Eating Out: La Campagnuola, Bristol

I haven’t eaten at La Campagnuola for about 15 years. Mr Greedy, although he too has lived in the neighbourhood for around that length of time, has never eaten here. It has to be said that my meal, 15 years ago – what I can remember of it anyway – was not all that special. It was a boyfriend’s work Christmas party. I didn’t have a great time so maybe it was me that was off, rather than them. Still, that’s a long time to avoid a place.

Anyway, a friend of mine went here fairly recently and she liked it so when looking for somewhere local, it had been on my ‘italian places to try in Bristol’ list for a little while now. I guess I don’t tend to eat at Italian restaurants very often – there are a couple of exceptional italian restaurants in Bristol as well as a few grotty chains – but decent neighbourhood trattorias seem fairly thin on the ground. And that’s all we wanted really – a good plate of pasta, a bottle of wine and an informal atmosphere. And La Campagnuola perfectly fits that bill.

The greeting was very friendly and welcoming and the restaurant fuller than we expected for a Sunday evening. The music was predictably Italian Trattoria …’HEY MamBO! Mambo Italiano!..” but no worse for that, really. I wouldn’t know what music to pick, if I had my own place – I think I’d end up settling for silence – that or Radio4. Which probably means I’d be a bad choice to run a restaurant. I’d like Edith Piaf, but I feel that would only be a spot on choice in a french bistro, a dark one. Anyway, welcome fine, music fine, atmosphere fine. In a bit of an error of our part we found ourselves sitting opposite a group of what I originally mistook for language students. Noisy ones. But we can’t blame anyone but ourselves for that.

The menu is absolutely standard Italian Trattoria.This makes a restaurant extremely easy to review, as actually I don’t believe that decent Prosicutto, or a decent plate of lasagne are all that subjective. Starters, which included Mozzarella in Carrozza, Funghi Ripieni, Melon & Proscuitto and Antipasto were inexpensive, beginning at £3.50 and finishing at £6.  I had breaded calamari with garlic mayo and the Mr. had Mozzarella in Carrozza. They were fine. Nothing groundbreaking but well cooked and the spicy tomato sauce that came with the Mozzarella, was fantastic. I moved onto Spaghetti Carbonara and Mr took the seafood stew. They were great – the Carbonara sauce was great – clingy and unctuous, with perfectly cooked pasta and the stew was also lovely, very saffron-y with lovely seafood. We chose well, undoubtedly, but ever time I saw or smelt a pizza go by, I did feel a pang of envy. I know I would never have finished a whole pizza by myself, but that’s what the doggy bag is for, no? Again, the mains were well priced and fairly Italian standard – pizzas, pastas fish and meat, good value again, starting at roughly £6 and topping out at £13 I think, with Mr’s stew being the most expensive thing I noticed. The wine was pretty cheap – which we took good advantage of.

Mr didn’t have any room for dessert, but I had a bit of room left for Tiramisu. It felt and tasted homemade, but for me it wasn’t a complete triumph, maybe a touch soggy.Or maybe my eyes were just a bit too big for my belly, and I wouldn’t have appreciated anything a  great deal by then. But still, average Tiramisu usually is better than no Tiramisu in my eyes. We had a couple of Irish Coffees, which were ok. As usual, the staff seemed to get a collective case of waiter’s eye, when it came to getting us the bill, not noticing us then forgetting us. But they were great, really, very charming so completely easy to forgive.

I’m looking forward to going back soon and trying one of their pizzas – which I’m sure will be a pleasure to review, even if just to myself – and I think I’ll take my son next time as it will be lovely for him and completely the right place to take kids – somewhere adult but friendly, with plenty of quiet corners and very kid friendly food. I just need to lose..a .. few…pounds first.

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Dinner Out: Brunel Raj, Bristol

If there is anything guaranteed to make me happier than the proverbial pig in shit, then sitting in a curry house on a  summer evening with friends whom I love and make me laugh whilst drinking Kingfisher, gossiping and eating curries has got to be pretty  near the top of the list. That makes Indian restarants very easy and particularly hard to review, because I am predisposed to  love them – which makes being purely objective harder. But not impossible – as there are also some fairly shoddy curry places – I just happen not to eat in those for the most part. Anyway, objectively, The Brunel Raj in Clifton is one of Bristol’s best curry houses.  I am not the only person to think so, as the queues for table when we arrived last night, and the ability to book only for 6.15 or 9pm would testify. The small lobby was packed out with people waiting for tables and picking up takeaways – and I see that as a very good sign indeed.

