Baowow, Baldwin Street

Bristol’s food scene has just got better with a new Taiwanese take away place on Baldwin Street. Baowow sells Baos – steamed buns -, bahn mi, noodles, soup and rice.

Baowow menu

I visited at the start of the week for one of their £5 lunch specials and tried the duck duck bao, twice cooked confit of duck served with spring onions, coriander, cress and sweet chilli barbecue sauce. The meal deal includes a sesame noodle salad and a drink. The bao was really good and the content tasted like the Peking duck from Chinese restaurants but less crispy and more substantial. The salad wasn’t just greens but had plenty of rice noodles. It was a shame that there was only a choice of four drinks as part of the meal and two of them were coke/diet coke. The selection of drinks in the store looks much better.

There are vegetarian options in every food category and for those that love pork, there is a lot of that too. Also, Vietnamese coffee.

I first heard about the Taiwanese snack Bao from a Munchies episode on Vice: Getting High Off Asian Food with Eddie Huang chef/owner of Baohaus (East Village, Manhattan). Check out from around 10:30 when Huang goes back to his own place and cooks deep fried ice cream sandwich baos for everyone.

It was cash only on Tuesday so be ready.


53 Baldwin Street, Bristol, BS1 1QZ

The Runcible Spoon, Stokes Croft

Reasons not to review a restaurant on opening night: things can go wrong. Reasons to review: when things go wrong you can blame it on the opening night. I hope that all further sittings are lacking in the slight issues we encountered.

The new restaurant Runcible Spoon is a confusing mix of excellent food and the casual atmosphere of Stokes Croft. Set up by some members of last year’s pop-up restaurant Cloak and Dinner, it retains a similar feel.

Customers on opening night were served a banquet meal for £25 each which is something that will be available each Saturday night.

The first course was a serving of black pudding scotch eggs; a success because of the much nicer and softer texture than sausage meat. Also, well seasoned and cooked.

The almond and wild garlic soup, which followed, was tasty, thick and enjoyable in a hearty and rustic style. I couldn’t taste the almonds much but they added to the texture.

The mussels were superb and were better than ones I’ve had at Cote, Zerodegrees and Bordeaux Quay. The bacon made the white wine and cream sauce delightfully delicious although the service meant that only one person on the table still kept their spoon. Emily, of Bristol Bites, and I used half a mussel shell and I used my bread to dip in the sauce . One slice each. Poor form.

The horseradish mash was smooth and flavoured enough for taste but just less than painful for the sinuses. The meat was a little chewy and the kale looked uninteresting so I left it. The main was good and I don’t mean to sound as critical as I do because I definitely enjoyed it.

The trinity creme dessert, a brulee by another name, was delicious, the caramelised sugar was just right, slightly browned, crisp and delicate. There were vanilla seeds in the cream and it was warm enough but not too hot. An excellent dessert and almost as good as the one at Flinty Red which is the best one I have had so far.

Unfortunately, and note the motif, we were left without spoons again so I ate half my dessert with my perfect cardamom shortbread biscuits. Others ate their poached pears by holding them from the stem.

The alcohol choices were limited and the prices were a surprise until the end. Not expensive.

The opening night was cash only and I am not sure whether this will remain. There were some issues with opening night which will undoubtedly be resolved. I am a little less certain about what they can do about the cramped interior. There were eight of us at our table and getting in and out was a major issue. Also, the rooms are windowless and a tad cosy, leaning towards claustrophobic. The previous establishment was the Cafe Kino which has opened up across the road in premises that are bright and open, almost clinically so, in direct contrast to the little restaurant on Nine Tree Hill.

Notwithstanding all of this, and the pervasive sense that runcible actually means missing*, the food makes it worth a visit.

A half empty/full bowl of mussels

The Runcible Spoon, Nine Tree Hill, Stokes Croft. 0117 3297645,,

* hat tip to my friend Martin who pointed out the irony of the missing spoons

Juniper, Food Review

Juniper seems like a lovely restaurant on Cotham Road South placed on the edge of Kingsdown and Cotham. The area has big houses, quiet roads and seem almost rural rather than suburban. I used to walk around there when I was a little more local and can see how the twilight and the electric lights all help to make the restaurant one further step along a very pleasant route.

