We’ve been back in Bristol for just over a month now. The children are gradually settling into their new school, we’ve unpacked nearly everything, and we are finally falling into our new routines.
We loved our time in Somerset. For ten years we lived in the lush Mendip countryside between Frome and Radstock, where we’d see deer from our bedroom window, play pooh sticks from the bridge over the stream at the bottom of the village and build dens in the woods behind our house. It sounds beautifully idyllic, the good life in every way, and yet I’ve always missed the city. I am a city girl at heart you see, and have yearned to be back amidst the hurly burly, hustle and bustle, grease and grime of life in the metropolis. So thank you Somerset. You’ve been very good to us. But now we’re back in Bristol and ready for a whole new adventure.
Ten years on, Bristol is the same but different. It still has that laid-back, funky vibe it always had, but now it seems more sorted, more organised and there’s just more of everything. Particularly when it comes to eating and drinking. I’m going to have so much fun discovering and rediscovering…
I first came to Bristol at the tender age of 18 way back in 1993 to study drama and English literature at the university. Like so many fellow students, once Bristol had got a hold of me, there was no leaving it. And so here I stayed. I got my first job here, met my husband here, married here and we had our first baby here back in 2005. So coming back to Bristol feels very much like coming home.
We’re now based in Southville, renting a place while we find one to buy – probably in slightly more affordable Bedminster. Back in the day, I always lived north of the river – Cotham, Clifton, Redland, St Andrew’s, and only my born-and-bred Bristolian friends and a few other maverick-types lived south of the river in Bedders. I was barely aware of a place called Southville. And then George Ferguson regenerated the Tobacco Factory and the North Street/Southville renaissance-cum-gentrification was kick-started. So yes, it’s now über trendy and hipster central, but I love it here. It’s like Gloucester Road but without all the students.
When it comes to eateries, we are spoilt for choice round here. We’ve spent our first month exploring the delights North Street has to offer and there are still so many places on our list we haven’t yet tried.
While we continue to explore Southville and beyond, here’s my personal top ten (so far) of North Street’s foodie offerings…
1 The Thali Cafe
Even before moving back to Bristol, the Thali Cafe has been my favourite Indian restaurant, where the food is as vibrant and zingy as the kitsch Bollywood decor. Based in the Tobacco Factory, the Southville Thali is one of five across Bristol and is the biggest in the chain so far. The homemade chutneys and pani puri alone are worth a visit, and while you’re here you must try the masala dosa, but not the stars of the show have to be the thali. My husband’s favourite is the Mogul thali with coconutty chicken, while I adore the Southern thali with Goan-style battered pollock. If you’re local, be sure to invest in a tiffin tin, which you can fill time and time again for those cheeky end-of-a-long-week takeaways.
Thali Cafe, Tobacco Factory, North Street, Bristol, BS3 1TF
2 Bagel Boy
As a teenager in London, I used to love a bagel on my way home from the pub and so I was very excited to find there’s now a Bagel Boy on North Street. But this place is nothing like those open-all-hour places I used to roll into in Finsbury Park and Tottenham. With its slick, slightly retro interior, cool tunes and vast menu, this is a place my family will be frequenting frequently – especially as they have a table football outback. The classic New York Boy has to be the one to try first, with proper bright pink hot salt beef and pickles, and I can highly recommend the Chilli-Con-Boy, with slow cooked chilli-con-carne, Cheddar cheese, crème fraiche and guacamole.
Bagel Boy, 202 North Street, Bristol, BS3 1JF
Living down in Somerset, we were spoilt for choice when it came to good meat with a number of decent butchers nearby, specialising in high quality, locally sourced produce. Thankfully we now have Rare just walking distance away, whose pork chops I must confess to being addicted to already, and their lamb shanks are totally gorgeous as good lamb shanks really should be. Yes, it’s probably a bit pricier than your supermarket meat, but I’ve always said good meat is worth paying for and if you can’t afford to eat good meat every day, then don’t. Meat comes from local Westcountry suppliers: pork from Gloucestershire, lamb from the Mendips, and if I do nostalgic, I can buy a Radstock chicken. Their sausages are very tasty and are made on the premises, and their faggots are a tasty bargain. Be warned: there are long queues on Saturday mornings…
Rare, 250 North Street, Bristol, BS3 1JD
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4 Mark’s Bread
Another place to expect queues on a Saturday morning is Mark’s. Several people had recommended this place before we moved to Southville and its reputation is well deserved: if you’re looking for a tasty loaf with character, Mark’s is the place to come. All the bread is made from organic flours from Shipton Mill in Gloucestershire and baked using traditional methods, most important to which is long, slow fermentation. Their sour dough is incredible, while their croissants and pains au chocolat have quickly become a weekend staple, and you can’t beat the Welsh rarebit in the cafe next door.
