Tag Archives: local

Spoke & Stringer, Harbourside, Bristol

In a little corner of the ever-developing Harbourside there is a shop-cum-cafe that is the pantheon of all things trendy. The shop is artfully decorated with expensive jumpers, leather goods and a casually placed bicycles that are worth more than the rest of the gear combined. Their website is scattered with headlines like cryptic crossword clues: ‘Triumph Bonneville Bobber Unveiling Event’, ‘Wavelength 245’; messages clearly meant for those initiated only.

The cafe next door takes a similar approach, the subtle signage and roped-off outdoor area giving the impression of exclusivity that even stretched to a small queue of people waiting hopefully at the door. It being the first sunny Saturday of the spring, the tables inside and out were full, and creatively pierced staff did a fine job ferrying rounds of drinks to patient diners as the kitchen struggled to meet the demands of the well-scarfed hordes.

Finding ourselves perched on high stools in a much coveted sun trap we glanced through the menus and it was soon clear that the food matched the fashionable surrounds: avocado, samphire, harissa and chimichurri were all regulars, ingredients combined in interesting ways to complement the more standard offerings of poached eggs on toast, shakshuka or a full breakfast. It all sounded undeniably delicious, but, with half an eye on our bank accounts, it was a struggle to find anything for much less than a tenner.

Feeling a little like the poor cousins at the wedding we decided to go rogue, opting instead for food meant as sides or starters, hidden as they were under a section named ‘Custom Parts’. This caused a moment of confusion that led to the Egg Poacher’s fresh croissant arriving well before my sourdough toast, but the added touch of spiced plum jam and real butter rolled in salt flakes made for a delicious start to the day.

As tables emptied and quickly filled again around us, we were left to enjoy our coffees and the waterside view. It’s a fabulous spot for people watching, where boat folk, families and modish couples in matching sunglasses bring their variously pedigreed dogs to mingle. With summer fast approaching there’s no doubt Spoke & Stringer will continue to fill – if you save the pennies and make an early start, there won’t be many finer positions for a sunny brunch.

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Price: mains from £6.95 (banana panackes) – £9.50 (Full English). ‘Custom parts’ from £3.50 (toasted sourdough).

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Pigsty & Mokoko Coffee, Whapping Wharf, Bristol

Though construction has been going on for some time now, Whapping Wharf still seemed to spring up from nowhere, the once dead space next to Bristol’s iconic cranes suddenly crammed with sleek timber-fronted cafes and fashionably renovated containers.

The Wharf is very much in the vein of development elsewhere, pointed towards a young and affluent clientele most likely furnished with at least one toddler and a spaniel (either of whom could be called Rufus; a toss up as to which one is on a leash). On a frosty January morning brightly cagouled couples manoeuvred their ‘transport systems’ and welly-clad tots between huddles of beanie wearing hipsters, with only a stream of boisterous City fans trundling past breaking the carefully cultivated calm.

Within a relatively tight space there are a host of eateries to chose from, as well as a wholefood supermarket, a grandly named flower emporium and a couple of independent off licenses. Sporting fuzzy heads from Friday’s over-indulgence we opted first for Pigsty, one of the many new businesses encased in upcycled containers – and this one is full of bacon. Run by three brothers behind The Jolly Hog and one rugby player, these are folks who take provenance very seriously. Promising meat from happy pigs, their sausages were as flavoursome as you’d hope, and while their coffees were small they were sapid and satisfying, too.

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After a meander around the M Shed and the excellent Wildlife Photography exhibition our need for sustenance returned, and where Whapping Wharf is concerned your only ever a spaniels’ throw from an artisanal roast or two.

Enticed by great windows luxuriating in the winter sun we soon joined the queue at Mokoko Coffe & Bakery, a neat space filled with wooden booths and skinny stools, all within view of the open kitchen. While busy staff were stretched to deal with the weekend crowds, a beautifully made almond and pear muffin and some satisfyingly large coffees eventually gave us all the energy we needed to make the long journey home.

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Ceres, Stokes Croft, Bristol

Melbourne and Bristol have a lot in common – a competitive street art scene, randomly changing weather, narrow alleyways hiding well-loved eateries and a whole herd of hipsters around every corner. It even has a north/south divide, the rivers Avon and Yarra dividing the cities’ inhabitants into rivalries not seen since Coyote vs. Roadrunner.

It could be argued that where the cities most align is in their respect of the most sacred of weekend meals – brunch. When in Australia we spent a good proportion of our days moving from cafe to restaurant and bar being served by beautiful people in tiny bowler hats and tattoo sleeves, and in Melbourne the food is particularly great. There foods from across the world combine into great plates of breakfast fare – and they take their coffee very, very seriously.

