It’s not easy to secure a dinner reservation at one of Bristol’s most talked-about new openings of the year.
Ever since The Red Church finally opened its doors in early October – months later than originally planned due to the pandemic – the evening slots have been booked pretty much solidly throughout the week.
As such, it is 5.20pm on a Monday when we arrive at the big black polished door of this former bank on the corner of Church Road and Blackswarth Road, having skipped off work early to seize one of the few available bookings.
Turns out it’s never too early to pop the cork on a wine bottle and settle in for a night of good food and drink judging by the atmosphere in this new venue, where the sound of relaxed talk and laughter can be heard over Final Form by Sampa the Great.
The historic building has been transformed into a pub and restaurant by the team behind the Spotted Cow in Bedminster, the Christmas Steps pub and Crack Magazine.
The last of the early evening sun streams in through tall windows along each wall and the exposed brickwork and industrial metal mezzanine structure are softened by vibrant displays of flowers and greenery, and lights that cast a golden glow over the room. Diners are sat at booths and mismatched wooden tables while the efficient, friendly staff keep things running like clockwork.
A stack of vinyl at the foot of the stairs hints at the musical roots of this new venue, which boasts a state-of-the-art sound system sourced from Pinewood Studios, has DJs in on weekends and plans to open until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays when the 10pm curfew is lifted.
The tantalising smell of pizza wafts up to the mezzanine level as we are handed both the pizza and evening menu – the latter offering a selection of main dishes, including meat and veggie burgers (£11.95 and £9.95 respectively) and 10oz sirloin steak for £17.95. The sourdough pizza menu offers something for everyone, with four vegan topping options or braised ox cheek for meat lovers, all of which come in under a tenner.
Cracking open a bottle of dry Italian white wine (£23), it’s all too easy to forget it’s a Monday evening at the start of a working week in the middle of a pandemic amid the laughter and laidback tunes. The olives (£2.50) arrive plump and moreish, while the bread starter (£2.50) – sourced about as locally as is possible from Bristol Loaf down the road – is served with a generous bowl of rich olive oil and balsamic. As a personal preference, I’d have rather the four slices of bread weren’t toasted to give maximum opportunity to soak up the oil but it’s a strong start nevertheless.
The main of orzo pasta served with black yeast, autumn wild mushrooms and tarragon crumb (£10.95) is one of a few vegan dishes on the menu and an inventive masterpiece of flavours.
The oven-fired gurnard, served with tapenade, pink fir potatoes, preserved lemon, capers and ruby chard (£13.95) is well-cooked although ultimately a bit dry, with the tapenade not providing much in the way of sauce. This is soon rectified by the attentive server, who soon asks the chef to rustle up a buttery garlic sauce.
A dessert of rhubarb ice cream (£3 for two scoops) is pleasant but the real crowning glory in the pudding realm is the affogato (£4.95) – a generous glass of vanilla ice cream and crisp honeycomb pieces, served with a shot of Clifton coffee.
There’s limited time for lingering in this day and age of pre-booking and early curfews, and the bill is left on the table all too promptly as we reluctantly move on to make room for the next booking.
The Red Church team have a lot to live up to in terms of expectations. So far, their welcoming ambience and emphasis on relaxed dining, good music and local brews is proving a winning combination.
The Red Church, 190 Church Road, Bristol, BS5 8AE
0117 955 8455
All photos by Ellie Pipe