Food: 8.5 Drink: 9 Atmosphere: 9 Overall: 9
Zetland Road holds a place in the heart of many Bristol food fanatics. It’s home to the successful modern British Greens and long-standing Casa Mexicana, whilst being a stone’s throw from the gluttons’ paradise that is the Gloucester Road promenade.
To the untrained eye, this place runs like an ordinary Bristol restaurant. It has a casual, chirpy atmosphere, with upbeat music and chatty staff bustling around you. Glinting fairy lights line the indoor area while wooden tables flank the dazzling aqua-coloured outdoor terrace (this is a gem of a suntrap).
As a veggie diner, I couldn’t hide my excitement over the arrival of a Persian-inspired, vegan, small-plate bar in the area. Granted, lots of you will wince at the concept of ‘small plates’, even more so when coupled with the word ‘vegan’ but frankly, it ticks a lot of boxes for me. Koocha aims to dispel those preconceptions, and bemuse those who don’t think vegan food can satisfy a growling stomach. Even as a vegetarian myself, I anticipated the menu as a brief catalogue of falafel, hummus… the usual. I also held concerns regarding how well my meat-eating, cheese-loving companion would take to vegan tapas; I honestly didn’t put a post-meal trip to Sainsbury’s past him.
Miraculously, we were both proven wrong. Koocha’s menu boasts up to 15 different mezze plates, ranging from bread and olives to fluffy rice, crispy fries, and warming soups. These are inspiring, wide-ranging dishes: spiced veggie fritters, potato and yellow split pea patties, deep-fried rice balls and aubergine dip - to name but a few. Particularly fresh and bringing something really tasty to the table are their herby salads and slow-roast mash with sweet potato, garlic and marinated cauliflower. The prices stay pretty reasonable at £3.50 per plate, or 4 for £12. Since they opened in May, Koocha’s menu has grown with commendable speed, obliging them to expand their menu with really interesting additions such as a vegan doner kebab, beetroot hummus, aash reshteh (Persian soup), and saffron-spiked rice.
My favourite dish by a considerable margin was the dessert which, strangely enough, is not on Koocha’s main menu. In my eyes, it is a real crowd-pleaser and likely to silence anyone about to mouth-off vegan food. Two scoops of creamy, delicate saffron and rosewater ice-cream coupled with two generous squares of cinnamon baklava are delicately sprinkled with pistachios and petals: divine. This pudding looked so beautiful and tasted terrific, with earthy, gently floral flavours married alongside syrupy, sticky baklava. Definitely worth the wait.
Sticking with the vegan ethos, Koocha’s glittering cocktail list boasts a host of gin-focused concoctions, with fragrant garnishes including lavender, mint, rosewater and cucumber. If you want a brew with a major kick, the ‘Aviation’ - London dry gin, cherry liquor, violet liquor and freshly squeezed lemon juice - will knock you for six or as the menu pre-warns: this will ‘fly you away’… Cocktails are any 2 for £10, meaning even if you come in for a Friday evening drink, you’re pretty much destined to have ‘just a glance’ over the menu.
So far, I haven’t heard one bad word spoken about the place, and I can confirm the food is every bit as delicious as people say. I do, however, have one major criticism, and one that the team is probably already aware of. Since there’s no booking policy, eager diners arrive for the popular 7:30 pm seating. The restaurant thus becomes congested and leads to diners attempting to grab any waiter’s attention while they’re frantically attending to larger tables. It starts with a drawn-out wait for our drink order, followed by an equally long endurance for the food. Conversely, the fact that the staff are so genuinely charming makes matter worse, as you’re hesitant to demand their attention, even when desperation rises with every look of someone else’s food. I would advise arriving ravenous with a group, willing to order everything the menu offers; however, for the peckish among you, a snack beforehand to quash any potential feelings of hunger wouldn’t go awry... What is probably best is to go during at a quieter hour, when you’ll assuredly be given their undivided attention.
Koocha is very much Bristol’s worst kept secret, and I hope they don’t become a victim of their own success. They are offering some seriously good food, so after all, it would be a shame to see it go to waste.