Look closely on the walls of Bianchis and you can find four small metal plaques dedicated to Bianchi family members.
The name of the new Montpelier restaurant is the family name of its co-owners, cousins Dom Borel and Ben Harvey – with this traditional trattoria a homage to their Italian heritage.
It is undoubtedly a hard act to replace Bell’s Diner, a Bristol restaurant institution that occupied this site for more than 40 years. A painted sign for Bell’s is still above the door and another Bell’s sign is framed in the backroom inside; a nice touch in not forgetting what was here before.
But if anyone can make it work, it’s the experienced Dom, Ben and their tight-knit team who in recent years have had the Midas touch in opening new Bristol restaurants – with long waiting lists at both Pasta Loco and Pasta Ripiena, and the recently opened La Sorella already winning rave reviews.
A current lunch deal available from Wednesday to Friday must be one of the best in Bristol: pasta of the day for £8.50 or £12.50 with a glass of wine. On Thursday lunchtime, the pasta was reginette all’arrabbiata with optional pancetta or mussels.
After some test services for friends and family, and industry colleagues, Thursday was Bianchis’ opening day – with Dom sat at the bar fielding bookings online and over the telephone, which astonishingly already add up to more than 600 between now and Christmas.
Although recognisably the same space as it was before, Bianchis feels much more spacious than Bell’s. Walls have been removed, and a new ceiling and floor added, but one thing that does remain is a dresser still packed full with bottles of wine.
From a substantial list divided into fizz, white, rose, orange and red, I chose a glass of the 2014 New Hall Signature Reserve pinot blanc made in Essex.
Unlike Pasta Loco and Pasta Ripiena, tables at Bianchis will be kept available for walk-ins, and Dom envisages guests also being able to sit at the bar working through the aperitivos if a table is not available immediately.
The opening menu at Bianchis is split into three ‘antipasti’, three ‘primi’, three ‘secondi’ and a pair of desserts, or ‘dolci’. Two courses cost £15, three courses £19 and four courses £24.
From the antipasti, a salad of chicory, figs, toasted hazelnuts and ricotta salata (a milky white Italian cheese made from the whey part of sheep milk) was an early highlight showcasing good ingredients and interesting flavour combinations and textures on one small plate.
Over the other side of the table, my colleague Beth had ordered prosciutto de San Daniele – famous for being made only with meat from Italian pigs, sea salt and the fresh – accompanied by a summery garlic bruschetta pomodoro with tomato and basil.
It is pasta’s turn to shine in the primi selection. From the trio which also includes cacio e pepe (literally ‘cheese and pepper’) and pappardelle, Beth and I both went for the bucatini nero.
This wonderful squid ink pasta is a striking black colour, served with cuttlefish, lemon zest and some parsley on top to add some colour to the darkness. Forget making this look nice on Instagram with a filter; this is a seriously tasty plate of food.
If the primi was pasta’s turn to shine, the secondi is where Ben and his team in the kitchen have had the most fun. Try the artichoke stuffed with pine nuts, raisins, bread crumbs and more; or the slow braise of salt cod.
My very tender onglet made from a Hereford cross cow had a big beefy flavour with overtones of liver and kidney. It was wood-fired and served with runner beans, potato lucasi and salsa verde.
For dessert, a burnt lemon tart was delightfully citrusy, with crème fraîche balancing it sharpness. Across the other side of the table, a slice of ubriaco rosso cheese was enjoyed with the last few drops of the English wine.
2019 has been a tough year for the hospitality industry in Bristol, but Bianchis completes a trilogy of recent new openings after Little French in Westbury Park and Marmo on Baldwin Street that ensure that our restaurant scene remains among the best in the UK.
Keeping it in the family, Bianchis is a special place with a proud heritage.
Bianchis, 1-3 York Road, Montpelier, Bristol, BS6 5QB
0117 329 4100