Atmosphere: 5 Drink: 6 Food: 6 Overall: 5.5
Clifton No. 4 struggles to keep up with the stern competition surrounding it in the thriving Bristol food scene. These guys serve up dishes that look chic and European but sadly lack the depth or range of flavour that less expensive and less showy restaurants are nailing.
Situated in ‘chocolate box’ Clifton village, this really seemed like the perfect place for a romantic supper. I swapped my trainers for what my mum would call ‘a proper pair of shoes’, my hoodie for a collar, and set off a little apprehensive having done my revision on Trip Advisor beforehand. 3.5 star rating doesn’t bode well for a three course meal that will come to nearly £100 for two, including a bottle of wine, especially considering Taka Taka gets an admiral 4.5.
Clifton No. 4’s exterior is classical Georgian: sandy yellow bricks with big beautiful windows, epitomising Clifton’s class. Feeling like imposters, we disguised the real student in us (I even brushed my hair) and marched up the stairs to be greeted into The Rodney Hotel. Oh bugger- we’re in the wrong place, looking as daft as we feel. But no, ye of little faith, it turns out Clifton No. 4 is actually part of the hotel. As that feeling of being the children at a grown ups party began to grow, we were ushered through to the bar. At last, somewhere we could fit in! The wooden bar top, rustic, bare stone walls fitted with mismatched and entertaining photos and street signs make this room characterful and a little less rigid. It gives the feeling you could easily settle there for more than a few, a feeling we happily indulged.
This room stands out as special in an otherwise quite rigid interior. The drawings on the wall were nice, but the eye watering price tags made me suddenly feel acutely aware of the cost of my ‘proper’ shoes. The main dining room is nice; stripped floorboards, wooden shutters and oak tables set it up to be pleasing on the eye, but in reality is old fashioned, regimented and echoes uncomfortably. It really is nice, but just feels a touch stuffy, like a stifling grand parents’ house were you’re expected to be seen but not heard, and God forbid you touch anything precious or valuable.
We took advantage of the warm evening and ate in Clifton No.4’s pretty garden out back, which is definitely the best place to eat when dining here in the summer. The menu is presented as modern European, and while for the most part not ambitious, sounds a well thought through summer selection. Ham hock terrine with piccalilli, and rabbit loin with pea mousse and puree lead the meaty starters; while salmon and sea trout tartar with gin marinated cucumber and salmon roe appeared a delicious lighter option. The veggie option looked good too, combining goat’s cheese mousse, olive soil (yes soil), grapefruit and beetroot. When the dishes arrived, our hopes were kept high as they looked smart and promising, served on black slate, complete with all the Master Chef swipes and smears that have become so popular among chefs these days. However, as we tucked in, a seemingly glaring omission of seasoning undercut the picture perfect presentation. This rang true for the salmon and sea trout tartar, in which there was no salt and pepper, leaving the tartar to taste mainly of cream cheese. The salmon roe was the best part of this dish because its saltiness cut through the rest. I hate whiners, and fear I might be misjudeged as such- there really was no seasoning in these dishes. By knotting their carrots into bows and charging £8 for a starter, Clifton No. 4 put themselves on a level the out right flavour and taste of their food does not stand up to.
The cooking of the meat and vegetables of the meat impressed in both the starters and the main, but unfortunately much of what was promised on the menu did not shine through. The rabbit loin was firm and juicy, and our fish mains were both perfectly cooked- flaky, soft and falling off the bone. Our mutual choice to opt for the skate and the cod was in equal part a reflection of the light summer’s evening, and the thought of paying £25 for an 8oz steak seemed a bit out of our price range (at first sight £16.50, their 8oz rib eyes come alone- charging you £7 extra for chips and veg on the side). The skate was the highlight of our meal; expertly cooked, the salsify added flavour, the hazelnut beurre noisette was buttery and added texture, and the girolles mushrooms were an excellent addition. Everything on this dish added to it and it really came together. Of the veg that came with the dish and the purple stem broccoli that we order as a side, the cooking again on point with firm, seemingly fresh vegetables impressing.
Unfortunately the reoccurring feeling that aspects promised on the menu did not really shine through on the plate. The pickled carrots didn’t have that pickled, vinegar taste in them; the gin marinating the cucumbers didn’t impress flavour upon you, despite being an interesting take bringing the huge rise of the Gin and Tonic to a starter, and perhaps most disappointingly the seafood black pudding accompanying the cod and samphire main lacked the saltiness and meatiness that black pudding is loved for. Whilst clever additions to the menu, the delivery on the night we ate was not strong enough to back up its promise or, sadly, its price tag.
To give them credit, we wiped our plates clean and decided we couldn’t leave without looking at the pudding menu. We took a look. And then did a double take. Thai Green Curry. Pudding? Sat alongside hilariously named ‘Eton Tidy’ and a nameless chocolate fondant, this certainly leapt out at us. Thai Green Curry has been our go-to dinner party meal all year, so we felt duty bound to investigate this sweetened spin-off. Credit where credit is due, it tasted like a sweet Thai Green Curry. The ginger cake was gingery, the custard tasted of lemon grass, and the bright green panna cotta certainly tasted of coriander. It was the kind of dish were you marvel at the chef’s ability to put flavours of a well known savoury classic into a dessert, yet leaves slightly unsure whether you really wanted to have curry for pudding. The waitress assured us it divided people, and while a clever plate of food, we were unsure whether we would order it again.
The aim of this Food & Drink blog ahem, ‘magazine’ has been to promote the strong and vibrant food culture Bristol has to offer. In many places, perhaps even Bath, I’m sure Clifton No. 4 would excel. Yet in a week where we were spoilt enough to eat at the wonderful Wilson’s and the brilliant Bravas, we were painfully made aware by Clifton No 4 just how high the bar has been set.