New Year, New Review: The Pumphouse, Bristol

Chef Toby Gritten, of gastropub The Pumphouse in Hotwells, likes to experiment with food combinations. Clearly inspired by the masterful, Mr Blumenthal and having already picked up Gold at the Taste of the West Awards 2009 his talents clearly haven’t gone unnoticed.

As we sat gazing at the menu, the man asked me the question i’d be longing to hear since we met… “Shall we try the tasting menu?”. This was the one occasion when my usually infuriatingly indecisive nature did not come into play. The eight course menu was made up of smaller versions of the dishes from the a la carte and we were informed that the chef would take account of any particular preferences or dislikes we had.

The menu is resoundingly British and uses the freshest, high quality produce. Our menu featured line caught sea bass that had been caught the very same morning in Cornwall and local Mendip lamb.

Course number one was a newcomer to the menu, using the surf and turf idea and was served up in a shot glass. A layer of pea puree, pigs cheek (or ‘Bath chap’ for those in the know), prawn cocktail and a finishing touch of crispy pigs ear was a bold start to the meal but the medley of flavours worked extremely well together. Other courses particularly worthy of note were a Japanese influenced salmon fillet containing stem ginger, wrapped in a thin, crisp layer of bread and served with pickled cucumber and a winter game terrine of pheasant, rabbit and hare. Both dishes were served with a smattering of oak-smoked sultanas which were truly delicious.

By the seventh course even the man was beginning to flag and boy was I glad that I hadn’t chosen a body-con dress to wear to dinner. But of course there’s always room for dessert.. Now I never thought i’d be singing the praises of a liquorice parfait with beetroot but it was just divine.

A dish of pork belly and pommes anna was a bit of a let down; the pork was also a little over-cooked and there was nothing new or exciting about the dish so it didn’t really fit with the rest of the menu. Although, as it was meat and potato I must add that the man did not share my dislike and happily polished off the remainder that was left on my plate. My only other criticism is of one of the desserts. On a plate of the most beautifully presented puds sat a piece of sticky toffee pudding which was burnt on the outside, an unwelcome addition to an otherwise excellent dessert platter.

I must make reference to our maitre d’ for the evening, Adam Rees, who was utterly charming and knew the menu inside and out, carefully explaining the intricacies of each dish and helping us make some interesting wine choices. First up was a Lebanese red (Massya Lebanon Bekaa Valley 2008) – I wasn’t even aware that the Lebanese made wine, let alone that it could be any good. The second was an English white (Limney Horsmoden Dry White 2009); both wines I can highly recommend.

Now not to sound like the start of an M&S ad, but this wasn’t just a meal, this was an event. Three and a half hours, eight courses, two Hendricks G&Ts, two bottles of wine and £169 lighter of pocket later we finally emerged from the restaurant. I know that it’s the start of the year and this is rather extravagant but if you want to try some modern, inventive cooking in Bristol then i’d say on balance it’s worth it. And if you’re not quite as greedy as me then the a la carte is a more reasonably priced option for a foray into some top nosh.

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