Monthly Archives: June 2010

Heart on display

Heart on display, originally uploaded by still awake.

Zen: Restaurant Review

Zen is a Chinese Restaurant located by the Bristol harbourside on Millennium Square. It has been the restaurant of choice for myself, my friends Graeme, Kristine and her husband Andy for the last year or so. Along the way we have discovered a selection of dishes which make up an amazing dinner. Occasionally we will try a new dish or two such as ‘Smacked Cucumber’ or ‘Bang Bang Chicken’ but invariably the core components stay the same.

¼ Crispy duck for a starter, kung po prawns primarily for myself and Kristine, BBQ ribs cooked in a stone pot and egg fried rice for all, and aromatic chilli chicken primarily for Andy and Graeme.

The crispy duck meat is brought to our table as the actual quarter of duck and the waiter then strips it off the bone with a fork before passing it over. Alongside is a dish of sliced cucumbers and spring onions. Only six pancakes are provided and usually the four of us have one each and then share the remaining two. However, on Sunday, we were brought eight after we mentioned we would all be sharing. The duck has so far been ample for all four of us and the quality of the meat is wonderful. I have not had better duck in Bristol yet, definitely not at Cosmo or at Mayflower.

The Kung Po Prawn dish is a fascinating mix of king prawns and vegetables, mostly carrots and crispy things like celery, cut into small pieces and served on a big triangular white dish. The BBQ spare ribs cooked in a stone pot are soft and so tender that the meat falls off the bone as soon as you start eating. The marinated meat is permeated with the flavour and the sticky sauce is also a great accompaniment.

The favourite dish for the guys is the aromatic chilli chicken which consists of cooked dry chillies and small southern fried chicken pieces. By the end of the meal the tears were nearly welling up and they were both slightly perspiring. The dish is spicy with a lemon tang, it is also offered with a warning but this dissuades no one.

The rice is well done and served in small white covered dishes. Two were enough for the four of us. I have yet to try dessert there but I have had a Zen mojito which included some lemongrass with the mint for that oriental twist. The house white wine has consistently been pleasant and the prawn crackers are brought to the table with a chilli dipping sauce.

All in all, Zen is an excellent restaurant with a delicious choice of dishes which are not always your typical Chinese restaurant selections. The Smacked Cucumber was not entirely a success as it was served cold as was the Bang Bang Chicken which left an unpleasant sensation since the fat was still left on the chicken. However, the mixed meats noodles which contains seafood such as squid and prawns is a tasty and fresh tasting selection and the crystal rivers prawn dish has a green tea tinged glaze which is fragrant and unusual enough to be quite tasty.

They currently have an offer through Toptable of 50% off until July 11.

Zen, Unit 4B, 1st Floor, Harbourside, Explore Lane, Bristol BS1 5TY. 0845 371 3888, 0117 920 9372,

Brooding at the Port of Barcelona

I thought I was the audience…

… and then I looked at you.

by Ruth Claxton

The exhibition took place at a gallery at the University of Essex in 2005. A room full of small figurines all around the shelves on the edges. From the centre of the room, the dolls would be all staring at the audience if their eyes weren’t covered up. Streamers, a flower, green extensions, big sunglasses and all types of items provide the cover. So while we’re looking at them they are quite specifically not looking at us.

Another of Ruth Claxton’s exhibitions is on display at Spike Island in Bristol according to her website. It was last dated 2009 so I’m not sure if it’s still there but I’ll happily go and find out.

Update: I found out through the Spike Island web site that the Ruth Claxton exhibition took place between 31 January – 15 March 2009 and was called Land’s End.

High Hopes for England v Germany

Urban Art on the Welsh Back, Bristol

Urban Art on the Welsh Back, originally uploaded by still awake.

Used to be: The Market Place, Now: The Elephant

One of my favourite restaurants in Bristol was the Market Place but I regret that I never dedicated a post to it. The restaurant deserved more than an aside to a Myristica-edged bit of nostalgia.

My first visit was with my friend Adele last summer and I had the loveliest whole plaice in a butter sauce. The prawns starter was made up of peeled salted king prawns which were incredibly good. The only thing that was just normal was the dessert selection which left only the treacle tart as the preferred choice. Not bad but a little stodgy as a way to end a light, seafood based meal.

The second visit was a fish and chips meal before a visit to the Old Vic and a third one was with family friends in February. The food was special enough to follow the champagne we shared to celebrate a PhD graduation. I had a main of Jacob’s Ladder, mash and cabbage. The starter was of herring roes on toast with garlic butter and the dessert was a bitter chocolate tart.