The start of the evening is lovely and the restaurant has a very nice ambience as I walk in. There are five tables by the door and their location seems to make for a potentially breezy couple of hours so I take a seat somewhere in the corner. The lighting is low without making the place too dark and there is a genuine sense of intimacy without it feeling like someone’s boudoir.

My dining companion arrives and we are given menus with selections for three courses.

I choose the red mullet with a seafood combination comprised of crab, crayfish and smoked salmon for a starter. The main is pan roasted duck with cheesy potatoes and a selection of vegetables and the dessert is a pistachio crème brulee. Where available, I will always choose the crème brulee and my expectations are high.

The starter’s mix of seafood is delicious and provides a very fresh offering that is both savoury and sharp. The golden fried red mullet piece that sits on top of it may have been cooked well but is not very flavoursome. I look around for some salt until I catch myself and just try to enjoy it as best I can. It was underseasoned and disappointing.

The duck is very well cooked and is a nice sized portion. The vegetables are ominously full of brussels sprouts which while not really a problem for me, bring to mind a Christmas dinner rather than a special night out at an enchanting restaurant. The cheesy potato dish is not particularly appetizing and for a £17 main I am not particularly enthused. I have had amazing potatoes at Graze at very reasonable prices and I feel embarrassed for this place which can’t compete with a gastropub, although admittedly there are few restaurants that can at the moment.

I couldn’t imagine that they would go astray with my favourite part of the meal, the crème brulee, but again it was slightly disappointing. The sweet was served at room temperature and while the sugar on top was indeed caramelized the rest had a Mediterranean feel and a thick and granular texture, which left me uninspired. It just didn’t fit in with the rest of my dishes.

My friend’s dessert was added to the menu just that day and promised a bit more of a wow factor. It was a tasting platter of chocolate consisting of five items: a chocolate brownie, a white chocolate trifle, a cookies and cream white liqueur and some other type of cake. I’m not sure if it lived up to expectations but it looked ok rather than fantastic.

I may be a little harsh in my recollection of the dishes but let me point out the prices on the menu: £7 for a starter, £17 for a main and £7 for a dessert. If you were to add some wine to the £31-each selection then the cost for two would come to around £100 and that would be an extortionate amount to pay for what felt more like a roast dinner suitable for the weekend.

This place has all the characteristics that could have made it a special experience worth coming back for and instead it turned out to be quite humdrum and average. A shame.

Juniper, 21 Cotham Road South, Cotham, Bristol, BS6 5TZ, 0117 942 1744

Bell’s Diner, Tasting Menu

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,

Côte, Bristol – Review

The Bristol branch of the Cote Brasserie, which opened today in Clifton, takes up a fair amount space with four or five dining areas and it provides a comfortable setting. There are 19 restaurants in England and they all provide simple bistro cooking with a selection of classic French dishes such as moules frites and duck confit while also serving a rapid menu that includes steak frites and a lighter menu with options such as tuna Niçoise and risotto vert.

I visited today, with my friend Martin, for lunch and there was complimentary filtered water for the table and a few waiters were on hand for a prompt response to requests such as more water and plates for the bread and starter.

The menu suggests that the bread (£1.60) is a freshly baked sourdough served with butter although it seemed like a nice ciabatta.

To begin with, we shared a dish of moules marinières (£5.75), which was mussels cooked with white wine, garlic, shallots, parsley and fresh cream. It was a nice enough version which did not disappoint with its selection of delicate small mussels mixed in with paler and bigger ones.

We both ordered the steak frites (£9.95) for a main which is a thin tenderised piece of meat flavoured with pepper and a herb butter. The dish was well seasoned and the steak was tender without being soft. The frites were served in a small black cup-like tub within which they nestled against some grease proof paper. They were seasoned just right and were probably just as enjoyable as the steak. A side dish of French green beans was chosen as an accompaniment and they were a bright green colour and crisp.

