The last gasp of Gloucester Road that congregates around the Arches is often the popular hub for students and weekend drinking, when every inch of al fresco space is taken in summer and dark and cosy bars fill on rainy Autumnal nights. But travel north and things get more interesting still – amongst the greasy spoons, hardware shops and sports bars are a healthy smattering of new and interesting independent businesses: a pub in an old drapers, a Persian-Korean fusion restaurant and the best Thai in the city, a comic and beer emporium and FED 303, an excellent addition to the north Bristol cafe trail.
FED 303 certainly ticks the modern Bristol boxes – hanging plants, chalkboard menu and soothing electro pulling in parents with babies, business people on morning meetings and commuters taking a caffeine detour. But where some places seem to think it’s only about appearance, this cafe clearly believes in its own enterprise. The staff are friendly, taking time to chat and check their punters have all they need; babes and dogs get a cheery welcome, as do local celebrities who pop in for a quick debrief in the kitchen before heading on.
Most importantly, the food is fantastic – there are plenty of options all invested with intriguing flavours that make the ingredients sing. Perfectly poached eggs on French toast and roasted tomatoes proved popular with our Monday morning crew, while eggs atop rich harissa tomatoes, kale and sourdough were delicious and satisfying.
This being our pre-wedding breakfast, we decided to stay while our friends and their teeny milk guzzler moved on to a baby stand up show (this is Bristol, after all). A second coffee and freshly baked chocolate and hazelnut bun polished off an excellent morning’s dining. A truly excellent way to prepare for a week of wedding madness.
Price: from £2.95 (sourdough toast) to £8.50 (harissa spiced eggs).
The brief hiatus between Christmas and New Year is often referred to as ‘Betwixtmas’, a a sparkly, magical sounding time deserving of its own fanciful characters and festive cheer. There should be soirees where everyone dresses in velvet and cocktails are served under heaving yet tasteful chandeliers. Frosty days should be spent yomping out into the countryside, spaniels in tow; at night the children will play together quietly while grown ups lounge beside the fire.
The reality is often a little different. Parties have been banned until at least the 31st; the closest you get to velvet is the soft and over-washed pair of PJ bottoms you haven’t stepped out of since Christmas night. The only festive characters are the ones left to repeat on the TV and the kids are both exhausted and riding high on the never ending supply of selection boxes. It’s a time to give in to the inevitable and shelve being presentable until 2019. You may as well just have that cheese plate as a second breakfast and be done with it.
Slovenly and indulgent as this is, surrendering to such a low bar does however have its downfalls: when you find you actually do have to step out into the fresh air, the watery wintry light can be cruel. The power of speech has left you, leaving a stream of baffled neighbours and shop assistants in your wake. You’re sporting 8 different nail varnishes from a 6 year old manicurist. You appear to have been dressed in the dark by a toddler. All of which is a challenge at the best of times; more so when you find yourself pulling up at the doors of a rather grand looking Lake District hotel.
Thankfully this particular hotel is both grand, and very understanding. Another Place does a fine line in understated grandeur – everything is beautifully presented, but your entirely encouraged to wander around in your bathrobe. It’s the perfect prescription for post-Christmas jitters: beautiful rooms with excellent beds and claw foot baths, a pool and sauna with lake and mountain views, kindly Northern massage therapists to work away knots left by passively demanding relatives. Children are welcomed with board games and cleverly secreted away bean bags and games consoles under the stairs; at night the lounge becomes an indulgent adults-only space with roaring fires and smart waiters who bring warmed bottles of red to your spot on the sofa.
There are also food options for every taste. For those still game for a three course dinner, the fine dining restaurant awaits. Those of us open to the idea that not all festive meals need the calorie content for an Arctic expedition can opt for dinner in the bar instead (even more excellently, dogs are welcome here too). And it’s worthwhile leaving some room – back in the dining room, breakfast is as good as the rest of the rest of the stay would suggest. It is “DIY”, but in the most refined sense: a row of waffle makers, freshly cooked local sausages, bacon and eggs, artisanal breads and freshly made mueslis and juices encourage multiple courses. Pink-shirted staff take coffee orders and there’s a happily relaxed conviviality amongst the varied clientele, with toddlers still in their onesies tucking into giant plates of eggs on toast as hikers fuel up for a days’ hike in the hills, the rest of us happy to sink into the freshly delivered papers and – go on – just one more round of toast.
