Devilled rabbit kidneys – now there’s an item you don’t often see on menus these days. The chef is making a bit of a statement with rabbit kidneys, putting down a marker. The same with Cornish Earlies, potatoes, for anyone who hasn’t been lucky enough to come across these marvels. So much superior to Jersey Royals, I always think. And how about elderflower bellini? Here’s a chef, you might think, who has a very particular approach to his craft, who’s not afraid of the more recherché items, and who knows a thing or two about provenance.
The chef is Freddie Bird, and you’ll find his restaurant at the Lido in Bristol, one of the more unusual restaurant locations, not just in Bristol, but also maybe in the whole country. The Lido is a secret place, almost a parallel universe. It exists, curious, exotic, romantic in a way, between blocks of flats and offices, tucked away in the back streets of Clifton. It’s a Victorian survival, revival, really, with swimming pool and period changing rooms and a spa for massage and pampering before and/or after lunch., a bar with bar snacks at swimming pool level, and a restaurant above in which you can sit and look down on the swimmers as they plough up and down the pool with earnest purpose. Watching them is rather restful in its relentless repetition. But give me lunch any day.
And that day definitely gave me lunch, in the company of the immensely erudite Blossom – rabbit loin & devilled rabbit kidneys; cauliflower tortellini, capers, hazelnuts, green olives; crab briq, harissa; plaice celery, mussels, crab, lovage, cream; wood roast hake, tabouleh, tahini & allspice sauce, with a bottle of fine Soave to help it on its way.
Normally, this is the kind of menu I treat with grave suspicion. A bit from here, a bit from there, a bit from somewhere else. Where’s the bloody chef in all of this? my heart cries out. Gone on holiday, again. Memories of the dreaded Dock Kitchen popped into my head. But when it came to the eating, I have to admit that the dishes were well done, and there was a sense of Freddie Bird’s presiding presence in the dishes. Obviously he’s a chap who likes strong, clearly defined flavours, and who attends to technical details with assurance amounting to brio, and whose dishes move along as briskly as their menu descriptions might suggest, soundly conceived and executed, without too many distracting flourishes. The only element that didn’t work as far as I was concerned was the slick of tahini with the wood roasted hake. The fish was very fine, and like the plaice, cooked with rare precision, but I found that deadening, musty flavour of tahini flattened everything else out. Still, Blossom scooped it all up and said I was wrong. Hmmm.
Puddings came – Pedro Ximenez & raisin ice cream and strawberry tart – and disappeared. We paid the bill of £117.75 without pain. The bottle of Save was £38 and the other non food extras added £7.25, a rare exception to Fort’s First Law of Restaurant Bills, that drink almost always comprises 50% of the bill, give or take the odd percentage point.
The afternoon wore on. The swimmers went up and down the pool. The sun lit up the striped curtains in front of the cubicles on the other side of the pool, and the trailing vines above. There was almost sense of Victorians at play subtly metamorphosing into a Hockney painting of his early California phase. Or it may have been the Soave. Whatever, it was very agreeable.
Lido Restaurant Bar, Oakfield Place, Bristol BS8 2BJ. Tel: 0117 933 9530