There was no dessert this time although if I had made a choice it would have been either the crème caramel, which is the restaurant’s speciality, or the crème brulee. I may go back again soon just to try the dessert.

Côte won the Good Food Guide award for “Best Value Restaurant in the UK for 2009” and with 50% off until 27 January I would suggest that the value will be exceptional. You will need a voucher (found here) for the discount and do book first as the restaurant was quite busy with people taking advantage of this opening treat.

Côte, 27 The Mall, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4JF, 0117 970 6779

The Elephant, Review

On St Nicholas St, the Elephant public house opened up at the beginning of June in the bright, white building that once was home to the Market Place. Ben Bartrip and his partner Sarah Eskins opened the bar after returning to England from Melbourne, Australia and they have refurbished the place so it sports a more natural look with the purple of the bar stripped back to the light wood underneath.

The music was easy listening pop and the Australian influence was subtly played out with a song by Icehouse which I hadn’t heard in years.

We were the first in the pub as we arrived for lunch on a Saturday at 12pm. We chose two courses each and a soft drink rather than any alcoholic beverages. No starters this time but the choice included two seafood selections that I may try next time: Steamed Cornish Mussels with Cider & Cream (£5.95) and Pan fried Chilli Prawns served with Aioli and Homemade Bread (£6.95).

For my main I chose the lamb rump served on a bed of sauteed potatoes with green beans, smoked bacon lardons & spinach with a roast onion puree (£12.95). The lamb, as requested, was cooked medium rare and came out quite tender. The bacon lardons helped the seasoning of the dish and the potatoes and green beans were beautifully done. The roast onion purée was interesting but probably redundant.

My eating companion had the African chicken curry with Basmati rice (£9.45) which looked and tasted like a proper curry and not a pub dish made with uncle Ben’s rice and an unidentifiable brown sauce. The rice was fluffy and the sauce, or massala, had distinct traces of oils and herbs and spices. I thought it was lovely, especially after being a little doubtful about ordering a curry in a pub, and he was impressed.

The sad news about dessert was that there were no creme brulees left after a party of 13 the previous night ordered the last of them. My second choice was the warm chocolate brownie with ice cream (£5.50). A nice effort with a rich chocolate flavour but dry and not exactly inspiring. My colleague Hannah had brought in some of her own brownie creations to work the previous week and they were the best I have tasted. Moist, delicious, just the right edge of sweetness with chunks of good quality chocolate throughout. As soon as she starts selling to the public I will let you know, for now it was a shame that the Elephant had to compete.

Graeme chose the cheese board with crackers although it could be served with homemade Breads as well (£8.95). The price seems a little pricey but the quantity was fitting.

The meal was tasty and the setting was comforting and pleasant while the service was quietly courteous. A couple came in and just ordered cappuccinos while someone else ordered a half pint of beer. The Elephant seems to provide variety and more than just your average public house. I would definitely go back for the food and the music.

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

Three Coqs Brasserie, Interesting

Note: The Three Coqs Brasserie has now closed down

I have many biases when it comes to restaurant experiences and my worst one is being influenced by the people with whom I dine. Bear that in mind as I tell you that I visited the Three Coqs Brasserie recently for lunch with my friend Martin.

We chose a large main dish each, one glass of red wine for him, sparkling water for me and a dish of marinated olives.

Complimentary bread was brought to the table on arrival with a portion of butter. The bread was very nice and tasted home made, although there were only two slices.

I chose the roasted pigeon breast with parsnip purée and crispy bacon (£13) while Martin chose the Cornish hake fillet with roasted peppers, saffron braised leeks and land cress (£12.50).

Now, for the bias. We arrived for lunch at 1pm. The restaurant was mostly empty and we sat by the window although only I had the luxury of watching people pass by outside. The service was polite and efficient and the order was placed within a few minutes. The marinated olives arrived promptly and so did the drinks. Somewhere between 1pm and 1.56, however, the food had failed to arrive. I had chatted with a lady at the next table about the size of the dishes – too small, too expensive – and spent the rest of the moments so lost in conversation that I hadn’t realised the extent of the delay.

