan”.  I’ve never been this close to the action in a busy restaurant at all and it’s fascinating to see how the tiny kitchen functions.

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Elliott pours us a chilled glass of prosecco once we’re settled. “A glass of prosecco for you to start with” (which incidentally is my favourite way to start anything) “because… well why not?”. Why not indeed we agree and, as we clink glasses we’re presented with fresh warm bread and whipped butter sprinkled with seaweed. The butter is divine, I love the salty seaweed flavour and we slather it across the bread. The restaurant quickly fills up but service is friendly and efficient, nobody is rushed.  Elliott is casually chatting away to us, totally relaxed and at ease, as if he’s not cooking a dozen different dishes at the same time with precision an army sergeant would be proud of.

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Whipped butter with seaweed

We move onto the first course, local smoked haddock with heritage beetroot, radishes and dill. Like a tiny jewellery box each component of the dish shines, it is a riot of colour and taste. The dill is sweet against the fish, it’s a delicately balanced dish and is pure summer. Mr TGE and I share grins, we’re going to like this…

 

Box E starter

 

Next up is asparagus in wild garlic butter with bottarga. It is to die for, the rich garlic butter perfect against the fresh savoury asparagus. The bottarga is a new one for me and Elliott explains that it’s grey mullet roe which has been salted, pressed and dried before being grated over the top of the dish. It’s an intense briny, salty flavour that I’ve not experienced before but it’s delicious. It’s one of the best dishes of the night. We wash it down with a golden glass of a Spanish wine, Pampaneo Airen. On its own I have to admit I don’t particularly like it but with the food it’s a revelation, bringing out the slight bitterness of the bottarga.

 

Box E asparagusBox E wine

 

Whilst we’ve been eating there’s one dish in particular that I’ve noticed Elliott preparing that’s really caught my eye. I’m aware that I’m peering over into his kitchen watching wide eyed like a hungry cat but Elliott is either too focused on his cooking or just too polite to say anything. Mr TGE digs me in the ribs, “Stop staring at the cheese!” I don’t break eye contact with the cheese which is currently being expertly blow torched. “I can’t” I whisper back, “I think this cheese might be for us!” And it is! We are presented with a happy little mound of jersey royal potatoes and wild garlic which is coated in an oozing layer of stinking bishop cheese (which I believe was courtesy of The Bristol Cheesemonger). It’s decadent and comforting and yet not too heavy, even on such a warm evening. The slightly distressed feeling is already beginning I can tell…  at some point, I’m not going to be in here eating this cheese and I can’t guarantee what I’ll do… Mr TGE can clearly tell this too as he hastily refills my water and distracts me with people watching. Maybe Elliott can sense it too as we’re all presented with an additional mini course, a teaspoon taster of raw chopped fillet of beef with lime, chili and sesame. The beef is achingly soft and the lime lifts everything, again giving it that summer edge. I could eat this by the bowlful and when I go back I plan to.

 

Box E cheese

We’re heading towards the big hitters of the tasting menu, the fish and meat courses, and after a short break we’re ready for it. Again, I’ve been watching the cooking process and I know the fish course is going to be good, you can’t cover something in that much butter and not like it.  The dish arrives, a thick slice of hake sitting on top of a bed of cous cous with harissa and monks beard.  The hake is crisp and golden on top while the succulent white flesh is moist and soft. The monks beard (which I thought was samphire) adds a delicate hint of saltiness and we’re lucky we’re within the very short period that it’s in season. The aromatic harissa adds a hint to the dish and again I’m licking the plate clean. One of my favourite wines of the night is served alongside this dish, a beautifully delicate and fragrant rosé.

 

Box E hake

 

And now we’re onto the main event – the meat course. And what a meat course it is. Seared onglet steak is served blushing pink on the inside, alongside chard and borlotti beans. Onglet can often be overlooked as a cut which is a shame as it has a real depth of flavour, and served rare is fabulously tender. The accompanying jus is a delight, again rich and full of flavour to match the beef. The only thing which doesn’t work for me is the borlotti beans… it’s no fault of the kitchen, just personal preference on my part. I never have liked them unfortunately, even these plump and lovingly cooked little beans. Mr TGE is thrilled as that means double beans for him. He kindly asks if I also need help with my wine, a beautiful and French red. I absolutely do not need help with this and in fact would actually have gone for a little bit more if possible – it’s a wonder!

 

Box E beefBox E red wine

The evening rolls to a satisfying close with the cheese course followed by an accidental double pudding. The only mistake Elliott makes the entire evening is mistakenly making one too many of his chocolate desserts – a chocolate mousse with English strawberries and elderflower. He ponders it for a moment before shrugging and turning to the four of us at the kitchen table, we sit up like eager puppies, eyes fixed on the chocolate. “Would you like to try…” Elliott begins, but we’ve already picked up our spoons. Yes, we would very much like to try the lovely chocolate thing please. And it is lovely. The chocolate is smooth and rich, the strawberries plump and ripe.  It’s decadent and I love it.

Elliot wisely gives us a few minutes before the final dish of the night, a smooth and creamy vanilla panna cotta also served with a tumble of English strawberries. It’s an exceptional end to an exceptional meal. I am totally replete and relaxed. The heat has faded from the day and it’s time to wander home in the warm night air.

Box E pudding

Box-E is not just fine dining, it’s food made with passion and love in an environment that’s cosy and friendly. They want you to enjoy the delightful food they’ve lovingly  crafted, and I for one do.