Things didn’t go smoothly, exactly, at The Cauldron.
They had managed to overlook the email I had sent them a couple of days before our arrival, so were unprepared for our little girl to accompany us. Consequently the available table was cramped, uncomfortably positioned, rickety and my back was at the mercy of a door which refused to close itself on a damp, blustery Bristol evening.
To add to the irksome details, we were then informed (apologetically) that we would have to order, eat and be out within half an hour, or risk breaching their licensing agreement.
Context is crucial. And it’s important you know just how many things had conspired to put me in a bad (read: foul) mood that evening. This was going to be an hour endured, not enjoyed. This was a mistake. We should have gone to that other place.
But here’s the thing: I would go back to The Cauldron tomorrow. Possibly sooner.
Everything here is cooked over live flame- much of it in the eponymous cast iron pots- and wood-fired ovens: they don’t even have a gas supply to make it easy for themselves. It’s the UK’s first solid fuelled kitchen in over a century, and extends this indie aesthetic to everything they produce. The furniture is sourced rather than designed, you feel. The beer list is a strength- Wiper and True brew their beer mere yards up the road, and could roll the new barrels up to the front door- and most of what they serve, sit on or use comes from within a kilometre of the restaurant.
A pig’s head croquette delivers some serious pigginess under its crust. Shreds and chunks of pulled pork are a reminder of how good this stuff can be, before its reputation became traduced on supermarket shelves.
Some stoutly-vinegared pickled cabbage cuts through the richness of the meat. Frankly, the whole thing is delicious, almost good enough to make you worry if you haven’t missed a trick by ordering three of these in place of a main.
Vegetable croquettes are fragile little things, packed with sweet crushed peas.
There’s a vegetable ‘wellington’, substantially built of springy veg so fresh you actually feel more virtuous for having ordered it. Ironically, it’s a bit of a beast, without containing any: ‘hearty and ‘gutsy’ are not often words which springs to mind with meat-free cooking, but this raises the bar.
There’s a flat iron steak, cooked over coals until a hearty pink and generously seasoned, with more of those excellent chips. Chips are hefty things, skin on and full of crisp little shards of potato. They are half-way between fry and roastie, and all the better for it.
But the highlight? The thing which stops me in my tracks? The dish which convinces me The Cauldron is somewhere not just ‘very good’, but worth shouting about?
Our old Nemesis, the kids’ menu. It’s not often the children’s menu is the star, but bear with me.
All too often, they are bland, inconsequential things. Drearily predictable. It’s a shrug on a plate, condescension writ large,. A cavalcade of condescending crap.
But this burger? This burger is simply outstanding: a patty of delicately herby free range (Old Spot) pork, as thick as your thumb. Juicy. Tender. Crusty in all the right places.
With more of those chips.
And a drink.
It’s altogether superb, one of the best I’ve had, recently. Anywhere, and a contender for best dish of the evening. This is a burger which would zip straight into my top three if it was served up in Cardiff: that it’s ‘merely’ on the children’s menu here might say something about the present gulf between the cities.
‘Powered by charcoal and awesomeness’ reads your receipt. They’re not wrong on either. The Cauldron is the kind of place it takes a city like Bristol to throw up, if you’ll pardon the phrase: this is the most impressive use of ironwork since Macbeth’s weird sisters.
Just ring ahead to make sure they’ve read your emails. And even if they haven’t, you’ll forgive them.
The Cauldron Restaurant
98 Mina Road
|12-5pm (last seating at 4pm)
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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.