Surf and Turf @ The Bank Tavern
After reading a write-up of the Bank Tavern's first fine dining foray, I was aching to be present at the second. Talk of whole marrow-bones sawn in half served alongside slow-cooked spleen is always bound to ignite the hungry inner-child in me, a child who used to peer up at market stalls and precociously ask to have various crustaceans identified for him. After missing the first ‘Adventurous Eats: Swine Dining’ event, I was itching to attend The Bank's second special night: Surf and Turf. It did not disappoint.
White linen within a Bristol boozer has never been more in vogue. At the other side of town, the Volunteer Tavern are doing it, The Pump House in Hotwells have a posh bit upstairs, and now the most down-to-Earth of public houses has chosen to host an ambitious five course menu aimed at discerning customers, complete with complimentary oysters and prosecco. To tell you truth, they had me at 'oyst...'
I'm not just being silly; the token oyster to kick the night off is one of the best I've ever tasted; exactly the right size, perfectly juicy, and seasoned with the best parts of the sea- the way they should be. If this sourcing is anything to go by, we are sitting pretty.
[pullquote] "...the token oyster to kick the night off is one of the best I've ever tasted; exactly the right size, perfectly juicy..." [/pullquote] As I look longingly at the half-shells which are not meant for me, while trying to hang onto the flavour of the one that was, the first course arrives. Another oyster- hooray! This time, though, it sits deep fried, atop duck parfait, atop sourdough. The iron in the silky parfait works beautifully against the toasted sourdough crust, and the richness of the duck means each mouthful packs a punch, as well as maintaining a certain level of delicateness. The crisp oyster is partnered with a few beads of caviar, which both seasons the dish, as well as adding another layer of luxury.
Leave the bottle!
The accompanying red wine goes down smoothly, and doesn’t upset the pleasurable balance on the palette. We personally go for a whole bottle of this, but others opt for the matching wine menu. Both options are the same price, but I wanted to focus on the cooking as much as possible, and I know where I am with a good pinot noir. I’m also lucky enough to be sat next to Ian from Matthew Clark Wholesale, who’s more than happy to offer his knowledge and, even more generously, the occasional sip.
[pullquote align=left] "...The crab filling is powerful- the brown meat has been properly utilised- and the sauce adds a deep undercurrent of meatiness..." [/pullquote]The next course of fauna and fish is a large crab ravioli dressed with a beef demi-glace. The crab filling is powerful- the brown meat has been properly utilised- and the sauce adds a deep undercurrent of meatiness. The pasta hasn’t been rolled thin enough, though, and the edges where the sheets join up are beginning to dry out. A cookie cutter to the centre, taking the parcel in the direction of a tortellini, would possibly have amended the issue, but that’s something easier to point out after the fact- rather than in the heat of the kitchen with four more intricately planned dishes coming up. The most tantalising stuff is still to come anyway, so I scrape up the last drips of the demi-glace, and have another sip of my wine.
Out comes the third plate, and I’m pleased to see that the pig jowl I’ve been waiting for is liberally coated in a very crisp crumb. Under the surface, the texture is just as pleasing. The pork is now beyond the softness of melted lard, and the gelatinousness linking the meat together is truly gorgeous. The spicy oriental salad on the side is an inspired addition; it saves the whole thing from being the wrong side of too indulgent. I'm not sure I really pick up on the desiccated shrimp but, then again, maybe that's the point.
Monk cheeks and Chicken Wings
The final savoury course of the night is billed as Monk cheeks and Chicken Wings. Now, I know the Catholic church has been going through a tough time for a while, but I'm pretty sure the government haven't gone all Soylent Green on the few surviving monasteries, so I have to assume this course was meant to centre around that most prized of fish-cheeks; the monkfishs'. What is actually laying being two golden chicken wings, however, is a strip of a more oily species- probably mackerel. Whether this results from a delivery issue, or something more domestic, doesn't really matter; the freshness works nicely with the wings, as my fork effortlessly pulls chicken meat from tiny bones. The surf and turf dishes are over, and we all take a moment to sit back and let these lovely mouthfuls sink in.
For a moment, I wonder whether I can handle the final plate; my stomach is threatening my mind with 'No More Seats Available' signs. But all I need is a swig of water to gee myself up for the dessert and, before we know it, the sweet treats arrive. We had a choice of two puddings when it came to this dish so, of course, Helen and I ordered different things, although, to tell you the truth, it would require substantial physical force to keep my girlfriend from choosing anything mentioning salted caramel.
The rich, sweet sauce (with all its glorious added sodium) is drizzled over a fluffy cube of banana cake. The cake itself is so moreish I regret not ordering it, despite not even having tried my dessert yet. There are murmurs of excessive salt from fellow diners, but I can't get with that opinion; we adored the flavours here.
Finish with a tea party...
My coffee parfait is charmingly (and mercifully) served in a dainty teacup. It's exactly the amount of matter I can safely consume at this point, with the cream topping helpfully whipped up to a refreshing lightness. Beneath the cloud-like topping is a bitter, indulgent, chocolatey spoonful of pleasure. Kids would hate it; the mark of many a good sweet, and I find myself swiping my finger around the ceramic cup as Helen looks at me disapprovingly.
Sam, the landlord, has been the perfect host all night, and he makes the wise decision of bringing out the head chef to lap up a well deserved reception. The guy looks well-worked, but not spent, which leads me to believe that he may have more in him. He is talkative, confident, and blessed with a levity that is disarming- particularly after he's just comprehensively fed you. I look forward to the next time he puts together a menu where he can show off his well practised (or recently honed) culinary chops, and I hope to be quicker off the mark when it happens! I can only urge you to do the same.
Even if you can't make it to one of these special occasions, it shouldn't be seen as a second prize to simply wander into the Bank Tavern, grab a pint and languish in the relaxed atmosphere. That's an impeccable experience. Can any fine dining restaurant offer that? I'll leave you with that thought, as I look up where to get hold of pig jowls and desiccated shrimp.
Please note: this meal was received free of charge, but in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the venue did not see this review before it was put up on the site.