Clifton Kitchen, sometimes you can’t please everyone

Clifton Kitchen issued a Groupon voucher for two courses and a glass of wine, on May 10, at a price of £21 for what would cost £54 ordinarily . Once the voucher was bought, a second email was sent out with some amendments and then a third. A final email today announced that the deal was cancelled.

I thought that it might be volume of vouchers that were bought as there have been other ‘horrible’ stories about small business suffering after Groupon.

I spoke to owner Richard Marques-Jones and mentioned that 772 vouchers, as the Groupon page still states,  seemed like a lot to cover in four months. The voucher expires in October.

“772 is way off the mark, the final total was over 1000. The volume was manageable as 10% dropped out after the first amendment email.

“The problems were caused by no-shows, we turned away full paying customers only to find that tables booked by [G]roupon voucher holders weren’t actually going to turn up.”

But it wasn’t just the volume of vouchers and the customers who booked but did not show up.

“The final straw was the threat to break my neck by a customer who ignored the emails sent out by Groupon outlining changes. This was a police issue, but there are limits to what I’m prepared to put up with”.

Following this it is unsurprising perhaps that an email was sent out from Groupon today to inform those of us with vouchers that the deal had been cancelled and refunds were about to be issued.

The no shows and the violent threat weren’t the only reason this turned out badly. Marques-Jones said that “[they] are now subject to a torrent of vitriol from a small minority of individuals, as a business owner and father of 3 I could do without this.”

Clifton Kitchen has had some great reviews from Foodies around Bristol and beyond but also some recent ones that were a little more cautious about going back.

I was excited to buy this voucher as I have used such special price deals previously and most were successful and quite pleasant. I had been particularly looking forward to exploring the restaurant that used to be Keith Floyd’s first bistro and it’s a shame it turned out like this.

I still intend to visit however as there is a prix-fixe offer available Sunday lunchtimes: 2-courses from only £14.95 or 3-courses from £18.95 which still sounds quite good.

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

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 early 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:

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,

Toptable offers: Zen on Millennium Square

Zen, a Chinese restaurant on Millennium Square, provides slightly more unusual, some would say more authentic dishes, than other restaurants. The kitchen at Zen has sourced recipes from over 23 provinces in China to create an extensive traditional menu with a contemporary twist. Some favourite dishes include aromatic chilli chicken, where half the dish consists of cooked dried chillies, crystal river prawns which is a prawn dish with a sauce flavoured by green tea and lovely Peking duck with the usual pancake assortment.

This isn’t a review but more of an attention-grabbing post about an offer through Toptable:

If you book through the site you get 50% off food with the following conditions:

…based on each person having a starter and a main. Offer only applies to diners who book online and is only available at the times stated. Maximum of 12 diners per booking applies to this offer. Excludes shellfish. Includes Vat, excluded service charge.


Mon – Wed: 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Sat: 12:00pm – 5:00pm
Sun: 12:00pm – 5:00pm, 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Max people: 12

Ends: 11 July

This is a great opportunity to try a not inexpensive and wonderful restaurant in a great location. Also try the Zen Mojito which is a favourite drink and I must say that even their house white wine has always been quite nice.

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

Eating: yes. Blogging: sporadically. Critiquing: ?

Everyone Eats is a feature article, by Robert Sietsema, in the Jan / Feb 2010, Columbia Journalism Review. Its title continues with the pointedly honest appraisal: ‘but that doesn’t make you a restaurant critic’. Too true. The article provides a history of restaurant critics and the evolution of food reviews. Most importantly, Sietsema notes the process used by a prominent restaurant critic, and it is this latter part that I want to share with you.

Craig Claiborne, food Editor for the New York Times from 1975 and for three decades after, is generally credited with being the inventor of the modern restaurant review.

Claiborne added structure and ethics to restaurant reviewing: reviews would be done by a single individual who would be named in the piece. At least three visits would be made to the restaurant and a party of three or four would eat and try to cover as much of the menu as possible. Some dishes would be eaten more than once to check for consistency. There would be no free meals and the publication would pay for the dining experience.