The waitress came to our table and apologised. The kitchen never received our food order so it was only about to be cooked. I should note there were only four tables which were occupied at this time of day. We received four pieces of bread and some more butter for our patience. The second batch of bread was also lovely.

The food arrived about 15 minutes after the apology and the portions were dainty and quite pretty. My dish was rich and felt like a little touch of Christmas with the smooth parsnip purée and the jus. The pigeon breast was quite chewy although it did not seem overdone, the meat still had a hint of pink. The bacon was wafer thin and crispy.

I tried some of the hake, pepper and leek as well and it was beautifully summery. Light and well seasoned. I almost wish I had chosen that one, it was delicious.

If the dishes had arrived on time, if we hadn’t snacked on the bread and butter and waited over an hour then the meal may have seemed rather meagre for the price. With unlimited funds, I would love to dine there again. I would order two more dishes at least and then finish with dessert as well. That would be my choice for a complete meal.

I found it enjoyable and I liked the food but would suggest you heed the warning on the website that the cost is between £25 and £34 per person. Not cheap but very nice, locally sourced and organic where they can be.

Three Coqs Brasserie, above Clifton Down Shopping Centre, Clifton, Bristol BS8 2PH | Tel: 0117 949 3030

Surakhan, Here Today…

Opening night may not provide the most consistent impression of food quality but it’s hard to know how long a restaurant will stay open these days. The Mexican Kitchen on Corn St and Turquoise on Clifton Triangle lasted around six weeks with both closing quite recently.

Surakhan is a new venture, a Korean restaurant which replaces the pan-Asian restaurant which only recently closed down. It opened Monday, 1 November, and a visit to the new place took place with four others for dinner. I mention the number of us because it became a bit of a challenge to fit around the same table.

There were six starters and nine mains on the menu and the prices ranged from £2.99 to £4.99 for a starter and from £7.99 to around £11 for a main. Beef and pork were predominant on the menu with the same dish offered with and without rice as separate options. Kim chee and hoi sin sauce were provided and some dishes were available as vegetarian as well.

I ordred the Japchae with rice which is a Korean dish made from glass noodles, stir fried in sesame oil with various vegetables such as thinly-sliced carrots, onion, spinach, mushrooms and chilli. It was served with beef, and flavoured with soy sauce and sugar. The carbohydrate rich dish was enjoyable and the beef was tasty.

Some slight issues with opening night were apparent with two  dishes of Bibimbap – warm white rice topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables and chili pepper paste, served with a raw egg and sliced meat – brought out within minutes (possibly seconds), audibly sizzling in their earthenware pots. The rest of us had to wait a while for our food.

At one point I turned to see one of the waitresses squatting on the floor next to the kitchen to divide cooked rice among foil containers – also resting on the floor. However I’d had much worse and similar service at the previous establishment and most of the evening went pretty smoothly. The food was good, the service was helpful and there are tables at the front which are not as cramped as the lime green seated confined areas. I would be happy to go back for another visit to this informal little restaurant, I just hope it stays open long enough.

See Surakhan reviews published on Bristol Culture and Bristol Bites.

Surakhan, 52 Park Row, Bristol

Hooters, All About The Girls?

In the US sitcom Frasier in season 3, Frasier responds to Daphne’s comment about men using sex to get what they want with the following: “How can we possibly use sex to get what we want? Sex is what we want!” the audience laugh cheerfully because of course it rings true. Populating a fast food restaurant with skimpily clad women seems to prove the point.

Today was the public opening of Hooters in Bristol and my friend Martin and I were there to try out the chicken wings and the atmosphere. I was curious to see how my self-esteem would hold up when my noticeably six-month pregnant body was compared with the young women in short, orange shorts, tan stockings and very tight fitting tops.

Surprisingly, there was little, metaphorical, space to be anything but cheerful inside. ‘Welcome to Hooters’ was shouted when we entered and this happened with every customer’s entrance. There were songs for birthdays and stag dos and dances for special songs such as Cotton Eyed Joe.

