Tag Archives: Bristol

A diet for the breadline?

25 Jun

Over the past seven days the Guardian has run a number of articles on what it terms Breadline Britain, highlighting people struggling by, and in many cases working hard to do so, in a condition one slip away from being unable to make ends meet.

Giving the lie to the pernicious myth – ably assisted in recent times by Iain Duncan Smith – that the poor are scroungers who should try a bit harder if they want to do better for themselves, the series struck a chord with me.

Closer to the trapdoor

During the six years I worked in social housing, I read hundreds of homeless case files of people seeking a council property. Many of the neediest had been dealt a heartbreakingly shitty hand from the outset – and yes, a proportion were trying to chisel the system.

But it was always striking to see instances where a divorce, debt problems or simple misfortune had ripped the rug out from under seemingly settled lives. For many, the ongoing erosion of the UK’s welfare safety-net is bringing these kinds of scenarios nearer.

I got a milder taste of austerity after coming to Bristol last summer, thousands in debt after retraining, to start a £15,000 entry-level journalism job. On my second day I learned my team was being axed and that redundancy was imminent; my girlfriend, who moved with me, was unable to find full-time work.

We turned the situation around thanks to luck – and the privilege of having qualifications, job experience and families seemingly desperate to part with the odd tenner. But I can confirm that watching rent and bills swallow three quarters of earnings while interest on money owed ticks upwards is a bit stressful.

Eating happier

During those months, having something decent for tea was about as exciting as life got. So I was unsurprised that some of the case studies in the Breadline Britain series vented frustrations that they couldn’t manage to eat healthily.

But interestingly, next to the tales of hardship was a report on prison food, costing £1.87 a day for each adult, which hinged on the argument that good food could be prepared from fresh for “a fraction of the cost” of foodstuffs “in a packet or a tin” – and had a pronounced impact on self esteem.

Drawing a comparison between incarceration and working poverty would be glib, and stupid on a number of levels, but that £1.87 figure – the cost of four chocolate bars, and less than the minimum daily patient spend in NHS hospitals – got me thinking about how far I’d be able to cut things back, while still actually enjoying eating.

So later this week I’ll be devoting a few posts to exploring what you can do for £2 a day; it’s the kind of thing this blog was originally intended for.

A food poverty trap?

19 Dec


Interesting Guardian article by Zoe Williams this week, framing the links between poverty, bad eating and poor health as a consequence of economics, not just education.

It riffs on a lighthearted piece at the Student Beans website about cooking a cheap and cheerful/nasty Christmas dinner out of processed food, making the point that if a site was discussing hard-up people other than studes (“the acceptable face of poverty”) doing the same, the tone would be pretty different.

I wrote a list two weeks ago about some of the independent retailers I’ve found to buy good food for relatively little cash since moving to Bristol. Having the choice to shop at these places is down to a couple of factors:

  • Living in the inner city, close to the intersections of many different areas. On one side is a main road packed with independent supermarkets catering to local BME communities; on the other a neighbourhood heavily populated by relatively affluent hippies and their brethren in which local food shops are a given.
  • Being young and mobile enough to get to these different places by bike and therefore shop cheaply – or do the same at a big supermarket – meaning the lack of a car isn’t an issue.

In north Sheffield, where I worked for five years, many outlying areas where money is tightest and car ownership lowest have fewest amenities – so least choice – within easy walking distance. This pattern is typical of many parts of the UK, especially in today’s chilly financial climate.

Education about eating well is clearly important – it’s grim as hell meeting kids barely able to identify a vegetable or a piece of meat. But if keeping your family fed is manageable from your local cut-price freezer centre, and a struggle from the expensive supermarket franchise next door, then putting that theory into practice isn’t necessarily straightforward.

Bristol independents: the no-Tesco challenge

29 Nov

Stokes Croft Tesco has been back in the news in the last week, owing to a petition calling for an inquiry into police handling of disturbances around the shop when it opened in April. This prompted me to get round to writing this post, which I’d been intending to do for ages.


I followed the No Tesco saga in the national news prior to moving to Bristol. I agree with protestors that Express-style supermarket franchises tend to be cash-vampires of the worst kind, flogging price-inflated branded goods and fruit/veg in individual eco-hating “plastic prisons” (© Tom James).

And yes, 40 outlets in one city smacks of a greedy monopoly. It’s encouraging that passing by the shop gives the impression residents are indeed voting with their wallets: it always looks pretty empty.

From the tone of some of the rhetoric at the time, though, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Stokes Croft is hiving with independent food marts, waiting to be cut down in their prime by the unwelcome agent of capitalism.

