Souk Kitchen

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When I go into a restaurant wielding a camera the size of a small dog, it can get some weird looks. I always feel the need to announce to the staff that I’m a food blogger, primarily so they don’t think I’m just some weirdo who has to obsessively photograph every meal I eat (although, this is also true). This announcement usually leads to a suspicious glance at the aforementioned camera, and some sort of half-joke along the lines of ‘please write something good’. I assure the staff that I recommend, rather than review, restaurants, so if I don’t have a good experience, I won’t write about it. Simple as. Needless to say, from the moment we sat down at Souk Kitchen, I knew it was going to make the cut.

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Middle Eastern food seems to be all the rage at the moment, with its wonderful combination of being relatively healthy yet full of exotic flavours. In Bristol, which likes to think of itself as nothing if not on trend, you can’t walk a hundred yards without bumping in to a falafel-stuffed pitta. However, Souk Kitchen was going long before hummus was as ubiquitous as it is now, and the restaurant has long been on my list of places to try. But the original Souk Kitchen is down in Bedminster, and therefore more than a five minute walk from my house, meaning that I’ve yet to venture there. However, the team has recently opened a second restaurant north of the river, so Paris and I went along to check it out.

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As I’ve got my finger so firmly on the pulse of Bristol’s food trends, I have recently acquired two new Middle Eastern ingredients: za’tar and sumac. Za’tar is a blend consisting primarily of dried thyme and sesame seeds, and sumac a lemony-tasting powder made from ground berries. I give them an occasional self-satisfied glance when I spot them lurking at the back of the cupboard, but don’t actually use them. Part of my reason for wanting to try Souk Kitchen was to give me some direction in this area. Luckily both ingredients, as I smugly pointed out to Paris, featured on the menu. The offerings consist of mezze type dishes to share (or not), as well as some more substantial options. We opted for an eclectic array of mezze dishes, from Syrian lentils with yoghurt and crispy onions, to falafel, the obligatory hummus and a rather incredible grilled halloumi topped with mango chutney. This was all mopped up with the most amazing freshly-made flatbread, sprinkled with, you guessed it, za’tar. All in all, Souk Kitchen was a thoroughly pleasant experience, not to mention being bang on trend.

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For the Paris perspective, click here.

 

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Poco

Poco

Brunch is becoming quite a thing in Bristol. So it’s only proper to get on board. There are many things about going out for brunch that appeal. There’s no bleary-eyed drudgery of attempting to make it out for breakfast, especially as I find it nigh on impossible to leave the house without some sort of sustenance. It has the sort of relaxed casualness that you always wish could happen at an evening meal out, but never quite does. There is also a jubilant sense of infinite possibility: brunch could be followed by coffee, cake, or, lets face it, wine.

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When I first moved to Bristol, I was obsessed with trying every restaurant, bar and café that was even casually mentioned, by anyone, as worth a visit. I had a (very) long list of places, which was constantly being updated. Now I have rationalised this somewhat, and have narrowed it down a shorter (but only slightly) list of my favourite places. Poco is near the top. It’s in Stokes Croft, the area of Bristol famous for that kerfuffle with Tesco, and all the Banksys. Occupying a pretty nondescript corner, with a few rickety tables clinging to the pavement outside, a first time visitor might wonder what all the fuss is about. But step inside, and you’ll soon see.

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The atmosphere is that of a casual Spanish tapas bar, with a tiny open kitchen surrounded by clusters of bar stools. Poco was founded by chef Tom Hunt, who champions ethical, local produce, and lets these ingredients shine through with simple, sympathetic cooking. This view is demonstrated in his cookbook, The Natural Cook, one of my current favourites. Going inside Poco is like stepping into the cookbook, complete with the same blue-rimmed enamel hipster plates – which, upon noticing, I had to suppress a squeak of excitement. I visited Poco to conduct some very loosely termed ‘networking’ (any excuse for brunch) with the lovely Rin, a writer and fellow Instagram obsessed foodie. We opted for the famous Poco brunch dish, consisting of exotically spiced sausages, fluffy scrambled eggs, sourdough toast and fiery Moroccan harissa. This dish definitely deserves the cult status that it has achieved, and exemplifies the simple approach to quality ingredients for which Poco is famous.