Price: rooms from £180 (breakfast included).
In Leeds, there is something for everyone. Dressed up clubbers mingle with hirsute hipsters in many and multifarious bars and breweries; bag-laden shoppers, students and tourists do-si-do around the centres’ streets and arcades. There are posh restaurants and brand name bakeries, deconstructed cocktails and real ale pubs (one the finest, a combination of rough and ready boozer and fantastic drag queen cabaret).
Away from the centre there are student-y enclaves in the suburbs and a host of green spaces to walk out in; one such, Headingley, has a bustling high street, a wonderful early 20th century cinema, and Sebby’s, a cafe-deli on the popular Otley Road.
Inside the space is stripped back and simple, with cement floors and exposed brick walls. Colour comes in the tropically themed art and fabrics and a garden centre’s worth of hanging plants, tiny squashes and cacti. The open kitchen is framed by counter tops and cake stands groaning with fresh baking and sandwiches and diners sit on a diverse selection of furniture. Outside is equally simple and inviting, with wobbly tables migrating to the sunniest corners (a perfect spot for Blue the Wonder Dog to snooze in).
Apart from the cakes there’s a fantastic brunch menu to choose from, all served until 4pm. Inspired by their travels in America, the owners offer breakfast burritos and Mexican corn hash, as well as poached eggs on toast, 3 egg omelettes and ‘Eggs Sebby’ – poached eggs and avocado nestling on a bed of hash browns. It’s unfussy and delicious, and can all be washed down with pots of Yorkshire tea. And, this being the north, you won’t bankrupt yourself in the process. Lovely stuff.
Price: from £3.50 (bacon sandwich) to £8.50 (large English breakfast).
Muiño cuddles up next to some of Bristol’s hippest restaurants (Pasta Loco, Bellita, Bravas…) and offers a menu clearly intent on capitalising on the fashionable foodie set who come here. The evening menu offers seasonal British fare in the now ubiquitous form of ‘small’ and ‘large’ plates, all sourced from the south west and its surrounds. There’s a healthy cocktail selection and a strong wine list, too – surely making this an intriguing stop for Bristol’s refined – and unforgiving – diners.
Brunch is a more familiar affair, with weekend standards such as the full English, Eggs Benedict and smashed avocado on toast, alongside a ‘bottomless Prosecco’ offering lifted from London’s latest breakfast trends. The provenance is equally notable in the morning menu, there are good vegetarian choices and the coffee is decent, too. They’re generous in the option to swap and add extras – the cheddar and leek patty was a definite plus – and yet, it still felt like something was missing.
The portions are fairly small (not unusual in Bristol, yet worth mentioning when dishes are close to £10 each), and the flavours less exciting than they could have been. The full breakfast was a little lacklustre with limp bacon and a watery tomato, the pancake a single coin slathered with runny compote; the huevos rancheros came without the expected chilli bite. With a touch more seasoning and some more generous plating the local ingredients could have packed a proper punch.
There’s much to like here: the staff are fun and welcoming (even allowing Lola, the miniature schnauzer, to be smuggled under the table) and the fresh, calming interiors make this a refined place to dawdle in of an afternoon. But with Cotham Hill’s capricious clientele to contend with, the devil will most definitely be in the detail.
Price: from £7 (smashed avocado on toast) to £9.50 (large traditional).
There’s something of the New York deli about Pinkmans – a long gleaming counter runs along one wall with apron’d staff dashing from one end to the other, collecting orders and passing over boxes of fine cakes, breads and salads to a constant stream of customers while an upbeat jazz soundtrack adds to the bustling tempo.
A healthy slice of Bristol life can be found here. A popular spot for well-coiffed students, shoppers wrapped up against the elements and families whose little ones gape at the delicate patisseries as they are carried past, there are cosy nooks, too, for hungover teens and lunchtime daters to hide in, camouflaged by an excellent selection of hanging plants that are draped all around.
