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Why I F****ing LOVE Bristol

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I know that this is going to sound slightly ironic when reading this; here we are, yet another non-Bristolian who moved here some years ago and never looked back, raving about why they love this city so much, yadda yadda yadda.

But, I’ve not travelled far. I came to Bristol six years ago from the quieter, smaller landscape of Exeter in Devon, so I’m keeping it within the South West. I’m not from London (can I say that?!) insert winking emoji here. I jest of course.

But what is it about Bristol that has me convinced I will probably (most certainly) never move myself back down to the shire? Why do I want to stay here? I thought I might write down some of the reasons why I FUCKING LOVE BRISTOL.

Bristol’s Food

bristol food

Well, let’s start with the obvious. I love to eat, but I never realised just how passionate I was about food and everything connected with it until I came here. There is a strong focus on sustainability, being ethical and supporting local and surrounding businesses – it’s collaborative, enthusiastic and extremely positive.

Bristol is surrounded by plentiful and beautiful greenery, perfect for foraging and collecting ingredients to be used in kitchens. It also means there are farms right on the city’s doorstep, providing us with a great selection of organic and free-range meats or poultry, vegetables and dairy. We really are situated within the West Country’s glorious larder. The food we enjoy in Bristol’s independent restaurants is fresh and of high quality, and it really doesn’t get much better.

No one is jostling and fighting for the spotlight, and if anything, restaurants, kitchens and bars actively promote each other across various platforms and encourage locals and visitors alike to give their city neighbours a try. We’ve got some strong offerings across this patch, all serving up quality and variety. I’ve always said if there is a certain cuisine, or dish that you fancy, you are most likely to find it somewhere in Bristol, and nine times out of ten, it won’t bankrupt your wallet. Growers, producers, farmers, restaurant owners and chefs all work together here collaboratively, and I fucking love it.

The Bristol Lingo

When I first moved to Bristol, I lived in Horfield and had the chore of commuting to and from the centre every day. Hearing the immortal words, ‘cheers drive’ has never grown old though, and now I don’t get the bus anymore I kind of miss it (not the bus journey, but the saying). The Bristolian lingo is one I love and I have learnt many new phrases since arriving here; who knew that getting your hair off meant you were in a pissy? Or the end of a loaf was the topper? I’m not sure I can get on board with smoothing the cat rather than stroking it, and I couldn’t get away with saying I was going to see ‘are muh’ but I love hearing it. Plus, I will never tire of being called ‘love’, ‘lover’ or ‘babber’ by friends and sweet strangers. There’s something so heart-warming about it.

Creativity

I haven’t seen a city fully embrace creativity and freedom of expression like I have seen it in Bristol. Embraced so much so that, in fact no one bats an eyelid. There are often events happening that I just don’t think would go on in other places, and I’m not sure if this is because there is a much stronger independent offering here which allows more flexibility, or that there are just more creative minds in Bristol possessing quirky ideas (I’m going with the latter).

Whatever it is though, I’m not complaining. I’ve twerked to hip hop in an actual fish and chip shop, I’ve dressed up as a hero of Ancient Geese and ran from pub to pub like a madman with my teammates to complete challenges which included throwing crab sticks down each other’s pants, I’ve danced to Golden Lookin’ Chain at the amphitheatre and the one closest to my heart; I led the Big Bristol Burger Crawl with the help of some very special friends, restaurants and a wonderful group of enthusiastic eaters. I would never have been able to do this in my hometown, for various reasons but mainly because it’s on such a smaller scale. I’ve created hilarious memories and fucking enjoyed every minute whilst doing so. Friends and family often comment to me how jealous they are that I live in a city with so much going on all the time, it never gets boring and there is always something to do.

Power Ballads at the Fleece

The first Friday of every month sees this epic club night at The Fleece and no matter how many times I go it never gets old. It’s a no frills, no-holds barred karaoke session basically, with you and every other reveller on the dance floor. There have been many occasions when I have belted out 4 Non-Blondes and Whitney Houston whilst flaying about and being my own air guitar master; serenading complete strangers who also meant to only go out for ‘one’ after work on a Friday. It’s a bloody laugh innit.

Baps…

natalie burger

I couldn’t write down the reasons I love Bristol and not mention the burger scene. For anyone who knows me knows how much joy I get from chowing down on a bap and we are truly spoilt for choice with options all over the city. Of course I understand the arguments for having too much of one thing, but I disagree. I believe each establishment offers us something different; there are places to takeaway, to sit in and have cocktails, restaurants that are better for families and venues which aren’t afraid to try something new. It would be pretty boring if they were all the same anyway right?

asado

Through my love of eating, I’ve also managed to forge some lovely friendships with the teams behind the buns, and their enthusiasm for bringing the best to Bristol is wonderful to see. I often get tagged in burger photos on Instagram and on Twitter, and receive messages from friends and strangers asking for recommendations on where to get their next burger fix and this brings me no end of joy. I’ve been able to meet, communicate and discuss all things meaty with a bunch of new faces which I really love. It’s just another reason (aside from them being delicious) that I will always champion the Bristol burger gods and for some people to call me Bristol’s burger queen is beyond a compliment.

