Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

Brizzol Beckons

Over the last 12 months I have been happily taking fairly regular trips to Bristol with my partner in crime JC, in order to visit his lovely Nan in Bedminster and a few of the local eateries. Bristol is a very cool city, with a large student population and the music and fashion scenes that can stem from this fertile culture. JC’s maternal family are Bristolians so he has solid connections with the city and I am more than happy to nip up there on the train every few months to soak up the funky vibes on Park Street and wander along the harbour in aid of helping JC keep in touch with his roots.

Of course, one of the rather fine things about Bristol are the number of good food producers and great places to eat you can find. I am still exploring the gourmet avenue as it is a huge metropolis, but I am pleased to report on a couple of favourites we have already clocked. A couple of weekends ago we ventured up to Bristol on the train, primarily to visit JC’s Nan who is a wonderful lady, but with plans to drop in to a couple of cafés we have grown very attached to. We caught the train from Exeter St. Davids shortly after 8am with the aim of arriving in time for breakfast – well, a sort of breakfast anyway. I will confess right now that this blog is lacking in decent food images, simply because I was having such a fabulous time I kept forgetting to take photos before I ate. The locations are just as important as the food however, so I hope you can ignore this and soak up some of the mood instead.

Our first destination, after a 20 minute walk from Temple Meads station, was Park Street and more specifically the fabulous Rocotillos. Rocotillos sits at the top of Park Street with it’s slightly out of kilter American styled frontage, advertising milkshakes, hamburgers and big breakfasts. It’s a favourite of JCs as it serves peanut butter milkshakes so he has been sold on it for some time, but after a few visits now, I too am a keen convert. The décor is spot on with an authentic American diner treatment, complete with booths, central curved breakfast bar with stools and roughly mosaic tiled walls. It’s a bit grungy and not too sparkly & self-conscious which is perfect as far as I’m concerned.

We slipped into the booth that we have had each time we have been there, making me feel as if I was a regular – this being only my 3rd visit this was far from true, but heck, as I felt so at home it was easy to pretend. JC went straight in for the peanut butter milkshake, whilst my eye landed on the blueberry pancakes. If I was going to seriously over-indulge American style at 9.30 in the morning, then pancakes were the first thing to head for. As I was pushing the boat out, I decided on a latté to go with it, despite my issues with caffeine - it makes me a bit crazy. JC’s shake arrived with some poured into a glass and the rest in a metal milkshake container. It’s way too much for me I’m afraid. I love peanut butter, but a milkshake made entirely from peanut butter mixed with milk and ice cream screams heart attack and has too much of a cloying texture so I leave him to it. My 3 generous pancakes arrive unceremoniously stacked and covered in maple syrup which oozes it’s way to every edge of the plain white plate. The pancakes are cooked with the blueberries in them and not piled on top which is what I have been used to at other places, but makes for a pleasant change. To make the experience all the more exciting, it’s not even 10am and I have a scoop of ice-cream on the side! The pancakes are absolutely gorgeous despite the excessive use of maple syrup, but the latté is another matter. I would advise that if you enjoy your coffee, Rocotillos may not be the first place you should head for to pick up a beverage. It's more akin to a greasy spoon builder's brew. That aside, I once again vowed to head for Rocotillos whenever I came to Bristol in the future. It’s friendly, laidback & cool atmosphere is hard not to warm to, if that makes sense. I will also mention that the Rocotillos breakfast has won a readers award in the Guardian and the praise of Jamie Oliver amongst others so it’s not just JC and I that love it. They even have their own Facebook page.

After leaving Park Street we headed down to the Harbour to wander around for a while, before popping into the Arnolfini Gallery to visit an exhibition. We had some time to kill before the next food adventure you see and this was as good as any way to do it. The bonus was there were some Louise Bourgeois (of large metal spider fame) drawings on show so that pleased me. With still a little time before it was reasonable to eat lunch – especially following those pancakes – we headed for the Bordeaux Quay deli. I made another note to myself to get back to try the brasserie or restaurant in the future, but made do quite merrily with the deli for the time being. They stock a range of local and European products including cheeses, olives, chocolate and teas as well as their own handmade treats such as preserves, pastries, cakes and bread which is all made in their in-house bakery. Not a bad find. I didn't buy anything at the time as JC was looking a little bored by this time, but I shall return.

Our final destination was the Mud Dock café, down on The Grove in a converted warehouse. JC and I are very familiar with the Mud Dock as we were lucky enough to have one in Exeter for a while until it closed at the beginning of 2004. The concept is unusual in that it is a bike shop with a café above it. The café is decked out with bike paraphernalia, including bikes swinging from the ceiling – secured I might add. I loved the Exeter café and was very sad when it closed, but the Bristol flagship café is equally as impressive so I was excited the first time JC took me there a couple of years ago. JC being an avid cyclist – the 150 miles per week variety – feels very at home in this environment and so do I. The warehouse has a feature circular window at one end, with a decked verandah that overlooks the harbour running almost the full length of the building. The wooden floor boards, plants and eclectic furniture make it a very cool, but comfortable place to visit. I’ve not been to the café in decent weather to date so the verandah is somewhere I’m looking forward to using in the future, as it looks very tempting.

As far as food goes, we weren’t feeling terribly adventurous on this particular trip having exhausted ourselves during the breakfast venture. I managed a chicken caesar salad – the western equivalent of a chicken korma in the dull stakes – and JC had his favourite burger. The Mud Dock burger is made from beef that is locally sourced and served with crispy pancetta and a fried egg so it’s not a light meal, but perfect for a growing cyclist. On top of that you get a side order of chips and salad. For £9.95 this is a good value meal. The food at the Mud Dock has always been a draw. It’s not fine dining, but it has always been reliably tasty, fresh and interesting which is something I rate highly. You can certainly taste the difference between a Mud Dock meal and a high street restaurant chain meal, put it that way. My chicken caesar salad was good although I wasn’t in the mood for the whole anchovy pieces that came with it so left these to one side. In the past my favourite has been the sausage and mash as they change the variety of sausages regularly and serve them with a red wine gravy that is genuinely moreish, but sausages after pancakes was not going to happen. They also serve mezze and tapas dishes if you are that way inclined. Personally I’m rarely in the mood for anything that requires me to pick at food – I prefer a good solid meal, but it’s good to know.

No doubt in the future I will add more Bristol favourites to this small, but perfectly formed list, but for now I am content to head for Rocotillos for breakfast and the Mud Dock for lunch as often as I can. The food at both cafés is good enough to return to more than once, but the location and atmosphere is special enough to turn them into lifelong haunts.