It’s been 20 years since Bristol’s harbour police station was converted into Riverstation restaurant and, after closing for brief renovations, the restaurant is now back open for business in its scenic spot. But where once police boats zipped out onto the water at high speed on vitally important duties, the service on a recent Monday lunchtime in this established harbourside venue was decidedly less rapid.
Upstairs, Riverstation is a sleek restaurant overlooking the water, while downstairs, with doors opening out almost at water level, there’s a menu of brasserie food. I opted for the latter, excited to see the fruits of the revamp.
But Changing Rooms this was not: aside from some nice new tables and a bit of mind-boggling art on the walls, most of the changes have been in the kitchen and toilets. Underwhelming, but it’s always a pleasant experience to sit beside the water and watch a ferry or two meander past.
The restaurant has changed hands and is now owned by south London brewery Young’s, owners of Horts on Broad Street in the Old City and the Highbury Vaults on St Michael’s Hill.
The brasserie menu is wide-ranging, from brunch to flatbreads, vegetarian options and staple mains, proudly offering local fare like Cornish mussels. After a bit of a false start where nothing I had ordered was available, I opted for smoked haddock croquettes (£6.50) and the spring vegetable risotto (£9.50).
I tucked myself away and waited, watching the staff bustle around inside and out on the terrace with steaming hot plates and groaning trays. The open kitchen was pumping out delicious smells, and I eagerly anticipated my meal.
I was slightly less eager an hour later, contemplating eating the wallpaper. A waiter appeared on the horizon clutching a plate with promise in his eyes, but as he laid it in front of me and turned away with a flourish, I had to call him back and tell him I hadn’t ordered rarebit.
Croquettes were whipped up with haste, and appeared smoking hot a little later. The batter was light and crispy, well-filled and tasty, though the haddock was a little subdued and could have had more punch to accompany the chunky homemade tartare sauce. The mixed leaf salad was dressed only with olive oil, and between that and the deep-fried croquettes, the plate was quite greasy and a little bland. I wanted the lemon, salt and vinegary tastes of the sea; instead I got the newspaper after the chips have been eaten.
There was plenty of time for the fish to linger on my palate, as service was still agonisingly slow. People around me called for bills surrounded by dirty plates, and two lunching ladies had to wipe down their own table.
Finally, my risotto came: a plateful of gloopy beige rice with an enormous pile of parmesan on top – more like fungal toenails than delicate shavings. The taste was completely overpowering, and the promised spring vegetables were little more than garden peas. An unfinishable, stodgy disappointment.
For an upmarket eatery in a prime waterside spot, it was certainly not the meal I had expected. I only hope this is a teething problem, and that the new Riverstation can return to its former reputation as a real catch.
Riverstation, The Grove, BS1 4RB