We got our table a little after 9, and drinks, poppadoms and pickles were quickly arranged. We were absolutely ravenous by this time. They sat us by the french doors which looked out onto the quiet street outside, which was lovely – always great when you get the exact seat you would have chosen in a restaurant , especially when it is packed. There was a strange moment when my friend, (somewhat misguidedly in my view) ordered cider with his meal and was presented fairly unceremoniously with a can of Blackthorn, which seems a little strange in a place where the linen napkins are laid on your lap by the waiter as you sit down, and everyone else is drinking out of gold rimmed glasses but alright.  The poppadoms and their pickly friends came – five in total; mango chutney, lime pickle, tomato and onion salad, raita and that mango coloured coconut powder which I never know the name of. Really good quality, all, but maybe for 4 people, not really quite big enough.

My adventurous friends all opted for chicken dishes;  honey chicken, butter chicken and a chicken balti, and I chose a prawn bhuna. I would have liked one of their king prawn specials for which they are justly famous but as we were splitting the bill, I had to be a bit more circumspect. We chose garlic naan, peshwari naan, mushroom rice and pulao rice and saag bhaji. The table was absolutely groaning. Now, I don’t eat chicken in curry houses, I don’t eat chicken anywhere that doesn’t serve  at least free range (and this isn’t one of those places) , so sadly I can’t comment on their meals but from the sighs and groans and general lack of conversation I’m guessing everyone was happy. The rices and breads were light and  gorgeous, and the mushroom rice particularly so – I could have just sat there and eaten the whole plate, had my friends not started to give me funny looks, the saag bhaji was perfect and the prawn bhuna was fresh and full-flavoured, made with good quality prawns and very very moreish. But we couldn’t finish our food – nowhere near actually. We really didn’t need two rice AND two breads AND a vegetable side between us – god only know what would have happened if we had got a starter course too, but I’m glad we ordered it anyway.

I do think the quality of food is higher than average here, the service is fine if a bit brisk and in terms of cleanliness and comfort, I couldn’t ask for much more, certainly not at £20 a head for drinks and full bellies. This is probably not a restaurant for a romantic date – on a Friday or Saturday night, anyway – but it is a great place to go to eat, especially with friends, and if you are going to eat curry in Bristol the general consensus is that it’s not a bad idea to do it here. 4 out of 5 (point deducted for can on the table and strange poppodom/pickle ratio).

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Graze Bar & Chop House, Bristol

graze1

verb 1 (of cattle, sheep, etc.) eat grass in a field. 2 informal eat frequent snacks at irregular intervals

average

adjective 1 constituting an average. 2 usual or ordinary. 3 mediocre.

A Bristolcentric post I’m afraid.

Bath Ales make a fine beer. Their organic lager, Natural Blonde, not only has a cute name, but its my favourite beer in the world. I don’t know  what benefits having organic lager gives you mind, but it does taste good. Their other ales are apparently excellent, but I don’t tend to drink dark things, so I can’t say. Bath Ales also run some very nice (if getting slightly samey) pubs in Bristol & Bath. Their formula would appear to be a reasonable one, usually; friendly staff, decent wine list, natural woods, sunday lunches, real ales. They are not cheap, which is good from some perspectives – never a bad idea to price out the chavs. So I was interested to see what the score was in this bona fide non pub.

And it was – ok. The staff were nice if slightly absent to begin with. The place is nicely lit. There is music – and if The Magic Numbers on constant loop is musically your cup of tea, then your luck’s in, for I heard the whole album three times in a row. Obviously our drinks were fine.  The menu, on first glance, looked great – there’s a lot of stuff. From things on toast, salads, seafood, proper meals, steak and chips, pork chop (natch). Greedy companion and I were so pathetically grateful to have ended a pair of pretty grim working days and to get out of the snow, that we fell on the menu like it was some sacred text. It’s not a sacred text, but its a pretty varied choice.

We’d settled on bread and olives to share for a start. And we were rewarded by a huge bowl of the most delicious olives. I mean really fantastic. I would venture to say that the best thing about the place was the bowl of olives we got. Sirisly! But it was let down by some half heartedly toasted bread, which was neither here nor there with the stingiest smear of olive oil. We asked for butter and got a chunk so cold it wasn’t feasible to spread it on the bread. Not a huge deal. Just irritating. Greedy companion went for steak and chips and I went for pork chops, which comes on a bed of quite vinegary red cabbage. Now, it strikes me that if your steak comes with chips, then for the same price your pork chop should come with a side of carb (we’re not talking about an organic, rare-breed or even free range chop as far as I can tell), but apparently not. So I ordered some ‘triple cooked’ chips at £2.75. When my teeth stopped grinding at the cheek of that, we settled down to our meals. Greedy companion’s steak was a perfectly cooked medium rare. Some of her chips like mine though, despite being ‘triple cooked’ (arrghhjg) were so thick that they hadn’t cooked completely through and were slightly al -dente. They tasted great, but I ask you now, whats the point of triple cooking something for it still to come out a bit hard?! My chop was nicely cooked. It was very sagey, which is not a bad thing at all.

