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Good food and street art. What to eat, drink and see on a day out in Bristol

August 26, 2016
Mud Dock - Where to eat in Bristol - on mycustardpie.com

Mud Dock

Have you ever planned a day out around a meal? After seeing a friend’s Instagram pics from a restaurant, I knew that I had to eat there and planned to visit Bristol centred round it. Was it worth the journey? It turns out that Bristol is thriving hub of food and varied culture. Here’s how to get a taste in one day…

Mud Dock

As I lifted my phone to take a picture inside Mud Dock cafe the waiter asked if I was playing Pokemon. Completely mystified I asked elder teen who filled me in – the new Pokemon Go app had launched that day. It explained the group of four young guys who were just behind us on our walk in from Bristol Temple Meads railway station. I’d assumed were all using Google maps to guide their way and couldn’t work out why they were all enjoying it so much.

I worked in Bristol during the early 1990s. Mud Dock has been around for years but I first heard of it much later in a Sophie Grigson cookbook when she published one of their recipes. It’s part of an edgier side of the city which was expressed in music back then (Portishead, Massive Attack, Shara Nelson) rather than food. You climb up some wrought iron stairs past a bike shop to get to the top of the building and cafe. We sat on the outside terrace with immediate views of freight and a car park below but it also looks out on the wider dock area. It’s a splendid, quirky space. Strong winds and a violent rain shower sent us scurrying inside for our second excellent coffee. The day’s lunch menu was being written on the board with much to tempt but we reluctantly tore ourselves away to the M Shed.

On the Banksy trail

Needing to do something to entertain mind, body and soul in between eating trips, we decided to find a few Banksy artworks which are dotted around the city. You can book a guided tour or try to find them yourself – we did the latter using this as a guide.

First stop, after dodging the rain drops over the footbridge to the other side of the harbour, was M Shed. Among its eclectic display dedicated to Bristol is a very famous Banksy, The Grim Reaper, removed from the side of a boat for preservation. To be honest it’s in a strange place for viewing, in a hallway and behind glass. I nearly asked a couple of museum curators where it was – they were standing in front of it!

Strolling up along the harbour was very pleasant. We turned away from the water once we reached the SS Great Britain, ducked down the first alleyway on the right, turned right again and were soon outside the gates of Bristol Marina – very much a working place for boat repairs. A bit puzzled we turned round, spotted a burger van and then, tucked into a recess in the building, was Girl with the pierced eardrum. Under the gaze of the workmen munching fast food at picnic tables by the van, we took selfies with this witty take on a renowned masterpiece, under cloudy skies, beneath a fire escape!

Grim Reaper - A day our in Bristol on mycustardpie.com

Grim Reaper – Banksy

The Olive Shed

Retracing our steps along the harbour, a decision for lunch was in order. The Olive Shed is really pretty from the outside, but I had a twinge of regret as we were led past a dark, rather ramshackle, open kitchen and up the stairs to a slight shabby room painted in ochre. The service was good however, and the simple, seasonal tapas-based menu served well. A bowl of excellent moules with frites and a glass of wine for me and x for F. The only disappointment was the rather fluffy bread inaccurately described as ciabatta with our olives and balsamic. We polished it off though. The brilliant view over the harbour and city beyond was unexpectedly interrupted when a huge naval ship, complete with armed officers, moored right in front of the restaurant causing much excitement down on the quay.

Bristol Harbour - A day out in Bristol on mycustardpie.com

Bristol Harbour

Shopping and Zerodegrees microbrewery

We hopped on a bus to get to the city centre for some retail distraction (Loot Vintage shop and the main central Cabot Circus shopping mall).  The sun came out and we strolled back to the Christmas steps, a picturesque collection of little shops, including Weber & Tring’s an intriguing family-run independent wines and spirits retailer, Twentieth Century Flicks DVD rental shop (great podcast about them on the BBC Radio 4 Film Show) and a specialist woodwind dealer Trevor Jones (veggie teen’s clarinet bought there about 10 years ago). At the top we were gasping for refreshment so climbed a few more steps and sat on the balcony of Zerodegrees microbrewery with a brilliant view of the steps and surrounding streets. This is an enormous place and I’m not implying you should make a special journey. There seemed to be just one poor barman in the whole building, but it was a great place to sit and watch the world go by.