Action for Change

There are so many examples of initiatives and events I could shout out for this example of why Bristol is special, so big up to everyone championing to make a difference in any way they can. Not only do individuals recognise problems and the need for change here, but they actually roll up their sleeves and start doing something about it.

The 91 Ways events have proved hugely popular across the city, and the idea behind it is really quite simple; uniting people through the love of food. Bristol has a diverse range of communities that live together and these events are designed to fuse these different cultures and promote a healthier, more sustainable city. It also allows communities or people who may feel isolated or out on a limb to make connections with others and engage in important discussions. It is ideas like this that allow people from all walks of life the chance to come together.

There are also smaller scale (but no less important) projects, such as Incredible Edible Bristol which promotes the use of land (no matter how big or small) to grow food. The team here, made up of volunteers and partners have created over 30 edible gardens in spaces across Bristol and the food grown is free and for anyone to take away and eat.  This initiative has also introduced a scheme to get schools involved, so that youngsters can see the importance first hand of being able to grow and eat sustainably.

As in every city there are charities designed to help the less fortunate, so this is not something new in Bristol, however the support and willingness of people to get stuck in and help knows no bounds here. People collecting donations of food and warm clothes to hand out to those sleeping on the streets, unwanted/unused scarfs tied to lampposts so that those who are homeless can take them to keep and fund raising events are just a small selection of ideas I have witnessed whilst living here. Care in the community has never had more of a profound meaning.

So Bristol, I love you, do you mind if I stay?

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New Year Menu Twist at Woky Ko

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Woky Ko launch new menu

Nestled in Wapping Wharf on Bristol’s buzzing harbourside, Woky Ko: CARGO swung open its doors in late-October, 2016 – capturing attention with a bold menu of delicate flavours. Talented chef-owner Larkin Cen has recently added to the family with Park St’s Woky Ko: Kauto, and the two combined offer some of the finest Asian cuisine you’ll find anywhere in the South West.

Woky Ko: Kauto

Woky Ko: Kauto has perhaps become the flagship venue, offering a little more space and a stronger restaurant feel than its waterside cousin. Sleek lines, muted tones and a contemporary feel combine to create a warm and welcoming space, with a row of high stools offering hungry diners that intimate ‘kitchen table’ experience.

There’s a strong crossover of influence and flavour between the Cargo and Kauto menus – with dishes like noodles, sharing sides and baos featuring in both. But with a larger kitchen, Kauto offers a fuller range.

Photo credit: Larkin Ken

Ramen recommendations (Ramenations? No…)

On my most recent visit I broke with previous form and tried the Woky Ko ramen; a large bowl of steaming noodles swimming in an umami (look it up) broth based on the saltier shio recipe. Larkin has spent hours perfecting the balances of salt, soy and spices across his dishes, and, with delicate jamon bone and rich roasted garlic, Woky Ko ramen is simply stunning.

But yes, I do have form here. On my first Kauto visit I fell a bit in love with the KFC ramen. This show-stopping blend of Korean spices leaves you slurping from the bottom of the bowl – perhaps not very fitting for a stylish restaurant setting, but it’s all too easy to get carried away… 

Sichuan ox cheek and hot and sour aged tofu complete Kauto’s ramen offerings, complemented by a mouth-watering selection of sides like onglet steak, tiger prawn toast, crispy duck pancakes and tenderstem broccoli that will change the way you look at greens forever.

Photo credit: Paolo Ferla

New Year deals from Monday to Friday

Woky Ko’s new weekday deals started up recently, offering diners a little added value for money from 4.30pm to 6.30pm Monday to Friday.

Down on the harbourside, Woky Ko Cargo is offering either chicken vermicelli noodles or edamame bean and sunflower seed yakisoba noodles plus a Tsingtao beer for £10.

And on Park St, just opposite the Wills Memorial Building, Woky Ko Kauto’s early-evening deal brings you a free beer, glass of wine or soft drink with any of the four ramen dishes.

For an idea of the dishes available, check out Woky Ko’s sample menu. And to read more of @cjcallaghan’s write-ups and reviews, nabber over to his Best of Bristol page and fill your boots.

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Behind the Scenes at Thatchers Cider

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I have a confession to make… I’m a cider snob. I like it dry or medium-dry, and cloudy – with the heady scent of fermented apples still brimming in the glass. The kind of cider that’s been greasing the wheels of agriculture and industry in Somerset for centuries. Not for me, the sugary, sweet, supermarket stuff… I’ll have a pint of real zider, and you can leave the twigs and leaves in, too.

