Bristol is the outlier, the funky UK city with good grub. A concise guide to the city's culinary hotspots.
The food writer Marina O’Loughlin has written that “Some places seem to exist on culinary ley lines, blessed with improbable numbers of restaurants, food producers, food media. Bristol is such a place…”
“Bristol is full of fun, colour, music, art, food. It gave me a sense of who I am. It is who I am. Because it’s where I could become myself there. I met my true self. I met my tribe.”
Anna Snook O’Carroll, Valentia Island Vermouth
The city has a good vibe, full of students – the Universities have doubled in size over recent decades – and with lots of London refugees who cash in their Islington houses and move way out west.
Part of the reason they arrive is because the city is often regarded as the best place to live in the U.K. Its secret is the fact that it feels like a European city, filled with cyclists, joggers, walkers, party people, music heads, and it makes the most of its historic riverside.
It’s the city with the scenius that brought us Portishead, Banksy, Massive Attack, Evan Parker, Roni Size. One city under a groove. And the city’s development of their old dockland area has been a great success: there are lessons here for those converting Waterford’s waterfront into something sustainable and smart.
Bristol is just the best place to live - big enough to have a thriving food scene, not so big it takes hours to trek from one side to the other. I love the fact that my local tapas bar (Bar 44) is 3 minutes down the road.
With a few odd exceptions (Root in Wapping Wharf and Marmo) most of the most appealing restaurants are in the city’s vibrant neighbourhoods so get out of the centre and seek them out. Bedminster (home to COR, the quirky Lucky Strike and the charming natural wine bar Kask) is probably the hippest place right now. Sonny’s just up the road in Southville, is terrific for pasta. Chandos Road in Redland (Wilson’s and Little Hollows) has more than its fair share too but there are always new places popping up.
Bristolians like individual owner-run restaurants that belong to the city rather than big chains. We like to hang out in small cosy spaces!
Fiona Becket, The Guardian wine writer (Subscribe to Fiona on Substack: Eat This, Drink That)
Throughout the city’s history, Bristolians have tinkered mightily with the city’s waterways. The result today is that it is difficult to know if you are looking at the River Avon, at a man-made waterway, or even if you are dreamily gazing at the sea. In truth, it doesn’t matter, because what counts is the fact that Bristol is deeply engaged with its waterways, so if you fancy a kayak jaunt, a row in a wooden boat, a trip on a barge or a SUP workout, they are all excellent ways to explore the city’s aquatic complexion.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a huge romance with my home city of Bristol. To those who say you must leave a place before you can truly appreciate it, they have obviously never spent time there!
As a port city, the people, food, art and culture have always been a heady mix of the familiar and not so familiar – a culture soup, if you will. Everywhere there is food. Everywhere is the aroma of food. Bristolians love to take time out over something to eat, and we are a people who seem to be perpetually hungry.
But for all the fancy restaurants and bistros that cut swathes across the city, one of my favourite places to eat is in St Nicholas Market, the city’s historical covered market home to artisan food producers and hole-in-the-wall places slinging everything from pie and mash to ramen to curry to burgers to craft gin.
It’s a microcosm of who Bristol is, and it’s been that way since 1743. Funnily enough, when I left Bristol to create a new life in Cork, I was immediately drawn to Cork’s English Market. I recognised the conviviality of the market – a covered market, like in Bristol, and operating since 1788, so also a similar vintage.
Of course, the similarities between the two cities stretch beyond that: both are port cities, both have a maritime trading history with each other, both are friendly, but, most importantly, both are great food cities.
My perfect day in Bristol, then, would start with brunch at Boston Tea Party on Park Street with views of my original alma mater, Bristol University. Then lunch at St Nicholas Market, dinner at COR in Bedminster, and drinks down on King Street at my most favourite pub in the city, The Old Duke, where the beer is local and the live blues and jazz plays all night long, seven days a week!
Kate Ryan, Flavour.ie
Bristolians are fervently proud of their city even if, like Kate and Orla and Anna, they leave it to make a new home in Ireland. The city’s districts are distinct, vivid and memorable, and you look forward to finding yourself back in Clifton or Montpelier because the neighborhoods have an intimate, human scale.
I try and describe it as a place that’s young at heart ❤️ its veins are filled with art, music, theatre, and food. Massive Attack are from there, Portishead, Banksy, Bananarama 🤸🏻♀️😆🥳 The sense of place and pride of place with left field thinking all make the city thrive. The conversations you have are all people trying to do things, whether it’s community theatre in Knowle West or opening up the ‘doors’ of St Paul’s Carnival - everyone wants to share and widen their community and endeavour to document or mark what their city means to them with music, art, theatre or food.
Orla Snook O’Carroll, Valentia Island Vermouth
The culinary ley line underpinning Bristol is important, because eating out in much of the UK can be hit-and-miss. But Bristol mines a deep seam of good, personal cooking. So, with a little help from our Bristolian friends, we have compiled a concise guide to some hot spots should you find yourself spending a few days tootling around the River Avon.
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