A day out in Bristol on mycustardpie.com

View from the balcony at Zerodegrees

More Banksy

The next Banksy was about five minutes walk away on the side of a house. It’s interesting that we were the only people taking the time to stop and look at this dramatic artwork Well Hung Lover at the side of a busy street. Bristolians are inured to them now it seems. After that we walked to the top of Park Street and stopping for a few more vintage shops on the way was our downfall. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery had just closed for the day and it was impossible to see inside the lobby where Paint-Pot Angel is situated. Ah well. The outside of the nearby Bristol University Will Memorial Building is magnificent especially bathed in the gold of the evening light. A taxi stand was a few metres up and we hopped in one to Southville.

Birch

Southville is full of narrow streets of neat, terraced houses painted in pastel colours. We arrived a bit too early so strolled round the block counting the number little china sunflowers for the Bristol garden award. On first glance from outside, this could be an art gallery – white walls, huge bare windows, screenprints on the wall. Or a Scandinavian homeware shop given the name. The plain formica tables and a tiny Harlequin bar at the back give its restaurant status away. When we round the corner a few minutes after opening time, the sun is streaming through the windows with some tables already occupied. This former Victorian corner shop (with several reincarnations including an Indian) has been transformed into a modest but comfortable space for a few lucky diners, I guess 25 people max. Birch was set up by a couple of friends who cut their teeth by running supper clubs in Bristol, went on to hone their catering skills, worked in some notable Bristol restaurants before clocking up more experience in London, including St John which is famed for the provenance of its produce. The latter is key to Birch which issues a daily menu of a few courses based on what’s in season. The produce is local, some grown and gathered by Sam Leach and Beccy Massey from their own allotment. The wine list is eclectic and all organic. I want to eat and drink everything.

A silky, daisy-fresh Portland pearl oyster piqued cleverly with a fresh rhubarb dressing put a big smile on my face. Crusty sour dough with hand churned butter celebrates just how perfect simple food can be. Tender, tiny, bright green broad beans, only achievable if you grow your own, are scattered with soft tangy goats curd, fresh cherries and hazelnuts. A swirl of rich pigeon sausage with chard, split peas and the warm tang of mustard is comfort food for a summer’s evening. Beet tops are braised with barley, and steeped with blackcurrants and malty Old Ford stout. Yellow courgette is draped over the tender, pink saddle of kid like a savoury veil.

I order sorbet – this is unprecedented – it’s gooseberry and mint; fresh, gleaming loganberry jelly and mousse with a cylinder of brandy snap is like all your childhood favourites dressed up for the night. Blackcurrants, picked that morning, with a whey caramel, whipped yoghurt and almond cake takes me in a time capsule to tastes from the garden and my spoon keeps scraping across the dish long after there is anything remaining.

A taxi whisked us back to the sweeping arches of Brunel’s striking Bristol Temple Meads station in a little happy bubble. KP will tell you that I have not stopped talking about this food all summer. Sam and Beccy clearly take the greatest pleasure in finding and combining the very best produce. It leaves you with the feeling of going round a summer veg patch, tasting leaves, roots and fruits, combined with elegance and joy.

A day out in Bristol on mycustardpie.com

Bristol Temple Meads

Useful info

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What to eat, drink and see on a day out in Bristol on mycustardpie.com

The old and the new in Bristol Harbour

This was just one day out in Bristol. There’s a vibrant food and art scene. I definitely returning again next time I’m in the UK. Let me know your highlights and recommendations.

