Harbor House, The Grove, Bristol BS1 4RB. (0117 925 1212). Snacks and starters £4-£9, mains £11-£22, desserts £4-£7.50, wines from £21
For years this was the Bristol restaurant I only passed by on my way to somewhere else. I was always answering the rather confusing calls of the city’s seemingly endless stream of new and diverting food options; For the promise of handmade pasta, or cooked stew, drawing on French country cooking traditions, such as the ghost of Bristol’s most beloved culinary son, Keith Floyd, is calling in. I liked the view of the place, which looms down the side of Bristol’s floating harbour, but nothing made me feel that I should bother to stop.
Ever scanning online reviews for Severnshed, those footprints in the digital snow that leave all restaurants, I can see that it had an interesting history. First, there is the building itself, a boat house designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel when he was working on the Clifton Suspension Bridge in the early 19th century. It became a well-known restaurant in the late 1990s, with a chef boasting over time at the River Café on his CV. In 2000 it housed an exhibition by some cult local artist called Banksy. The restaurant changed hands, and began to go downhill, culminating in the moment in 2018 when a customer complained that they were charged £13 for serving a £1.15 Asda Camembert. They knew it was an original Camembert because it was still in its cover. The cook was fired.
Eventually, just before the first lockdown, the previous company went into receivership. Now reborn as Harbor House, local chef Ross Gibbons oversees the kitchen, and turns his eyes west to Cornwall. Much of their menu seems serviceable rather than diverting: a Caesar salad and a club sandwich, a burger, a risotto, steak and chips. But at its heart lies “seafood from the south-west” and a list of dishes specifically celebrating the Cornish fishing village of St Mawes. This is where the main verb is.
Before we get into that action, let me say this: The Harbor House is just an idyllic spot. On a hot summer day, the wide-vaulted dining room, with its greenery and nude terraces, is lit up with sunlight that bounces out of the harbor waters. We are shown through the door on deck, once again filled with all that dizzy, relaxed crap you get from people who know they’ve been out of luck. They are happy to be here on the water’s edge with a view of multicolored houses along the way. The youth team is also looking very happy to have him here. With all this the food’s job is pretty simple: don’t give a shit. This is not bullshit.
To nibble on, we start with their “posh” onion rings, because I’m a sucker for anything that shows itself as sharp stripes. I don’t know about posh but they sure are gorgeous and powerful. They’re large, round, fudgy cases, battered to a battering crunch, and come with a thick tartare sauce worthy of the name. This is quite a snack for a fiveer. The rest of our choices come from that seafood menu. Ribbons of pickled cucumbers tossed with mint leaves and wasabi glaze, is a grilled mackerel fillet, its quicksilver skin bubbling and blistering. Three thick scallops from the day’s special list, with chunks of chorizo on heavy mayo with saffron, come across a plate as a military column.
A seafood for £17.50 that the clumsy £46 offer from Il Boro last week would be completely ashamed of itself, a big old mess of brown and white crab meat, prawns and mussels in a seafood bisque Which is rich enough that he can buy himself one of those yachts with a jetski on his back. A great piece of cod accompanies the mildly bitter delights of cavolo nero, with a few more nuggets of chorizo on a spicy stew of tomato white beans. We have chips, really good, because we are from the water. That’s my excuse. Is it all executed perfectly? No good, not at all. The mackerel dish has a slightly keen hand on salt; The cod could have stopped cooking 15 seconds earlier. But when you look at the pricing and offer, the relaxing beauty of this deck in the heart of Bristol, these little things only count as an overview, not a go-to for details.
The dessert list stops at all stations in Sweet English Cross. There is a lemon tart and a sticky toffee pudding and an Eton Mess. But there is also a profitroll tower, £10 for two. This is one of those goldfish bowl-sized glasses that hen nights drink before good ideas spoil, filled with perfectly made golf ball-sized profiteroles, Chantilly cream, and a couple of strawberries. A small pan of hot chocolate sauce is poured over it. If you want me to describe this childlike joy, you have suffered a colossal failure of the imagination. Recognizing that I should have stayed here when it was Severnshed back in the day, I can finally confess to my delight that I have stayed here now that it is Harbor House.
I was in Bristol to interview my stunt double, the always-happy Rev. Richard Coles, who recently picked up a professional knife and fork while I was down with Lergie. He has just published his first novel, which is extremely entertaining murder before evensong, and after interrogating him in front of a loyal audience of Bristol we headed to Cotto Wine Bar & Kitchen. This is the new location on St. Stephens Street from the skilled team behind, among others, Pasta Ripiena and Bianchi. It’s everything I love about the little restaurant in town: a clever interior that looks like it was knocked down using plywood, an Allen key, and a few tins of eggshells; A small Italian-influenced menu filled with good things at great prices, and an up-and-coming vibe.
We have Braised Then Crisp Lamb Belly with Salsa Verde and Thumpingly Bitter Radicchio, and Steak Tagliatta with Rocket and Parmesan Salad. We share a polenta cake with a thick layer of chocolate ganache and then stumble up the hill at our hotel powered by a funky wine, but don’t ask me its name because it was late and I can’t officially review Had been. The point is this: all was well with the world and everything was perfect with Bristol. as always.
Jeremy Clarkson says he has found a loophole in planning rules, meaning he can now open a restaurant at his Didley Squat farm in Oxfordshire, although an application was turned down by the local council earlier this year . Chef Pip Lacy of Hicks in King’s Cross will oversee the ‘alfresco diner’ and strive to use only ingredients from the property featured on his Amazon Prime show. Clarkson’s Farm, There’s no menu, but according to the blurb on booking site OpenTable, ‘it’s small, mostly outdoors and very rustic. Ordering a beer and going to the toilet isn’t as easy as your local pub and we don’t cater to the faddies.’ The set menu costs £69 per. For more, go here.
Newcastle City Council has introduced new rules stipulating that all pubs, bars and restaurants in the city that serve alcohol must terminate employees with taxi homes after 11.30 pm. An alcohol license will be required to arrange taxis for late night workers. Newcastle is the first council in England to make decisions, but follows similar plans by the two Scottish councils.
The company behind Brighton’s Shelter Food Hall is opening a venue called Sessions in Islington, London, next month. It will have only four outlets at a time, run by a rotating roster of chefs. The opening lineup includes Jay Morjaria’s Korean Inflected Tiger and Rabbit, and Zoe Edjonoh’s Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (sessionsmarket.co.uk).