Most important of all the reviewer would remain anonymous and not allow the restaurant to realise that a review was in progress. Any reservation would made under a false name and no suspicious behaviour would take place during the meal.

These were his rules and the very structure of them provided a thoroughness that almost makes this critiquing business into a science.
I admire the notion that food reviewing is a serious business and should be addressed as such. In my reviews I want to be as truthful as possible while also noting that my opinion is as subjective as anyone else’s.

I would love to be thorough about all the food but I often get distracted by one item and then lose interest in the rest. As an unpaid blogger I also don’t have the funds to visit a restaurant at least three times over a short period, let alone take along three friends, so we can sample all the items on the menu.

Sometimes it’s not the food but the atmosphere or the company that will be the highlight of the evening. The service may stand out or the dessert might be the only thing I remember with any clarity. I take photos of the food before I eat and occasionally may take notes as well. That’s sure to arouse some attention although I can’t remember anyone offering any free dishes.

I have doubts about my own consistency and there are few professional food reviewers I go out of my way to read. I adore the work of Mark Taylor who writes in the Bristol Evening Post on a Thursday and edits the magazine Fork. However there are other reviews, such as ones I’ve read in the Metro, where from the first sentence I failed to believe a single judgement. A particular review was about a place I had visited recently and the effusive proclamations about the food had probably more to do with the two bottles of wine drunk by the reviewer, and partner, than the actual quality of the restaurant.

I raise these points as an exercise in self-awareness and with the intention to introduce more consistency into my critiques. If you also write reviews, professionally or not (i.e. paid or unpaid), then do mention any rules you may have, or procedures you may follow. I would love to hear them. (Don’t forget to mention the bribes.)

The image is from the tapas style lunch I ate at the Clifton Lido in Bristol.

Myristica, King St

Last Tuesday I was involved in a friend’s graduation celebration and the plan was to follow the champagne and hugs with an amazing meal somewhere close. A few days previously we had booked one of the finest Indian restaurants in Bristol. On the day itself, however, the reservation was cancelled with an email and a phone call from the owner.

As mentioned on their website, Myristica are relocating from the spacious ground-floor building opposite the Old Vic to a fantastic new venue which is top secret – for now. However, if you send them a message via the website contact form they will keep you updated, invite you to the launch party and send you some discount vouchers for when they re-open.

We changed our dinner plans and went to the Market Place in the end. The food was special enough to follow the champagne and since we booked through Top Table the bill was discounted by 25%. The group of us who met up on Tuesday had already sampled the distinct and unique style of the Indian cuisine so while disappointed we were still happy enough to try something new.

The assorted kebab platter with its selection of prawn, fish, chicken and lamb chop chargrilled to perfection, served with mint chutney was swapped for a main of Jacob’s Ladder, mash and cabbage. The rings of squid deep fried and tossed with bell peppers, chilli flakes and honey were replaced with herring roes on toast with garlic butter. All was delicious at the Market Place but I still look forward to going back to Myristica.

A chilled Cloak and Dinner

Friday night dining was an improptu and hopeful event.I was out with a friend for a quick drink at the Big Chill bar and on the way there passed Quay Head House. I knew about the Cloak and Dinner restaurant (open 27 to 30 January) from reading reviews by Bristol Culture and EatBigBristol who ate there the previous evening. I wanted to see Belleruche play at the Big Chill bar at 11pm but it was 7.30pm and we guessed there would be plenty of time to go, wait, eat (hopefully) and then come back.

We knocked on the door and were let in (bolts sliding open on the inside) only to be told that they were fully booked but that we were welcome to wait in the lounge until a table became available. The people there were friendly and we were given a gin and tonic and the advice to keep an eye on the website. The aim was to find beautiful buildings and use them as restaurants. The room had low lighting and plates with pistacchios and cashews were  littered around on the tables. A lamp in the corner had a colourful shade in tones of grey black and red. There was artwork on the walls and while we sat a new painting was placed behind me with the comment ‘I hope it doesn’t fall on you’. Luckily it didn’t.

