Food Editor Jane Cowie reviews Bedminster’s ‘The Old Bookshop’, a restaurant offering a new (predominantly) vegan menu.
On a cold, snowy evening Holly, Epigram’s Deputy Food Editor, and I journeyed out to Bedminster to try out ‘The Old Bookshop’s’ new menu. Located in the heart of Bedminster, conveniently sat just a stone’s throw away from the Tobacco Factory, The Old Bookshop is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Bedminster’s finest foodie haunts.
Rarely explored by Bristol students due to the distance (35-minute walk, or 1.6 miles from Wills Memorial Building), few of us have had the pleasure of really diving in to the plethora of cafes and restaurants that populate the diverse and character-filled North Street. Whether you want, an Oowee Burger, a Tincan Coffee, or a Thali Tapas meal, North Street can offer you the lot.
As we approached, The Old Bookshop looked as though it was a popular hub, with most of the tables occupied by cheerful groups, embracing the buzzing atomspher, the music and the drinks of their choice.
The restaurant/ bar was eclectically decorated with items one may expect to find in a vintage store. Upon the walls there was a variety of old and new paintings that depicted scenes around Bristol, creating a familiarity that this truly was in the heart of Bristol, born and bred. On the shelves there was everything from vintage cameras, radios, books, to typewriters, and the eye-catching stuffed animals (Owls and Deer) alongside the mounted bull’s horns. Perhaps my favourite decoration was the enormous tuba that hung from the wall, that was used to hang glasses on by the barmen.
We were taken to our seat, nestled in the corner of the restaurant: a perfect place so we could hear one another, whilst also listening to the upbeat background music and soak up the lively ambiance around us. We were given the new menu, and ordered drinks; I opted for a pint of lime and soda (£1.40), whilst Holly chose orange juice (£3.00).
The menu was predominantly vegan, with the odd option to made it vegetarian (by adding duck egg or halloumi). There was just one dish that was not vegan, the sea bass, however this was gluten-free. The new evening menu accommodates for the recent surge in gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan diets that seem to dominate the Bristol food scene.
All of the produce locally from Bristol when possible; they source from: Total Produce, WJ Harris, Toveys, Dano, The Bristol Loaf, Lovett Pies and The Naked Kitchen. The menu’s focus on sustainable, seasonal and local produce fitted in perfectly with the decorations that felt very ‘Bristolian’: a real tribute to the beautiful city.
In order to get some variety, we decided to share plates and try one fish and one vegan option. We asked for the Cornish sea bass fillet with crushed new potatoes, olives and tomatoes, with Leigh Woods wild garlic pesto, and the Deep fried sweet potato and aubergine katsu curry with sticky aromatic rice & pickled cucumber. Both dishes were priced modestly at £8.50, a fair price considering the reasonable portion sizes we received.
Without doubt, the Aubergine katsu curry stole the show. The aubergine was thickly sliced in to 5 large pieces and deep fried, giving it an irresistible crunch before hitting the smooth, creamy interior. It was mixed within a delicious katsu sauce – a sweet and fruity sauce with a base of caramelised onion, garlic and garlic – and sweet potato puree. This was accompanies with a cup of perfectly made sticky rice. The only confusion regarding the dish was its naming; we had expected the sweet potato to be deep fried as well as the aubergine, however our waitress explained it was pureed and added to the sauce. Nevertheless, the dish was thoroughly enjoyed, and earned itself a prestigious 8.5/10 because of the intensity of flavour.
Epigram / Jane Cowie
Needless to say, it was difficult to prevent ourselves from licking the bowl clean.
The Cornish seabass had the most beautiful presentation; it was a joy for any foodie with a camera to gaze their eyes upon. It was cooked exceedingly well, with a crispy skin coating and a flaky fillet inside; we could tell from one bite the fish was great quality and extremely fresh. The fish was accompanied by a homemade pesto, mixed with Leigh Woods garlic and sunflower seeds; this made for an aesthetically pleasing green dish with a sprinkle of purple herbs as a garnish for an extra pinch of vibrant colour.
The seabass was placed on a bed of crushed potatoes, which admittedly, were more mashed that crushed. The addition of black olives was a tasteful and perfect accompaniment with the fish, however the tomatoes did not come through enough. In addition, the potatoes could have done with a touch more seasoning and butter to be more flavoursome. Whilst the fish and pesto were a treat, the potatoes somewhat let the dish down, being slightly bland and lukewarm, pulling the overall dish down to a 7/10.
Epigram / Jane Cowie
All in all, the restaurant was intimate, comfortable and friendly. There was an extensive list for wine, cocktails and beer, and the addition of the DJ decks in the corner made it seem as though the place would be ideal for a casual drink, a first date, or a delectable evening meal. I highly recommend making the trip across the city, perhaps stopping by after a trip to the Tobacco Factory for a try of their vegan-filled menu.
It’s incredibly refreshing to find a place that extols sustainable, seasonable eating with local produce, and are able to carry off the dish to the level of excellence they did with the aubergine curry. I will certainly be returning, whether that be for their tempting brunch menu, or to experiment with more of their evening meal options.
The Old Bookshop, 65 North Street, Bristol, BS3 1ES
Tel: 0117 953 5222
Featured image credit: Epigram / Jane Cowie