Friday, August 11, 2006

Bristol in Two Days: Part One

In this article I will give you a visual guide to Bristol, illustrated by some of the photos I took. Bristol is well worth a weekend, especially if you are in any way interested in Victorian engineering. This being the 200th anniversary of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's birth, there are special events laid on, though none happened to coincide with our visit.

Our flight, via Ryanair, the cheapo airline everyone loves to hate, was uneventful. Cutting corners wherever they can, Ryanair have a brand new policy which charges you for every piece of luggage you check in. Your carry-on is still limited to a single item of under 10kg in weight, so unless you are a very light traveler indeed you should expect to pay extra.

It is impossible to parody this company. If someone jokes that next month passengers will be expected to share driving duties, then sure enough flying lessons become an optional part of the ticket price.

Bristol airport is a small place. Grabbing a coach gets you to either the train station (20 minutes) or the bus depot. Which is better for you depends of course on where you are staying. The ride into town offers a mostly occluded view of the city from an elevated vantage point, viewed from the south. What you can see of the streets themselves is hardly promising. We tried to be kind and ended up describing the cityscape as "motley".

At the Temple Meads train station is the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum [map], which we skipped in favour of lunch. It was about a 15 minute walk to our hotel, the Premier Travel Inn located on the spectacularly Welsh sounding Llandoger Trow [map]. The location couldn't be better: right in the old city with a view of the river. For a discount hotel the rooms were great and service friendly -- nothing to complain about for £59 a night (double room).

Anyway, back to lunch. Starved we were and went to the first place we saw. Pictured here later in the evening, Obento proved to be one of the highlights of the stay. My partner is a new convert to Japanese food, so in order to experience the range of the kitchen we decided on their most extensive set meal. After some edamame (warm soybeans one pops out of the pod directly to the mouth) and miso soup we received a generous portion of sashimi: four thick slices each of maguro (tuna) and sake (salmon). I was glad to see the restaurant stuck with what they could get fresh, even if this meant a fairly standard assortment of fish.

Then arrived a selection of ebi and vegetable tempura, followed by gyoza (fried dumplings) and then tonkatsu (pork cutlet), each with their own distinctive sauce of course. Each was a full-sized serving, deliciously prepared and presented.

By this time we were feeling more than a little full. But the meal was not over yet. Yakinasu (grilled aubergine) made its way over to us, piled high on the plate and topped with dancing bonito flakes. A full serving of yaki-udon joined the steaming table and, finally, a steak in a sticky teriyaki sauce. This was the only mis-step, as the meat was cooked completely through instead of being rare inside as is customary. Perhaps this was in deference to local preferences, but I would have rather been asked.

I was also surprised to see that green tea was not freely included with all meals, though our set dinner had it indicated. I find it unwelcoming not to have tea on tap throughout the whole meal.

This feast defeated us entirely, and we were forced to take home two of the dishes for breakfast. I heartily recommend Obento to anyone wanting value for money, though I recommend you invite a third person to your dinner for two!

For more on Japanese food, you will want to visit The Tokyo Food Page, one of my favourite sites.

While I am talking food, I should mention that we were discouraged that on several occasions we missed kitchens entirely. One pub stopped serving at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, an almost incomprehensible move. On other nights menus stopped being available at about 8pm, which I would consider to be early. On another day we showed up at one of the city's best Indian restaurants for lunch, only to be told they would not be opening. Strange practices indeed!


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