Tag Archives: restaurants

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...

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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

Eating a path across Glasgow

6 Sep

I recently spent two days in Glasgow, one of my favourite cities, but one in which I’d always reckoned it necessary to be flush with cash to enjoy. Not so, as the following proved:

  1. The Banana Leaf: I’d heard good things about this South Indian canteen on the fringes of the West End. Walk there down St Vincent Street and Argyle Street from town for a snapshot of why Glasgow can look more exciting than any other UK city.

    Century-old mini-skyscrapers (the reason film shoots such as the one for World War Z, the upcoming, Brad Pitt starring zombie thriller, use Glasgow as a stand-in for US cities) give way to vast slab blocks looming over a motorway canyon gouged into the earth, and finally to a landscape of genteel-looking tenements, where the tiny Banana Leaf can be found.

    A shared starter of Kozhi Varuval (marinated spiced chunks aka ‘Chicken 65‘), a giant, crisp masala dosa and a portion of rich curry came in at under £15. Worth a trek for even if you couldn’t care less about the surroundings.

  2. Black Sheep Bistro: finding this place was as simple as taking a punt on the number one Glasgow restaurant, according to TripAdvisor. A risky strategy maybe, but one that paid off (literally) in massive platefuls.

    Kitted out in a knick-knack strewn style that feels as if you’ve rocked up at someone’s home, and boasting an impressive disregard for food presentation, Black Sheep is not a place to go for trendy dining. But if the idea of tanning a solid, delicious portion of haggis, neeps & tatties before you’ve even moved onto a gloriously throwback main of beef olives fills you with greedy glee, then you should head here without delay. With a dirt-cheap wine list also part of the fun, Black Sheep Bistro gets a king-sized thumbs up.
  3. Where The Monkey Sleeps: in search of somewhere to get a sandwich in the city centre the next day, a list published in the Guardian last year provided the goods. Budgetary constraints meant that I only got a tuna butty from here, but packed with dill and dijon, and eaten sat in the sunshine at the top of the Necropolis, it was a proper treat.

Chai Street: if you were the last curry in Cardiff

23 Aug


A few weeks ago I decamped to Bristol for work, chalking up one final budget Cardiff chow-down at Chai Street, Anand George’s Indian street-food outlet on Whitchurch Road (the last bit of town you’d associate with street-food) before doing so.

This blog kicked off 10 months ago with an entry about traipsing through Grangetown in search of the Vegetarian Food Studio’s thalis, so it seems appropriate to end its Cardiff existence by reviewing a similar meal.

If I’d have been feeling more flush I might’ve headed next door to CS’s big brother Mint & Mustard for a farewell blowout. But had I done so I’d have been deprived of a) one of the best returns I had on a tenner in South Wales and b) the chance to write it up here.

Hitting Chai Street rather than thali benchmark VFS gets you tightly-packed leathery seats, garish Bollywood meets pop art décor, and (obviously) a more aspirational postcode in which to eat your platter. These little luxuries mean you pay about a quid extra for your selection of small dishes, but getting change from £7 for a meal is still ridiculously reasonable.

And sad to say it, but it seems the best thalis in Cardiff are no longer being made west of the Taff.

Chai Street may be on the cramped side, but there’s no mystery as to why they’re cramming punters in. A creamy cow-pea dal, a dry, pungent potato dish and a rich, moist chicken one were all distinctively spiced, with curry leaves the most dominant – though not overpowering – flavour. Rice, bread, a shared side of lamb patties and cardamom-heavy masala chai rounded out a meal that’d suck me back regularly had I not so rudely skipped town.

Canteen on Clifton Street

9 Mar

I like walking through Adamsdown on my way to town. The terraces are a different colour, but it reminds me of my walk into town in Preston as a teenager. The Royal Oak is a fantastic old boozer to pop into for an early evening pint. Oh, and the area has the coolest set of street names I’ve seen anywhere.

I had spotted Canteen on Clifton Street on one such stroll and had been keen to try it out for ages. As a meat eater who also cooks plenty of veggie food, I was intrigued by a place willing to stand or fall on the strengths of a vegetarian selection, while also offering the olive branch of a single carnivore-friendly dish per menu. Plus it was tailor-made for this blog for the following reasons:

  • It’s in an area that probably isn’t first on most people’s lists if they are thinking of going out to eat.
  • Despite some glowing online reviews, surprisingly few people I know have heard of it.
  • On paper it offers strong value for money, clocking in at £12.50 for two courses or £14.50 for three.

The Canteen itself is basic, functional and homely, sitting on a stretch of Clifton Street where most of its neighbours are chicken joints and late-night shops. The menu changes approximately every three weeks – owner / chef Wayne Thomas reckons this gives the small kitchen enough time to be effortlessly turning out dishes like a well-oiled machine, but not so much that they get bored with them.

As the new menu had just come on, I wondered if I  would be in for a slightly hit-and-miss experience. What I got instead was probably the best meal out of my short time in Cardiff. Starters of gnocchi with squash and mushrooms, and a vegetable purse with onion jam and cucumber “noodles” were richly flavoured and of exactly the right size to take the edge off an appetite, without blunting the desire to stuff main courses into one’s face.

The solitary meat dish, a beef rendang, was an ace bit of slow-cooked comfort food and got dispatched accordingly. Sticky toffee pudding could have been a couple of degrees stickier but was sauced-up enough to make this only a teensy gripe.

If you’re after dining in refined surroundings or having swanky bars to move onto afterwards then Canteen might not float your boat. If however you want to eat adventurously and without slaying your pocket, I’d recommend a trip down Clifton Street.