The impressive selection of freshly baked goods are likely to involve their own sourdough (found in sandwiches, pizzas and even their doughnuts) or their wood-fired oven. The breakfast menu takes some deciphering – some options are only available for early morning risers, though there are plenty of brunch dishes for lazier sorts; coffees are ordered at the same time but delivered separately, hastily made by a team of baristas who also juggle the persistent queue of take-away seekers who crowd by the bar. You feel for the staff: though they’re plentiful and friendly, the set up lends itself to organised chaos in busy times.
That being said, the food is tasty (if a little small in some portions) – my custard-dipped, brioche French toast was an indulgent way to start the weekend, while the Egg Poacher opted for a calorific cheese toastie, packed with gruyere. The coffee was decent too, though there are better flat whites slightly further from the centre of town. All in all, Pinkman’s location and set up is perfect for those in a rush – business folks will flock for a weekday lunch, frazzled parents and those looking for a mid-shop pit stop could definitely do worse – and their fast-paced, high volume approach certainly seems to serve the business well. For me, I may just need a quieter spot to linger in (brunch is sacred, after all).
No. 25A is the younger sibling of Easton’s No. 12 yet feels decidedly more grown up. The grand copper wall is matched in details around the room, from the exposed light bulbs and script on the board outside to the giant numbers inlaid in the door. Despite a nod to an industrial theme it’s welcoming and warm, with an excellently mellow music selection, lovely staff and the bustle of the Old Market shut out behind you.
Everything is stylish and nothing over-complicated. The brief menu offers sourdough toast and jam and homemade granola for breakfast, they make excellent coffees and source outrageously good pastries from their friends Farro: the cinnamon buns and crisp, sticky almond croissants are as big as your head and come highly recommended. There are sandwiches and salads for lunch (including the suggestively labelled ‘meat in a bun’) as well as a real ale pump and a selection of wines for an evening soiree.
And there’s space for all and sundry – business folk swing by for a caffeine hit ahead of the morning commute; music sorts in uniform black hang by the bar and down espressos as fuel for the night ahead; mums park prams and decamp to the space downstairs for a debrief. All are welcomed and many appear to be locals, greeted by name and engaged in a good dose of banter before they set out from the warmth into whatever Old Market has in store.
Price: from £2.50 (toast and jam) to £5 (tart with salad).
Always a recognisable addition to menus and A-boards across Bristol and the south west, Hobbs House Bakery has expanded from supplying excellent baked goods to cafes and restaurants across town to their own little place on Gloucester Road. The design and typography is instantly recognisable, repeated across framed examples of old bags and flour sacks, on posters and menus and on take-away bags: ‘Put bread on the table’ is their motto, and this they certainly do.
It’s not all about bloomers and ryes, either; their brunch menu includes waffles made from an ancient sourdough starter, salsa verde and roasted tomato on toast as well as the mountains of freshly made pastries, cakes and savouries stacked up on the bar. Coffee comes from the equally identifiable Extract and is served in lovely earthenware cups and everything can be taken home to enjoy at your leisure – including, of course, that morning’s loaves that line the shelves in the window.
It’s undeniably good food, well made with excellent ingredients, and I’m not usually one to begrudge paying for quality when the alternative is so grim. Having said that, paying £9 for a single waffle topped with eggs and cheese or £3 for a slice of toast makes even this brunch snob wince. There’s a sense, too that they’re still bedding in – on our first visit the cafe was in chaos with orders going missing and a persistent but intermittent alarm going off from the kitchen throughout. On our return, the chaos has subsided (though our coffee orders were still wrong) but, strangely, the alarm persevered; a function, it turns out, of their bread oven which may help prevent burnt bottoms but isn’t best placed for such a small space.
Chaos aside, they do know their baking. On inclement days there are table outside that save you from the noise and there are worse ways to start the morning than gathering up some of their finest pastries for a lazy brunch at home. With time, the edges might be rubbed off and this will be a fine place to linger. For now, though, I think I’ll be taking my almond croissant to go.