Bristol was named as the UK’s most desirable location in the Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide in 2017. Over the course of the past two years, I’ve been captivated by the stories of the food and drink scene that’s come to the fore and I decided to head over to take a look at what we’re all missing in London. Amazingly when I tried to crowdsource suggestions of where to check out, many people from the UK hadn’t ever visited even though it is £15 each way and less than two hours from Paddington.
Look, we can’t all up sticks and high tail it to the south west, but we can all agree that you’ll definitely be captivated by Bristol’s spirit and charm. Whether it’s a weekend, mid-week escape or a longer sojourn, here’s what you need to see, eat, drink and do in Bristol.
After looking at all the options in Bristol, I settled on staying at the Berkeley Suites which are attached to the Berkeley Square Hotel perched on a hill only minutes away from everything you need to see and do. Their 5* accommodation that blurs the line between home and hotel. I stayed in on of the Crescent houses – five luxury serviced apartments occupying the entire floor of this grade 2* listed building and feature living space including a kitchenette giving you the option to eat out or dine in. So you get the privacy of having your own space but still get hotel facilities like housekeeping and a 24-hour concierge.
You’re right next to Bristol Art Gallery and Museum and a short walk to the Cabot Tower for great views across Bristol on a perfect day. There are lots of shops and restaurants around if you only want to stay local. If you head downhill it’s 10 minutes walk to the city centre and waterfront. Or if you head further south it’s 10 minutes to one of Bristol’s most up and coming foodie areas, with PopBrixton style cargo pop ups featuring the best street food Bristol has to offer.
The best thing about apartment rentals is the amount of living space, and the Berkeley Suites has plenty. The big lounge area is light and airy, with lots of gorgeous original features – fireplace, high ceilings, tall windows. But there are modern touches too, like fast wifi and instead of a TV there’s a cinema-style projector which shows artworks or you can hook it up to the TV or a laptop. The furniture’s simple and stylish, with pops of colour among the wood and white walls. The bedroom is a bit more compact, but you’re unlikely to spend too much time in there (at least not awake – the bed is really comfortable). It comes with a flatscreen TV and retro Roberts radio. The en-suite bathroom has been cleverly designed to get around the building’s Grade II listed status. It couldn’t be partitioned off so instead there’s a glass wall, with solid sections at each end for the bath/shower on one side and the toilet and sink on the other.
One thing you seriously want to do it you want to scratch more than the surface of Bristol’s food scene is to book yourself onto one of Brian Iles’ EatWalkTalk food tours. On this tour (which varies deepening on what day you book for) you may hit Hart’s Bakery, Pigsty, Swoon Gelato, Harbourside market, Bristol Cheesemonger and the Bristol Cider Company to name but a few. I’ll go into more detail with these below.
Brian is an amazing source of knowledge with all that’s happening in Bristol, how it compares to what’s happening around the rest of the country and really takes you to some of the best places in town that you won’t stumble upon yourself – mo matter how good your self-made Google Map is ;). I seriously lost count at how many places we ate and drank at over the 4 hours. Amazingly all the other people on the tour were Bristol locals and every single on of them were astounded at the places Brian was revealing to them (even though they have lived in the city for decades). I’ll definitely be taking another of his tours when I’m back again very soon.
It’s no longer in question – Bristol is recognised as one of the most exciting places for food and drink in the UK at the moment. There are areas of the city that have evolved as pockets of excellence in which to discover new restaurants, tastes and flavours. Areas such as Wapping Wharf offer the very best of casual dining and great drinks. Stokes Croft and Gloucester Road are home to almost exclusively independent food and drink operators, often accompanied by live bands (this is a university town after all). I checked out Southville which local’s didn’t have any specific recommendations but the area is emerging as a foodie hot spot much like Shoreditch back in the day.
Lets just say I ate *very* well on this inaugural visit to Bristol and I’m going to give you my recommendations on my personal pick on places you seriously cannot miss.
And to quote Jay Rayner:
It really has become one of the most interesting restaurant cities in England.
And not a Hip Chips, avocado latte pop up or lamb petting cafe in sight!
No.1 Harbourside is keeping itself very much on the down low. Whether this is intentional or not, you can find little online regarding this quirky little place, and sitting quietly amongst the somewhat motley crew of bars and clubs on Bristol’s Harbourside, you’d be forgiven for walking straight past.
Head Chef Jonny Byles uses locally sourced, seasonal products where possible, and keeping the menu small and simple, this restaurant is impressive, yet totally effortless. The decor is eclectic to say the least, fusing a beautifully painted concrete bar with heavy damask drapes, rustic mismatched wooden furniture and circus-esque painted pillars. But the eccentricity only adds to its charm, and the staff give off the same laid back, friendly vibe that exudes from the whole place.
The ethos behind the menu is that it’s locally sourced and seasonal where possible, meaning the chefs have to get creative with whatever’s delivered. Prices are kept low, and the choices are minimal, but what is on offer is clearly so well thought through that the lack of choice really doesn’t matter. I opted for the Cornish mussels from the River Fowey, served with black pepper fries followed up with a delicious fish finger sandwich made with breaded cod goujons and homemade tartar sauce in white bloomer bread served with Severn Project salad leaves and a pint of Wiper & True pale ale.