As lovely as the setting was, the temperature was cold and I didn’t take off my jumper and was tempted to keep my jacket on as well. The smoking policy was enjoyed by my companion and the young female students sitting across from us. They kept their jackets on.

The dress of the customers and the staff was varied. There was a charming, gleeful, almost bohemian tone to those involved with the restaurant, while others looked ready for a night out. I was in work clothes, friend in jeans and everyone seemed to fit in among the top hats and the fake moustaches. The staff member greeting people had a suit on, stockings and one trouser leg rolled up to the knee. The music downstairs was arranged by a guy with a laptop and iTunes. Same upstairs.

Three gin and tonics went by and two hours later we were tired of being cold and hungry and decided to leave. We left ten pounds for our drinks but the man with the reservation book asked us to stay for just a little longer. People are starting to leave now and there should be some space soon. We were told we could share a table with some of their friends and we agreed and sat back down. He passed back the ten pounds and said donate it at the end if you want and smiled.

About 20 people soon left the restaurant so there was a table available and we didn’t have to share. The room upstairs was friendly and brighter than the lounge while the atmosphere was pleasant and comforting. People didn’t look up and the view of the city was grimy through the windows but we relaxed. Behind us was a table of older people and we marvelled to the waitress that the clientele was so varied. She agreed and then told us the table behind us were actually the chef’s parents. Still.

Billie Holiday sang that her baby don’t care for high rise places and our order was explained and taken and the jazzy, mellow mood was set. We ordered the Borscht soup and then starters of filo pastry with some topping which I can’t remember. The soup was firm and textured with cabbage and beetroot, topped with sour cream and dill. It was served in a tea cup and there was only one spoon on the table but my friend used his fork and it was just as effective.

The soup was hearty and well-seasoned. Not too sour and not too sweet. The red wine in the unmarked bottle was light and slightly dry, a Chianti perhaps. The starters ran out so we skipped that course.  We ordered one each of the mains which were venison with salt pork slow cooked and bean casserole. The intention was to share but I was only allowed one bite of venison before he announced that I was having no more, he loved it. The bean casserole was just as good, if not better, and there was a dumpling of some sort which the waiter said was flavoured with thyme. Very nice.

The bean stew sat on a cabbage leaf on top of a parsnip mash. The portions were moderate in size which suited perfectly as we also ordered dessert to end the meal. The waiter collected our dishes and while Elvis crooned that he didn’t want no other love, the girls from two tables away grabbed our cutlery because their table had none. We all laughed and no one questioned the re-use of the forks and knives, well not out loud. Dessert was a choice between vegan banana cheesecake and a Canterbury apple tart. Both were light and tasty. The vegan cheesecake was intriguing and had dark chocolate melted with whole hazelnuts on top of grated banana.

Tables filled up around us but there were still some empty ones at ten o’clock. Two men with shaved heads and black leather jackets sat down in the corner and one said to the other ‘this is nice isn’t it?’.

The food was very good and the setting and the ambience of the place was even better. We talked to four or five of the staff volunteering there and they were all enthusiastic, open and friendly. We were told that while the restaurant was a squat, all the appropriate regulations were followed and it was legal. Something was mentioned about the bills being paid and procedures being followed. The staff were happy to be there and it showed.

The squatting scene does bring a welcoming atmosphere but it doesn’t do much for heat. The hot water taps didn’t work in the bathroom downstairs where the facilities are shared by men and women. A broken toilet door has a sign that politely suggests people knock before they enter and the hall is lit with candles and overhead lighting.  We left in a great mood and felt as if we’d shared our experience with the people working there and not just been served.

We didn’t get to see Belleruche around the corner because the queue was long and the night was cold. I heard the band play a little when they did their sound check however and they sounded great – the vocals were huskier and the guitar was lighter than on the cd. My evening started with Kathrin deBoer singing ‘I fell for you’ and ‘some things just ain’t meant to be there’. I guess that’s how it ended as well. The restaurant is there for one more night (tonight) and then it won’t be there. The beautiful building will be left empty once more but I’ll keep a look out for the restaurant which will surely pop-up somewhere around Bristol again.

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