Summer in Bristol means eating and drinking by the Harbourside, right?
Personally, my ultimate sign that the sunshine has arrived is when I see legs dangling over the quayside outside Arnolfini, or people jostling for space along the jetties nearby.
This guide is mainly focused on nabbing some a bite to eat in the harbour – if you’re more focused on waterfront boozing, take a look at my Harbourside Pub Crawl guide.
The original Harbourside spot, this cafe has now been taken over by Bristol Beer Factory, who have breathed new life into the menu and drinks selection. Now open in the evenings later in the week, this cafe-bar serves up a small but tasty selection of seasonal dishes (I liked the lamb burger and the sea bass on previous visits), as well as sarnies, cakes and light snacks during the day. It’s also worth sticking around on Fridays throughout summer for the Harbour Nights street food market outside – plus they have an outdoor bar when the sun shines!
It’s hard to imagine a better spot (other than Arnolfini) for people and boat watching in the harbour. The thing I love about Broken Dock is that not only is it a cosy lounge bar with a lovely bright terrace, but the food & drinks are first rate, and there’s live music every Thursday. Proper holiday vibes at this one.
Just a few feet from Broken Dock is Spoke & Stringer, a wonderful tapas bar tucked away beside the canal boats in the newly-named Brunel Quay. The tapas selection here is definitely worth your time, as is the award-winning brunch.
Another Bristol institution – where would this city be without its brilliant bars on boats? I’ve been to many a gig here and spent hours supping cider on the top deck waving at paddleboarders. It’s owned by Bristol Beer Factory, so expect a top notch selection of beers alongside a classic pubby menu including as burgers and pies.
Head to the far end of the Floating Harbour and you’ll find The Pump House in what used to be a, errr, pump house. The gin selection here is insane (over 400 apparently!) and the food is the more sophisticated end of gastropub. There’s a ferry stop just outside, and you can watch the comings and going of the harbour from your bench in the pub’s front terrace.
* I’m not ignoring the lush little pubs nearby that are The Cottage (another amazing view, and close enough to the water for you to dip your feet in!) and The Nova Scotia by the way, they both feature in my Harbourside Pub Crawl guide.
A whole district of food delights just a stone’s throw from the water’s edge, how about that?
If you’re after a harbour view, your best bets are grabbing some gorgeous veggie small plates at Root, a chippy dinner outside Salt & Malt, seafood at Gambas, a special dinner at Box-E, or West Country inspired soul food & local beers at Wild Beer Co.
Otherwise, I’ve fuelled many a tipsy waterside evening with goodies from Squeezed (dem burgers tho), Pizzarova, Gopal’s Curry Shack or The Pickled Brisket, washed down with beverages from Bristol Cider Shop, Beer Necessities or Better Food Co – and I’ve not even named half of the businesses yet! Suffice to say, there’s more than enough to satisfy any palate. The Bristol Cheesemonger is now selling wine with their cheese boards too, so there’s yet another reason to pay Wapping Wharf a visit.
A bit of a Harbourside stalwart, this small Mediterranean restaurant was my ultimate dinner goal when I moved to Bristol with my meagre admin salary, and although it may have been overshadowed by some of the shinier openings of the past few years, their ever-changing tapas offering is still solid, with some gorgeous views over the water.
Going down slidey rock, saying ‘Cheers’ to bus drivers, and eating a bacon sanger at the Buttery – three quintessential Bristol experiences. Doorstep breakfast sarnies are the order of the day here, on bread, bap or baguette, alongside simple sandwiches, pies and jacket potatoes. There are a few veggie options available, but not much in the way of vegan. Still, the queues that have been forming here for almost 40 years say it all. Simple comfort food in a gorgeous setting.
Review of Brunel’s Buttery from Bristol Bites
I’m back on side with Mud Dock after a brief hiatus a few years ago – they’ve got their service and food back on track, and just as well, because the view from their balconies is first rate. They do a nice selection of salads and flatbread with dips, as well as burgers and a selection of mains (I’m a fan of the chicken shawarma) – perfect paired with a cold beer and a vista over Redcliffe and the Floating Harbour.
When the Michelin-starred Casamia upped sticks and moved into the old General Hospital building in Redcliffe (just behind The Ostrich pub with it’s huuuge beer terrace), few of us knew that they’d be extending their culinary offerings so that the more humbly-pocketed among us can still eat some damn fine food without shelling out for fine dining.
Paco Tapas, an unassuming bar from the outside, has gone on to be the second Michelin-starred business for the Sanchez family, with some truly takes on classic Spanish dishes such as tortilla, gambas al ajillo and croquettas. The restaurant has a small amount of outdoor seating overlooking the tranquil Bathurst Basin and harbour beyond.
Another longstanding Bristol name, Riverstation is housed in what used to be a police station and has undergone another change recently since being taken over by Young’s Brewery. The interior remains shiny and modern, but the menu has had a bit of a revamp, with some more casual bites downstairs (think brunch & sharing boards) and snazzier dining upstairs (classic dishes on a set or a la carte menu, with optional wine flights).
Both areas have some lovely outdoor seating by the water. They’ve also started teaming up with Bristol Ferry for some special dinners, where you get dropped right to the pontoon outside the restaurant before you munch!
Next door you’ll find Severn Shed which has also been in situ for absolutely ages. The food isn’t much to shout about but fine if you’re looking for some light bites to accompany drinks – they do 2-for-1 cocktails all day every day.
Quietly playing its trade for over 30 years, Glassboat is one of those places I feel like I should rave about more often. The menu is all classic French and the interior is casual fine dining, so can feel a bit odd if you’re just popping in for lunch or breakfast, but the views from all sides are lovely (especially if you nab a table at the end with floor-to-ceiling windows!).
I had some of the best oysters I’ve ever tried there recently, and they do a fine line in fish & seafood (including whole Dorset crab or half a lobster) as well as mighty meat dishes such as Cote de Boeuf and braised rabbit. As you’d expect from a French menu, veggies aren’t brilliantly catered for, but it’s also worth stopping in for just a drink to enjoy the friendly service and wonderful view. Also make sure you take advantage of the Prix Fixe menu which runs Mon-Sat – £15 for 2 courses or 3 courses for £19.
Side mention for Glassboat’s fun little sibling next door – Three Brothers Burgers only has a small amount of outdoor space on the quayside but the back of the restaurant is on an old barge which is opened up to some lush harbour views on warmer days. Plus their burgers and milkshakes are bangin’, and don’t even get me started on the chilli fries (best in Bristol, no question).
Another place I wish got shouted about more – Adelina Yard turns out some truly spectacular dishes in very understated surroundings, which is my kinda restaurant – I hate pomp and ceremony. Chef Jamie Randall is all about making local ingredients sing, and the plates always arrive looking gorgeous too. They’ve got a small terrace at the back of the restaurant which overlooks the river if you want some scenery while you eat.
If you’re looking for an unpretentious into to fine dining, this is it – you can get 2 courses for around £20 at lunchtime, or £40ish for a 2 course dinner. The extensive chef’s table menu is £65, much more accessible than many other restaurants of this standard.
The Times review of Adelina Yard
Happy al fresco munching, and if you’re on the hunt for other guides, I’d recommend…
- Bristol Pub Crawls
- Bristol’s Best Pub Gardens
- Vegetarian Bristol & Bath
- Where to Treat Yoursef in Bristol