Raising the Bar, Bar Buvette -Baldwin Street, Bristol

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Through word of mouth and whisperings on social media, news of Bar Buvette spread. During the winter of 2014, in a space that had belonged to a graphic design shop and printing studio, they popped up. Serving fabulous house made charcuterie; cheeses from the Auvergne; simple salads and magnificent toasties; the lack of a fully functioning kitchen was no limit at all. A superb wine list of predominantly natural wines, ensured the atmosphere was always convivial and through half closed eyes, it seemed possible that Baldwin Street was actually the left bank. Then, one night, like Keyser Soze, pff, like that they were gone.

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In that short space of time, it is testament to the superb quality of their simple and well executed menu, that Bar Buvette became such a gem, that no one wanted them to leave. There was palpable excitement when they returned this winter, even more so when rumour had it they might take on the site permanently. This spring, securing the lease, revamped in malachite and with a kitchen, Bar Buvette became a permanent fixture.

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Run by Peter Taylor, formerly chef and co-owner of the Riverstation and his wife Max Ososki; they plan to split their time between Buvette and the Auberge de Chassignolle, a restaurant with rooms in the Haute-Loire of south-central France, which they also run during the summer months.

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The menu consists of a handful of regular staples with a number of plat du jour.  An excellent place to begin provided you are not vegetarian, is the charcuterie board and nearly all of it house made. From garlicky saucisson to pistachio shot terrine and pork rillettes which should be spooned straight into the mouth -never mind the bread. Cheeses are mainly from the Auvergne: semi-soft washed rind St-Nectaire; nutty slightly mushroomy Tomme d’Auvergne  and, Fourme d’Ambert, a superb raw blue made from cow’s milk. Crudites, also a must, snap and crunch with vigour and are served with a wonderful anchoiade that could also be eaten straight from the pot.

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Now with an open kitchen abutting the zinc topped bar and counter, more is available for those who would like hot food, other than their legendary toasties: luxurious seasonal soups like celeriac or fennel; slow cooked dishes which change daily, such as coq au vin served with buttery new potatoes or shoulder of saltmarsh lamb with flageolets beans and pesto. Salads range from chicory leaves simply dressed in lemon juice and olive oil to thinly sliced raw Brussels sprouts with lemon juice and shavings of parmesan or, salade d’Auvergne with soft boiled eggs and proper, smoky lardons.

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Dessert includes: seasonal fruit tartes and frangipanes; cakes such as rhubarb (when in season) upside down cake and a torte-like, beautifully spiced chocolate and cardamom cake served with thick spoonfuls of crème fraiche. There is also crème caramel. Crème caramel. Golden, vanilla beaded, drenched in liquid caramel, and almost the ultimate (-in my quest for creme caramel), save for a touch more wobble to the custard.

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As already mentioned, the wines are mainly organic and natural, with a list that is regularly updated. Many of these wines and producers are new to me and, having little knowledge in this area, picks are always recommendation from the staff, who are more than happy to help. I haven’t tasted a dud so far and, at least for me, it’s great to try something that I may not otherwise have chosen.

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Should the promise of summer turn into an unmitigated washout, as is often the risk, you will find me happily holed up in Bar Buvette. Gorging on cheese and pork rillette; hoping that aligot and or truffade make their way on to the menu; asking for their finest wines and creme caramel until they crowbar me out of my chaise.

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