bristol

Wild Beer, Bristol

Now before I get on to the food at Wild Beer, I take full responsibility for the dismal lunch we had. Given the array of talent at Wapping Wharf you could put a blindfold on and find a cracking meal within one of the navy blue cargo containers, even on a Monday when the big hitters are mostly closed. Yet we were driven by the rarest of British finds: Sunshine. That’s right, we picked our lunch choice based on available chairs in the sunshine over where might actually be edible. The bill of £90 for a round of four drinks and food that I paid is entirely my fault. But my face does now have a lovely bronzed glow, so swings and roundabouts and all that.

The wait on the food this fateful Monday afternoon is one hour, a time they were extremely keen to emphasize in between messing the drinks order up. We keep the order simple; fish tacos, chicken tacos, calamari, a couple of sides. Everything is deep fried and as greasy as a door-to-door salesman. Everything is beige, both in colour and as a metaphor for the food.

After two failed deliveries to our table for food that others had ordered we get tacos. The better of two has a firm white fish (Pollock, I think) set to an Ike Turner level of batter, resting on shop brought tortilla and a smattering of undressed sweetcorn and beans. It’s pathetic but at least at it’s not the chicken, southern fried, a description that suits its appearance given that it looks like its been left at the bottom of the fryer for an age. The outside is burnt, the meat dry, but hey, we get more of those sweetcorn and beans! We joke that the kitchen has given up and just wants to be outside in the sun before concluding this is more than likely true. Chips are good, the hot sauce better. They are the saviours on this afternoon.

The sides fair worse. We have frickles of such girth the heat gets nowhere near the centre, with not enough of the liquor coming through. It’s just battered gherkin, which sounds like a component in the next evolution of a Scottish burger. They are very unpleasant. Fried cheese curds succeed in having a coating to cheese ratio highly in the favour of the former, with a ketchup style dip too competent ever to have come out the kitchen. The squid is so bouncy my adolescent girlfriend wants to play on it. I console myself with £3.50 measures of brilliant Cotswold gin. No one asks how the food is as the plates are removed.

Our fleeting visit is not a total disaster. On the way back to the car park we stop by Pizzarova to pick up a cheap pizza. Even cold, after three hours on the back seat of the car on the way home, it is a mile away from the shit we had for lunch. Nice elastic crust, good sourdough flavour, and good toppings. My friend who we visit tells me that the beers at Wild Beer are ace. My suggestion is simple; go for beers, bypass the kitchen and go elsewhere in Wapping Wharf for your dinner. Anywhere but here.

Wild Beer 2/10

Pizzarova 7/10

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The Pony and Trap, Chew Magna

The drive from the Jurassic coast back to Birmingham was always going to require a stopover. It’s not like the journey there, when the anticipation of the sea breeze takes over and five hours in rush hour traffic doesn’t seem too bad an idea. The trip back to reality is a gruel where work and bills and air pollution await. We needed somewhere that isn’t a Welcome Break to recharge our internal batteries. To take stock of reality. To bemoan that nauseating fool in the office who will ruin the holiday mood first thing Monday morning.

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The Pony and Trap was our choice. Located nine miles away from Bristol in the quaint Chew Magna, it would split our journey in half. The food also promised much; chef Josh Eggerton is a Gordon Ramsay scholar with the pub holding a Michelin star and current number two ranking on the list of UK gastropubs. Inside is a mish-mash of woods, pale green panelling and off white walls. There is a dining area overlooking the pastures of Somerset, and a jukebox that ventured from Radiohead to Aaliyah via Andy Williams. We waited a length of time to order that would have raised eyebrows in the city, though here in the countryside it felt fine. It is impossible to be pissed off with service whilst “Music To Watch Girls By” plays in the background.

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Despite its star, there is no amouse bouche, no fiddly canapés, and no bread offered on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Its straight into the starter of mozerella and heritage tomatoes with basil. The salad is the first indication of what is to come; the tomatoes have a firm texture and flavour seldom found in this country. The basil as a dotted puree around the edge of the plate and also fragrant leaves. Its late June on a plate – as seasonal as Only Fools and Horses on Christmas Day. Only a jelly from tomato consommé felt misplaced, with the flavour muted and the texture unwarranted with the luscious mozzarella already providing the creamy mouth-feel.

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The ethos here is “Field to Fork”, which was in full effect on the main course.  A slab of organic pork with a thick ribbon of fat, some roast potatoes, apple sauce, a cauliflower puree and gravy from the roasting juices.  It was an imposing plate for its simplicity; the pork, amongst some of the best I have ever eaten, blushing pink and tender, with a crackling full of crunch and salt.  On the side were a small pot of more veg and a substantial cauliflower and leek cheese worthy of a paragraph of its own.  The whole heads of the flower full of texture and a cheese sauce with the faint suggestion of mustard.  My girlfriend, who was tucking into a meat-free plate, commented that nothing fancy had been done to any of the veg to highlight the freshness and quality of the ingredients.  I agreed with everything she said.

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Desserts maintained the high standards.  A  peanut mousse with a chocolate brownie-esque base was overshadowed by a salted caramel ice cream that had me scraping the textured black plate to a sharp shrill.  Better still was a strawberry and white chocolate cheesecake of ethereal lightness with a strawberry sorbet.  It was a day at Wimbledon a week early, only without the Pimms or screams of Come On Tim whilst Andy Murray plays.

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Its impossible to dislike The Pony and Trap.  Even with the gaps between courses and the winding paths between tables, its an immensely likeable place.  The larder on their doorstep serves them well and they utilise it with skill and respect.  The bill placed on the table seems remarkably cheap for what we ate. I pay it and meander to the toilet to see they are doing an offal evening in November.  Bits of animal organs seems a good enough reason to return on its own steam.  We’ll be back and next time it wont be out of convenience.

8/10

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