Monday, April 04, 2005

Riverstation - Bristol - UK

Riverstation The Grove Bristol, BS1 4RB Telephone: +44(0)117 914 4434

photograph of Riverstation restaurant and bar in Bristol, England

After visiting the Bristol Farmer's Market the week before last, my mother and I decided to play at being ladies who lunch. Our chosen destination was Bristol's Riverstation restaurant, built in the disbanded Headquarters of the local Harbourside police. The restaurant, as you might expect from its name, looks over the water. The stylish interior is modern and sleek with great natural lighting.

Riverstation's lunchtime menu offered a fantastic deal. A 3-course set meal for just £13.75 with three options for each course.

photograph of smoked haddock brandade at Riverstation restaurant and bar in Bristol, England
Smoked haddock brandade, crostini + capers

This British twist on the salt-cod dish was stunning in its simplicity. A delicate puree of potato, a little garlic, cream, seasoning and smoked haddock was served with olive-oil dribbled toast and salty capers. Smoked haddock is not readily available in California. It's absence makes me crave it more than I should. I have two finnan haddie fillets in my freezer, left over from a shipment I received last year and I hope to try and recreate this dish with it, at home, soon.

photograph of the chicken pate at Riverstation restaurant and bar in Bristol, England
Chicken Liver Parfait, Red Onion Jam and Warm Toast
This was a very generous portion, of smooth, rich, creamy pate with a sweet onion jam.

photograph of roast cod Riverstation restaurant and bar in Bristol, England
Roast cod with "minestrone" of arrocina beans + pesto
I am aware of the fact I probably shouldn't eat cod. In the US I actually don't eat it - like the haddock, it's not easy to come by on the West coast. This fillet was moist and flakey. The cod had been roasted with its skin intact, a crispy, fatty flavour not dissimilar to chicken skin that contrasted with the mild, white, flaky flesh of the fish. The vivid pesto was thick and pungent with garlic. In another contrast to the perfect fish, the bed of too-hard beans with their thin, bland tomato sauce was disappointing.

photograph of coq au vin at Riverstation restaurant and bar in Bristol, England
Coq au Vin with button mushrooms and New potatoes
The meat itself (I suspect they had used chicken, not cock) was wonderfully succulent and its yellow appearance suggested it had probably been corn-fed. The vegetables were at the right level of al dente. Despite competence in the cooking of the ingredients, this dish failed - it was totally plain and uninteresting, bearing no evidence of the au vin after which it was christened. My mother quipped "I am not sure that this chicken has even looked at a bottle of wine"

photograph of chocolate dessert Riverstation restaurant and bar in Bristol, England
Chocolate st emilion with raspberry sauce
A thick, dense slice of chocolate deliciousness, dotted with patches of softened amaretti cookies and surrounded by a deep red, tart raspberry sauce. The kind waitress, at my gluttonous request, arranged for a large dollop of clotted cream to be added to the dessert for me. The cream was a sinful but sublime extra treat. Fresh clotted cream, with its high fat content and crunchy, knobbly bits of buttery yumminess is another one of those things that I have to live without in San Francisco. This makes it all the more special on those rare occasions I do get to indulge in a little of it.

photograph of vanilla panacotta at Riverstation restaurant and bar in Bristol, England
Vanilla panacotta with Illy liqueur + sable biscuit
This was a fine dessert. Rich and creamy, vanilla-scented and dribbled with alcoholic coffee. The little biscuits on the side were sweet, dense and buttery.

Despite the couple of criticisms, overall this lunch was exceptionally well priced with an interesting menu. I was particularly impressed with the quality of the ingredients. It will be near the top of my list of places to revisit next time I am in Bristol.
Riverstation - Bristol - UK


  • At 4/4/05 07:52, Blogger Niki said…

    Mmmmm....clotted cream. Expensive and artisan-produced down here, but at least it is available.
    That lunch does indeed sound like a great deal for what you received. And it's interesting to note that tarting up the disused working waterfronts/docks for day trippers and cafe-dwellers seems to be the rage all over the western world! I do enjoy them when they're designed by sensitive developers.

  • At 4/4/05 09:02, Blogger Sam said…

    And Niki - you have King Island Cream too. In CA there is no thick, dense cream of that ilk to be had.

