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; hopeful that I could prove the unlucky reviewer wrong. Amidst the razzle dazzle of bright lights and flowers, the two of us were awkwardly shown to a table for four, noticing laptops and notebooks splayed out on tables along the way. As I eyed up the menu, I was immediately puzzled, only realising seconds later that I was searching the ‘non-gluten’ menu for tastier treats - a mistake I'm willing to let slide. The standard menu, which promises to serve ‘culinary delights and fragrant delicacies’, boasts 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.
This mild excitement lasted pretty much until we began to eat. I’m not going to put the soft pedal on this: 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... it was a long five minutes. Firstly, the plates were cold, and sadly their contents raised similar concerns. I had ordered the ‘beetroot and apple pearly barley with grilled goats cheese, rocket and fresh horseradish’ as a main course, finished with freshly-grated horseradish by our waiter (which one?) over the table. With gummy, barely grilled goats' cheese and a big bush of rocket that was not unlike seaweed, this, as it happens, was not as advertised. The Florist's presentation was also miles off the mark, and dramatically unrecognisable from the Scandi-inspired shots on their Instagram. After searching the restaurant for our waiter for a few minutes, someone rushed over haphazardly yielding a grater, supposedly oblivious to my expectant looks. What troubled me most however was not the false advertising Insta-shots or the over-salted salad leaves, it was the temperature of every dish we tried. This may sound silly as clearly, temperatures change pretty rapidly. But if this really was a microwave job, this was a serious sin. The texture of the pearl barley on my plate was far from appeasing and while I might be blamed for opting for 'apple and beetroot’, the flavour on this plate was strikingly sweet. Regardless, since it was too cold to eat by the time I had picked at the hot parts, I put my knife and fork together with scraps 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, alongside a mint & coriander yoghurt. As we waited for our plates to arrive, we agreed that this could easily be a reasonably big, meaty dish; a pile of fries on the side with cooling sauce for dunking. Yet again, surprise surprise, we were let down. What was placed in front of us instead was a solitary piece of chicken, a reasonably average-sized cup of chips and a pretty inelegant pot of sauce. Though cooked well and perfectly edible, the seasoning on the chicken was barely evident, and - unless doused in a mint and coriander sauce - it was really rather dry. The harissa chips were not as punchy as advertised and once again on the negative side of moist.
The side salad with ‘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. Heavy chunks of cheese, with slithers of pear and shop-bought candied walnuts were basically chucked into a bowl of leaves; it resembled something I’d carelessly knock up on a thursday night when emptying the remains of my fridge.
After all that, we were convinced that they couldn’t really muck up a dessert and thankfully we were - sort of almost - right. Spotting the familiar sight of crème brûlée on the menu, but this time flavoured with orange and lavender and served with ‘homemade’ hazelnut pastry twists, I ordered with a sense of defiance to prove my skeptical stomach wrong. The crème brûlée did work and had a nice crack to it, though any notes of lavender were not particularly evident, and the pastry twists weren't overly tasty... Finally, we finished with the baked white chocolate cheesecake, built upon a ginger biscuit base and topped with lemon thyme and stem ginger. While this was a satisfying finish to the evening, The Florist flopped on flavours once more, with promised hints of thyme or ginger getting lost in an unexpected layer of chocolate sauce.
Far from its promise of offering a gastronomically exceptional experience, it’s a shame that this restaurant doesn’t live up to its hype. It is slightly baffling, then, to observe the acute level of profession and ease upon which the cocktail bar works. 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 also surprisingly delicious: the lavender honey and sunflower loaf with goat’s cheese butter went down an absolute treat and paired with a string of dancefloor tunes, evoked a much cooler, easier going and -at last- enjoyable atmosphere. The clear problem elsewhere was the running of the restaurant: we saw four different waiters during the two hours that we tried to enjoy our meal, most of whom were noticeably nervous and tense. The hesitant hospitality parallels their approach to food remarkably well: both areas need serious work if they’re hoping to run as successfully as their bar.
With all things considered, one may well wonder if the cash is worth splashing? The food is over-priced considering its average quality, and drinks are... adequate. £5 for a beer is often a no-go for students, yet their cocktails - ranging from £7-9 - are tasty, beautifully presented and yes, contain alcohol (you could say it’s value for money). The Florist is a curious restaurant: rest assured, order the lychee martini and a load of that glorious loaf and hey, you’re in for a good night. On the other hand, the eatery side of things - unless they seriously up their game - is, dare I say it, a bullet to be dodged.