Food: 8.5 Drink: 8 Atmosphere: 8 Overall: 8.5
Chandos Road is fast becoming one of the most exciting stretches of tarmac in Bristol (harder than it sounds, I promise). Winding its way into the depths of student-run Redlands, a trip down this street will send you skippin’ and singin’ like Dorothy on her way to Oz. After so many well-established joints – Michelin-starred Wilks, highly-acclaimed Wilsons and Sunday treat favourite No Man’s Grace being among the rabble – it’s hard to believe that Bristol could add yet another jewel to its culinary crown. Somehow, this city just keeps on giving, and Chandos Social (under the same roof as Otira, more on that later) has snuck into the runnings with their moreish plates of South American-inspired tapas.
Slowly but surely, I’m trying to make my way around Bristol’s best-in-show on the restaurant scene, but at the rate that it’s growing while my student loan is shrinking, it’s proving to be harder than it sounds, especially when two fantastic restaurants are sharing one space. Yep, I was confused too, these two share a website, a bar, the lot. But after chatting to the lovely waitress at Chandos and learning more about owner Stephen and head chef Thomas’ backgrounds and influences, somehow this game of two halves began to make sense. Otira takes its inspiration from Stephen’s Kiwi roots, while Thomas’ time spent in Argentina kicked off Chandos Social. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of sampling Otira’s cuisine, however with a menu boasting sophisticated-sounding dishes such as ‘Rabbit beignet, salsify, charcoal, Szechuan pepper and octopus water mayonnaise’ and ‘roast parsley root, market fish, red miso, blood orange, pear and BBQ Calcott onions’… watch this space.
Evidently as a student, price is key, and this is where Chandos Social stands out from the crowd. At lunch time from 12pm, you can get 3 tapas dishes with chewy homemade sourdough for £12, which is pretty great value when you figure out how much the dishes would cost you if you wanted to dine just a few hours later. Having been forgotten by my friend in the stresses of her mock exams, I settled in with a glass of wine to soak up the surroundings and stare at the menu to the intense protest of my stomach. Trying to stick to some kind of budget, I opted for the cheapest glass of wine, a Sicilian white coming in at £3.95 for the smallest glass. While this was perfectly drinkable, clearly the wine list is meant for earning adults, with most offered as entire bottles around the £30 mark. Nevertheless, I abstemiously sipped away, enjoying people-watching from my bar stool by the window. While they do manage to keep the two restaurants separate, I wondered how smoothly dinner service would flow, being that the casual bar and shared table lends this restaurant its Social side, while smartly-laid tables and folded napkins flank New Zealand-inspired Otira’s space.
At long last my lunching companion arrived, my reward for waiting being to order my first choices from the sweetly surprising lunch special menu. The folks at Chandos Social recommend the £12 deal per head, but we went off-piste and ordered three tapas in the deal menu as well as two others from the a la carte. Barbequed aubergine with tomato salsa, fennel seed and Bottarga (salty, tangy cured fish roe) was top of my list, closely followed by pumpkin ravioli with ricotta, sage, almond and roast chestnut. This was my winner, and every bit as scrumptious as it sounds. Autumnal flavours and a myriad of textures, I could guzzle up a bowl of this (with extra cheese) on a Sunday night, no problem. Next up was an eye-poppingly fresh chicory salad with pomegranate and pickled sardines, closely followed by crackly deep-fried prawn empanadas oozing with potato and mozzarella – not usually my kind of thing, but incredibly delicious dunked in the accompanying spicy and sweet chilli sauce. Attempting to keep the cost slightly lower but our bellies sufficiently satisfied, we opted for the triple-cooked chips, which were a complete crispy, fluffy, aioli-covered delight. Sadly I had to deny my sweet tooth in favour of my bank balance, with puds priced at a pretty steep £8.20, but with delicacies such as rice pudding arancini with blood orange and salted caramel ice-cream on the menu, it sounded like Chandos Social’s sweets might merit their price tag.
It's tough competition at the top of Bristol's tapas game, and while Chandos Social is clearly pleasing crowds with Hispanic classics on the list such as octopus, ceviche and fire-pit capsicums, I can’t say wholeheartedly that I think they quite take the biscuit from their Spanish cousins over on Cotham Hill, Bravas (read more about those guys here). It sort of makes sense though – Chandos Social is inspired by Buenos Aires: metropolitan, night life, a classy affair. Bravas brings the sunny vibes of Spain’s plazas to Bristol: it’s a place to catch up over some salty baked chorizo swimming in red wine and stuff your face with olives as big as your fists… I could go on. All I can say is, you should probably do the sensible thing and try them both out for yourself.
http://www.otira.co.uk/newpage 5-7 Chandos Road
Pictures: Otira website / Bea Hughes-Morgan