I got told we were going to The Star and Dove. I was drunk on whisky in my mate’s house, 94 miles away from Birmingham, in a tiny village where at night the full size of the galaxy is unhampered by the pitfalls of city living. Love Island may have been on the telly, maybe Googlebox, and Nathan was in full flight on his theory that all Olympic sports are essentially Center Parcs activities. The next Professor Hawkings he is not. His wife spoke to say we were going to Totterdown for dinner the following night, I think bookending it with a polite request to not get too smashed tonight, and not get smashed at all when she was out in the daytime. I agreed, because dinner with such lovely people is always nice, but not having the foggiest about where we were going or what we would be eating. We got smashed that night and watched badminton and then swimming until the sun peeked up. Both activities available at your local Center Parc.
It transpires that Totterdown is an affluent part of Bristol that backs on to a less than affluent part, with pastel houses that climb above the eyeline and onto the hilltops. At the bottom of one of those hills, a stone’s throw from Victoria Park, is The Star and Dove, a handsome pub with an interior of dusky blues and parquet flooring. One look at the menu and it’s clear that there is ambition here; there is talk of truffle, prime cuts, and whole fish, with premium prices to match. Bread arrives, malt and rye, to be shared at the table and slathered with local butter. It’s excellent. Sturdy crust, big open crumb. Exactly how it should be.
It’s the attention to detail that sets them apart; the laborious techniques that take time and a tight palette. A Chou farci of sorts is stuffed generously with salmon, langoustine, and lobster, with a bisque properly made with flambéed shells and talent. The little Granny Smith Apple is all the acidity the dish needs. The other starter is globe artichoke, its petals cooked slowly in a little vinegar, courgette, truffle and truffle sauce. Hidden under the rubble was an egg yolk cooked slowly to a jam-like consistency, which added a pleasing richness. Neither dish would be out of place in a starred restaurant.
And then the mains. Oh those mains. Lamb rack, two fat slices virginal pink, skin crisped, fat rendered, sharing a plate with carrot cooked in butter and star anise, which is the best way, and sauce that insists you clean it up with bread. On the side is a little bowl of braised neck peeking from lettuce dressed in anchovy cream. Again, more bread.
Nathan’s main course is beef fillet (I neither tried his wife’s fish main, nor photographed it), ruby red and with the full Malliard reaction in flow, with braised smoked bacon, confit onion, and port sauce. Technically perfect throughout; it’s astonishing stuff. We order two portions of spuds in a Brie sauce with pickled mustard seeds. It’s the only thing I don’t care for. Whilst the everything else punches with strong seasoning, these feel a bit flat. Maybe it’s the company they were keeping.
We should have ordered dessert, but the portions are too large. There’s a lot of protein on those mains. Instead we head into the garden and drink until the closing time taxi arrives. With starters £9-14 and mains £24-40 this isn’t a cheap outing and our bill hits £170 between three easily. What I find most amazing is how this appears to have opened under the radar, with little local acknowledgment. This is proper food that I’ll eagerly follow; food cooked with attention and skill, using the best in local produce. I’m reliably told that the Sunday lunch is excellent and very affordable. It’s all the reason I need to return.
(Nicked the lamb and beef picture from @pxandtarts who went a couple of nights afterwards. What a good shit he is.)