Food: 9 Atmosphere: 9 Drink: 9 Overall: 9
Bristol is blessed. I’m not talking about the soul raising beauty of church spires one can see looking out over the city from the top of White Ladies. I’m talking about the sole braising brilliance of the food phenomena happening in all parts of our city right now. Take Redlands, for example- a wealthy yet modest, attractive yet understated neighbourhood in our many-sided city. Within a half-mile stretch along Chandos Road there are a baker’s dozen restaurant, pub, café, and grocers (and a life-nourishing, alcohol-serving Londis) each playing its own important role in the local community’s food and drink ecosystem. At the top end of this Redland’s spectrum, three restaurants proudly stand at the pinnacle of Bristol’s food scene: Wilks, Wilsons, and No Man’s Grace.
Wilks is like the first child of this family of three. The high-achieving eldest, boasting a Michelin Star, perfect in your parents’ eyes yet a trifle reserved. Perhaps more mature than the others, you wear a shirt with a collar to Wilks. This is the child that shies away from goofing around, preferring to eat at the adults' table. Wilsons is the fiercely independent middle child. Brilliantly talented yet in a way rough around the edges, lacking the polish of its siblings. Understated, unassuming, loyal and honest, Wilsons is happy and confident with its own characteristic differences. And then there’s No Man’s Grace. With flashes of fine dining skill, the quality is woven into a personality that is the most charming and easy-going of the three. This is the child that gets along with everyone of all ages, a place where jeans and a t shirt can be at ease next to suits and a tie, where ordering a pint is as common as a Bloody Mary or a bottle of fizz, where roast potatoes are served next to puréed carrot, or pickled root veg.
The design of No Man’s Grace is clean and classic. Stylish grey adorns the walls, and the wooden tables are fitted with endearingly mismatched chairs, like a gentrified local pub. Daffodils and candles dress the tables, which are of intimate sizes. With Fleetwood Mac softly murmuring in the background, the effect is warm, welcoming and classy; comfortable, unpretentious chic. The waiters are dressed in relaxed casual clothes. They are knowledgeable, friendly and charming, but not smarmy or intrusive. Their wine pairing recommendations were impressive.
Freshly baked wholemeal bread and proper butter with sea salt flakes accompanied our menus. A bread-and-butter amuse bouche, yet with palatably impressive deft attention to detail. Accompanied with an aperitif, such as consommé tomato Bloody Mary, your taste buds inform you you’re about to be in for a real treat. In the Sunday menu, flashes of fine dinning showcase the quality and skill No man’s Grace perfect during the week. Consumes and emulsions hint at their talent, but sit seamlessly alongside Yorkshire puds and roast beef, along with other strong elements of classic British cuisine. Sunday lunch staters change regularly depending on ingredients' availability, but expect homemade faggots, deep and meaty with intense flavoured gravy and innovative puffed rice to give texture to the dish. Or perfectly cooked scallops and confit chicken wing, resting on a sweet carrot purée and braised leek, drizzled with leek oil, in the most delicately flavoured surf-and-turf you might ever find. For Sunday mains, the menu is classic yet creative: Hake loin with mussels and a mussel parsley sauce, and, to my disbelief, delicious turnips. Turnips! That are actually tasty?! I kid you not, they have to be tasted to be believed.
Part of No Man’s Grace undivided welcoming appeal is their ability to blend such delicate and creative dishes with your lamb shank or topside of beef. Their belly pork was sensational. This cut is objectively tasty, but undeniably fat heavy. But No Man’s Grace belly pork was succulent and lean, a testament to the superior quality and sourcing of their meat. As mentioned earlier, it is not easy to combine the trusty Yorkshire pudding with a carrot purée, but matched with a good gravy, and the best roast potatoes I’ve ever eaten (sorry, Granny), this finessed Sunday lunch must be one of the best out there.
As ever, I hold my hands up as a pudding philistine. A magnum and a coffee and I’m a happy man. However after the quality of the mains, the promise of pudding was irresistible. Again, expect not only seasonal but also weekly changes as the chefs fine-tune their craft. Warm hazelnut mousse with a chocolate brownie and salted caramel ice cream is always going to be crowd pleaser. Intriguingly options such as prune and Armagnac soufflé, with toasted rice ice cream, and poached rhubarb, yoghurt custard, ewes curd ice cream and oat crumb showcase the kitchen’s talent. If you are apprehensive of these flavours upon first viewing, all I can say is, rather cheesily, the proof is in the pudding.
So ladies and gents. I leave you with a challenge and a quest: delve deep into the treasures of Bristol's restaurant chest. Chomp, chew and slurp your way through them all, but I have a feeling on Chandos Road you'll find the best.