Nothing on the dessert menu took our fancy, and despite the snow coming down like.. bloody Alaska, we decided to head on out into the night.

Total bill for a bit of bread and olives, pint and a half of real ale, small bottle of (organic!) lager rump steak & chips, pork chop & chips and a cup of coffee: £40. Which, is not the end of the world in terms of food bills, but for what was an essentially average bar meal, seemed a bit steep. We didn;t even get tipsy .

I think the problem that Graze will have, is actually, places around there just do that sort of thing better, a smidge cheaper and better quality and have done so for years. Given the choice I’d take Bordeaux Quay, Goldbrick House, The Cafe Bar at River Station and even the Arnolfini for the same proposition. Still. next time I fancy lamb kidney on toast with a cheeky natural blonde for my lunch, I won’t dismiss it out of hand.

3/5 (1 whole point for the olives)

Graze Bar & Chop House, Queens Square, Bristol.

Dinner Out: Joy Raj, Clifton Village, Bristol

Y’all know I’m not a professional food writer (No, really?). Nobody pays for my dinner, no one even buys me a drink actually, for writing this stuff. And I’m sure you realise this, when reading some of my reviews which may have been less than flattering. The ones I can’t pick any holes in? They’re just really good – there is no bias. It’s also worth considering that I do drink – and when I go to a curry house, I sometimes drink more than one beer. I just like to think I’m reviewing in context, anyway.

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So on Friday night, the opportunity for a curry presented itself, somewhere new. In CliftonVillage there is  some stiff competition in terms of curry houses ( I can think of maybe 4 within a 5 minute walk) and loads of other places to eat, Joy Raj doesn’t particularly stand out for me in the street. But, Greedy Companion girl insisted and down we went. And we went downstairs, were greeted and sat down immediately. The tables we really wanted were booked out (always a fairly good sign that people would bother to book for a high street curry house in Bristol) and they were fairly busy so I don’t think our spot was the good, but it was lit well and comfortable. The decor wasn’t stunning.. by any means, but it was clean and bright.We had pickles and poppodoms to start – the pickles were delicious, and I am fairly picky about pickles . So far so tasty. When ordering our the rest of our food I got into a conversation with our charming waiter about one of my obsessions, the tandoor. Would I like to go into the kitchen and watch them cook in it? Would I? You don’t need to ask me a question like that twice. So I waited until the chef was ready and I tottered in. I know I don’t get out too much, but wow, it made my night! I think the kitchen staff were a bit bemused as I stuck my head down and started taking photographs of the oven, but you know, simple things for simple minds..  The other bonus, as an inveterate nosy parker who is always trying to stick her head through the kitchen door, is that its always nice to see that your food is being freshly prepared (it was) and that everything is nice and clean (it was) and that people working in the kitchen at the very least, appear happy, and clean (they did). This may seem like some fairly basic criteria to people who aren’t always poking their nose about but believe me, not all is as you’d hope in some of the least obvious places. And to avoid getting sued by anyone in particular, I’m going to stop it there.

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So, I went and sat back down and our food arrived very shortly after. I had lamb saag (the best dish out of the three mains), greedy companion girl had a lamb dansak and greedy companion boy had a tandoori mixed grill. We also had garlic naan, mushroom rice and saag bhaji. It was all lovely, with beautiful fresh flavours. The naan was particularly delicious, light and fluffy and without any dry or burnt spots – seemingly so hard to acheive in some places. Oh naan, how do I love thee? All very trad curry house of course, and nothing surprising, but theres really nothing up with that on a friday night after a beer or two.

joyrajmainslambsaagjoyrag

With all our chatting, eating and drinking, we must have been in there a long time and I think we were the last to leave. Staff were extremely welcoming and we never got any feeling like they were waiting for us to get lost so the could clean up and go home. In fact, apart from a small incident with an unpleasant drunk (hazard of a friday night curry), which got cleared up very tidily, the atmosphere was lovely all through. In short, it was a great curry, a great night and a great place to go.

