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).
Often the best lazy weekend brunches happen by accident. Following a lovely evening of comedy and beer gardens on a Friday night, we ambled inevitably to the chat about plans for the rest of the weekend. Ours was to be a decidedly, determinedly quiet one, with all alarm-capable technology banished to the no-man’s land beneath the bed for 48 hours.
Our friends, being the sort to arrange a dinner party, game of squash and macrame workshop on a ‘quiet’ Wednesday evening, were of the mind to fit in breakfast before they set off for a weekend in the country. Luckily for us, this didn’t require an early start, so a beer-soaked agreement was made to head east for brunch, sometime before 2pm.
Remarkably, and despite varied strengths of hangovers and navigation skills, we all found ourselves at Dela at the same time. As it was midday already there were tables to spare (with Easton a young family’s game, cafes are often quietest when those in the student-y north are just waking up) and we slid into a booth that gave us the best views of the light and plant-filled space. An open bar and kitchen was astir with activity, the spirits selection refracted sunlight from the huge windows and the decor was soothingly minimalist and calm – the perfect spot to clear the previous evening’s fog.
This being a Swedish-inspired eatery (‘dela’ means ‘share’ in Swedish) the menu offers some Scandi options such as a sharing board piled with smoked trout, boiled eggs and rye bread or a Danish Bloody Mary; there are also more familiar options like toast and jam, bacon sandwiches and granola. Starting with enormous fresh pastries (the cinnamon buns are a must) we moved on to our main brunch plates, adding extras such as goats curd and bacon to our already generous poached eggs and greens before rounding everything off with excellent fresh juices from the bar.
Duly stuffed, it was time to wend our way – our intrepid friends to their weekend full of activity; for us, a fearless journey back to bed. For those with less pressing deadlines, there’s always the option to segue straight into Dela’s evening menu and intruiging cocktail list – certainly one for another, less hungover time.
Price: from £3 (toasted sourdough & jam) to £8.90 (smoked mackerel Dela bowl).
Having made a much considered leap into part time working, I had a week to fill between jobs. The time was mine alone to spend in the city I’d called home for over a decade – a first for me, and an exciting prospect.
To kick off a week of contemplation and relaxation, I’d booked myself into a conveniently timed event run by the Sisterhood Camp Community – an organisation run by a lifestyle blogger Lou Archell, positioned as a chance to reconnect personally and network with like-minded women, with a focus on self-care, meditation and communal dining.
I approached with some trepidation (“lifestyle blogger” summoning Gwyneth Paltrow and her eye-watering jade eggs) but Lou and Chinese herbalist Gemma offered a friendly welcome as women arrived. This being a networking event in the Instagram era, there was also a photographer and a carefully set stage at the very beautiful Forge: the simple kitchen at the back adorned with wooden bowls of bright vegetables and fresh bread on the counter; flowers in repurposed jugs; a rainbows’ array of exercise mats on the floor. The morning started with a yoga session quickly followed by a led meditation – both intensely relaxing to the point of falling asleep mid-reverie (I’ll never know how I found myself to be in that forest planting the acorn of a good idea…I just hope I didn’t snore.)
The main event was the communal brunch cooked by the talented Steph Boote, with a focus on seasonal ingredients served in multiple courses. Given the holistically minded and health conscious crowd, I was heartened to see others hoe into great doorstops of sourdough and real butter before plates of wild garlic soup, poached eggs on a bed of leeks and romesco sauce and delicious panna cotta arrived. There were cafetieres of coffee and herbal teas to follow, allowing us to chat into the afternoon; an eclectic crowd, there were nurses and teachers sat with performance artists and entrepreneurs, full time mums, authors, engineers and government workers. It was this positive sense of mixed conviviality that lasted the longest – a lovely opportunity to speak to women about a variety of things.
It was, of course, a very middle class group – not a criticism in and of itself, but certainly not an experience accessible to all. And it’s definitely not cheap – while everything was well considered, and great quality, I’d hesitate to spend the money again. That said, for those better off or seeking a sybaritic treat, it’s a very nourishing way to spend a morning. Bring your Instagram handles and leave your cynicism at the door.
Price: £125 (9.30am-2.30pm). Early bird prices available. See website for details of next event.
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).
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.
Setting an alarm on the weekend is sacrilegious enough. Setting an alarm for sport on a Sunday one step closer to insanity. So to set an alarm for Sunday sport that never materialises is damn near devastating. We were two Lycra-clad women with nowhere to go. But then, of course, came the salve and the saviour to all unmade weekend plans – an impromptu brunch.
With some mild jostling and promises of caffeine partners were pulled from their slumbers and a small party set off for the freshly-washed hills of Whiteladies Road. Though the street was calm we quickly found that we weren’t the first to cotton on to Tradewind Espresso, as the small cafe was full to bursting with groups of washed out parents and soggy dog walkers. Luckily for us they have a space outside rigged up with an almost entirely shower proof roof. Decked out in in wood and free of sunlight its somewhat like stepping into the hull of a boat, with rainmac’d pensioners and shaggy-headed students making an unlikely morning crew.
Peering at our menus in the half light we were soon salivating at the imaginative options before us. Avocado pico de gallo with salmorejo, french toast with rum and caramelised pineapple, spice chorizo with pineapple relish and padron peppers – this was clearly a place more interested in inventive cooking that followed the seasons than the standard full English and scrambled eggs on toast. Duly warned in stern terms that menu alterations were not an option, we chose a good selection from which we could sample, and weren’t disappointed by our choices (a side of the delicious spicy chorizo also an excellent addition). Though expensive, the coffees were well made and delicious, and in all felt the bill represented good value for excellent ingredients and a kind and helpful staff.
Fully fed, we were ready to brave the rain for the journey home. And, having exercised our brunch muscles there was only one thing left to do – retreat for a well-deserved nap.
Price: from £3.50 (toast & jam) to £9.50 (The Full Easterly).