19 Comments
  1. August 26, 2016 9:55 pm

    Great guide. Thank you. I’ve only been to Bristol once but know Mud Dock. Your guide will be useful if I go again!

    • August 27, 2016 12:38 pm

      This is just a small snippet of what’s on in Bristol but it really opened my eyes to the vibrancy of this city. It’s really changed from when I worked there.

  2. August 26, 2016 10:37 pm

    I’d love to go Banksy hunting! I lived in Bristol until I was 5 but unfortunately don’t remember much of it at all, so I really enjoyed seeing all these photos 🙂

    • August 27, 2016 12:46 pm

      Turning into a list ticker so really tempting to go back and see ALL the Banksys. The one in my home town of Cheltenham has been chipped off the wall by thieves so good to see them while you can!

  3. August 26, 2016 11:02 pm

    Have you ever planned a day out around a meal? YES!!!

    Gorgeous photos as usual!

    • August 27, 2016 12:47 pm

      Where Nielouphar? Do tell… Glad I’m not the only one!

  4. August 26, 2016 11:11 pm

    Fantastic post, Sally. I have only been to Bristol airport to catch a bus to Bath. It looks like it is well worth a proper visit, and I must follow in your footsteps. Love your travel posts, whether exotic or domestic. Beautiful writing and images always. xx

    • August 27, 2016 12:56 pm

      Bath is the obvious city and I do love it (and lived there) but Bristol has so much to explore even though it’s less obvious, harder to get around (a very big, spread out city) and has a more industrial past (and lots of skeletons in its cupboard). Definitely on the list for a revisit – and with so many wonderful places to travel this is praise. Thanks for kind words – travel is a joy and I have a passion for going somewhere new.

      • September 17, 2016 11:52 pm

        As Bath-born, I love the place, despite the traffic and the tourists… Somewhere new? How about Nepal? Or Venice before the tourists arrive again? Or Vienna, which is wonderful in Winter with the Christmas markets, the ubiquitous mulled wine and the perhaps surprisingly sophisticated cuisine…

  5. August 26, 2016 11:36 pm

    Just love arm-chair traveling with you, Sally! Beautiful photos and such good info… Now to see about hopping that pond again before long! 🙂

    • August 27, 2016 1:00 pm

      Aw thanks. Let me know if you do – maybe we could coincide…wouldn’t that be fun!

  6. The Real Geordie Armani permalink
    August 27, 2016 11:04 am

    There is something nice about dark clouds, but just for one day 🙂

    • August 27, 2016 1:02 pm

      The sunshine and showers were quite dramatic – and it wasn’t cold so strolling around was very pleasant. I miss these clouds. The Dubai skies look very washed out right now don’t they.

  7. August 27, 2016 11:22 am

    We used to visit Bristol more often, back in the 1990s, and in the last few years. Not been for a year or two now though. Love the recommendations you’ve shared, all look well worth seeking out!

    • August 27, 2016 1:06 pm

      Would love to know where you went Kavey. I think this is just the tip of a very exciting food scene in Bristol.

  8. August 28, 2016 3:46 am

    I’ve never been to Bristol but it looks good. Mmmm, pigeon sausage.

  9. August 30, 2016 5:17 pm

    Bristol has never really been on my radar but now you’ve really made me want to go and visit it! This whole post is fantastic! Great eats, great art, what more is there to want?!

  10. September 17, 2016 11:47 pm

    When based in Dubai, I would always break the journey from Heathrow to Dartmoor with a fay or two in Bristol. Feels such a relaxed city and, even now, you can understand how Keith Floyd became such a poster boy for the F&B sector. My hotel of choice was the slightly faded but still grand Avon Gorge Hotel in Clifton, with unbeatable views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge from its terrace and close access to the village shops and restaurants nearby. Only issue is the parking…

  11. October 11, 2016 10:44 pm

    So glad I stumbled across your blog! I did my undergrad at Bristol and you’re photos have made me SO nostalgic. Take me back! Lauren – http://www.theyoproedit.com

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