So it’s perhaps surprising that Melbourne hasn’t come to Bristol sooner, as it has now in the guise of Ceres, a sparkling new start-up cafe in the fashionably ramshackle Stokes Croft. Across the road from the great vintage market and nestled between dub-themed cafes and Halal grocers, it’s minimal signage and stark white interiors give a sense of someone having just moved in. The homemade feel continues inside, with simple wooden tables and upholstered crates for chairs, a few key pieces of graffiti, a shining coffee machine, and not much else.

Once your eyes have adjusted to the white wall glare they can settle on a truly excellent breakfast menu – baked eggs, sweetcorn fritters and smashed avocado, smoked salmon bagels, bircher muesli, pancakes with salted caramel and banana… The flat whites – surely a requisite when dealing with Antipodean baristas – were as strong as you’d expect and, in a post-brunch delirium, the inch-high millionaire shortbreads were just too tempting to ignore.

Barman and chef both mingle with diners and have a cheery word for the local business people who drop by for take-away sandwiches and afternoon treats: they’re clearly doing all they can to join the community. And, with a passion for good cooking and a brunch menu this interesting, perhaps even those south of the river might beat a path to Ceres’ door.

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Price: from £2.50 (toast and Vegemite) to £8 (avocado, marinated feta and poached eggs on sourdough).

 

 

 

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The Crafty Egg, Stokes Croft, Bristol

It’s a common phenomenon on many city streets that one building – usually somewhere near the middle – seems to have a new business in it every other week. Whether through bad luck, bad neighbours or plain geography, the signage changes as regularly as the seasons, the next owners either gamely carrying on in the same vein as the previous, or making a bold new reach for something entirely different. At home one such shop front peddled wedding lingerie, computers and antique furs (though sadly never all at the same time); in Bristol it’s not uncommon for one cafe to form into another in the space of a weekend.

The Crafty Egg was once Hooper’s House, and before that, perhaps, something similarly caffeine-themed. It sits in a thoroughfare of Stokes Croft, the buy bus route of Cheltenham Road grinding past the windows and the clash of locals, students and those of no fixed abode converging on the pavements outside. New businesses crop up a lot here, fitting in amongst the street art and various pop ups, and like the murals on the walls opposite it can be hard to know how long they’ll stay. Yet the Crafty Egg seems comfortable in its new home, offering just the right balance of Montpelier-pleasing artisan coffee with a no-nonsense approach to food (an accolade surely confirmed by the preponderance of workies that can be found tucking in to breakfast rolls of a Saturday).

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Despite the occasional chaos of its surroundings, the Egg itself is a beacon of calm: soft music plays, diners are usually in quiet concentration immersed in laptops or the morning papers, and the waiters-cum-baristas move with a well-paced elan. Our orders took a reassuring amount of time to arrive, and were truly excellent when they did. Good sized portions of poached eggs, perfectly seasoned cheesy bubble and squeak and a selection of breakfast meats complimented with excellent flat whites were the right way to start the day; we were eyeing up the homemade cakes (holy jam-filled Viennese Whirl, Batman) for a pit-stop on our return home later that afternoon.

Safe to say we hope The Crafty Egg is here to stay – and with a bustling weekend atmosphere and the promise of more enticements to come, there’s a good chance it just might.

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Door & Rivet, Stokes Croft, Bristol

Lodging in Clifton – where the Brunel bridge is a short stroll and the morning alarm comes from the peal of church bells and the occasional hot air balloon passing overhead – is no real hardship. At the weekend the streets are taken over by alfresco cafes and organic grocers and the pavements throng with freshly pressed Hilfiger shirts, boat shoes (no socks) and a menagerie of coiffed poodles, bichons and French bulldogs. The delis do a roaring trade; there’s even a man in a beret and a Breton top who sells garlic from the basket on his bicycle.

Yet it was walking through Stokes Croft where I truly felt back at home. Here the dogs are multitudinous and mongrel and the streets heave with deep bass and dreadlocks in various stages of construction. But while the setting couldn’t be more different, the creep of the ‘DIY Dalston’ mould is equally plain to see, with yet more black-walled, drop-lit, pallet-heavy bars and cafes filling shop fronts and abandoned spaces. Thankfully there are those that resist scrawling sans serif font across their plant-filled windows or hanging a fixed-gear bike on the wall to justify their prices.

One such place is Door & Rivet, hidden in the crypt of the old Baptist Church on Upper York Street. It’s corrugated frontage makes an understated welcome, but the promise of good coffee and Saturday brunch were all it took to lure me in. Inside it’s darkly inviting, with a collection of mismatched tables and chairs at the back and an open kitchen, giant coffee machine and well-used record player up front. The 70s soundtrack proved a little fierce first thing, but the narrow alleyway outside boasted plenty of space to dine, so long as we didn’t mind mingling with the pigeons.

