There seems to be more and more reason for us to travel down the M5 and stopover in Bristol recently, the biggest one being the city’s incredible food scene. We were blown away back in February when we had lunch at Pasta Loco on Cotham Hill – the food was nothing short of magical! Upon hearing the news that owners and cousins Ben Harvey and Dominic Bore had plans to open another restaurant (almost 2 years to the date after the successful launch of their first), we were determined to get booked into what was to be the UK’s first fresh stuffed pasta restaurant, Pasta Ripiena during our next visit. Although Dom managed the restaurant and bar, Ben’s brother Joe Harvey heads up the kitchen at the new restaurant. New chef, new location, but still keeping it in the family, and as with Pasta Loco the new venture had created a huge buzz long before it had opened. We tried our luck the moment the online booking calendar opened, despite reading that it would be booked up, and somehow we lucked out.
Three weeks after Pasta Ripiena opened its doors on April 13th, Mr R and I found ourselves sitting in Bristol’s hottest new restaurant on St Stephens Street. The menu layout was similar to our lunch at its sister restaurant and the price was exactly the same – 2 courses for £13.50 or 3 courses for £16. We had a lot of walking planned that day, in fact I thought I was close to breaking my Fitbit climbing up and down Bristol’s hills, but we also had dinner planned so made a decision not to have dessert. Instead we had a pre-starter of Finocchiona (£4) and Pecorino Nero cheese (£5), because 2 starters is definitely the healthiest way to do lunch! Our logic may have been an odd one, but we were very happy with our decision. The Finocchiona had been described by our waitress as similar to salami, which had been seasoned with fennel. The Pecorino Nero made from sheep’s milk was sensational paired with the marinated mustard pumpkin chutney.
We’d opted for a gin to start our lunch, mainly because if I’d gone for my usual tipple of red wine then I would have been taking a nap straight after lunch and missing out on the rest of the day. Asking our waitress “what is this Psychopomp“, she explained that it was a local gin made at a microdistillery located at the top of St Michael’s Hill and urged us to take a look. I was so taken with their classic London dry gin ‘Woden’ that I ordered 3. As one of the first to arrive for an early sitting, we were also one of the first to receive our food. Other customers watched as our plates were presented at our table, and we listened in to the excited mumblings from our fellow diners looking over. The Argentine red prawns were like no other. The flesh sweet like lobster, and so tasty that it somehow seemed wrong to dip them into the gorgeously yellow, lemon aioli that had its own kind of special.
I reluctantly let go of my plate and agreed for Mr R to try a small piece of my perfect prawn, but it was worth the swap for a taste of the roast salt marsh lamb that had been his starter choice. White sprouting broccoli and an Italian salsa verde added a burst of spring colour, and the careful presentation showed off the roast lamb centrepiece beautify. We should be savouring the flavours for as long as possible, but in reality our excitement for the next dish gets the better of us as we sit impatiently, over-chatting and giggling with anticipation, but before long we’re presented with more pretty food. Pink tiger striped crayfish crustaceans seemed to crawl over rocks of squid ink ripiena, and amongst the deep green, grassy agretti. Intentionally or not, this well thought out dish appeared to be a recreation of a scene from the sea (the breadcrumbs symbolic of sand maybe?), and it really worked. I was delighted to see agretti make an appearance, an ingredient we don’t see too often, although far more common in Italian cooking.
The dry aged beef shin ragu was earthy and meaty, and again the fresh pasta otherworldly as you’d expect. Salty shards of crispy pancetta had their place, balancing against the sweetness of the Pedro Ximénez gravy. Chard was present for colour and contrast, and more aged pecorino cheese (you can never have too much) was generously grated on top with a sprinkle of fresh parsley – an outstanding pasta dish if ever I saw one.
Pleasantly full and content after our 2 courses (plus our cheeky pre-starter), we skipped the dessert this time and decided to go in search of the Psychopomp Microdistillery as had been recommended, and where we would subsequently order several more gins and make the inevitable purchases as ‘souvenirs’ to take home with us.
Just before leaving Pasta Ripiena another couple walked in asking for a table, and were told there would be a 45 minute wait. We quickly caught our waitress’s attention to let her know we would be leaving, not wishing for anyone to miss out on an experience as good as the one we’d just had. Having now eaten at both Pasta Loco and Pasta Ripiena we did have a favourite, but not sure if it would be fair to tell you?? Have you eaten at both restaurants, and are you brave enough to reveal your favourite?
Cost: £36 (food only) Super value!
1 cured meats, 1 cheese, 2 starters, 2 mains
Bristol, United Kingdom – last visited in May 2018
Food hygiene rating – awaiting inspection