Not so (at least not at the moment*) – a quick walk from town to the junction of Ashley Road reveals plenty for those seeking pubs, cafes and massage parlours, and a few small outlets selling some groceries, but nowhere to buy a weekly shop.

Viable alternatives

After taking a flat in St Pauls – a stone’s throw from Stokes Croft – I wondered where, if you were working longish hours, on a moderate budget (£35 per week for two people in my case), and without a car, you could shop while avoiding a journey by bus or bike to a larger store such as the Tesco at Eastville.

Anti-supermarket diatribes frequently duck the issue of whether most people have the time or money to make using the alternatives viable (to be fair, the No Tesco blog did conduct a price comparison, but this only listed a few basics).

But after a couple of months here, I reckon all the shops on the list below are well worthy of support – if you’re reading this then I’d be interested to hear other recommendations, especially if you live elsewhere in the city.

I may be stating the bleeding obvious to longer-term residents of Bristol, but a visit to most of them is possible in a similar time – and at an equivalent cost – as a trip to a large supermarket.

  • Gardners Patch, 159 Gloucester Road: Ace greengrocers stocking well-priced, mostly UK produce including harder-to-find ingredients such as artichokes and pak choi.
  • Bristanbul, 137 Gloucester Road: Turkish bakery and patisserie selling gigantic flatbreads that you can live off for days – at 79p a pop.
  • The Breadstore, 45 Gloucester Road: Delicious English loaves at little more than supermarket prices.
  • Licata & Son, 36 Picton Street: When I saw this Italian deli and importers, I said something sneery about it looking like a nice place to shop if you’re minted. Then I went inside and realised you could get most of your canned and dry goods – plus cheese and cured meats – at megastore-comparable prices.
  • Grosvenor Supermarket, 102-104 Grosvenor Road: My local convenience store, stocking a decent range of fresh and store-cupboard food. Worth a visit just for the range of hot pepper sauces.
  • Malik’s, 24 Stapleton Road: A strong range of exotic (and not so exotic) veg, fresh herbs, pulses and spices. Open late and friendly staff – and thanks to their second business selling beauty products, you can now browse their products online.

*This situation could well be set to change in the near future, if the planned Stokes Croft People’s Supermarket manages to get off the ground. I’m aiming to be writing more on this some time soon.

Grosvenor Supermarket stocks a dangerously wide range of hot sauce

Day of the Dead at 40 Alfred Place

2 Nov

You need feeding, you've got no colour in your cheeks...


I’ve always been drawn to the Mexican Day of the Dead, both as a positive celebration of loved ones who’ve died, and because of the fantastically ornate, skull-based imagery associated with the festival: so much better-looking than Halloween.

So when I hear about a Mexican Cantina night in honour of Dia de los Muertos at permanent pop-up joint 40 Alfred Place, located up in Kingsdown’s Dickensian splendour, I’m on it faster than a slamming coffin lid.

Smile, the tequila is free.


At £19.50 for three courses it’s a more expensive affair than most of what gets featured on this blog – but doesn’t come up short in the value for money stakes.

Free shots of gold tequila are followed by a two-part starter: plump, spicy fried chicken wings that pose a serious grease-threat to skull makeup, and a simple platter of nachos with cheese, salsa and exceptional guacamole, served tapas-style from little enamel dishes. A bottle of decent Spanish red costs £12.50.

Showing off over the starters.


It might be argued that the main course of chilli pursues a slightly unimaginative tack, but the rich, seemingly chipotle-packed dish of slow-cooked, chunky beef bears little resemblance to yer standard con carne.

Puds of vanilla ice-cream with chilli-chocolate sauce, fried bananas in tequila (a combo that bizarrely, but deliciously, winds up tasting like rhubarb) and more complementary tequila ensure there are a couple of happily bloated corpses rolling out the door.

Props to hosts Polly and Kate and their chefs for the night – this is straightforward food, but done with unarguable flair. Keep an eye on Twitter for what’s up next.

Why fried bananas in tequila should taste of rhubarb is anyone's guess...

Siam Angel, Bristol

19 Oct

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A newly-opened, budget Thai-English hybrid cafe, Siam Angel was an obvious choice as a first proper Briz review on this blog.

Tucked away behind the library on St Georges Rd, the vibe initially leans toward the greasy spoon end of the scale. Classically Brit plates of (nice-looking) poached eggs on sliced white toast are brought outdoors to punters squeezing the dregs out of the autumn sunshine, next to homemade signs making sure you know that the same pleasure can be yours for £1.50.