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We lingered over coffees as we waited for our food – here everything is freshly made and demands a little more time. Having opted for the small breakfasts (one veggie, one meat) we were greeted with a great pile of good food – well-seasoned bubble and squeak, homemade baked beans and excellent eggs, alongside delicious sausages or grilled halloumi and a proper portion of sourdough toast. It was all so excellent we decided to stay, ordering more home-roasted coffee to enjoy in the unseasonable September sun, the friendly staff taking the time to chat and explain why decaff coffee is the work of the devil and therefore banished from this, the holiest of breakfast places.

Brunch lovers, rejoice.

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Price: from £2.50 (granola) to £9.50 (Big breakfast).

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Tobacco Factory Market, Raleigh Road, Bristol

On a grey and windy Sunday that surely heralds the start of Autumn (apologies to those who blinked during summer – you missed it) the Tobacco Factory market still shines, cheerily decked in candy-striped awnings and bright white tablecloths, summer tunes blasting in an attempt to drive the clouds away. There’s an eclectic mix of things on offer here: tiny clay dolls huddle together on one stall, retro jumpsuits and faded slogan T-shits hang from another. There are bottled potions to spice up your morning tea, handmade furniture and homemade curry kits, local art and enough LPs to make Fat Boy Slim feel positively malnourished.

While there’s plenty to peruse and many a trinket to buy, one of the main draws is the food court that sits near the back. Having packed our Macs and set off with our usual food-based enthusiasm, we’d actually arrived before the majority of the stalls were open. Luckily (and in what is surely a clever marketing ploy) the Rolling Italy coffee stall was set up early and doing a steady trade.

As we drank our first, very excellent coffees the market slowly began to fill with a cross-section of Bristol’s (mostly) middle class. Cyclists in full gear swinging by to pick up fresh bread packed carefully in to panniers, grey-haired couples being led by dogs that ranged from bear to floor mop and arty students with canvas bags and turned up trouser cuffs all mingled, carefully stepping between the market’s most obvious clientele: young families. The market, is seems, offers a kind of Mecca to those with tiny people in tow; there’s enough confined space for toddlers to roam while dishevelled dads and morning-eyed mums make haste towards sustenance and the ever-necessary caffeine. As the day progressed the child population increased, many adding tricycles, scooters and the occasional well-staged meltdown in to the mix of legs and leashes.

Turning our attention back to our own bellies we decided it was time for round two and were drawn to the chalkboards of The Muffin Man & Co. I opted for the breakfast classic: fried egg, sausage and bacon jam between a lightly toasted English muffin, while the Egg Poacher upped the ante with the addition of melted cheese and a chunk of pork belly. After a minutes’ pause while we figured out how best to tackle the stacks before us, we were soon tucking in and following the golden rule of breakfast – don’t think about the mess, and clean up once at the end.


Round two duly demolished, we considered removing ourselves from temptation. It didn’t last – Rolling Italy called once again, this time with the addition of a sugar coated ricciarell, a Tuscan macaroon filled with almond and orange, and surely too light to be truly bad. Finally setting off for home we braved the knee-high hoards and emerged into the open – highly caffeinated, full of food, and very happy indeed.

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Surprising Peru

While our expectations of Central and South America have generally been confounded in every way, Peru was particularly surprising. It started with our first long bus journey through the country, where for a pittance we were ushered aboard an incredibly plush coach, fitted out with WiFi, plug sockets and reclining chairs so huge my feet couldn’t touch the floor. The luxury was incongruous when streets lined with rubbish – and over-run with dusty or muddy dogs, depending on the weather – passed us outside, jarringly set to a soundtrack of 80s disco or the unfortunately ubiquitous loud, violent film. As we sailed through vast desert and gaped at the huge, sculpted sand dunes that lined roads blasted through rock, stewards would bring us hot dinners, precariously pouring soft drinks from strange angles as the driver took on road bends or passing vehicles at great speed. I would learn later that this luxury came at a cost: three of such journeys in there’d be a 100% record on dodgy bellies following our free feed; nonetheless, the coaches themselves made the vast journeys all the more palatable in other ways.

Our first stop would be in the coastal town of Trujillo. While nice enough there was nothing hugely exciting about our arrival – that was until we asked our taxi driver to take us to our hostel, the wonderfully named Hostal Wanka. As has become a habit with us, our driver knew nothing of it so proceeded to yell “Wanka? Si, WANKA!!” across the station forecourt. Things were looking up.

