It’s a soggy evening as we limber up outside No. 1 Harbourside, waterproofs rustling as we mount Cycle the City’s fleet of sleek Temple Cycles bikes. Tour leaders Holly McGowan-Hayes and Alice Dalrymple are enthusiastic despite the weather, and we wobble off towards Cargo 2 for our first stop on the Bristol Food Tour’s (tBFT) brand new bike tour.
It’s the latest tour for the business set up by friends Alice Dalrymple and Jo Scholefield. “We had both been on food tours in different cities, one in New York and one in Madouri, India,” Jo explains. “We’d both had the idea separately: why didn’t Bristol have a walking tour? It’s such a foodie city.
“Alice started saying that she’d had a really great business idea and I was like, ‘Hang on a second, I’ve had that idea too!’ so we decided to collaborate.”
Their first step was to draw up a list of independent businesses they wanted to visit. “In true Bristol fashion no one responded to my emails because they were busy in the kitchen,” Alice laughs. “We trooped around and introduced ourselves, and the owners told us the story about how they set up their business. Those conversations threaded into how we designed the tour to tell stories, as well as sample food.”
Championing Bristol’s independents is what their tours are all about, and our first stops on the cycle tour set the tone: we roll into Cargo 2 to sample cheese from The Bristol Cheesemonger, nip next door to have Thatcher’s cider sorbet at Oliver’s Ice Cream Parlour, and then grab a Lovett pie to go, scoffing it astride our bikes across the water from Thekla.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into making sure the tours run smoothly,” Jo says. “We have set times that we have to get to places, but people don’t generally feel like that’s what’s happening.”
We set off down the cycle path towards Easton, confidence growing and the wind in our hair, and prop our bikes up outside ZamZam Bakery – a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it place with nothing inside but a counter and an enormous oven. As soon as the chap in the shop hands over the last delicious lahmajoun, he bolts the door and disappears upstairs. “We made him promise he’d stay open!” Alice laughs as we eat the warm flatbreads in the street.
With the new cycle tour, Alice and now run five tours, taking in different parts of the city and catering for different dietary requirements. New ideas pour in from the pair and their tour-goers’ recommendations.
“All our tours are different,” Alice says. “We switch it up week-to-week, depending on where we want to go to. We have new producers coming to us quite regularly now, wanting us to include them. Having the next wave of new people wanting to be part of it is such a joy.
“So many people ask us which city we’re going to branch out into, but that was never the idea: we do this purely because we are passionate about Bristol’s food scene,” continues Alice. “Every pocket of the city is so diverse. You can be stood by the Bearpit or in Clifton Village and feel you’re in a completely different place.”
“If we can conquer all the different neighbourhoods in Bristol, that would be great!” jokes Jo.
The cycling tour begins to wind down with a cocktail at Bristol Spirit, where owner Sam Espensen gives us personal recommendations, and then a cycle back to Queen Square to aid digestion. As a final treat, Alice produces some Zara’s Chocolates, and we all joke about finding room for it. It feels like we’ve known each other for far longer than just a few hours.
“When we set it up, we wanted it to feel like a group of mates hanging out with us for an afternoon,” Alice says. “We’re enthusiastic about food and I think that’s what has made the business so successful – people like that informal nature. When we end a tour, cheesy as it is, it’s like leaving a group of mates after spending time with them. Food brings people together.”
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