Inside is all clean, functional and comfy coffee shop styles – apart from the short, straight to the point Thai menu on the wall offering staple soups, starters, curries, noodles and Pad Thai: at £2.99 for small plates and £2 more for all-in mains.

Time being short, it’s a bowl of tom yum soup each, an order of prawn and chicken toast to share, and a pot of jasmine tea to drink.

The toast, topped with black and white sesame seeds, is pretty as well as crunchy and tasty. Its lifespan is measured in seconds.

The soup packs decent-tasting, non-rubbery chicken pieces as well as sliced mushrooms. It is sweet, fresh and zinging, its lemongrass and galangal balanced with a forehead-warming dose of birds-eye chillies, apparently missing when Bristol Bites came calling recently.

The bill for two comes to just £10.30. If you go there in the evening you can bring your own booze. The two blokes running the place are chatty and amiable. In short, a no-brainer.

Style over substance: Bristol’s best restaurants?

10 Oct

As a relative newcomer to Bristol, and a massive food-lover just about finding my feet financially, I was pleased to find a Google alert titled Top 10 restaurants in Bristol pinging into my inbox a few days ago.

I didn’t expect revelations from the Bristol Evening Post piece. However, soon after noticing that the article was actually subtitled ‘Top 10 places to dine in style’ I realised I was going to get very little in the way of enlightenment.

Pointing out at that some of a city’s restaurants occupy amazing buildings is a good idea, but what purpose does it serve if discussion of the actual food served goes no further than “has won numerous awards” or “offers a seafood menu”?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been lured into eating somewhere because of its location, interior or menu – only to be hugely disappointed by what arrives on my plate.

I love interesting architecture and good design, but somewhere selling food should stand or fall on that basis – everything else is secondary.

The place I’ve eaten more than anywhere else in my adult life is Zeugma in Sheffield. The key visual treat of a trip to this nondescript shopfront is watching a middle-aged bloke turning skewers with an expression of Zen-like calm on his face (seemingly weathered by a working life lived within centimetres of a glowing charcoal grill).

All filler, all killer: Sheffield's Zeugma consistently delivers the goods (photo courtesy of Nigel Barker).


All this is neither here nor there because the food has been consistently excellent since Zeugma opened over five years ago – so much so that the owners had to fit out a second branch a few metres down the road because the original was too busy.

Anyway, I digress – if anyone would like to offer suggestions as to where the best actual food in Bristol can be found, comment below, drop me an email or tweet at me. Might even give me some other things to rant about, down the line.

Mission Burrito, Bath

18 Sep

I lined up with my colleagues in the middle of a downpour a couple of weeks ago, as the new branch of small ‘Cal-Mex’ chain Mission Burrito was opening in Bath – and they were giving away burritos for free.


Despite loving Mexican food, I must admit my giddy excitement was tinged with a degree of cynicism about Mission Burrito, mainly because the spiel on their website rather bangs on about offering an ‘authentic experience’ – something that inevitably carries a slight tang of BS about it.

To recap, the Mission District in San Francisco (ironically somewhere that has fought a battle against being commodified and gentrified over the past 15 years) was the birthplace of a different breed of burrito. It’s a flavour of the area’s taquerias that Mission Burrito UK, also with branches in Reading, Bristol and Oxford, claims to offer.

The presence of a mariachi band, looking bemused in the pissing rain, failed to convince me that I was in urban California, but did keep people in the hour-long queue amused (or annoyed). The process of getting served is identical to other Mex fast-food outlets such as Manchester’s excellent, benchmark-setting Barburrito, ie you choose from fillings Subway-style, but with the promise of better food at the end. Credit to Mission’s staff for turning out hundreds of the damn things like clockwork.

So was it worth the wait? Well, my carnitas (shredded slow-roasted pork) burrito could have contained a tad more meat, but what was in there was delicious. So too was the smoky chipotle salsa (the menu offers four sauces to choose from, from the lily-livered Pico de Gallo to the mouth-threatening Habanero). The tortilla encasing it wasn’t a soggy specimen such as Bristol Culture encountered on a previous free burrito day. And – bonus – I felt like I’d actually eaten something decent and solid, and was still full three hours later. As were most of my workmates.

Obviously for zero cash, Mission was unlikely to disappoint, but I’d be happy to recommend shelling out the fiver that a burrito will set you back under normal circumstances. The chain needn’t try so hard to be the real this or that; they can stand on the strength of their food.

Mission Burrito is at 4 New Street, Bath BA1 2AF