Posted 28th March 2014
Are there any corners of Bristol that don’t have a hidden gem of a restaurant waiting to be discovered? I seriously doubt it. Everywhere you turn there are new restaurants popping up, and not just any old restaurants either, I’m talking about the understated, cool places like The Office Bar and Canteen who are championing local, seasonal produce and really can cook.
It’s not very often that I venture to this side of the river (something we are planning to rectify). But after various ongoing frustrations with First buses, I’ve started taking advantage of Bristol’s little train line, which made a night out to The Office a mini adventure. It would have taken just 15 minutes to walk from Temple Meads too, had we not walked straight past the restaurant the first time around. It was the law firm’s sign (you’ll know what I mean when you go there) that threw us, although we have since learnt that it is the understated ‘off the beaten track’ feel that The Office is going for.
From outside, The Office looks more like a bar than a restaurant, with its low lights and steamy windows drawing us in. Inside, it’s the sort of space you know that Russell Norman would approve of. Exposed brick wall on one side, bright blue padded seats along the wall, rustic wooden tables and benches and huge ceiling lights. It’s intimate, but well proportioned and the dimmed lighting and Lauren Hill crooning in the background created the sort of atmosphere that makes you want to settle in for the night.
We ordered some wine (the Australian Sauvignon Blanc is delicious) and drooled over the menu. The chef, Matt Elliott (formerly Bordeaux Quay), is young, but that is definitely no bad thing judging by the fact that I would have happily ordered anything on the menu. Split into meat, seafood and vegetables, the menu is made up of seasonal small plates ranging from £3.50 and £7.00 in price. Being so tempted by everything, we asked for a selection of their choice. I am a huge fan of small plate eating and it is something that seems to do well in Bristol, with the likes of Bravas, Poco and Bells Diner all proving that this concept is here to stay.
One by one our selection of dishes began to arrive. Being impatient we got stuck in, starting with the chargrilled cauliflower with harissa and yogurt. I loved this dish so much that I have since tried to replicate it at home and it has become my new favourite way to cook cauliflower. Sharp and hot with a good bite to it, I encourage all cauliflower doubters to try it. Next came a dish that had been recommended to me on Twitter – the purple sprouting tempura with salsa verde – what a perfect combination, the sort that makes you wonder why you haven’t had it before. Crunchy, but tender and the tangy contrast of the green sauce cut right through the batter.
Along came a carrot salad next, a selection of heritage carrots of all shapes and sizes, perfectly cooked and complimenting each other. The stand out dish of the evening however, was the hake with clams and capers, oh boy was that good. Cooked on the bone, the fish was perfectly moist and the simple fact is that the combination of clams, capers, fish and butter is hard to beat. We also tried the chargrilled chicken on baby gem lettuce – yet another hit.
Full and satisfied after trying such a broad selection of dishes, I didn’t think I had room for pudding, until I realised that the special was rhubarb and custard profiteroles. Two of my favourite things combined meant I just couldn’t resist. Although the small plates were the highlight of the evening, the pudding was pretty good too, offering a piquant rhubarb flavour and homemade custard filling.
Totterdown residents must be so grateful to have The Office on their doorstep, but it is well worth the trip wherever you are in the city!
The Office Bar and Canteen
172 Wells Road, Bristol, BS4 2AL