Review: Historical Dining Rooms, Bristol

Note the lard... and bacon bits! Phwoar!

Note the lard… and bacon bits! Phwoar!

If there’s one restaurant in the UK that you should dress up for, it’s surely this one. The Historical Dining Rooms, above the Star & Dove pub, goes the whole hog in decor, service and menu to cast you back into the past. In that it trumps Heston’s Dinner, which showcases historical food but is otherwise stylishly modern. So yeah, that’s my recommendation, dig out your waistcoat or something with a bit of lace and fit yourself into the theme!

Of course, we decided on dinner here last minute and so it was jeans for us. The decor is absolutely authentic Victorian with a peppering of Georgian, down to the choice of colours, the detailed stencilling, the potted palms and the archaic piano to one side. There’s no knowing wink or lip service here, this is a historical dining room. There ain’t another anywhere (that I’m aware of). Service was friendly and superbly informed – about the decor, the menu history and the ingredients. So what about the food?

Lamb stuffed with curried crab

Lamb stuffed with curried crab

We started with some vinegar-dusted crispy Daubenton’s kale, a kale variety apparently almost forgotten. I picked out a starter of “Mendip Wallfish” – a rather beautiful euphemism for snails – served with barberries in a sticky, meaty reduction with a little cigar of smoked eel and a crisp sphere containing crab apple verjus. Barberries? Sharp little dried berries with a citric flavour, which gardeners will know as the berries of the “Berberis” shrub (betcha didn’t know they were for eating, eh?). The whole dish was sticky, funky, punky flavoured goodness.

Maureen’s starter was “Skuets” of veal sweetbread; the minced sweetbread was coated in a smoky and flavoursome crumb and accompanied by slices of lamb’s tongue and a beignet of sweetbread. The intense meatiness of the starter was cut by some sharp apple sorrel leaves. Nothing light, simple or fresh about either of these starters – this was digging into the historical trough, and very toothsome it was.

For main I’d gone fish, “Stockfish” to be precise. A good piece of ling, properly cooked, with a really good sauce made from pickled walnut liquor. There were two slight flaws in the accompaniments: crisp shallot shells full of buttermilk and onion seeds was a great idea with the vinegary sauce, but the crisp shallot shells weren’t. Crisp, I mean, they were certainly shallots. And the long slices of kale stalk were just uninteresting to eat.

Fish in pickled walnut reduction

Fish in pickled walnut reduction

Maureen’s main was both bonkers and brilliant. Lamb stuffed with crabmeat. Yes, it’s a historical recipe, and yes the damn thing worked! The crab was curried and ate really well with the lamb (though as usual Maureen wished there was more strong brown crab meat flavour). Accompanying it was a crispy tube filled with a creamy curried celeriac, the flavour intensely reminiscent of Coronation Chicken. Petit pois finished it off and the whole thing was sticky and yum.

Being a quick dinner we didn’t have time for puds – a shame, but we’ll rectify that by coming again. If you’ve had one too many identikit gastropub dinners or hotel-restaurant fine dining menus, you want to grab yourself a table here. The style of cooking is unashamedly historical in all it’s sticky, meaty, buttery badness and so makes a glorious contrast to everything modern and fresh. I’m more than happy to forgive a couple of miss-firing elements in exchange for such original cookery in a setting that so much love and attention has gone into. Especially when the price is a reasonable £27 or so for two courses. The wine list is short but quirky and we enjoyed a couple of fine glasses – in cut-glass goblets no less!

The Historical Dining Rooms

The Historical Dining Rooms

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