If you’re looking for tasty, local food, at an astonishingly good price then make this your first port of call-it ticks all the right boxes.
1 Cannons Rd, Bristol, BS1 5UH
If good food in Bristol had a spiritual home, it would be Hart’s Bakery. Laura Hart started selling baked goods from the back of her bicycle and now heads up a growing team of bakers, making dreamlike creations from the open kitchen. Cinnamon scrolls have reached legendary status and you have to arrive early to snaffle them and the superb bread coming fresh out of the ovens.
The Bristol Commandments state: Thou shalt not travel to or from Temple Mead Train Station without leaving time to visit Hart’s.
Lower Approach Road, BS1 6QS
With its vibrant decor, I fell in love with the place when I walked in. The pungent aromas are like a kick in the face and the flavours are just as powerful. This is an inspired menu darling in Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and much of the ex-Ottoman empire which basically means exciting, tasty and great value. Open for brunch, lunch and early dinner – if you get the chance to order their smoked mackerel with smashed avo, labne, rocket, sourdough and beetroot boorani – there’s no looking past it.
277 North Street BS3 1JP
Had to hit here as Guy and Vic moved to Bristol from Australia to make the tastiest dumplings I have ever eaten. Their place is a combination of street food stall and permanent restaurant making handmade gyoza dumplings, whose filling include pork and garlic or spinach and tofu.
The Old Mess Room, Exchange Avenue, Bristol BS1 1JQ
Launched by the three brothers behind The Jolly Hog – Olly, Josh and Max Kohn, alongside current Harlequins prop, Will Collier, the idea started when the guys all bet they could all come up with the tastiest sausage recipe. After many a festival and street food stall appearance, Pig Sty is the brothers’ first bricks and mortar premises – although that’s not strictly true as this latest opening within Cargo at Wapping Wharf fits within three converted shipping containers. A ‘morning glory’ of bacon or sausage sandwich with filter coffee from Clifton Coffee costs just £6.
1&2, Goal Ferry Steps, Bristol BS1 6WE
On first glance, this little hideaway is easy to miss. Consisting of just two small tables and a tiny counter, it’s definitely a set-up more suited to dining either solo or as a duo, and you certainly couldn’t swing a cat in there. But then you’re not here for cats (hopefully).
All the pies here cost £4.50, to eat in if there’s space or to take away, from a company founded in 2011 by two friends who met while working at the Chequers pub in Bath and went into business together four years later.
Pizza from a Michelin starred chef. Yeah, that’s a thing in Bristol.
Think of your favourite experience eating in Italy and turn it up to 11. This is exactly what you would expect from pizzas made by a group of chefs who’ve earned their spurs helping Casamia gain and retain its Michelin star, and spent months before opening ensuing the pizzas here are as good as they possibly can be. Cooked in a Neapolitan-style wood-fired oven and featuring bold, simple toppings. Pi Shop’s pizzas are hand made to order.
If you have never tasted gelato and think it’s just a posh word for I’ve cream, get to Swoon and have your mind blown. Swoon has brought authentic Italian gelato to Bristol – and I have fallen in love with their myriad of different flavours. They hold a monthly Twitter contest to determine new flavours – much like the gelato institution I regularly visited in Melbourne.
Rosie Morgan was the first retailer to move into Cargo 2 (the rest of Cargo 2 opened this week) after leaving her original shop on St Nicholas Sgtreetin the Old City. She has continued to stock up to 100 varieties of cheese , the majority from the West Country. Ensure you get a selection or three for sustenance on your Bristol taproom crawl.
Cargo 2, Museum Street BS1 6ZA
Wharf Weekend Street Food Market
The wharf street food market has approximately 15 stalls and is your chance to grab some of the best takeaway street food in the city. They’ve brought in their favourite food traders to serve cuisine from around the world, with plenty of veggie options. From Persian meat to handmade gyoza, Caribbean wraps to Canadian coffee, there’s something here for everyone, plus the opportunity to take a break, have a chat, and enjoy the good vibes of resident Market DJ J. Morrison
St Nicholas Market
Firmly situated in the heart of Bristol, England, ‘St Nicks’ has a reputation for dishing up some of the best lunchtime treats the city has to offer.
The Exchange dates back to the mid-18th century. However, it wasn’t until 1869, after nearly 30 years of housing a bi-weekly corn market, that the structure gained its now famous glass roof. Although the roof itself was replaced shortly after the Second World War, St Nicks holds onto much of its vintage charm. It is the last 18-century exchange building of its kind in the city. Nowadays, the market atmosphere remains, yet the Glass Arcade is now home to numerous independent food purveyors, eager to serve up culinary delights with a smile and a warm welcome.
There are plenty of different stalls to sample, but rest assured that you can’t go wrong with any of them. The team of traders cater for a variety of needs, be it lunch to go or more of a sit-down affair. The stalls themselves are famous in the city, for both the variety of their produce and the sheer deliciousness of what they’ve got to offer.
There is also no shortage of excellent pubs serving beer from a range of West Country breweries to more harder to find microbreweries around the UK and the north.
