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29 July 2014

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Focus on: restaurants in Bristol

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Bordeaux Quay Brasserie - Bordeaux_Quay_2011_-_IMG_6555_crop.jpgBristol is home to the Organic Food Festival, the Soil Association and a monthly ‘slow food’ market, so it's no wonder that there's an ethical dimension to many of the city's eateries. Its best restaurants also care about provenance, sourcing high-quality (often organic) ingredients from artisan growers and producers in the region. Veggie and vegan co-operatives are common, and sustainable practices such as reducing waste and community food education are everywhere. Eco-virtues are often practised and nearly always preached here.

Bristol boasts plenty of cheery caffs and easy-going eateries, but neither ‘fine dining’ nor culinary risk-taking seem to be a top priority here (with one or two notable exceptions). Given the wealth of excellent produce on its doorstep, you might expect the city to have a more innovative restaurant scene – perhaps that's a reason why many Bristol residents prefer to stay home and cook for themselves. Still, if you're after wholesome, economical and environmentally sound food, there are plenty of possibilities.

Bell's Diner

Despite successfully serving the bohemian quarter of Montpelier since the 70s, chef/proprietor Christopher Wicks has never been one to rest on his laurels. The food here is constantly evolving (consider the likes of monkfish with chicken wings or sea bass with hibiscus), though the setting remains rustically charming. The cosy bistro was formerly a grocer’s, and retains some of the shop's original paraphernalia.

Bordeaux Quay

Satisfy your eco-conscience, as well as your taste buds and aesthetic appreciation, with a visit to this warehouse conversion on Bristol's regenerated waterfront. Every element of Bordeaux Quay (pictured, top right) was designed to reduce its environmental footprint – just notice how perfectly the massive windows not only provide natural ventilation and less need for artificial lighting, but also present a marvellous view over the river.

Casamia_2011_-_IMG_0117.jpgCasamia

Brothers Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias are the proud owners of the city's only Michelin-starred restaurant (pictured, left), and provide foodies with their fix of foams, mousses, caviars, gels and other Heston-esque wizardry in this smart, out-of-town gaff. Expect dramatic touches aplenty – perhaps a steaming bucket of Amalfi lemons adding to the sensory thrills of lemon sorbet.

Culinaria

Stephen and Judy Markwick have more than 30 years’ experience running restaurants in Bristol, and their third (and definitely final) outfit captures exactly what local food-savvy residents are after: the menu's short and changes every week, many of their seasonal dishes are available to take out, and they’ve also started to serve early pre-show suppers for punters visiting the little fringe theatre across the road. Oh, and their pasties are legendary.

Flinty Red

You could easily walk past this unassuming little wine-focused bistro on Cotham Hill, but that would be a mistake. The crew behind Flinty Red are also in the wine business and know their stuff. With its roving list of 14 European-based tipples by the glass and a choice of tapas-style or larger plates of classy, well-sourced food, this modest venue consistently delivers.

bristol_istock - iStock_000001018014_Bristol1.jpg

The Lido

Whether you're still in robes post-swim, joining the baby brigade for some lunchtime tapas or visiting the upstairs destination restaurant for an evening meal, the Lido's light-touch, Moroccan-influenced cooking is just the ticket. Chef Freddy Bird serves some of the most interesting and consistently good food in the city in this unique restored Victorian lido and spa – you can even watch swimmers in the 24-metre outdoor pool.

Maitreya Social

Having honed his whole-earth cooking credentials in the hippie surrounds of St Werburgh's Farm Café, the new chef/owner of Maitreya Social knows his veggie food. Formerly Café Maitreya, this big hitter is dusting itself off after a revamp and some re-branding; it’s now open all day, hosting music and arts events alongside its unpretentious, meat-free food.

The Muset by Ronnie

In early 2011, Ron Faulkner (of Ronnie’s in Thornbury fame) took over the site of Clifton stalwart the Muset, retaining the name of the restaurant for nostalgia's sake, but offering a spruced-up new incarnation. Head chef Dave Underwood has a flair for clever combinations of ingredients – watch him at work by booking a place at the chef's table.

bristol_istock - iStock_000006512712_Bristol3.jpgRockfish

Seafood crusader and occasional TV chef Mitch Tonks cleverly set up the Bristol outlet of Rockfish with one of the city's most talented chefs Jake Platt a few years ago. And Bristol is all the better for having a decent fish restaurant that sources respectfully and delivers some of the best piscine dishes in town. Factor in a pleasingly old-fashioned setting and it’s easy to see why this place is a winner.

The Thali Café

The guys behind this mini-chain of Indian cafés started out on the festival circuit with their mainly vegetarian thalis and dosas. The four venues now dotted across the city vary in style from shabby-chic to unadulterated Indian kitsch – think authentic Indian street-market stalls recreated with a hangover of rock-fest cool. They have an ethical outlook too – witness their environmentally sustainable, takeaway tiffin boxes.

Read Square Meal's selection of Bristol bars and pubs.

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