Gem in a safety deposit vault: Nice wine, but what about the food? Emily Green samples Bristol fashion and finds an exception to the establishment rule

THE INNS of Court do it. University colleges do it. Gentlemen's clubs do it. Crusty hotels do it. Quite why they do it is a good question, for there is not much to recommend serving good wine with bad food.

A notable exception to the rule is Markwicks restaurant in Bristol. Not only is it knocking this top table tradition on the head, it is also doing so in a heartland of the old guard. Markwicks, set in the vaulted cellars of the old Commercial Rooms in the handsome, Georgian financial district, has a superb wine list and excellent cooking. Moreover, it has answered the recession by radically shaving its prices.

All this, and it is beautiful. What were originally safety deposit vaults are now adjoining dining-rooms. That they are among the prettiest in Britain owes much to a Parisian designer called Slavik. Lighting is soft and flattering, flooring is black and white, and there is rich wood panelling and pastel plasterwork.

But it is the food and wine that really wow. And so they should, considering that Stephen Markwick's cv reads like the Who's Who of West Country cooking: he worked with Joyce Molyneux at the Carved Angel, then joined George Perry Smith at the Riverside Restaurant in Helford, then set up Bistro 21 in Bristol.

There is a lot of fish at Markwicks, much of it fresh up from Cornwall. Braised squid is tender and aromatic, its wine sauce boosted by coriander, lemon zest and fennel. Monkfish is simply roasted and served with a spicy salsa. Salmon may be served as salmon tartare, a fishy play on steak tartare, a lovely fresh glop bound into a ball with a smoked- salmon skin. Puddings, too, delight. Lemon tarts, cooked a la minute, arrive hot and perfumed. Cafetiere coffee is good.

The wines are fabulous: Mr Markwick had the nous to lay down wine years ago, so you will find on his list rare and delicious Rhones, such as 1964, 1966 and 1967 Gigondas from Paul Jaboulet Aine. The main French regions are seen to and the New World nodded to. The selection of house wines is very impressive: among the whites, Avignonesi Bianco ( pounds 14), and the reds, a Chilean cabernet sauvignon, a chianti and a tempranillo from Navarra.

Judy Markwick tends front of house with warmth and professionalism, qualities that have helped the restaurant beat the recession. They offer set dinners for pounds 19.50 that stand up handsomely to the carte. Set lunch is a snip at pounds 8.50 for two courses, or pounds 10.50 for three. The menu changes daily. Given the means, one could quite happily live out of there.

VINTAGE claret and scorched grouse was almost certainly the order of the day until recently at Harveys Restaurant, also in Bristol. It was opened in 1962 by the vintners (most famous for Harveys Bristol Cream). By the Seventies and Eighties, local oenophiles resorted to it for astonishing bargains, such as Mouton-Rothschild '59 for pounds 60, or Leoville Las Cases '59 for pounds 45. To eat, they would venture cautiously to fettucine carbonara and rack of lamb.

Then last summer, under the ownership of Allied Lyons, Harveys closed for refurbishment. A Michelin-starred chef, Ramon Farthing, was brought in from a country house hotel. It was time for Harveys to enter the Nineties.

The transformation is too conservative to be modern. The ancient vaults, brightly whitewashed, have been decorated in a comfortable but somewhat soulless manner. Piped music plays a misbegotten dinner music compilation.

The menu is admirably short, which is fortunate, for the wine list is a big creaky number with surprisingly few half bottles for a vintner, and a rather dull selection in the medium-to-low price range. Those looking for a Latour '45, costing pounds 2,500, do rather better.

Staff are charming and eager, sometimes overly so. Interrupting avidly chatting guests to invite them to tour your wine museum before their meal seems silly. No plate is set down without the waiter thanking you, nor taken away without an inquiry about whether it was all right.

That the cooking is able shows in the simplest dishes. Noisettes of lamb on dauphinois potatoes with a sweet, fragrant dressing of roast red peppers, olive oil and basil were excellent. More complicated dishes disappointed. A dish of the day, a selection of steamed fish, came in a large, unappetising mound, dominated by red mullet. Too many good ingredients became simply fishy.

Harveys does, however, serve 1953 Coronation edition Bristol Cream. Lovely, heady stuff.

Our three-course lunch, with two modest half bottles, two Bristol Creams, and mineral water cost almost exactly pounds 50 per head. If Harveys is seriously intent on entering the Nineties, this is too much.

Markwicks, 43 Corn Street, Bristol BS1 (0272-262658). Children welcome; special portions. Vegetarian meals. Open lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Access, Visa, Amex.

Harveys, 12a Denmark Street, Bristol BS1 (0272-277665). Piped music. Vegetarian menu. Children welcome; special portions. Open lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Credit cards.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power