Spanning four generations in the same family, Thatchers is our region’s most famous cider-maker – and their range of produce is broad. Although most of their ciders are slightly over-processed for my liking, they do still make cider the traditional way. I’d say a visit to their orchards at Myrtle Farm in the heart of Somerset’s cider country is a must-do for any cider-lover in Bristol.

Exploring the orchards

Image courtesy of Natacha the Franglaise

My recent visit began in the Thatchers Exhibition Orchard, where manager Chris oversees over 450 different apple varieties. The weather conditions in Somerset offer the perfect conditions for growing apples – with cold winters allowing the trees to lie dormant, and temperate springs promoting bee pollination and blossom-growth. True to form for this time of year, it was pissing with rain as we strolled among the lines of fruit-laden trees – but the apples like a little of that, too.

Hearing how Chris and his team fuse new apple buds to young root stocks to produce varieties like Dabinett and Jonagold was insightful, and his ability to harness the power of nature to produce the finest harvests made for fascinating listening. Our tour continued past the huge apple vats and ancient fermentation tanks to the state-of-the-art canning plant, and it was a joy to hear the various Thatchers team members share their passion for the product.

To the tasting…

Thatchers brought a selection of their lovely cider to Bristol a few months ago, so this was a fortunate second tasting for me. We sampled diverse brews including Redstreak, Old Rascal, Vintage, Haze, Katy, and more – each offering a different balance of scent and flavour to the last. It turns out Old Rascal is the team’s overall favourite Thatchers’ cider – a very fine drop indeed.

Lunch at The Railway Inn

Image courtesy of Bristol Bloggers

The Railway Inn is Thatchers’ local pub, with a broad selection of beers and ciders alongside a full menu of delicious dishes sourced, of course, from in and around Somerset. The pub has been lovingly converted from its original stone structure to a warm and welcoming space – with traditional snug, open bar area and stylish oak-beamed dining room. There’s garden seating for summer visitors, and a seasonal menu that makes the very most of the region’s natural produce.

Take a tour

If all this talk of apples and cider has got your taste buds tingling, you can find details on Thatchers’ guided tours and tastings on their website here. October is Cider and Perry Month, so now’s the ideal time to celebrate and support our local orchards and cider-makers. Harvest season is upon us too, so if you visit Thatchers there’s a good chance you’ll get to see the trucks arriving from across Somerset – their fruity haul ready for pressing.

If you head over, do book a table at The Railway Inn – it makes a good visit great. I can recommend the Thatchers Gold-battered fish and chips, and the sticky toffee pud hits the spot. Cider’s not bad ‘n’ all. Cheers!

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For more of @cjcallaghan’s reviews and write-ups, check out his Best of Bristol author page.

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Pata Negra Revamp Kitchen And Menu

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Pata Negra Steps It Up for the Autumn Season

Bristol’s proud independent streak is well-documented, and we’re lucky to have so many vibrant and exciting bars, restaurants and cafes to choose from in this city.

If you enjoy visiting and supporting Bristol’s varied independent venues, it’s likely you’ll have a list of places old and new that you’re just waiting for the right time to tick off.

The Ox on Corn Street had been sitting on my must-visit list for months when I went last month, and I was very, very impressed.

But from the style-savvy team behind The Milk Thistle and Hyde & Co, what else could I have expected?

Also on Corn Street, and also run by the same talented team, Pata Negra is another venue I’d been curious about for a while — but on those occasions when I’d peered in past the door, I’d never felt encouraged in. Despite the great location and classical décor, it somehow just didn’t feel tempting.

Fresh changes at Pata Negra

That’s all changed now. In the latest round of developments at Pata Negra, the kitchen has been brought up from the basement to take pride of place at the forefront of the room — and the difference is striking.

You step through the doorway to skilled chefs preparing delicious dishes in their new open-plan setting, with a fine haunch of cured Ibérico ham hanging from the wall.

Further towards the back of the room, welcoming window seats and banks of plush red-leather benches offer the perfect settings for intimate gatherings of friends.

A menu re-vamp for the autumn season

The engine-room of the restaurant is now fully on show, and a menu re-vamp has changed things up for autumn. Diners can expect seasonal twists on authentic Spanish classics alongside new dishes created to bring the best out of the kitchen’s open grills.

Meanwhile, the wine and sherry list showcases the best of the Iberian Peninsula — the perfect accompaniment to the delicious tapas dishes, fresh seafood and decadent desserts on offer.

For full details on Pata Negra’s refreshed autumn menu, head over to the website here.

For more of @cjcallaghan’s reviews and write-ups, check out his Best of Bristol author page.

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