There are not many restaurants that I go to which inspire me to pen a post the next morning, but now my fuzzy wine head has kind of cleared, it is time to tell y’all why this place totally blew my socks off!
As my birthday in Estonia had been a fail, we decided to make up for it by going out for a decadent dinner someplace new in Bristol. Sam had got badly sick in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, so my birthday had mainly been covering him in cold wet towels and coaxing him to get a dry cracker down his neck – how romantic.
I had spied a blog post on Lily Doughball (friend and Bristol foodie connoisseur) about the Historical Dining Rooms in Bristol and had been captivated by it! We booked a table and vamoosed over to Totterdown on Saturday night to celebrate my belated birthday.
A single doorway besides the Star and Dove Tavern had a note instructing you to ring the doorbell (a few times) to enter. We were greeted, taken up the stairs and transported back in time. Dark oak, leather chairs, vintage lighting and oil paintings surround you as you enter the venue. It’s got a fine-dining feel which I usually find intimidating, but we felt really welcomed by the incredibly polite staff who were impeccably dressed!
We were sat in a foyer, provided with drinks and given time to look over the excitingly seasonal menu. Our snack whilst waiting was a green baked leaf powdered in vinegar, which was reminiscent to a salt and vinegar crisp, albeit a ton more healthier and interesting! We got pretty excited about what was to come…
The chef team from the Tavern below had decided to use modern kitchens to approach period cooking in a contemporary way. They have been working closely with Britain’s top food historians to ensure that the food and experience is as accurate as it can be, but also adding twists from modern cooking methods and technology.
Not only does this high amount of research apply to the food, but also to the surroundings. The dining room has been styled to recreate a Regency dining hall and they have invested in stunning wallpaper from a specialist printing company to add to the authenticity.
After our orders were taken, we were surprised by an appetiser. Being truly British and overly concerned, we scanned the room to see if we’d accidentally received someone else’s order, but it turns out that the appetiser is part of the whole experience. Huzzah!
Jesus Christ this appetiser was incredible! The layered concoction was a explosion of tastes that perfectly complimented each other. Bacon mousse at the base was covered in a thin layer of meats, and topped with a vivid green pea mousse. The wafer placed carefully on top had small pieces of duck and edible flowers. It was almost too beautiful to eat… almost.
The waitresses really know the menu inside and out (see their sample menu which also happens to be what we tasted) and took their time in explaining what was on our plate when each course was served. I went for a duck with butter sauce starter from the 1800’s, and Sam went for Skuets from 1753.
My Duck had been glazed and cured in small nuggets. Broad beans and a white turnip scattered the plate with sauces and thin slices of bacon. I delicately made my way through the dish, trying each flavour individually and swooned. The freshly baked bread on the table helped me wipe the plate clean, and I indulgently made use of the bacon lard that came with the bread.
Sam’s Skuets starter had impeccable presentation. He daringly went with this dish which contained veal and sheep’s tongue – he really got a taste of some period British flavours! And just look how they presented it – in a bloody beautiful box!
We were reeling from the quality of what was being placed in front of us – we had no idea what this eve had in store before ringing that doorbell! We got a delicious bottle of Australian red to accompany our mains, and the bottle was kept on a table in the centre of the room – the waitresses attentively topped up our glasses through out the eve.
For my main, I had selected the rabbit dish from 1833. It was a multitude of flavours once again and had rich ingredients that had been buttered, roasted, potted and preserved. The chunk of rabbit has been poached and scattered with potted umbles. The lard wrapped bacon was pretty intense in flavour, but I still ate it all!
Sam went for the leg of lamb stuffed with crab – I had a small taste and found the combination a bit too bizarre for me. It was served with wild celery, buttered and fried noodles, shredded lemon and a spiced crab stock. Again, the presentation was tip top!
We were absolutely stuffed by the end of two courses. Our taste buds had been treated to some world class textures and flavours that had never graced our palates before. With a bottle of red in us, we were slightly sozzled by the end, but I am certain this is one of the best meals I have ever eaten.
We decided against dessert as the courses prior had been quite rich and filling – we had no more space in our bellies! We spent just over £100 which is extremely decadent for us, but as a special treat it was totally worth it. Starters are around £7 each and the mains hover around the £20 mark. We mainly splurged on the bottle of wine, but you can’t put a price on fantastic service and beautiful surroundings.
We took a walk through Totterdown afterwards to digest and popped into The Shakespeare pub, which had an amazing blues band playing – the music lured us in and was the perfect finish to my birthday eve.
Overall, Historical Dining Rooms is the original fine dining experience. If you’re ever in Bristol and looking to taste something extremely British and historical, then this is the place for you. Britain sure has some fantastic food!
All photographs by Sophie Saint
Historical Dining Rooms: (above Star & Dove Tavern), The Black Door, Windsor Terrace, Bristol, BS3 4RY.