Colourful and hilly, dotted with street art and that famous suspension bridge, Bristol has a great energy. Known for its buzzing cultural scene, Bristol is also packed with independent restaurants, bars and cafes, the eating and drinking options are surprising for a city of its size. Of course, there are the chains as with everywhere, but you can comfortably avoid them. Bristol is a creative city and this is reflected everywhere.
A couple of hours from London, Bristol makes a great getaway for a Londoner in need of a little break for a few days or for someone visiting London looking to experience a vibrant city outside the capital as part of their visit. Arrange your visit around the Bristol Flea Market also, if you love to find vintage bits and pieces like me.
As always, all of these recommendations are tried and tested and only make my list if I absolutely rate them. This list has been put together over multiple trips to Bristol over many years.
Bristol’s Best Eats
My first stop once I get off the train is always Hart’s Bakery. It is a little slice of joy tucked in a railway arch by the station and a a must visit, even if you don’t get the train in. You will be greeted by a queue and a packed room but things move quickly here, so don’t worry about that. It is always worth ordering the special, which sells out quickly so go early. On my last visit I got the last one at 12.40pm, an excellent jerk chicken sandwich in a firm and fluffy bun. I was tempted by all sorts of things so also took with me for later a black pudding and pork sausage roll and a potato, aubergine and cauliflower pasty. They were both excellent, with brilliant pastry surrounding a filling that matched it for attention.
A neighbourhood restaurant in an old corner shop, I loved lunch here. They grow much of their own veg and have a seasonal menu based around it. A Bristol gin from Psychopomp and tonic started us off. We started otherwise with briney Portland pearl oysters and apple ice and pumpkin fritters with mustard mayo and sage and a poached egg with celeriac and mushroom broth. Not just any pumpkin fritters, the flesh of this pumpkin was deep orange, dense and rich. For mains a salt beef dish with winter veg, gherkin and horseradish. It is all about the detail here, that gherkin was so bright, it was a lovely dish. My friend loved the Jerusalem artichoke, onion and Hafod tart (and she loves Birch generally, I was there on her recommendation). Dessert was a gorgeous buttermilk pudding with baked pear, apple and walnut for my friend. I had a simple lovely scoop of house pear sorbet.
From the team behind much loved Casamia, Paco tapas is a modern take on a tapas bar selling very well executed traditional Spanish food with a British twist. Much of the food is cooked over charcoal and I recommend a seat at the bar to absorb the theatre of it all. I loved the flamenco eggs (an egg in a tomato and jamon sauce cooked over the coals) and the presa iberica ( I recommend that you request it rare as they serve it medium and I find rare to be better). The patatas bravas are pretty excellent here too. There is a great wine and sherry list with lots of options by the glass.
Head up to Clifton for Sunday brunch at Wallfish. Located in the premises of Keith Floyd’s Bristol restaurant, it is a gorgeous place. Start with a bloody mary with fresh grated horseradish. Wallfish do a pretty excellent full English breakfast, but the start of the show here is the meat free option of fried duck egg with potato terrine, chanterelles and parmesan. I loved the merguez with lentils also. Clifton is gorgeous so allow time to have a wander there also. It is also where the suspension bridge is if you fancy taking a wander over to that.
A natural wine bar serving good food, my first experience of Bar Buvette was during a pop up from Scarpetti & Gublin, an Argentinian chef (and one of Francis Mallman’s executive chefs, on a break before heading to Chile to launch their next restaurant) and Parisian mixologist. We enjoyed a night of excellent and curious cocktails (adored the gin based cocktail of Hoppy gin, sake, homemade almond milk, camomile and lemon ash) and some very good food. I tried some lovely wines there too, and I am already looking forward to my next visit.
Bell’s Diner & Bar Rooms
Cute and cosy, Bells Diner in Montpelier is all about the atmosphere as well as the food. Surrounded by streets full of street art, make sure you allow time to explore that as well as eat here. Music is played from a record player, which yes, is not unusual these days, but it is lovely too. The food is described as modern Mediterranean, there is some spice at play here and clear North African influences. There are interesting wines also. My visit was too quick as I was in a rush but I loved the Bell’s pickles and the Turkish falafel with tahini sauce.
Best Cheap Eats in Bristol
Grillstock in St Nicholas Market serves up authentic Southern BBQ. It was packed the day I visited, just hitting the end of what was a very long queue. I had the slow cooked brisket with a white horseradish BBQ sauce and jalapeños. Great flavour, and texture. Yielding but with bite. I should mention the jalapeños with cream cheese wrapped in bacon because you just should.
Sticks n Broth
Decent ramen with excellent lunch deals, well worth a visit if you want something quick and inexpensive. There is also yakitori and donburi on the menu.
Best Coffee in Bristol
There are two speciality cafés in Bristol which I really enjoyed, and they are quite close to each other. Full Court Press and Small St Espresso.
Late Night Drinks in Bristol
We often end up here when I am in town. Fun spot with lots of craft beers (31 beer taps) and open until 1am on Friday and Saturday nights, 12.30am on other nights.
Where to Stay in Bristol
The Bristol is a very comfortable contemporary hotel very well located in downtown Bristol on the harbourside. Part of The Doyle Collection, all of the important things are done very well here, comfortable beds, excellent sheets and everything you need in your room. Service is friendly and helpful. A buffet breakfast is available. The first time I stayed there was to review it for work (and this visit was comped), it is now my hotel of choice when I visit and I heartily recommend it.