Mark’s Bread, 291 North Street, Bristol BS3 1JP
5 Zazu’s Kitchen
Zazu’s is a brilliant all-rounder, whether it’s a quick coffee, a lazy brunch, a light lunch or a serious evening meal. The decor is light and modern as is the food itself: simple and unfussy but full of deliciously bold flavour combinations and super fresh ingredients. Sophisticated food without all the posh nonsense.
Zazu’s Kitchen, 220 North Street, Bristol, BS3 1JD
6 Souk Kitchen
I could eat shakshuka for Sunday brunch at the Souk Kitchen every week until the end of my days. Nuff said.
Souk Kitchen, 277 North Street, Bristol, BS3 1JP
7 Southville Deli
Southville Deli has been a stalwart feature of North Street for many years now. Part healthfood store (with an extensive range of organic and wholefoods, gluten-free, wheat-free, vegetarian and vegan products, and green household products and toiletries), part deli counter (boasting a fantastic range of award-winning local and European cheeses, cold meats, olives, coffee and breads from Herbert’s bakery), and part cafe (where they serve an excellent espresso and chocolate brownie).
262 North Street, Southville, Bristol BS3 1JA
8 Pizza Workshop
Already a favourite with my children, the Pizza Workshop is the place to head on North Street if you really care about what goes into your pizza. Unlike your average high street pizzeria, the Pizza Workshop has only a short selection on its menu, as they say they prefer to put all their energy into crafting one thing the best they possibly can. And I have to admit, they do it very well indeed. A lot of love and tender care goes into their bases, made from 100% sourdough with no added yeast and allowed to rise slowly over 30 hours to give a much lighter, tastier dough. And just as much care and attention is adorned on the toppings – featuring beautifully seasonal ingredients and the creamiest buffalo mozzarella I’ve ever tasted.
232 North Street, Bristol BS3 1JD
9 Tobacco Factory Sunday Market
There is something very special about being able to roll out of bed on a Sunday morning and simply stroll around the corner to a whole host of mouth-watering food stalls gathered each and every week. As regular readers will know I’m a big fan of my weekly meal plan, but now I don’t bother planning anything for Sunday lunchtimes, since I know we’re guaranteed to find some good nosh at the Tobacco Factory Sunday Market. My fail safe is a bento box from She Sells Sushi (9a) who’s a weekly regular, while other favourites include Pieminister, Gopal’s Curry Shack and Ah Mah’s Dumplings – my oldest daughter can’t get enough of her steamed bao stuffed with slow-roasted pork. Plus there are usually craft activities for the little ones, and if you need any help with your bike, have a word with Dan, the Bristol Bikesmith who’s also at the market every Sunday.
Tobacco Factory, Raleigh Road, Bristol BS3 1TF
10 Tobacco Factory Cafe Bar
Last but not least, I couldn’t compile any kind of guide to Southville without a mention for the Tobacco Factory. This imposing red-brick, industrial icon of a building on North Street is home to a cafe bar that’s seemingly always busy and which attracts families (children are welcome til 9pm) and folks of all ages as well as the trendy Southville hipsters. Not surprising really considering the great selection of wines and kraft beers, namely from the Bristol Beer Factory, based just down the road at the old Ashton Gate brewery. The food is great too – the mezze is always a winner with my kids, who also give the cakes and chocolate ice cream a big thumbs up.
Tobacco Factory, Raleigh Road, Bristol BS3 1TF
So that’s my top ten – so far. What Southville delights have I missed off my list? What delicious Bedmister discoveries still await me? I’d love to hear your own favourite foodie recommendations for South Bristol and beyond and very much look forward to working my way through them all…