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Read some of Rin’s writing here.

http://eatpoco.com

Bell’s Diner

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This place has been on my restaurant wish-list ever since I moved to Bristol. Widely acknowledged to be one of the best restaurants in Bristol, Bell’s Diner is tucked away in a small corner of one of my favourite Bristol neighbourhoods, Montpelier. Montpelier is renowned for its artsy vibe, with beautiful graffiti and brightly painted houses lining its winding, labyrinthine streets. It’s also known for its fantastic selection of cafes and restaurants: Katie and Kim’s Kitchen (read my review here) is a couple of doors down from Bell’s, and the Thali Café, Bristol’s legendary Indian café, is nearby too.

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From the second you walk into Bell’s, you can tell it’s going to be a special experience. The décor achieves that elusive balance between alternatively quirky and understatedly elegant. Crisp white tablecloths adorn dark wooden tables, with jars of blowsy fresh flowers on each table. Water is served in vintage ‘Dairy Crest’ milk bottles, the light of a single tea-light shining through them. The waiters, friendly and professional, glide from the open kitchen to the tables, ferrying plate after plate of the most delicious looking food imaginable.

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The menu is a slight to behold: it was honestly a struggle to not take a cursory glance at it and order the whole lot. How anyone could resist roast scallops with with leeks slow-cooked in yoghurt and chilli butter is beyond me. For starters, we ended up refining our selection to salt cod fritters with alioli, and peas in their pods with Iberico ham and Manchego. Popping the delicate, sweet peas from their pods, and nibbling the salty ham and crispy fritters, we began to relax, safe in the knowledge that we were in for a treat. And we were. Next came roast hake with mussels and garlic butter, pork belly with white beans and piquillo peppers, and the scallops. All the dishes were cooked in a confident yet unfussy way, allowing the ingredients to shine. For pudding, again I could have happily ordered the whole lot, but we went for a silky white chocolate and mascarpone tart topped with a scarlet stain of crushed raspberries, and some oozy salted caramel truffles. They made the perfect end to what has to be one of the best meals of my life.

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What I loved about eating at Bell’s was that the food is so inspiring: each dish had some elusive taste that was hard to place, leaving us dissecting every element in the hope that we might be able to recreate it. It motivated me to experiment in the kitchen, with different flavour combinations and ways of cooking, to see if I could, even vaguely, recreate any of these intriguing tastes. However, I will keep coming back to the restaurant, to gain new inspiration from the constantly changing menu. All in all, it was such a wonderful experience: a restaurant that gets everything so right it almost beggars belief.

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Katie and Kim’s Kitchen

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What I love about Bristol is its vibrant, constantly changing food scene. New restaurants are constantly popping up all over the place. There’s always a new street food craze or pop up restaurant just around the corner. I live near a pretty incredible string of independent restaurants serving food from every corner of the world, as well as many promoting fantastic local produce. The most exciting and eagerly-awaited restaurant opening (at least for me) is Katie and Kim’s Kitchen. Katie and Kim’s Kitchen started life as a food blog (www.katieandkimskitchen.blogspot.co.uk). Through being an avid reader of their blog since I moved to Bristol, I have followed the exciting developments in the duo’s life. They won the British Street Food awards last year, serving cheddar and rosemary scones out of a converted horsebox. Katie and Kim’s Kitchen is their latest venture – a permanent residence in Picton Street, Montpelier.

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For the sake of food blogger networking, and general curiosity, I thought it was high time I checked it out. I wandered down with my housemate, Izzy. We were initially just going for coffee and a bit of cake, but one glance at the daily changing menu chalked up on the blackboard and we ended up having lunch. We went for the cheese and rosemary scones that put Katie and Kim on the map, served warm with bacon, poached eggs and spinach. The scones were absolutely incredible: rich, buttery and crumbly, with a tangy undercurrent of cheese and a delicate whiff of rosemary. Combined with salty bacon and perfectly cooked, oozing poached eggs, it was a pretty sublime experience.

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But we didn’t stop there. There were freshly baked chocolate éclairs and wobbly custard tarts piled high on the counter. For the sake of research, we had to try both. The chocolate éclairs were delicious – just the right ratio of cream, feather-light pastry and smooth chocolate ganache. But it was the custard tarts that won it for me: buttery pastry with a rich, trembling custard filling. We were given an extra one each to take home too, and they were just as good the next day. Katie and Kim are both lovely – naturally welcoming and generous, with a gentle wit and an infectious passion for food and local produce. They have already built up a loyal following, having only been open for a few weeks. I know it’s a cliché to say this, but I will be coming back again and again, as much for Katie and Kim’s welcoming spirit as for their delicious food.

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