Moor Brewery Taproom
Where better to drink beer than in the taproom of this fantastic brewery?In the interests of research I had to go and taste every single beer pouring from their 10 taps. They are all bloody briliant, not least the lovely Union’Hop, which is so clean and fresh-tasting that it has the power to convert even the most ardent real ale drinker. And if you’re visiting from London or further afield, prepare to be astounded at the mouth of their beers which you would never had know they were producing!
Days Road BS2 0QS
A craft beer bar at the epicentre of Bristol’s Bermuda Triangle on King Street, providing Bristol with the very best beers the UK has to offer, from a bar team how are passionate, approachable and engaging. Showcasing the best of the independents and focusing on quality with around 31 beers on tap at any one time between cask and keg. Small Bar’s primary goal is to showcase the small, independent breweries and companies from the local area.
A great place to have a chilled out beer on a sunny afternoon, meet for an after-work drink or end a great night out.
31-32 King Street, BS1 4DZ
The Old Butchers
A collaboration between St Werburgh’s brewery Wiper & True and the team behind The Old Bookshop just a few doors down. Six of Wiper & True’s beers are constantly on tapas well and a nice selection of their bottled beers. You’ll also find some limited edition releases and experimental brews available where you can try some new ideas in development.
57 North Street BS3 1ES
Wild Beer at Wapping Wharf
Wild Beer is a brewery based in Somerset, founded in 2012 by a pair of friends who met while working at the Bristol Beer Factory. They opened their first bar in Cheltenham in 2015 and were recently given the opportunity in a prime location on the newly developed Wapping Wharf and has since become a mecca for beer drinkers from far and wide.
You’ll find 20 beers on tap and a huge array of cans and bottles – so much choice. The food side is operated by Hook Camden who are serving up some absolutely banging fish and chips too.
Left Handed Giant Brewery Taproom
Left Handed Giant, owned by the team behind Small Bar on King Street, make small batch brews here using their own kit while saving the pennies to buy larger equipment sometime in the future. They are currently a gypsy brewery, brewing at Cheddar, Cotswold and Gloucester breweries.
Don’t let the fact that Left Handed Giant don’t make most of their beer here put you off, because their tap room still has up to nine of their beers on tap and a few more in the fridge.
This is only Bristol’s second permanent tap room following the success of Moor Beer less than a mile away on the other side in St Phillip’s. Watch out for the possibility of more opening soon.
Currently only open on Friday and Saturday, for the uninitiated this newbie is tricky to find. But head to the very start of the Bristol & Bath Railway Path, go down the road to the right and keep going and you’ll soon find it.
Unit 8 and 9, Wadehurst Industrial Park, St Philip’s Road, Bristol, BS2 0JE
The Barley Mow
Bristol Beer Factory owns the Barley Mow along with the Tobacco Factory and the Grain Barge in Hotwells. A few years ago, the Grain Barge, which was moored just across the River Avon from the SS Great Britain, was the brewery’s flagship pub but has since been put up for sale. The Barley Mow, which used to serve just a selection of their beers, has been given a subtle facelift and is now operating as their flagship pub.
Located in the Dings, just a short walk from Bristol Temple Meads, the pub, which dates from 1828, maintains the same traditional layout as before the refurbishment. The biggest change is to the bar, in particular behind the bar, where there is now a row of 10 keg taps. Along with the 8 hand pulls on the bar and the many fridges, they now boast one of the largest selections in the city.
39 Barton Road BS2 0LF
The Strawberry Thief
The Strawberry Thief is an elegant bar in the creative heart of Bristol’s old city. The name originates from the wallpaper design by William Morris, who inspired the Edward Everard print works building opposite. Need a quiet spot to just take out the map, chronicle your travels and sup on a beer? The Strawberry Thief specialises in Belgium beer and features an unrivalled selection – putting to shame what we have back in London too.
Since November 2016 they have been in partnership with Chef James Gordon of the Chocolate Bear Kitchen have developed a tasty food menu to complement The Strawberry Thief’s range of beers.
26 Broad Street, BS1 2HG
A secret speakeasy which I never would have found without a tip from a local in the industry. Find the red light, pick up the pay phone and prepare for a special experience with some creative cocktails staffed by a bunch of Australia’s best bartenders.
– 1 Unity St, BS1 5HH
Full Court Press
Mat North and his team at Full Court Press take their coffee more seriously than anywhere else in Bristol. Tasting notes give you everything you need to know about each roast and the changes in flavour – expect to always get two espresso options and two filter options everyday.
Look out for the pastries from Hart’s Bakery on the counter if you’re quick enough to get them before they sell out.
59 Broad Street, BS1 2EJ
Little Victories will mean different things to different people. Start or end the day with your own little victory from the team behind Small Street Expresso. Open early for flat whites and pastries and then transforming later into a bar serving craft beers, cocktails and wine. It’s one of the prime spots to sit outside as the sun goes down over the Floating Harbour.
7 Gaol Ferry Steps, Wapping Wharf BS1 6WE.
If there’s anything we missed or you’d like some personal picks don’t hesitate to get in touch via the comments below!