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

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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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