The customer service is done American-style with a varied-in-length chat approximately every 10 minutes. The protests against Hooters were mentioned and our waitress Haley thought they were misunderstood, after all there were strip shows about which people could complain. And this isn’t a strip show is it? I asked and she was almost horrified. Not at all, she replied, it was a lovely friendly place to work. She was raising two little ones, aged three and one respectively, and she even asked about the bump.

There were few other women in the restaurant and the men weren’t lecherous or even drooling. The customers were quiet and getting on with their dining amongst the noise and the constant interaction, our waitress visited our table over 10 times.

The girls were enthusiastic, bubbly and constantly smiling. With all the movement, how could they not be in a good mood? I was feeling great but then it may have been the company or the chicken wings but it was also the enthusiasm of something new. The waitresses were almost child-like in their level of interest and intimacy but lunch time on the first day isn’t where the problems are going to appear.

The announcement of Hooters’ opening was greeted by some advocates of women’s rights with outrage. I agree that dressing women in skimpy clothes and using them as bait to lure in men in order to sell fast food is probably not a great use of women. The prices aren’t that cheap with burgers at around £8 and 10 chicken wings selling for £7.49 or £7.99 boneless.

The price of women selling their bodies is sometimes not much more than our meal at lunch £15.98 for two plus a £2 tip. On June 8, 2010, a man was jailed after subjecting his 28-week pregnant victim “to a terrifying rape after he refused to pay her £20 for sex”.

A prostitute is a professional sex object and I can’t find much argument for saying that women in Hooters aren’t objectified as the same – sex objects. They get dressed in a sexy way to promote the restaurant and get paid for it. The difference between the two is that in the restaurant there seems to be some form of protection, the four walls, the managers, the bouncers who may well be there on a Friday night. Not quite ‘harmless fun’ but perhaps a good advertisement for legalised prostitution and brothels.

I enjoyed my lunch but I don’t think the waitress needed to talk to me for 20-30 minutes to prove that she was an individual.

Glassboat: a delightful lunch

On Thursday, 16 August, I had reason to celebrate and thought I’d find a lovely place for lunch. From St Michael’s Hill I walked through the Galleries at Broadmead and through Cabot Circus. I passed St Nicholas Market and did not stop for Pieminister or Source but carried on through to the Welsh Back right next to Bristol Bridge. I have written about the Glassboat before and promised to come back after a mildly unimpressive meal. On this Thursday at 12pm, the restaurant was almost empty and I could not resist the view from inside or the two-course meal for £10.

There was a special menu for £10 for two courses or £15 for three and a selection also available at normal prices.

I chose the bream on greens with a dill sauce for a main and an earl grey chocolate pot with chantilly cream for dessert. I almost selected the coq au vin with mashed potato because there was no mention of potatoes with the fish and on its own I feared that it would be less than substantial. Luckily it arrived with sauteed new baby potatoes which were a great accompaniment.

The fish was pan-fried and well-seasoned and while the portion looked medium sized it was just right for me. The skin was slightly browned at the edges and crisp, while the white flesh was firm with a mild flavour. The sea bream sat on a bed of kale and sauteed new potatoes which were surrounded by a drizzle of dill sauce. The tangy dill, with its almost fennel or aniseed hints of flavour, worked well with the fish and the butter sauce. The dish was a delicious treat.

The Earl Grey chocolate pot was served with a biscuit, a dollop of chantilly cream and splash of orange marmalade tasting sauce. The chocolate was very rich and needed all the other additions to make each bite pleasant. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it but I couldn’t finish the whole thing because the cream and marmalade splash finished before the chocolate did.

The chocolate was dark and was served as a firm mousse of sorts with a hint of the earl grey giving it a slight edge. Of the three selections available it was probably the right choice although a bit too decadent in its portion size that day for me.

My lunch at the Glassboat on this particular Thursday made up for the brief disappointment the previous May. The dishes afforded me a delicious chance to linger and I sat facing the Welsh Back which shone and reflected under the midday sun all the way to Radcliffe Bridge. A wonderful experience and I happily recommend the restaurant and the view.

The Glassboat, Welsh Back, Bristol BS1 4SB, tel: 0117 929 0704 email:

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