Flinty Red, 34 Cotham Hill, Bristol

This week, like some contestant from an awkward cross between Come Dine with Me and Blind Date, I find myself in Bristol, eating at a random restaurant, with a man I have never met.

The venue for this socio-gastronomic assignation is an up-and-coming Bristol newcomer with the evocatively vinous name of Flinty Red. I heard about it from one of the restaurant's previous conquests, a love-struck foodie who took me aside at a party to hymn the place's charms. "It's only small, but it tries really hard," she swooned. "Especially in the evenings..."

What woman could resist? I was on the train to Bristol at the first opportunity. As for the man I was meeting – well, I won't betray the network of human traffickers who help out when reviewers urgently need warm and hungry bodies in unfamiliar cities. Let's just say that I placed a call to a certain gentleman who discreetly set me up with a male "companion".

On a sweltering Saturday night, Flinty Red was fully booked. We scored the last remaining table, at a time you'd call pre-theatre, were there any theatres here at the scruffier end of smart Clifton Village. First impressions – of the restaurant, rather than of my companion, Pete – was that it was small, minimal and unbelievably hot (apparently the air-con had broken down).

The cramped store-front premises on a narrow street are more bare-bones bistro than restaurant. But for those who know, here are all the reassuring signifiers that bespeak food-centred authenticity: photos of artisan produce against scrubbed-brick walls, marble-topped bar with stools; and, doing double-duty as no-frills place settings, delectable daily-changing menus of unusual range and flexibility.

My new friend Pete and I launched ourselves into that night's menu with gusto, starting with the house apéritif, Punt e Mes bitters with fresh orange juice, and, to break the ice, a shared plate of cecina – silky, air-cured beef from Spain. Next up, a Provençal-inspired nibble called panisse – misshapen nuggets of deep-fried chickpea flour, which were good, in the way that most things are when they're deep-fried, salted and accompanied by alcohol.

The marriage of food and drink is fundamental to Flinty Red, a collaboration between a local husband-and-wife chef team and the independent wine merchants Corks of Cotham, a few doors up the street. The school-of-Moro menu, like the wine-list, is strongly influenced by Spain, Italy and France, and many dishes are available in smaller tasting portions. So Flinty Red can be used for a tapas-style experience, with shared plates matched to wines by the glass, or for a more conventional three-courses-with-a- bottle dinner.

The evening menu is sub-divided by category – "cured/smoked/preserved", "fried/pan-fried", "pasta/dumplings", "charcoal-grilled" etc, and dishes range from the simple – anchovy toast, grilled chorizo – to those that require their own Google tool bar. The appearance of verjuice, morcilla, tonka beans and wet garlic sent Pete and I spiralling into a frenzy of "name the mystery ingredient" (he won).

Almonds were a feature of both our starters; adding welcome crunch to slippery mascarpone-filled ravioli, blowsy with fresh thyme and wet garlic (ask Pete), and to a dish of charcoal-grilled quail, served pink, with chunks of cucumber, grapes and a verjuice reduction.

In a gender-bending defiance of dining norms, my main course was a hefty pork chop, while Pete went for a more delicate fish dish. The chop didn't quite have enough char from its time under the grill, but the oozy blast of Mediterranean flavours supplied by a blanket of morcilla (Spanish black pudding), raisins and pine nuts more than compensated. Pete's pan-fried grey mullet was so delicate as to be almost overwhelmed by its accompanying fennel.

Finding wines that work with strong flavours is something Flinty Red clearly prides itself on. And as no one wants to spoil a good date by making an arse of themselves over the wine list, we put ourselves in the hands of co-owner Rachel Higgens. Her recommendations – an £8.50 carafe of Verdiccio and an £18 bottle of Juan Gill Monastrel – saw us happily through the meal from soup to nuts.

Desserts were simply put together but fine – almond buttermilk pudding with fresh raspberries, and an assembly of chocolate fritters, whipped yoghurt and roast wild cherries. Our time-slot expired, but the staff seemed in no hurry to move us on. Noise levels rose as the room filled up with happy diners, delighted to have discovered this reasonably-priced hotspot.

With its wine dinners and tasting events, Flinty Red is trying hard to make a connection between the worlds of food and wine, which all too often operate at arm's length. The result may be cramped, noisy and hot. But it's also adventurous and eager to please. The kind of place, in other words, that's made for a long-term relationship, rather than just a one-night-stand.

Flinty Red, 34 Cotham Hill, Bristol (0117 923 8755)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 2 stars
Service 4 stars

Around £40 a head for three courses with wine

Tipping policy: "No service charge. All tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Bristol bites

Café Maitreya

89 St Mark's Road (0117 951 0100)

Café Maitreya serves imaginative veggie food such as fennel and vegetable ceviche with tomato lavender water and cheese kromeski.

Brasserie Blanc

Friary Building, Cabot Circus (0117 910 2410)

One of Raymond Blanc's more informal eateries; make sure you try the classic favourite dish of Burgundian snails in garlic herb butter.

The Thali Café

12 York Road, Montpelier (0117 942 6687)

Try the six-dish thali at this lively café serving authentic and healthy Indian food; there are three other branches across Bristol, too.

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition