There are some difficult choices to be made in Rock Salt one recent Thursday evening.
But at least there is no need to decide between Indian and Chinese food at this newly-opened fusion restaurant on Cotham Hill, because the simple answer is to have both.
The problem is choosing from the variety of dishes on a menu that is neatly divided between the two cuisines and features options such as Kashmiri lamb, Khadai duck, pork Szechuan sauces and freshly-made dim sum.
“Let’s go for a pork, lamb and some veggie options and then a couple of breads and rice,” says one decisive member of a group that has been deliberating for some time over what to order.
All generally agreeable, the friends hold their beers up in a toast. “Happy Brexit Day, or not,” announces one woman, prompting a good-natured conversation about the state of current politics.
Politics aside, there’s still plenty to celebrate on this last evening in October, just days after Rock Salt first opened its doors in the former Bellita. The small team, marking Halloween with subtle costumes, are only too proud to welcome diners into their cosy new restaurant, which features a vibrant mural with the word ‘believe’ by Bristol-based artist David Blatch across one wall.
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The rest of the décor is modern and understated; low-hanging lamps cast a warm glow over bare redbrick walls and each of the black table tops is neatly set with plates, knives and forks and chopsticks.
The restaurant has been opened by ex-Dishoom chef, Harris Massey, and former Dhamaka chef, Kedar Subedi. Service is impeccable and each of the three people expertly welcoming customers this evening are quick to offer recommendations and bring chilled tap water, with sprigs of mint in.
Indian and Chinese may not sound like natural bedfellows, but the dishes served in Rock Salt balance each other out well – the creaminess of the former against the sticky, saltiness of the latter, with just a touch of chilli in each.
Starters of poppadums and dips (£2.50), followed by vegetable samosas (£4.50) and cauliflower Manchurian (£5.95) set the tone for the meal. The samosa dish is a slightly modest portion, but is served beautifully hot and crisp, with a lightly spiced filling. The latter is a sticky delight; cauliflower pieces tossed in a mouth-watering ginger, garlic and soy sauce.
A glass of crisp white wine (£4) and current special ‘Diwali Spritz’ (£7.50), which has quite a kick, complement the food.
For the mains, the prawn oyster sauce dish (£11.95) from the Chinese side of the menu features large, succulent prawns in a rich, flavoursome sauce, with sweet overtones and plenty of vegetables and ginger.
It is the fish coastal curry (£11.95) from the Indian selection that really steals the show. Flaky pieces of cod are set in a beautiful sauce with creamy, Keralan notes that would be difficult to replicate and sizzles with flavour. A side of pilau rice (£2.95) is a pleasant, if unnecessary accompaniment.
Not forgetting the hot garlic naan bread (£2.95), glistening from the oven and perfect for dipping, that rounds off an infinitely satisfying meal.
It’s not just this table that’s left happy. “That was just lovely,” swoons one half of a couple by the window, handing over the empty dishes.
Full as we are, the dessert menu beckons. This time, a purely Indian affair, although the server hints that Green tea ice cream might soon be on the cards.
A shared homemade mango kulfi (Indian ice cream) (£2.95) finishes the meal on a high.
The proof is in the pudding for Rock Salt, where customers can expect a warm welcome and winning fusion.
Rock Salt, 34 Cotham Hill, Bristol, BS6 6LA
0117 330 0700