From here we’d explore the pre-Incan Moche ruins dotted around and inside the town. While simple in their design, the carefully crafted structures were covered in intricate decoration and found to be full of ceremonial pots, jugs and jewellery. From the dusty plains of Trujillo we then found ourselves in sparkling Lima, a world away from clay-carved ruins and full of busy highways, cosmopolitan neighbourhoods and all the American brands you could hope to avoid. While on the surface Lima seemed polished and impossibly refined, there were corners of alternative culture and grit to be found, especially in the Barranco district where fantastic ceviche canteens rubbed shoulders with homemade T-shirt shops, miscellany-filled pubs and some very excellent pisco sours.

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Our longest bus journey yet – 24 hours, which stretched to 27 – took us all the way to Cusco. We didn’t hang around, instead booking our passes for Machu Picchu and heading straight for Ollantaytambo, a town set in the valley of the giant mountains that lead the way to the site itself. From here we’d catch our first train, the well-appointed Inca Rail that was quickly (and maturely) renamed by me as the Machu Picchu-Chu. On board we were served warming muña tea as we passed through dramatic landscapes full of towering mountains and fast-flowing rapids, stopping alongside fields full of llamas and brightly dressed locals as trains passed the other way. At Agua Calientes we prepared for the next day’s trip to Machu Picchu then hid from the rain in a surprisingly authentic Parisian boulangerie, run by a French man also fluent in Spanish, English and Glaswegian.

Paris in Peru

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By 5 the next morning we were waiting for the first bus to the national park, suitably British in our eagerness to be the first there. And we were – as the gates opened we were third and fourth in and treated to the sight of a cloud-shrouded Machu Picchu awakening to the light without another person in view. Unable to hike (it being February, when the trail is closed) we nevertheless treated our legs to an excoriating work-out tackling Machu Picchu mountain, a 2-hour climb up a haphazardly steep staircase. At the top we were rewarded with the sight of… nothing much at all, the site being shrouded in very specifically placed cloud. Luckily the mist would pass, allowing as a short view of Machu Picchu in miniature before the steady climb down.

The great Machu Piccu

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Suitably awed by the Incas and their perseverance in building something so huge and beautiful on land so high we returned to Cusco, though not before sampling unexpectedly good coffee and cake at Cafe Mayu in Ollantaytambo’s station. From Cusco we travelled to Puno, a fairly uninspiring and shambolic town with the redeeming feature of providing a gateway to Lake Titicaca.

The lake would be our final surprise in Peru, and a wonderful one at that. On a whim we took a small boat to the Uros Islands, a man-made archipelago of reed islands inhabited by indigenous people who live off the water, its fish, and the boats that bring tourists keen to learn more. We were greeted by a handful of families all dressed in traditionally colourful dress, the women displaying long braids tied with fantastically bright pom poms. As we quietly baked in the scorching heat, we learnt about the islands, their reed houses and the solar panels that brought more modern capabilities, then browsed the stalls of handmade throws, mobiles and bracelets before trundling home – this time having learnt to duck the water balloons lobbed from the entranceway to the islands by laughing locals.

#hairgoals Isla de los Uros, Lake Titicaca

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The following day we booked a tour to Amantani Island, passing the Uros once again on our journey east. After a slow and stuffy boat ride we were greeted on the pier by a handful of women bedecked in traditional long skirts and head-coverings. Smiling Mathilde would be our host so we, along with fellow travellers Sol and David, followed her up steep paths to her home, where we were greeted with stunning views across the lake, a garden full of flowers and a small pen of sheep eyeing us suspiciously.

Catching up on the blog, this time about surprising and spectacular Peru – link in bio.

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Later Mathilde’s son Roger would take us to the great hills at the summit of the island, Pachamama and Pachatati. On the way we passed the ordered system of ‘parceles’, an allotment-like system used by all the villages on the island as a way of cultivating the right number of different crops. At the top we would take in the vast, still water of Lake Titicaca that spread as far as the eye could see. Later, as we sat down to dinner with the family, they would explain the self-sufficient nature of life there, and describe how each house and its surrounding land would be passed through the family, ensuring traditions were kept and foreign business avoided. Exhausted from our day and the altitude, we were in bed by 8, to be woken at dawn by the rising sun and the sounds of hungry sheep and braying donkeys.

Lake Titicaca

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Breakfast was once again with the family – warm quinoa pancakes, fresh muña tea, boiled eggs and bread. We said our sad goodbyes and promised to spread the word before Mathilde walked us down to the pier and waved off our trundling boat. The following day we’d be on yet another bus, heading for Bolivia. It would have a lot to live up to in comparison.

Amantani breakfast

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