Whether it was luck, fate or divine providence that originally steered me to call in at the unprepossessing Pony and Trap on a country lane just outside Bristol remains unclear, but whichever the cause, it was a decision that has led to me visiting again as regularly as I can ever since.
While then it was simply a convenient stop with a nice view on the run to the airport from Bath, having sussed immediately that this was no ordinary pub kitchen I have now made it one of my favourite local destinations for excellent food.
And I’m not the only one. Three years and one Michelin star later and I am sitting in the unpretentious snug at the front of the pub with head chef Josh Eggleton and his business partner Nick Roberts who are taking time to talk with me after another full-house shift. While he brings out course after course of spectacularly crafted locally sourced dishes we muse about how and why the Bristol region has evolved so quickly into a quality food destination and they tell me about their new pop up restaurant that opens today in the heart of Bristol’s docklands.
“My friend Luke Hasell is a beef farmer across the road, and he also happens to run an event Tipi business." says Josh, "Last year we decided it would be fun to try out a pop up restaurant serving Sunday lunch on the shores of the nearby lake. It was so successful, we thought we’d push it one step further and try it out in central Bristol.”
So, drafting in Nick with his background in marketing, the three of them pushed through their idea and are now opening their pop up in Bristol for the next two weeks, drawing on burgeoning local talent in the area to showcase their talent and cooking creativity.
The fact that their tipi restaurant now sits slap bang in the middle of Europe’s largest Georgian Square perhaps symbolises the scale of their ambition and vision. It will be open every day between 10am and Midnight (1am weekends) to the walk-in public, with a champagne bar and tapas dishes and a light lunch menu designed by Josh served throughout. During the evening, local star chefs from other restaurants such as Michelin starred Casa Mia, and the highly acclaimed Bell’s Diner will be taking over the kitchen for reservation-only meals. They are already almost completely sold out.
Last night Josh went through his practice run before opening, and Great British Chefs snuck in to sample what’s in store for the next couple of weeks. Sitting at one of the candle-lit communal tables inside the tent we were served up four of the tapas dishes to try: pig twigs, a beef and salt beef slider, scallop pops wrapped in smoky bacon and Somerset fried rabbit.
Attention to presentation has not been spared with the scallops served up on sticks resembling kids’ lollies. The bacon wrapping had been so finely sliced that it created just enough smoky, salty flavour to season the shellfish whose delicate flavour came through just after the initial bite. The somerset fried rabbit was presented in a take-away style bento box which, beyond being a fun visual twist, had the practical purpose of creating a medium to douse them all in lots of fresh lemon juice. These had been fried in breadcrumbs so you could then eat them off the bone.
The slider was a mini burger with an interesting spicy relish and sweet sesame bun, generously sized, with that wonderful crumbly texture only hand crafted burgers have. We finished off with pig twigs; a shear indulgence, long strips of crackling with a dipping apple sauce in an enamel dish. These had been served up at that point everyone’s looking for where the crunchy outer layer and melting inner layer of the crackling had been balanced perfectly.
Bristol’s location perhaps explains why it is so ripe for development into a quality food hub and why there has been such a heady climb in numbers of quality eating establishments in and around the city. The fulcrum of England’s verdant West Country, the economy of which still has a solid base in agriculture, and less then 10 miles from the open sea it is possible to get locally sourced fish, meat and vegetables straight from producer to table with ease.
As the growth in popularity of Bristol’s medieval St Nicholas’ Market has shown, there is a groundswell in this area, with producers clamouring to get in on a scene where a new, young, wealthy inner city clientele has increased demand for quality ingredients and talented, creative menus.
Having just moved down this way I for one have been bowled over by choice in this area and can see I’ll have no trouble satisfying the craving for excellent well sourced food. And for the next two weeks at the least, I know where I’ll be going to get a good overview of what’s on offer.
Where are some of your favourite places for outdoor eating? Have you been to any interesting pop-up restaurants recently? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.