Joy Raj, Clifton

Dinner Out: The Brasserie, Bordeaux Quay, Bristol

133aka, Brunchtime Boozing.
It’s fair to say at the point of turning up for lunch today at Bordeaux Quay, Greedy Boy, Mr Greedy and I weren’t feeling completely inspired. Hungry, but grumpy and cheesed off due to the typically woeful bank holiday weather and the previous hour spent pushing a trolley round the supermarket. There is something about this place though, that just cheers me up immensely. Maybe its the Bloody Marys.

Whatever it is, its a recipe that works. Whenever I come here, its busy, which is not something which can be said for a lot of places at the moment. Mostly popular with young families during the day, due to its emphasis on fresh, relatively healthy food (I won’t tell anyone about the chips, if you won’t). This is when we come, normally. Its a menu that translates well to younger palates, which they offer at £5 for kids portions. Today Greedy Boy had Burger and Chips, as did I, but this was no kiddy menu burger, it was a handmade, herby, best beef burger served medium-rare with a homemade tomato relish. And handcut chips. Beautiful chips. Crispy, light and fluffy chips. I think I’d have a side of those chips whatever I was having. Ok, maybe not with breakfast, but I’d be tempted. In the early morning or the evening, it feels more grown up. But not formal. They save that for the restaurant upstairs. Whatever time of day, this is a lovely warm and spacious place. If I have one reservation about this place, its that one or two of the staff can perhaps be a touch standoffish – and we couldn’t find anyone to bring us the bill –  but most are not. Most are absolutely charming. Thats my criticism of this place in a nutshell, by the way. That is literally all the bad stuff I can think of.

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Because today was Bank Holiday Monday, they had their Brunch and Barbecue menu on. Now, its not the weather for Barbecues, but it was too late for us to contemplate a full english. The choice was nowhere near like it would be the rest of the week, but still extensive enough, in my view, to give all but the choosiest (and I include Mr Greedy, when I say fussy) a fair choice. I was momentarily torn by the idea of porridge with almonds and honey but you know what? You can’t really drink alcohol with porridge and not feel like a full on alcoholic. And I was always going to have that Bloody Mary.
First off was some bread and olives. Fresh bread, made on the premises. Good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Various olives. I have terrible table manners when it comes to bread. Especially when it is bread as good as this. Especially when I am very hungry. Essentially what happens is I try to eat the entire bread basket myself. Regular dining companions are aware of this and take pre emptive steps. Alternatively, they hit my knuckles with the butter knife (I don’t blame them). I don’t know what the people who are not used to it do. Stare aghast whilst I stuff slice after slice of their bread into my mouth I guess…

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And then, the mains. As I mentioned, Greedy Boy and I had the Beef Burger and Chips. Mr Greedy had been torn between the fish stew and the whole grilled mackerel. I knew that Mr Greedy loved his fish stew, not by the response to my enquiry of how it was with an unusually enthusiastic ‘very nice’ (Mr Greedy is fairly understated in that way). No. Even if it had been his favourite food cooked by angels and personally fed to him by a troupe of scantily clad brazilian lovelies, he would probably not say anything more enthused  than a satisfied ‘delicious’ to that particular question. No, I could tell he loved it by the way he started eating it, and apart from a reluctant moment where he politely offered to let me taste a bit, didn’t stop. Didn’t say or do anything else until he had tidily cleaned the plate of every scrap of edible food, even mopping up all of the juice with his bread. That doesn’t happen every day. Must have been a very good stew.

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There was no dessert on the menu, given it was their brunch thing. Instead we were encouraged to go and choose one of the handmade cakes from the Deli (rather cheaper then their dessert menu). Mr Greedy and I instantly went for the chocolate truffle and raspberry cake and rather true to form, Greedy Boy plumped for the chocolate cookie. The cookie was apparently ‘brilliant’. But the cake, omg, the cake. Dense, choclatey, with a sweet sharp fresh raspberry filling. This place has won awards for it’s cakes and my god, I can see why. The best thing about this cake though, apart from the rather obvious ‘alllllll of it’ was the base. A sort of very short, very dense, chocolate biscuit/pastry base. I’m going to get the recipe for that cake. My only concern is that if I start making it, I’m never going to stop.  And I don’t even have a sweet tooth.

So, delicious. At nearly £60 for two and a half at lunch time (including service), it can hardly be described as the cheap option. As Mr Greedy says, ‘All that environmental claptrap don’t come cheap’. It’s environmentally friendly credentials are impeccable, by the way(see their website for more details), not that I ever particularly worried about that when I tucked into my dinner. But, when i comes to price, I’d rather have one lunch here than 10 mediocre pub lunches. Besides, pricing at this level keeps out the chavs. And you can’t pay enough not to have to listen to someone swearing at their kids all lunchtime, can you?

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Bordeaux Quay