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New at the helm is executive head chef Kai Taylor, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Bristol Good Food Awards evening in July.
Kai has spent most of his career to date working in hotels in Wiltshire, including the 5 star Chilsden House and the 4 star Ivy House Hotel and Parklands Hotel. He has joined The Bristol Hotel from his most recent role at a 16th century pub in Oxfordshire, which he and the new owners completely transformed into a thriving business.
As a head chef, Kai has achieved a pretty impressive total of 8 AA rosettes and 1 RAC Blue Ribbon, and has come to Bristol to oversee all of the food and drink operations at The Bristol Hotel, including the River Grille restaurant and the hotel’s banqueting function.
In a press release sent to us before our meal, we were told that “Kai’s menus demonstrate the use of great seasonal products with the emphasis on fun and playful dining”.
Fun and playful is certainly an apt description for the current menu, which features a number of deconstructed dishes and innovative takes on classic meals. Gluten free and vegetarian menu options are still clearly marked, and even the “Grills” section has had a revamp, with new dishes such as black and white puddings with streaky bacon crisps, a marrowbone option, and the inclusion of a chilli chocolate sauce as one of the choices to accompany various cuts of steak.
With the BBQ excitement of Grillstock still in my mind, I couldn’t resist the maple glazed BBQ chicken ballotine (£6.95) as my starter. The large roll of chicken was packed with flavour but a little dry, but I loved the crispy chicken skin served crackling-style on the top. A sweet lime syrup and chunks of beetroot added a freshness to the dish that lifted the flavours nicely.
Beetroot is an ingredient that appears quite frequently in Kai’s current menu, and also featured in my friend’s starter of hand cured beetroot salmon (£7.95). Impressed with the salmon itself and the pickled vegetables with which it was served, she was a little unsure about the purpose of the toasted brioche on her plate. The “cockle popcorn” – crispy fried cockles – was a fun and novel touch.
For my main, I couldn’t resist the “Celebration Of A Pig” (£16.50) – various cuts of the animal served with sweet braised red cabbage and a huge rosemary-infused potato croquette, and topped with a mound of parsnip crisps.
My favourite part was probably the Milanese of pork fillet, rich and salty flakes of meat encased in breadcrumbs and deep fried. The slow cooked confit of shoulder was a great contrast: similar in consistency to the Milanese but with a completely different flavour. Definitely impressed.
On our last visit, my dining companion ordered a steak, and this was the case this time round as well, with D ordering the rib eye (£19.95) with a peppercorn sauce (£2 supplement for sauces).
The presentation, again, was fantastic. The steak itself was beautifully cooked, quite heavily seasoned but this suited her preference perfectly. The double cooked chips were again fairly well seasoned, but with a beautiful combination of a crisp shell and fluffy interior. The only niggle was with the slightly poor quality of some of the leaves that accompanied the steak.
For my dessert, the beetroot cheesecake (£6.50), served on a slate with an impressive spun sugar decoration on the top and small pools of raspberry sauce dotted to the side. Quite dense in consistency, the beetroot flavour came through just enough not to be overpowering and partnered the shortbread-style cheesecake base perfectly. Another of Kai’s fun menu items, the gentle pink of the beetroot gave way to a rich chocolate and lime cheesecake centre – absolutely delicious.
We were pleased to see that the restaurant’s cheese selection is now provided by Trethowan’s Dairy, which definitely influenced D’s decision to opt for this rather than dessert. Our server brought over a chalk board detailing the cheeses on offer, from which she chose three, accompanied by homemade piccalilli, frozen grapes and biscuits.
The portion was enormous, definitely justifying the £9.25 price tag. The cheeses themselves were accompanied by a Trethowan’s Dairy leaflet, and the only slightly odd thing, we thought, was the choice of a pile of supermarket-style biscuits for cheese as an accompaniment.
Kai’s menu is an interesting one: a fun mix of the classic, the novel and the retro. While hotel restaurant dining might not be an obvious choice for Bristol residents, The River Grille gives a very good reason to give it a go. Recommended.
Please note: this meal was received free of charge, but in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the venue did not see this review before it was put up on the site.