The beauty of the Market Place was a food focused, bar and restaurant, with a small selection of dishes. It’s a format that worked beautifully but the option to visit is no longer there. Following a fire in the cellar last February the place was put up for sale. The Market Place has now moved on to the Star and Dove in Totterdown apparently.

On St Nicholas St, the new Elephant public house opened up two weeks ago in the bright, white building. Ben Bartrip and his partner Sarah Eskins opened the bar after returning to England from Melbourne, Australia. The refurbishment already makes the place look lighter with the purple of the bar stripped back to the light wood underneath. Food is still being served and the bread is home made apparently so I’ll reserve further comment until I visit. Keep a look out for a review.

The Elephant Public House, 20 St. Nicholas St. Bristol BS1 1UB. 0117 929 3561,

Arnolfini on the Harbourside

Arnolfini on the Harbourside, originally uploaded by still awake.

See for further information on this 19th century Grade II listed tea warehouse. Thank you to @woodsy_bristol for the link.

TEDx Bristol: Bloom and Curll bookshop

A hand written sign announces: TEDx Bristol on June 30. If you want to present something then you are encouraged to get in touch. The piece of paper, with the pencilled scrawl, is stuck up on the window of Bloom and Curll, an independent book store at 74 Colston St. Its location is right in the middle of the Arts Quarter just up and past the Christmas Steps. People seem to love it with its crammed shelves and constant activity: writing clubs, chess games, early closing, late openings and a myriad other ‘independent’ activities. It does seem friendly but the lack of space brings up my claustrophobia before I even step in.

For those curious enough to visit there is now an ever better reason to venture in to the crowded area. On Wednesday, June 30, the book store will be holding a TEDx event which is an independent TED-like event. TED is an organisation that promotes itself with the tag line ‘ideas worth spreading’. Presenters have included Tony Robbins, Steve Jobs, Elizabeth Gilbert, Richard Dawkins and Malcolm Gladwell. There are also thousands more on the website and they also include transcripts.

When I last attended a TEDx event it was in the magnificent building of the European Parliament in Brussels. That experience was one I would happily repeat although it may not be faithfully replicated on Colston St. You also have the opportunity to take part so if you want to present something get in touch or just go along to watch.

Bloom and Curll Bookshop. 74 Colston St, Bristol. BS1 5BB,

Cathay Rendezvous, Restaurant Review

Cathay Rendezvous is a Chinese restaurant in the central Bristol location of King Street. On a very sunny Friday afternoon, my friend Graeme and I decided to try their menu, and we were led away from the sunlight into a more intimate setting of the restaurant’s downstairs dining area. It was cool and dark inside and the tone was a little hushed as there weren’t that many tables occupied. The restaurant’s impressive and prestigious building dates back to 1738 and it was the first purpose built library in England but is now listed as an ancient monument apparently.

The building was nice although I am not sure it added to the dining experience. We ordered prawn crackers, £2, while deciding on the food choices and both liked the sound of refillable jasmine tea at £1.80 each. The tea must have already been already brewed because it was poured for us straight away.

We chose to share a dim sum platter, at £5.50 each, which was listed as one of the specials on the board. We were brought a bamboo steam basket with eight dim sum accompanied by three sauces – chilli, sweet and sour and a vinegar sauce. The fillings included seafood with ginger, pork and mixed meats, mushroom and pork and prawns with chestnut. The selection was quite nice but seemed too similar to the frozen selection sold at the Chinese supermarket on St Thomas St. I’m not saying that they were bought from there but I could have had the same selection had I made them at home. They didn’t compare to the dim sum selection at Dynasty.

We ordered two main meals and rice with mixed prawns and meat in a lotus leaf, £6.90. The leaf not only flavours the rice but helps provide it with a moist cover to keep it ready for eating. The main meals were szechuan king prawns at £9.90 and shredded chicken with chilli at £7.90. Both were nicely presented and placed over the tea lights in our food warmer. The spice we were expecting wasn’t quite there. The bright red sauce brought to mind ketchup more than authentic recipes. The aroma wasn’t that fragrant for either dish and while they were both pleasant in flavour they were not extraordinary. The rice was exceptionally good however and the meat mix included whole king prawns. The delicate flavour of the lotus leaf added a lot more to our evening’s taste than did anything else.

The service was exceptional although Graeme wasn’t too happy at having someone always hovering by. I quite liked the fact that when I realised the waitress had taken my itemised receipt and turned to ask for it, a second waitress rushed off to get it for me. I didn’t mind the attention.

The restaurant was lovely and the dining experience was nice but I have had better in Bristol. Dynasty on St Thomas St, Mayflower at the Haymarket and the incredible Zen at Millennium Square immediately come to mind.

The Cathay Rendezvous, 30 King St, Bristol BS1 4D2. Tel: 0117 9226161, email :