If there’s one thing that has stood the test of time, it’s the good, old fashioned bar snack – but one pub’s twist on a classic has taken things to the next level.
Hidden a bit off the beaten track in Old Market, you might be forgiven for expecting The Volunteer Tavern to have a table or two spare on an early Thursday evening, but you would be sorely mistaken.
Packed to the rafters, a buzz of talk and laughter in the air, fairy lights on the ceiling, rock music on the sound system and freshly-cooked snacks disappearing like hot cakes from the bar, this historic pub is one venue that is very much alive and kicking.
The comfortable, friendly atmosphere, cosy furnishings, selection of real ales, mighty fine wines and beer garden to top some of Bristol’s best all draw an eclectic crowd, but it is the new Japanese soul food pop-up that has really got people talking.
Iris Hable and Adam Hartshorne launched their venture, Tsukemono, after learning to cook the dishes they loved when visiting Japan, but struggled to find here. And their fare has been going down a storm.
Laying on the bar, a slightly sticky menu sets out the options that include the likes of Kare Pan (£2.50), a traditional curry bread, described as somewhere between a pasty and a doughnut, and Okonomiyaki (£7) – often referred to as a Japanese pizza – along with a variety of starters, mains and sides. There’s plenty for vegans and vegetarians too.
It all sounds a bit too good to be true – there was nothing for it but to pull up the last remaining pew and find out.
Despite being busy on what was affectionately dubbed ‘thirsty Thursday’, service was prompt, friendly and the bar staff were all too happy to advise on selection.
The Kimchi fried rice scotch eggs (£3.50) piled on the bar looked too good to resist and, taste-wise, proved to be a revelation.
Very subtly spiced, crisp to bite into and with a soft yolk centre, this twist on a classic is as satisfying a pub snack as any, refreshingly different and deceptively filling.
The main course of Nasu Katsu Kare Don (£6.50) – a Japanese curry rice bowl, topped with panko crumbed slices of aubergine – arrived all too soon, along with a side of Fukujintsuke (£1) – apparently meaning seven lucky gods, a good a reason as any to heap some on your plate
Hearty and wholesome, the curry is perfectly complemented by the aubergine – again, a revelation as to how a coated, fried vegetable can be made quite so tantalisingly tasty, but the way the crunchy topping gives way to a meltingly smooth centre certainly makes the meal.
The Fukujintsuke, a homemade pickle concoction, added not only a bright splash of colour, but also a nice light tangy taste that worked well with the warming curry.
People kept piling into the small, but perfectly formed pub, with its mismatch of traditional and modern that blend seamlessly within the cosy confines of the 17th century building.
Bunting, beer mats and black and white, framed prints adorn the walls and ceiling, a small collection of old cameras hang near the bar and a lampshade sits slightly crookedly at the far end, casting a warm glow over tables decorated with flowers propped in empty bottles.
Cheerfully oblivious to the cold autumn chill outside, people spill out into the sizeable beer garden and a chalk board advertises Sunday roasts and ping pong.
It’s not hard to see why this historic boozer is thriving today and long may it continue to. But don’t delay a visit – Tsukemono is only there until the end of the month and this is one pop-up you don’t want to miss.
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