It has been a turbulent year for Bristol’s hospitality sector and the struggles are likely to continue as the impact of the Covid-19 crisis is laid bare, but we’ve still had some decent new openings to get excited about.
This week saw the launch of one of the most anticipated new arrivals in Bristol’s food scene of 2020, in a restaurant many will already be familiar with.
Glassboat – the barge converted into a fine dining establishment by Arne Ringner in 1986 – has reopened as FiSH, a seafood restaurant serving fresh fish delivered daily.
With a takeaway adjoining the new-look Welsh Back restaurant for those who want to enjoy their fish and chips at home, the boat now has a far more informal feel, from the decor to the demeanour of the waiting staff.
Dining chairs have been replaced with backless benches, the majority of tables are now lengthy dining tables perfect for groups of friends to share a meal together and a new colour scheme has left the place feeling far fresher and brighter.
Waiting staff are no longer sharply dressed head to toe in black, but instead wear trainers and t-shirts with the restaurant’s name and logo on.
But while the name, style and culinary focus of the moored restaurant may have shifted, the people at its helm have remained. Arne is still the owner and the kitchen is still headed up by Jake Platt, who has been cooking in Bristol since the 1990s.
This means the quality of food is still extremely high, as I gladly discovered when I visited on Thursday evening (August 27), two days after the relaunch.
With countless people across Bristol taking advantage of the Eat Out To Help Out offer this month, which runs between Monday and Wednesday, it wasn’t a huge surprise to find only a smattering of fellow diners when we arrived.
I have absolutely no doubt it will be a completely different story once people catch wind of the recent overhaul and faultless dining experience on offer.
While service is now more laid back than it was previously, it is still first-rate. Everyone who served us was hugely knowledgeable about the provenance of each item on the menu, as well as personable and attentive without being overbearing.
Workers also took Covid-19 measures very seriously, all wearing either a mask or visor and fastidiously wiping down all surfaces when they had a spare minute, with a hand sanitiser point at the entrance. Since pubs and restaurants reopened last month, the precautions in place were up there with the the best I’ve seen.
The menu itself offers the chance to go for a classic dish – such as the beer battered fried fish of the day with tartare sauce (£12.50) – or something a little more extravagant, like the cracked Dorset crab with mayonnaise (£18.50).
Starters include rock oysters, mussels and scallops, with the option to ask for a larger portion to bulk each dish up into a main should you wish.
Arne and his team have been keen to emphasise the fact produce is delivered daily by boat in the weeks leading up to FiSH’s launch, so I was hopeful for some incredibly fresh fish, and that is what I got.
My starter of mussels steamed in cider (£6.50) was not only delicious but generous, which made for the perfect start when paired with the smoked cod’s roe and crusty bread (£3), washed down well with the Domaine du Grand Mayne sauvignon blanc.
I pinched one of my girlfriend’s scallops (£12.50 for three, and no, she wasn’t happy about my theft) which are served in an irresistible garlic butter. It matched the quality of scallops I’ve enjoyed at restaurants slap bang on the seafront in coastal French towns, and Rachael agreed they were up there with the best she’d had.
As tempting as it was to order the crab, purely so I could have a go at cracking into it using the metal hammer provided, the Cornish hake fillet with olive oil, parsley and garlic (£10.50) seemed like a safer option.
It proved to be a wise choice, too, with juicy flakes of fish covered in a crisp, golden skin which, when paired with the side of glorious mashed peas (£3), made for one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had this year.
We ordered a portion of tripled cooked, homemade chips (£2.50) each to go with our respective meals, although if we had known the portions were so generous we would have been happy to share one between us.
The dessert menu features classics including creme brulee and poached peach, but we were so stuffed we couldn’t face another bite, so instead rounded off a splendid evening with a cafetiere of Blind Owl coffee (£1.50).
It must have been tough for Arne Ringner to say farewell to Glassboat after 35 years, but if the early signs are anything to go by he has made a shrewd move in replacing it with FiSH, which has all the ingredients required to become both a hugely popular city centre restaurant and chippy. If the idea of fresh fish at decent prices gets your taste buds going, FiSH should be firmly on your radar.
Overall : Five
Where is it? Glassboat, Welsh Back, Bristol, BS1 4SB. More information on Facebook.