Ping. No, not the dreaded NHS communication telling me to isolate, and not even another expletive-peppered email following last week’s ‘scathing’ review.
This was a much more welcome message from Bristol Live reader Steve Ladd recommending a new restaurant for me to try.
“We’ve visited twice on Saturday evenings and were impressed with the refurbished dining room, the good, honest cooking and value on both occasions,” raved Steve, but there was a ‘but’ coming.
“At 8.30pm on both Saturdays, we were the only diners in sight.”
The restaurant in question was upstairs at The Whitmore Tap, the latest venture from the Butcombe Brewing Co, which is now part of the Channel Islands-based Liberation Group.
Until lockdown this was the Penny Farthing pub but big money has been poured into its transformation from a tired old boozer into a smart new gastropub. The ‘tap room’ downstairs is still aimed more at drinkers although there is a menu of snacks, sandwiches and pub classics such as fish and chips and burgers.
Walk upstairs, however, and the new dining room created out of a former storage area is genuinely impressive with its open kitchen, skylight and private dining room.
With its art deco chandeliers, leather banquettes and antique furniture, the space is elegant, relaxed and the sort of dining room you might expect to find in a posh five-star London hotel, not above a pub facing Clifton Down shopping centre.
Head chef Andrew Prince previously worked in London, most recently at a gastropub in Clerkenwell, and he has based most of his menu around the robata charcoal grill and a drum smoker.
This means most dishes have a smoky, fire-licked element, right through to the desserts.
Unlike reader Steve’s two lonely Saturday visits, we weren’t the only people dining, although there were only three other tables occupied on a Tuesday evening.
But it certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of ebullient, smiley restaurant manager Diego, who brought plenty of Italian passion and professionalism to the evening. Is there a better front-of-house person in Bristol at the moment?
The main menu is concise and descriptions are terse. Prices are sensibly pitched, small plates/starters from £6.50-£8.50 and main courses from £13.95 for ras el hanout-spiced cauliflower steak, baba ghanoush and green salad to £19.50 for the pork tomahawk steak, mustard aioli, sage and braised fennel.
A starter of beef dripping donuts, smoked brisket, honey and soy sauce (£8.25) was as unmissable as it sounds, the three hot, sweet brioche-like donuts split open and filled with the soft, tender beef with a dribble of soy sauce. Smoky beef donuts – three words to quicken any pulse. Boy, they were good. A serious contender for the best pub starter of the year, I say.
Also good was a perfectly made pork and prune terrine (£7.95) that was smooth, peppery, herby and easily spreadable on the ample toasted sourdough (and we were offered more if we needed it – a nice touch).
Main courses also impressed. A precisely cooked whole sea bass (£16.95) was served with a robust and rustic tomato and caper sauce and hasselback potatoes that were fluffy under their crisp, accordion-like exteriors.
Lamb hogget (£18.50) – thin, tender slices of leg and croquettes of slow-cooked shoulder – was teamed with a creamy artichoke purée and triangles of pommes Anna with a pleasing crunch to their buttery edges.
A side of grilled hispi cabbage (£4.25) black and blistered from the coals was sweet and moreish. It certainly didn’t require the overpowering Stilton butter that came with it.
The intelligent and measured use of smoke and fire continued with a juicy, perfectly ripe peach (£6.95) still hot from the robata grill and served with Jackson Pollock-style splashes of basil syrup, peach sorbet and a black pepper tuile.
A smoked chocolate mousse (£7.25) was fluffy and light, with a feint whiff of smoke. Slices of caramelised banana, soft Italian meringue, a loose rubble of maple syrup granola and toffee sauce all enhanced the dish rather than detract from the main element.
Faultless food and impeccable service in a beautiful room hidden from view, The Whitmore Tap just might be the best kept restaurant secret in the city at the moment so hurry up before the word really spreads.
It’s a brilliant new addition to the city’s dining scene and, like most of the food being cooked over the hot coals, this is a restaurant already on fire.
The Whitmore Tap, 115 Whiteladies Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 2PB. Tel: 0117 3259450.
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