Hotel bars can be the loneliest places. There is a unique transience to the clientele, who are invariably there to kill time between meetings, or smile joylessly at the colleagues they only pretend to like, or twiddle their wedding ring moodily as they stare into the bottom of a glass.
There is a thin veneer of madness that surrounds men in suits dining on burgers and drinking gin and tonics at 1pm on a Monday. There is a reason the bar features so prominently in The Shining.
With these happy thoughts in mind, I headed to Keepers, The Grand Hotel’s newly refurbished, and bee-themed, bar and dining room for lunch. Not that initially I knew this was where I was going.
With their social media proclaiming simply that they were on Broad Street, I spent a solid 20 minutes wandering from one end of the road to the other (reader: this is not a long road) in the pouring rain.
Eventually, soaked to the skin and frozen to the bone, I decided to dive into the hotel to see if the staff on the front desk might have heard of this mysterious new place – whereupon, opening the doors, I found that I was dripping all over their posh wooden floor.
Marketing rule one: make sure people know you exist. Perhaps some external signage would help – unless, of course, this is supposed to be an eatery exclusively for hotel guests (and for reasons why this might be a bad idea, I again refer you back to The Shining).
Despite my bedraggled appearance, the staff were welcoming and I took a seat in the window to watch the world go by, before ordering a pot of tea and appraising the menu.
Keeper offers posh-nosh pub grub – burgers, pizzas, salads and sandwiches. I plumped for a Scottish smoked salmon sandwich (£7.95) with sweet potato fries (£2.95).
I then had plenty of time to look around at the interior décor, where the bee theme continues subtly, with honeycombed tiles on the floor and a yellow colour scheme.
The large space had been decorated with all number of interesting, quirky upcycled pieces, from old rusty carriage lamps on the walls to brightly-painted washing machine drums turned into ceiling lights.
In fact, there were so many different types of lighting that I almost felt I had stumbled into a back room at Habitat. Even the staff didn’t seem to know what to do with them all, as they took a standing lamp for a walk around the tables, looking for a patch of floor space that wasn’t already occupied.
Though I was one of only two tables occupied, the food took a very long time to come: I’d drunk the whole pot of tea, read the drinks menu from cover to cover (including some excellent facts about bees), watched some hotel guests take a fag break just outside the window, and appraised all of the lamps before my sandwich appeared. Perhaps just a teething problem for the new kitchen, but it was certainly a hiccup in the dining experience.
And the sandwich, when it came, was a rather underwhelming experience – physically, if not in terms of taste. The wafer-thin rye bread sandwiches were positively child-portioned, and there was so much empty space on the plate it was almost comic.
The flavours themselves couldn’t be faulted: good quality bread studded with seeds, a burst of flavour from the capers and cream cheese, delicately smoky salmon and fresh rocket. The sweet potato fries were a real triumph – piping hot, excellently seasoned, and with a bit of bite still remaining, to remind you that this once was a vegetable.
As soon as lunch began, however, it was over, and I was left unsatisfied, forlornly picking up cold crumbs and grains of salt with a greasy finger.
Keepers feels like it has the potential to establish itself as a classy place for a cocktail or glass of wine, and the city centre location means it should be firmly on the Friday-and-Saturday-night circuit.
But as a restaurant, it feels stuck between true pub grub and high-end dining, missing the mark with both and landing somewhere disappointing. There are plenty of other choices out there that won’t have you making a beeline for the supermarket to pick up a post-lunch snack on the way back to the office.
Keepers, Mercure Grand Hotel Bristol, Broad Street, BS1 2EL
Read more reviews: The Smoke Haus