  • At 4/4/05 19:10, Blogger Amy T said…

    Hi Sam -- I've been an avid reader since I learned of your blog from the SFGate article on food bloggers. Today I just HAD to compliment you on your stunning photos, descriptions and critiques. You have a very artful eye for photography! :)

  • At 4/4/05 19:46, Blogger Sam said…

    Thank you Amy.
    When I was in England I was like a tourist and took my big camera everywhere with me which means the photos turned out great. I was lucky to have some nice lighting too. Usually, in SF, I am using a much smaller less fancy camera if I am eating out. Both of them have macro lenses which is great for taking food pictures.

  • At 4/4/05 23:38, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    great review!
    Next time you go to Bristol, check out Arnolfini for simple organic chow and Princes Pantry for a simple egg and bacon sandwich on brown bread. delish.

  • At 5/4/05 04:28, Blogger Niki said…

    Ah yes, you're right. King Island Cream, as thick as marscarpone cheese. They vie with a lot of new contendors making the same sort of thing nowdays, so we have a lot of choice.
    I have a nice chunk of Triple Cream Brie from King Island in the fridge right now. :-)
    To think of a country without this standard commodity! Tragic!

  • At 5/4/05 07:22, Blogger Sam said…

    Aha - I used to hang out in the Arnolfini 20 years ago when I was a veggie student. We also used to go to the Bristol Guild on Park Street all the time. It was such a quick trip I didn't have time for everything. Thanks for the Princes Pantry tip. I've a few more West Country food reviews in the works that I'll publish over the next few weeks, including the best seafood pub in England (?), Juniper - which I didn't find to be out of this world and The Pump Rooms in Bath as well as a trip to Cheddar.

    Niki - I agree with you, but maybe my waistline is better off for it!

  • At 5/4/05 19:02, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sam -

    Can't wait to see the rest of your Bristol reports! It's definately a blast from the past for this Bay Area girl.

  • At 5/4/05 22:33, Blogger Sam said…

    Christina - do you have any of Rick Stein's cookbooks? He has my favourite panna cotta recipe - with stewed rhubarb. It's worth buying panna cotta molds for, believe me.

    Glad I can be of srvice.. Don't know when I will get round to posting all of my West Country posts, but I expect there will be at least one a week for the next few weeks.
    I am guessing you sepnt some time in Bristol, then, or are you from Bristol and now living in the Bay area like me?

  • At 6/4/05 05:56, Blogger Jeanne said…

    Oh wow - I think I need to get to Bristol!! In London you'd get, um, maybe a pizza and a glass of wine for that?? Pictures are fabulous. Is that (gasp) sunlight I see?? And I'm with you on the clotted cream. As the queen of animal fat consumption, I do rate clotted cream as one of the best. The first time I went to Cornwall I had the most sublime cream tea and I was hooked on the stuff since then! Think I must get me some this weekend and bake scones...

  • At 6/4/05 07:35, Blogger Sam said…

    Jeanne - yes you should get to Bristol. Have you ever been? This deal was a wwekday lunch. I imagine it's not available in the evenings, maybe not even weekend lunch.
    I have another really good west country lunch I am going to post up soon as well as The Pump Rooms in Bath.
    Now, stop making me jealous about your promixity to places that sell clotted cream.
    I have an old cornish recipe for it, and I swear, one of these days I am going to try and make it.

  • At 6/4/05 17:40, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    I relocated from the Bay Area to work at a company in Bristol for a year and a half. Before I left, there were Bay Area folks who told me that I was entering a culinary wasteland. Not true! As you well know, there's amazing food to be had there. I look forward to your West Country updates.

  • At 16/2/08 17:33, Blogger Unknown said…

    If any of you have been to an upmarket chain bar/restaurant then look no further han the River station.

    Although not part of a chain, the River station lacks the same personality. The service lag time is pretty bad (45 Min's for starters, 25 following that for mains and another 20 for dessert). It felt as if we were doing the staff a favor by being there at all. The food was by no means remarkable - lacking refinement. The Cardamon panna cotta was nicely set but the taste of cardamon too strong - the chef neglecting to take advantage of its more subtle characteristics.

    A good place to go for a work function or meeting as you will be left alone for the duration.

    The owners are keen to associate themselves with Bells Diner (a genuinely interesting place to spend an evening) but I would be very, very surprised if that association existed today.

    Average fast food served slowly with crisp linen.


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