A wonderful resource to our visit to Bath and Bristol was Dan's blog, (not so) Essex Eating, and Fiona Beckett's list of favourite restaurants. Of the plethora of places to choose from, Bell's Diner and Bar Rooms appealed to us the most. Having not really been to Bristol much I was a bit dubious when we drove down a grubby little back street it was located on, but all the trepidation was erased when we stepped inside. The bar area was small and a little crowded, so we were taken straight to our table, nestled within one of several rooms, which happened to be next to the record player. We were invited to pick the records as each finished, which was a nice touch, though I'm glad that responsibility didn't fall to me (where's the Rhianna record? Hmm?).
The menu consists of small plates, with specials on the board. With a slight leaning towards Moorish influences with a hint of classic Spain, we started off with sweet, tangy pickles and salt cod croquettes with aioli, before we tackled the impossible task of trying to choose from a list of things we wanted all of. Tripe and chorizo stew, at a mere £3.50 came in a small terracotta dish, velvety strips of tripe in a spiced tomato sauce, a few chickpeas bobbing around for good measure. So far, so good.
Baby Gem salad (pictured half eaten) was the best kind of salad; that is, dressed with anchovies and covered with cheese. Creamy, salty and dotted with breadcrumbs, it was an intense Caesar. Its recreation at home is imminent.
Mussels and clams in a cream broth with wild garlic and pancetta, perched atop a slice of smoky grilled sourdough suffered from a little grittiness in the shellfish but was otherwise reminiscent of moules mariniere.
Ox heart with beetroot and horseradish lacked a little of the punch of the nose-clearing heat it is so well known for, but the ox heart was tender and flavoursome, the beets earthy and firm. The dressing was tart and counteracted the sweetness of the beetroot, which I sometimes find overly cloying, but not so here. For £6.50 it was a decent value portion size.
Chicken oyster skewers came bathed in the same spiced clarified butter that the charcoal salt and pepper grilled prawns were doused in. The latter were gloriously messy - we covered ourselves in prawn juice as we ripped their heads off and shelled them with our hands, slurping the sauce as we went along. The chicken oysters were a more demure affair, the harissa yoghurt cooling the fire of the smoky chipotle flavouring. Generously replenished bread was essential for mopping up the plates.
Too stuffed for dessert, we asked for the bill and called it a day. The service was slick and friendly, attentive but never overbearing. I loved the small print on the menus (especially as an occasional just-can't-kick-that-one-cigarette smoker) - now that's service. At around £45 a head each with booze and service, it's not your every day caff, but we did eat amply and the food, bar a couple of glitches, was excellent.
Bell's Diner and Bar Rooms
1 - 3 York Road
Bristol BS6 5QB