A woman coming down the Mud Dock stairs after a romantic dinner one recent Wednesday evening is already sporting her cycle helmet– it’s just that kind of place.
Boasting one of Bristol’s most enviable positions, overlooking the Floating Harbour in the shadow of St Mary Redcliffe Church to one side and out past the M Shed to the other, the cycleworks, restaurant and cafe is celebrating its 25th anniversary in November.
Born from a love of cycling and commitment to good quality food and local produce, the business first threw open the doors on The Grove in 1994 and has built up a loyal following of cyclists and locals alike.
The light of the distinctive round window at the far end of the building acts like a beacon to hungry diners eager to escape the damp, dark street. A poster celebrating Mud Dock’s 25 years is clearly visible from below.
The owner has recently spoken out against the council for a rent increase of almost 74 per cent, but it’s business as usual this Wednesday evening.
A pair of shiny bicycles mounted to the side of the stairs greet incoming guests and set the theme that’s continued throughout the restaurant, while rows of fairy lights and candles in wax-coated bottles cast a cosy glow across the large, warehouse-like room.
“The chef recommends the gammon tonight,” says a member of staff, leaving menus on the table and pointing out two blackboards detailing the specials of the day. For any short-sighted customers, reading these specials is easier said than done and involves leaning precariously over diners to peer at the hand-written boards.
The options include a molasses-baked gammon served with confit, new potatoes, charred pineapple, crushed peas and red wine jus (£14), lamb tagine (£12) and roast artichoke (£11), while the regular menu boasts a selection of burgers, sharing options and mains.
Service is understated and efficient so, with options ordered, there’s time to soak up the relaxed atmosphere over a glass of smoky red wine.
The vast doors leading to the large outside balcony area, overlooking Bristol’s harbourside area, are usually swung open on a sunny day, allowing drinkers and diners to make the most of the scenic spot. On this miserable autumn evening, they are kept firmly shut.
A starter of flatbread and two dips (£5) arrives promptly. The bread – a modest two slices – is still hot from the oven, lightly crisp on the edges and soft in the middle. The dips of beetroot hummus and broad bean and mint are a tasty accompaniment, although should come with a warning for first daters as they pack a powerful garlic punch.
Mains are a bit of a mixed bag. Each arrives piled hot and fresh on a wooden board and the server is quick to produce extra plates for sharing and requested vinegar and tomato ketchup – the latter in a Mud Dock-branded drink bottle.
The chargrilled mackerel, served atop a warm potato salad, with tender stem broccoli and fresh salsa (£12), has a tantalising aroma. The lightly chargrilled fish is cooked to perfection and full of flavour, as are the delicate broccoli stems, while the salsa adds a refreshing touch.
The bed of warm potatoes, with a generous coating of mayonnaise, makes for rather a sickly combination when paired with the rich mackerel.
The potato, red onion and smoked cheddar frittata, served with a fresh side salad (£13), is tasty if unexceptional. The accompanying chips are hot, crisp and plentiful.
With little to entice people back out into the cold outside, many diners linger to talk over final drinks. It’s this relaxed air that should Mud Dock retain its position as a popular go-to destination for the next quarter-century.
Mud Dock, 40 The Grove, Bristol, BS1 4RB