Visitors to England will, no doubt, have heard of – if not visited – the ancient Roman city of Bath, about three hours west of London. Yes, it’s lovely and charming, and oh-so-touristy. But, just a 20-minute ride, or about the same distance by train from London to Temple Meads station sits Bristol, a less well-known, but in my view, more interesting small city.
Anchored by one of the UK’s best universities (University of Bristol), the city is considered the last stop before hippie-ville in the West Country – a region known for grassroots everything. It’s also known for its role as the food basket of England with farms and local producers supplying large and small batches of speciality food and high-quality basics, like meat and dairy.
Bristol residents are an open-minded bunch, which makes it a perfect test bed for new restaurants and ingredients. Every Friday, local farms, street food vendors and cake-makers set up their stalls at the St. Nicholas Market, in the old, 18th century covered exchange; a classic example of Georgian architecture.
In late November and December, a Christmas market is laid on, with arts and crafts and of course, mulled cider.
The River Grille at The Bristol Harbourside
Our hotel, The Bristol Harbourside, is just ten minutes’ walk and, as the name suggests, has a prime location. It’s a typical grown-up hotel – modern design, but nothing too flash, smart and up to date with room décor varying between cool icy blues and dark browns to oatmeal beige and red.
The real standout at the Bristol is the River Grille. Step through the bar, past the pianist, and find the Grille, where tables line up along the floor to ceiling windows with views of the quay. The setting along the river achieves what few hotels restaurants can – a separation making the dining experience feel distinctly separate to the hotel. In other words, it’s like going ‘out,’ rather than staying in, but without the hassle.
The food at the River Grille is high in quality, much of it locally sourced, with safe, but well-executed dishes like scallops with parsnip puree, and goat’s cheese with beetroot. Owing to the hotel’s Irish heritage, we’re told no one can resist the homemade soda bread, which, indeed is very more-ish. What’s most memorable, though, is the service. We’re offered a wide range of wines by the glass, so we can taste many different varieties and the gentleman running the show has it all under control, while delivering just the right amount of attention.
For the perfect foodie break trifecta, make your last stop before leaving town, lunch at the River Cottage Canteen, one of a handful of casual, local places scattered throughout the West country, owned by Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Grazing dishes grace the menu, along with dishes like mushrooms with polenta, and local venison cottage pie. It’s a good stop before heading out of town, as it’s up a long, steep hill.