Wednesday 17 July 2013

In/accessible Europe (7): Bristol Dinner Eateries

[Image description: map of Old City area of Bristol; ©]

Hobbling in twenty-eight degrees of heat at eight-fifteen from the Pride concert we again passed a floating restaurant moored next to Welsh Back near to Bristol Bridge. On my very first visit to Bristol, around a decade ago, I had attempted to dine there one evening but all covers were taken. In brilliant daylight, the barge did not look so clean. As the day had progressed and we had passed the self-same restaurant on several occasions, I noticed that their advertising hoarding looked more and more dishevelled. My assistant and I agreed that if the restaurateur could not be bothered to fix what first caught one’s eye, we probably could not expect decent presentation of food-stuffs. I hobbled on.

We passed Aqua restaurant with a large outdoor terrace. My helper glanced at the plates on the tables and pointed out how the food appeared to have been thrown at them. For a foodie that is a no-no - and I was not yet starving. I hobbled on.

We reached Loch Fyne which had one very high entry-step, probably do-able in my manual wheelchair and definitely accessible to me with my assistant’s assistance; but I was not making the ascent to determine that there were no places available. My assistant strolled in to make enquiries. A couple of minutes later he was back to apprise me that the maître d’ was checking. A few moments later, the lovely lass appeared to offer us a basement table - alas out of the question for me as there was no lift (elevator). The manageress was really apologetic and hoped we would visit again upon next visiting. She did however recommend a Spanish tapas eatery on The Grove. I hobbled on.

Tiring now, in pain and becoming petulant in the humid atmosphere, we detoured into Queen Square for a wee rest. The air was cooler and fresher under the mature trees lining the plaza. I recuperated. I hobbled on.

We passed several more restaurants: some of which were accessible from an entry perspective, but no accessible WC facilities (which is fine if one does not need them!); others were up several flights of stairs. Even a newer restaurant had no lift. Mud Dock had four flights of stairs and no lift!

The tapas restaurant had caught our eye earlier in the day when zooming past in one of the taxis we had taken. It appeared quite expansive with several patio windows opening inwards as well as two or three open entrances. As we neared one could smell the garlic. Upon reaching the building all one could feel was the intense heat streaming out of the edifice’s orifices. The place was packed. But there was no laughter and little chatter. Folk sitting at the French windows were distinctly leaning out, all lobster-red, sweating and looking thoroughly uncomfortable if not downright miserable. As I limped past each opening a repeat of the initial furnace blast. There was absolutely no way I was even entering the establishment.

We agreed to go back to the hotel. However bland the menu appeared, on this occasion - what was later confirmed by meteorologists as the hottest day of the year thus far - air-conditioning was the priority. En route we decided to take a very slight detour along Narrow Quay to check out the water-front dining spots, just in case. On the far side of Pero’s Bridge were several businesses serving food, some accessible per my guide. However, they all were heaving and the raucous cacophony was even deafening on our side of the quay... We turned to head reluctantly to the hotel. As we did so, we were faced with one final restaurant (photo below © The River Grille)

The River Grille was neither empty (surely a bad sign when everywhere else was so busy) nor fully packed out. There were no open windows, so we made the assumption that it probably was fully air-conned. Then we noticed diners were chatting calmly, smiling, some even laughing. That did it: we entered.

Penny, the lovely maître d’ immediately smiled and gently welcomed us. A table for two was no problem. Gin & tonics straight away - again no problem - and we had a choice of gins. They even had my fave of the mo, Tanqueray. Diet tonic was also available. I was liking the joint already! Penny enquired after any other beverages we might like. I requested a bottle of Prosecco be placed on ice. Unfortunately, not a line that was on the menu. However Penny recommended a Cordoníu Cava that was surprisingly light and fruity despite the brut epithet. We left the Cava unopened and chilling in its bucket. Sipping our G&Ts we perused the menus (table d’hôte and à la carte) whilst listening to the tinkling keys of the mezzanine-bar piano. The pianist (photo below) charmed us with light classics and film scores. Unobtrusive and a quite delightful surprise!

A waitress brought over a small plate of tomato bread with dipping oil & balsamic vinegar (photo below) upon which we happily nibbled. My assistant would later have a second serving, at which point the waitress herself admitted it was delectable and that she too had a fondness for it.

As a starter, I selected Loch Duart smoked salmon, fennel shavings, local crab-meat & watercress (photo below). The colours captivated the eye and the flavours tantalised the palate. My assistant plummed for the hake & salmon fish-cake, mousse & watercress. The plates were cleaned. For a first course it was just the right quantity to stimulate the taste-buds and get the saliva flowing.

For my main course, having first checked that they were home-made, I ordered the gnocchi as a starter but with an additional side-salad. Again this was not an issue and I was advised that many diners choose similarly. I use gnocchi as my barometer against which to judge a restaurant: if they do not live up to the standard of my Grandmother, I do not return. In this instance, it is true that my Grandma makes better gnocchi. Chef’s version had a very heavy-handed, doughy texture. However, the flavour was great and so my plate was emptied (photo below). My side-salad of rocket, Parmesan and balsamic vinegar was a veritable symphony of flavour: pepperiness; sweet- and sourness; sweetness. Minor criticisms here were that the salad was somewhat drowned in liquid and there was just too much cheese - not a criticism one could normally make anywhere else!

My assistant had the pork saltimbocca, pea mash & capers (photo below). Once again the platter was licked clean.

Desserts were fantastic (photo below)! I went for the Earl Grey Tea ice-cream with pear tarte Tatin & caramel drizzle. If I had not been so full, I could have eaten it a second time even though it takes fifteen to twenty minutes to prepare, as I was so expeditiously warned before placing my order. Assistant chose the lemon meringue (the straws are the meringue), lemon jelly & lemon sorbet. OMG: puddings to die for!

Throughout the repast, the service was unobtrusive and kept to the minimum without us feeling ignored. Each course averaged at about half-an-hour, which is my preferred time giving one plenty of time to digest and, naturally, to converse.

According to Bristol’s disability access guide (available from their tourist information office), the restaurant does have a disabled WC; but one has to enter the hotel attached as the restaurant’s rest-rooms are upstairs. However, on this occasion they were not needed.

Ambience, service, temperature (on this occasion), price and of course the cuisine were just spot-on. Fully sated. Quite content. Totally recommend The River Grille at the Bristol Hotel. I for one shall become a loyal habitué.

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