‘So- to the train station? Where is home..? You been in Bristol long? But you used to live here? Ha. You come for a woman, yes? You look like a man who likes a lot of women… Oh, just seeing friends this time..? You can’t fool me… it is good to schedule a holiday from the wife sometimes. It keeps a man fresh…’
I’m not sure my taxi driver should give up the day job and go into life coaching full time just yet. On balance I prefer Cotto’s earlier question: ‘Do you want to have a think about it while we make you a Negroni?’
That’s the kind of question I prefer. More indecision should be rewarded like this. After all, this is a menu with some hard choices: for Mark Taylor, the definitive and distictive voice on Bristol food for longer than I can remember, Cotto is “the hottest new Bristol restaurant opening so far this year.”
This is the latest success from local hospitality powerhouse Bianchis (Pasta Ripiena, Pizza Bianchi and of course the excellent Pasta Loco in Cotham Hill), which makes it an essential last stop for my week in Bristol, and means I have come full circle from Marmo just yards away.
It’s a bright, unfussy room with service to match. The tiny kitchen- you had more space to make your granola or however you chose to pay penance this morning- means a lot of the prep is done at their central kitchen.
It’s a small but welcoming menu, but those hard choices come at you hard and fast. One thing is a given: their pistachio salsiccia (£7.50), which Mark Taylor called ‘simply the best plate of food I’ve eaten this year’. It’s superb, a compendium of your favourite things: the fig mostarda’s subtle heat and sweetness, the hearty pigginess of the coarse-ground slices and the sweet slick of juices leavened by those bright little aromatic bursts of marjoram. It’s a simple plate to look at and describe, but one which will linger. Go on, order it and prove me wrong.
It’s a toss up between crab and rabbit. Rabbit wins. It’s a lovely plate, this- the gnocchi impossibly tender, the gnocchi you know are possible in theory, the gnocchi you always want, the gnocchi you so rarely get. The sauce is rugged, with clumps and knots of flesh and little broad beans. It’s a soft tumble which just winks at you, draws you in and wraps itself lightly but tightly around you, comforting yet thrilling. Throw in a rather natty glass of Bardolino Rosso and it’s a dish guaranteed to put you in an expansive mood.
There are the headliners: there’s a strong supporting cast along the way. It’s easy to be impressed by a plate of fermented courgette which plays with heat and sweetness and salt, with Calabria hot honey, pecorino and candied chillies, and by a delicately crisp little arancino with a daub of wild garlic crema.
There’s their homemade coppa- because the chance to ask ‘Who got the gabagool?’ should never be missed-
with its lavishly fatty striations and brisk kick of pickles ensuring it doesn’t disappoint.
Another Bianchi’s opening, another hit. This is where Bristol excels, in the sort of beautifully polished low to mid price restaurant which hits the ground running and sends you home happy. It’s yet another reason to spend the day in this remarkable city and enjoy some remarkable cooking.
Cotto, 29-31 St Stephen St, Bristol B1 1JX
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.