An abandoned bid to sell posh fried chicken to the masses has turned out to be exceptionally good news for Bristol’s veg lovers.
Scrap that, it’s good news for food lovers full stop.
For out of the ashes of Chicken Shed in Wapping Wharf, Root has arisen as proof that if at first you don’t succeed, try again.
The decision to rebrand the restaurant from the ultimate in carnivorous catering, to a largely vegetable-focused menu was driven by both economics and ethics.
Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton had wanted his venture to be the first chicken shop in the country to serve high quality organic meat across the whole menu, but ironically, this does not make for the best fried chicken and so it was back to the drawing board.
A lick of paint later and the venue was reborn as Root. Run by the Eat Drink Bristol Fashion team, with Eggleton at the helm and Rob Howell, formerly of The Pony & Trap, in the kitchen, expectations were high. And it did not disappoint.
Having jumped the gun and arrived before the restaurant first opened its doors, I returned the day after its inaugural night to try again, this time armed with a reservation and a vegetarian friend in tow.
We were promptly seated in a comfy corner booth, affording views over Bristol harbourside, where – being the summer holidays – bright sunshine quickly turned to rain and gales over the course of an hour-long meal.
In an inventive twist, the menu offers a selection of vegetarian mains, with a few choice meaty sides. Specials are displayed on the board and, acting on advice from the friendly waitress who seemed to know her stuff, we set about choosing six dishes to share between us.
A great chef once told me that cooking good meat is the easy part, it’s creating tasty, exciting vegetarian dishes that takes a bit more hard work. If this is the case, then the team at Root have certainly done their homework.
From the specials board, the sourdough bread (£3.50), served with a generous slab of creamy butter, was fresh, delicious and – importantly with tapas – plentiful, while the grilled Cornish sardine (£2.50) was small in size, but cooked to perfection.
It is rare that high expectations can be met, yet alone exceeded, but as each plate arrived at the table, it brought with it new waves of delight.
A dish labelled simply beetroot, with hazelnut, blackberry and pine (£5) was an unexpected highlight, vibrant in colour and exciting in taste as the fusion of flavours and textures complemented each other beautifully.
Gnocchi is one of those dishes that nine out of ten times is somewhat disappointing, but in Root we hit the jackpot, as the dish, with simple but effective accompaniments of Parmesan and salted courgette (£6), just melted in the mouth – infinitely better than any I have ever tasted.
A refreshing salad of Severn Project Leaves and button mushrooms (£5) and a wholesome, hearty cider rarebit (£6) that packed a surprising punch, completed our spread.
The clientele was varied on this Thursday lunchtime, from couples enjoying a leisurely meal with wine, to families making a pit stop, while the chefs – visible behind the chicken wire that is presumably a throwback to its past incarnation – worked their magic in a small, but clearly capable, kitchen.
Any fears that the sharing platter wouldn’t fill us up proved unfounded as we were forced to forego the dessert menu. Though, I’d hazard a bet it’s divine.
If day two is anything to go by, the Eat Drink Bristol Fashion team have hit on a winning combination this time.
“Has the restaurant itself changed much?” We asked our waitress.
“Oh yes, the whole ambience has changed,” she replied, adding with a smile: “I don’t smell of fried chicken for one thing.”
In the battle of carnivores vs vegetarians, there is a clear winner here. But if early signs are anything to go by, this is a victory for good food in general, and having gained the backing of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, it’s ethical to boot.
Root, Cargo, Gaol Ferry Steps, Wapping Wharf, BS1 6WP
0117 930 0260
Read more: Chicken Shed becomes Root at Wapping Wharf