Food: 4 Drink: 7 Atmosphere: 7 Overall: 5.5
The highly-anticipated opening of The Florist has been met with mixed reviews.
A handful of hopefuls claim it’s ‘the ultimate girl’s night out’; a glittering destination for cocktails with stylish, upscale surroundings to match. On the other end, an acclaimed restaurant-goer confirms their meal was ‘the worst dish they’ve been served this year’. Somewhat confusing, given the gleaming praise of the former.
Whatever your opinion may be, there’s no denying it’s an impressive set up. ‘Injecting a touch of class’, one reviewer claims, is understated to say the least. The place is overwhelmingly floral and stuffed to the brim with gold plastic frames, pink neon signs and, well, flowers. ‘Find me where the wild things are’ is one of the many large and loopy tag lines painted over a mock brick wall.
For the many Bristolians who cherish the value of independents, this may be The Florist’s most fundamental flaw. So much money has been pumped into priming, that it feels inauthentic with an outcome resembling a brash catalogue scene. On the other hand, this attention to detail and grooming is considered desirable for many diners – the venue is guaranteed to divide opinion.
In light of this, I went into the evening with apt caution, and hopeful that I could prove the unlucky reviewer wrong. Amidst the razzle and dazzle of bright lights and flowers, the two of us were awkwardly shown to a table for four, walking past laptops and notebooks splayed out on tables along the way. The menu immediately puzzled me, only to realise that I’d been given the ‘non-gluten’ menu. The standard menu, which promises to serve ‘culinary delights and fragrant delicacies’, was a vast display of deli boards, burgers, hanging kebabs, salads and the like. With an ample selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes, and allusions to intriguing combinations such as the ‘tandoori battered cod with mint and coriander yoghurt’, we were indeed pleasantly surprised.
That was until we ate. I’m not going to soft pedal things: the food was not very good. After waiting a fair twenty minutes, we were unnecessarily informed by a new waiter that our food would take an extra four to five-minutes, only for the food to arrive minutes later. Firstly, the plates were cold, with the innards of the plate similarly raising concern. My main was advertised as a ‘beetroot and apple pearly barley with grilled goats cheese, rocket and fresh horseradish’- with the horseradish grated by a waiter over the table. This was in fact incorrect. The goats cheese was barely grilled, and the leaves merely a big bush of rocket, similar to salty seaweed. The presentation was a mile off the mark, and unrecognisable from the Scandi-inspired shots over on their Instagram. After looking about for a few minutes, one of the waiters rushed over with the grater, acting as if I hadn’t ever wondered when she’d come. What troubled me most me was the temperature: cold in parts, lukewarm and hot in others. If it really was a microwave job, then this is a serious sin. Pearl barley should take up to fifty minutes to boil, so naturally I didn’t expect that level of laziness. The texture wasn’t very appeasing and the flavour, perhaps a fault of mine for choosing ‘apple and beetroot’, was strikingly sweet. Since it was too cold to eat by the time I sourced the hot parts, I left the plate with food to spare.
On the other side of the table, high expectations were held for the ‘Red Tractor Assured’ half chicken: marinated in tandoori spices and served with harissa chips, and a mint & coriander yoghurt. We were both imagining the sight of a big, meaty dish, yet we were met with a solitary piece of chicken, a cup full of chips and a pot of sauce. Though cooked well and perfectly edible, my company could barely taste the seasoning, where, unless covered with mint and coriander sauce, it was rather dry. The harissa chips weren’t as punchy as advertised and again, with no sauce but a mint yoghurt, they were inevitably dry.
The side salad, the ‘dolcelatte, poached pear and candied walnut salad with cranberries’, was possibly even less impressive; they do a grand job of making the food sound better than it is. Big chunks of cheese, with slithers of pear and shop-bought candied walnuts were placed into a bowl of leaves with no real recognition of each other; it resembled something I’d carelessly knock up when emptying the remains of my fridge.
We were convinced that they couldn’t really muck dessert up and thankfully we were right. Spotting the familiar sight of the crème brûlée, but this time flavoured with orange and lavender and served with ‘homemade’ hazelnut pastry twists, I ordered with a sense of reassurance. The crème brulee worked, though not offering any lavender, and the pastry twists were weird, dry and tasteless - but it didn’t matter much. The baked white chocolate cheesecake, with a ginger biscuit base topped with lemon thyme and stem ginger, was a satisfying finish to the evening - though it didn’t offer hints of thyme or ginger, and enclosing it was an unexpected layering of chocolate sauce.
The genuine problem here was the running of the restaurant: we saw four different waiters during the two hours, most of whom were noticeably nervous and tense. The unconfident hospitality parallels remarkably well with their approach to food; both areas need serious work if they’re hoping to run as successfully as the bar.
Far from its promise of offering a gastronomically exceptional experience, it’s a shame the restaurant doesn’t live up to its name. It is slightly baffling, then, to observe the acute level of profession and ease which the cocktail bar works on. Compared to the restaurant, the bar works like clockwork: the mixologists clearly know a thing or two. They deliver on that all-important confidence of custom; allowing you to bask in the glory of your cocktail of choice.
The bar nibbles were surprisingly delicious: the lavender honey and sunflower loaf with goat’s cheese butter went down an absolute treat and is something I’d definitely return for. All of this, paired with a string of dancefloor tunes, evolved the place into something much cooler, easier going and at last enjoyable. (My advice is to order the lychee martini, a load of that glorious loaf, bag yourself a comfortable seat and hey, you’re in for a good night).
With all things considered, one might ask if it’s worth splashing the cash? The food is over-priced considering its averageness, and drinks are somewhat adequate. £5 for a beer is obviously a signal to stay away from ever buying one, yet their cocktails - ranging from £7-9 are tasty, beautifully presented and contain alcohol (you could say it’s value for money).
To sum up, The Florist is a curate’s egg of a restaurant: their cocktails and late-night DJ sessions assure an evening of entertainment, but their restaurant, unless they seriously up their game, is a bullet to be dodged.