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New menus and a new look for River Cottage Canteen, Bristol

River Cottage Canteen is one of my favourite places to dine in Bristol. That’s saying a lot, as this city is not short of a good place to eat out, and as someone who lives south of the river, the trek up the hill(s) has to be worth my while of a weekday evening. But, I’ll happily skip up Whiteladies Road if the promise to dine in this gorgeous restaurant is at the top.

Why do I rate River Cottage Canteen so highly? For a start, there’s always plenty for a veggie to eat here. True to Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall’s ethos for welfare, sustainability and fresh local produce the vegetables take centre stage. That’s not to say that it’s a vegetarian restaurant – it’s not, they have plenty of meat options, but these are very carefully sourced and in the words of head chef Charlie, “play second fiddle to the veg”.  That brings me to one of the other reasons I love River Cottage Canteen; the restaurant has a team of chefs who are super excited about what they do. Charlie’s energy is infectious and he is happy to chat about the food; the restaurant; the suppliers – anything you want to know. It’s refreshing and exciting to talk to the chef who has prepared your food and really understand their creative process.

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That is exactly why River Cottage Canteen has just recreated it’s whole kitchen.

The whole area has opened up into a more casual environment – canteen-style – where the food is on display and so are the chefs. No longer are they hidden in the kitchen, but are available to talk to diners and we are encouraged to ask questions and have a conversation with those who have made our food.

River Cottage Canteen has never been a place to shy away from customer interaction, especially with head chef Charlie at the forefront, whose passion for food is always in evidence. At the launch of this new kitchen, it was a real pleasure to see the whole team coming forward, describing their dishes with pride, donned in their new T-shirts and aprons after shedding the formal chef’s whites just hours before. It’s pretty pleasant to be able to give feedback straight away on the new menu, too. The delicious summer meringues were so beautiful and utterly mouth-watering and it’s really adds to the whole experience when you can share how much you’re enjoying something with the person who made it.

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The huge, interactive picnic-style feel to the evening was by no means an accident. The visual impact of such an open kitchen was impressive and demonstrated exactly what Charlie had envisioned. We dined on an array of scrumptious snacks, as we tasted our way through the new menu. From mouthfuls of pulled pork and fresh tasting mackerel canapés through to Dawlish Warren mushroom lasagne with an indulgent lacing of truffle oil, everything was delicious. English quinoa, succulent fish stew, charred cauliflower with harissa and yoghurt (my favourite), grilled summer cabbage, dips and flatbreads made up the colourful array of tasters.

Charlie wants first and foremost for his diners to eat and enjoy an abundance of different flavours and veg. In the kitchen there is a mix of technology, with high-tech alongside the more traditional charcoal grill (burning sustainable Dorset charcoal of course) and a wood-burning oven that we were assured would be burning for a while thanks to the best part of an oak tree, which had been donated by one of their friends. This is yet another reason for why I rate the River Cottage Canteen so highly: its authentic conscience. Sustainable, ecological and seasonal are the buzz words that keep Charlie so buoyed up and excitable, and his strong values reassure diners that everything from the meat and veg, right down to the charcoal and wood has been sourced from the most sustainable places he can find.

The final reason, I love River Cottage Canteen? The puds. I’m a sucker for a sweet treat and they have some of the best. Try a fumble, and you’ll see.

Emma Cullen

Emma Cullen

Emma is an ex-Fed Up & Drunker that has been released into the wild

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