11.45am on a bright Saturday morning and Wapping Wharf is buzzing with anticipation. We are fifteen minutes from opening – nine hundred seconds from an alcoholic drink – with lines forming outside the corrugated shipping containers, each linked or stacked-up like the main event at a LEGO conference. The setting feels apt for our current times; a permanent example of ingenuity in a period where make-shift spaces of terraces and marquees and road closures have become the only way to quell an appetite for all day drinking at the faintest glimpse of the sun. The containers at Wapping Wharf are necessity over luxury, the spaces are compact and the kitchens are smaller than most homes. Units share toilets which require codes to enter and the whole thing awash in a shade of blue so navy Prince Andrew is trying to become admiral of it. It’s a great place to be provided you have a reservation: don’t and you’ll find yourself out on your arse quicker than Harry can say “Oprah”.
We have a reservation. Almost never because this trip was only planned six days ago, but I begged and a friend found one for me whilst I was sleeping and now I’m sat on the rooftop of Woky Ko having a negroni seconds after they open. I’d been told about this place an age ago; a chef I know used to work for owner Larkin Cen and spoke highly about him, whilst the people I trust the opinions of in Bristol seem to like it. The menu is made up of bao and sides, from which we order plenty. I’ve never known what the correct amount of bao is per person; they look tiny and cute yet eat away at the gut space like a pint of Guinness laced with Imodium.
The bao are excellent. Delicate and pillowy, they give the impression they are steamed in-house but I never know anymore. The pork belly is the best; lacquered sweet char sui meat with a remoulade of celeriac that adds bite and earthiness, though the ox cheek with XO chilli sauce is a close second. There is funk and heat and nuggets of tanned fat which taste like Bovril jelly, whilst the ox cheek has the polite firmness of a primary school teacher. I wish I’d ordered another. I’m less keen on the lamb shoulder with tartare sauce but only because my cut of lamb is almost entirely fat. Soft, yielding fat, but fat none the less. It turns out that tartare sauce and lamb is a great combination, which I should have known prior had I bothered to consider what goes into tartare sauce.
A side of fried chicken at £7.95 is as expensive as lunch gets (the bao are all less than a fiver) and is four generous strips of brined chicken, outside crispier than a bag of Walkers and poultry more tender than Damon Albarn with a guitar and a choir. They are dressed in the white of buttermilk which has a pleasing cheesy acidity loitering around and a little amount of something fermented and red which might well be Jeremy Corbyn. Even the chips are good; probably from a bag – which is perfectly understandable given the size of the kitchen – they have a liberal dusting of something spicy, a kewpie Mayo, and a gochujang ketchup which tastes like the angrier sibling of Heinz. It’s a very enjoyable lunch, more so when my mate who I’m down to visit picks up the bill. Looking at it now I doubt the greediest of you could spend more than £35 a head.
Afterwards we take the 40 minute walk to Stokes Croft, the air occasionally perfumed with weed and the streets lined with a generation younger than me drinking, be it sat in restaurants or on kerbs. It is here we reach the tiniest of terraces at Filthy XIII. Two hours later and we’ve drank most of the cocktail menu and are getting into a cab with more as takeaway to drink in the garden of my friend’s home. The bar could easily be East London, but it’s quintessentially Bristolian; a louche, laid back example of what happens when you stop worrying about being cool and just concentrate on doing things well. The drinks are superb with a team on top of their game. I’ve got two more visits to Bristol planned this year, and it’s likely more will happen after the success of this trip. I like it here. It’s ace.
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