A recent review of a 40 course dinner at the Catalonian three star Michelin restaurant elBulli made me reflect on what it takes to enjoy a tasting menu. The photos featured dishes ranging from complicated creations to a simple and solitary prawn and the diners’ awe was reserved for the food.
Bell’s Diner is one of the best restaurants in Bristol and I am glad to say that my experience there was more than just awe for the eight courses. The company, service, and atmosphere provided such a sense of intimacy that I didn’t have the heart to take any pictures and break the spell. The food was worthy of admiration but the exclamations were asides rather than the main event.
Our three hour dining experience was special because my captivating companion Martin and I were the focus and everything else felt like an addition rather than competition for the spotlight.
When I called to make the reservation, I mentioned that I was pregnant and although I worried that I was overreacting, the maitre’d assured me that my health and comfort was the most important thing. At the restaurant I was guided through the menu until he was happy that I understood the selections and my drink was served in the greeting area of the restaurant before we were seated at our table.
Our table was in the first room of the restaurant which, in contrast to the brighter second area with a view of the kitchen, had pale blue duskier surroundings and provided a comforting embrace to all those seated. The homely feel was helped by such additions as the wall of lovely wines right next to us. That’s not to say that the food was not amazing.
Indeed, the tasting menu was superb and curious, starting with a carrot and cumin flavoured amuse bouche followed by a dish which had a cannelloni made of a translucent, gelatinous wrapping around a soft goat cheese centre.
The menu interweaved a selection of light and heavier flavoured creations and one of the latter was the hen egg, poached for two hours at 62 degrees Celsius, served with wild mushrooms, truffle mousse and chevril.
A scallop dish with smoked haddock foam was followed by Perigord truffle poached chicken, two triple cooked chips and creamy foie gras; while for my main, the delicate and richer flavours combined in the John Dory fillet served on a rich ox tail ragu which was a surprising combination that worked wonderfully.
The only thing I avoided was the pine liqueur palate cleanser served before the dessert. I was brought a spoon to enjoy the fresh foam, reminiscent of lemon sorbet, served in a tall shot glass instead.
The dessert was a chocolate case filled with a salted caramel ice cream and a base of ‘pain au chocolat’, a dense chocolate bread base.
There was such an emphasis to detail that all the courses were served on different types of plates ranging from heavy based glass creations to black slate and each course was preceded by an explanation of the composition by our attentive but discreet servers.
Our meal was special because the evening was designed by the staff at Bell’s Diner to make us feel that we were the star attraction. Considering that, proprietor and chef, Chris Wicks was cooking that night, I consider it a great achievement and will happily return for another visit.
Bell’s Diner, 1-3 York Road, Montpelier, Bristol. 0117 924 0357, http://www.bellsdiner.com