If you are a bourgeois Bristolian there are probably three questions that you ask yourself on a regular basis: (1) Is Clifton really the greatest place to live on Earth? (2) Is that really all there is to the Gloucester Road? And (3) which is better, Lido or Flinty Red? The answers to the first two questions are fairly straightforward: 1. No, it’s highly doubtful that Clifton even warrants it’s own magazine (Clifton Life), 2. Yes, that’s it, a couple of grotty pubs, an infamous Tesco express (down the road) and the Bread Store (ok, the Bread Store is pretty good). It’s nicer and more BoBo than Stokes Croft but let’s face it, that means next to nothing in the broader scheme of things. The third question however is somewhat more difficult. Each establishment has its partisans, with such local celebs as Julian Baggini swearing by Flinty, and others, like myself (having never been to Flinty Red prior to this visit, I should probably add), insisting on the Lido’s obvious superiority. To finally settle the matter once and for all, I ventured with my usual Lido dinner companions, IHG and KL, to Flinty Red on a humid June evening. This was perhaps not the best of choices weather wise. FR is a small place and when it’s full it can feel a tad stuffy in comparison to the Lido’s airy space, and the oppressive humidity of a faux Bristol summer only compounds this. The restaurant can’t be blamed for the weather though, and they happily opened a window when we asked.
FR has something of an unorthodox menu, many if not most dishes can be ordered as small or large portions and ordering a variety of dishes for the table – tapas style – is apparently encouraged, although by who remains unclear. I am rather conservative in my culinary moeurs, and I am also of the opinion that tapas anywhere outside of Spain tend to be a giant rip off. I am also against sharing at restaurants; if I wanted it, I would have ordered it, if it looks better than what I did order, I accept the error of my ways and promise to try and order better next time. As a result of these behavioural anomalies, I am not overly enamoured by unorthodox menu structure. IHG and KL do not share in my neuroses and they happily ordered a cauliflower, black olive and preserved Seville orange salad, anchovy toast, spek with turnip, lamb ragu with dumplings, and halumi with roast artichoke – to start. I ordered the cauliflower salad. The salad was excellent, crisp and refreshing (two words I would not normally associate with cauliflower), the candied orange peel was bitter but added the touch of sweetness. The orange drew comparison for me to a fennel, blood orange, salt cod and parsley salad that I ate some time ago at the Lido, a pity that, as the Lido salad was one of the nicest dishes I have eaten in a long time. The comparison ended up not really being one. The portion was indeed tapas sized, but at £4.00 it was decent value. Contra my beliefs about sharing, I managed to bring myself to try all the other dishes. All were also quite good, although I found the lamb a bit too oily the minced lamb itself was full of rich lamby flavour. The ricotta filled dumplings that accompanied it were both delicate and comforting. The spek was smokey and tender, and paired very well with thin strips of turnip. Halumi, I can usually do without, this one was fine, not rubbery, but still not overly flavourful. It’s an unremarkable cheese, let’s face it, best eaten in a taverna smothered with lemon (and tadziki) and used primarily as a counter balance to a big glass of ouzo or retzina. Between £3.50 and 8, these were more or less reasonable in price. IG and I split a full bodied and pleasant Montepulciano (£22), KL ordered a 250ml of white which was thankfully served in a carafe and not a giant glass as is the fashion on these isles. The owners of Cotham Corks are part owners of FR, so the wine list is extensive and varied, and reasonably priced (for the UK).
For the main course, although I am not sure you can still call it that, I ordered a braised, milk fed goat with spring vegetables, IHG and KL went for the Onglet with a radicchio salad. In my world, an Onglet comes with a certain sauce, lots of onions and some frites, maybe that is just Belgium? This one was cooked very well, à point, the meat was tender and flavoursome. A good steak, but it could have used a sauce, preferably an Onglet sauce. My goat could have been a bit goatier for my tastes, but while I like I bit of goat on a spit I can also understand that many are adverse to such gamey flavour, but then why order goat? Nonetheless, it had lovely citrus notes (can you say that about a goat?) was tender and succulent, and the accompaniment of peas and beans worked very well. The portion was a bit on the small side, but as IHG warned, last time he ate there he left hungry. That possibility was more or less excluded this time with the ordering of five entrées.
Desert. Loyal readers know my feelings on the matter, when did the jewel on the crown that is a finely crafted culinary experience become an excuse to serve something completely uninspired and charge upwards of 8 sometimes 10 €/£? This is not at all a criticism of FR, but to a certain French chef who served me a ‘banana surprise’ that greatly resembled something my one year old eats on a daily basis, I have not forgotten you and I will have my revenge. Desert at FR was an affogato with grappa for me and IHG, KL had a salted butter cream with chocolate mousse, the mousse looked good, but I was too ‘satisfied’ (read: stuffed) at that point to even entertain the thought. Affogato was good, although if we are drawing a comparison with the Lido, I have to say that the texture of the ice cream was somewhat crystallised. A final note, the olive oil that was served with the bread was some of the best I have tasted outside of Greece, light, fruity, ever so slightly peppery, really a treat. Total bill came to £140 with tip, the service was excellent and professional. My feeling is that the Lido still outperforms, it could have something to do with the setting, as the food is remarkably similar in style and quality, although I have to say that the distinction between delicate and rustic dishes is slightly more pronounced at the Lido. Membership at the Lido also gets you and your friends 20% off the bill and a glass of champagne, which I have to say is a big plus, but only if you are a member – but then again how could any self-respecting Cliftonian not be?
I am going to try to make a trip to the Lido soon to make sure my comparisons here are still fair and accurate, watch this space dear readers.