The sunlight dances on the infinity pool, as a swimmer completes another lazy lap. At our table high over the water, we're sipping Macabeo and mopping up chilli-spiked clam broth with a hunk of thick-crusted bread, fresh from the wood-fired oven.
Our holiday destination today is suburban Bristol, where a defunct Victorian lido has been transformed into a cool, urban oasis. Tucked down a side-street in Clifton, the Grade II listed baths – saved from the developers by local campaigners – reopened in November as a members-only spa, open to casual swimmers in off-peak hours.
The new owners, Bristol's Glass Boat Company, have done a painstaking restoration job. The once-decaying pool has been infinitised and lined with sky-blue ceramic tiles; the row of changing cubicles smartly curtained in seaside candy-stripes, and the Victorian tea-room and viewing gallery remodelled as a ground-floor café and airy first-floor restaurant.
Most excitingly, for those of us whose idea of pampering involves food and drink rather than 40 lengths and a massage, Lido's restaurant is run by a graduate of Moro, Freddy Bird. His daily-changing menus are saturated in Moro-ish influences, from the Spanish and Middle Eastern ingredients used in nearly every dish, to the Valoriani wood-burning oven, which turns out huge loaves of that pliable, just-sour-enough sourdough.
My lunch date, the food writer and Bristol resident Fiona Beckett, had already visited Lido, and her brief but enthusiastic summary ("Yummy food. Fantastic location") was enough to tempt me westwards at the first opportunity.
Fantastic the location undoubtedly is; the dining-room's sliding glass windows overlook the pool, and there's lots of warm, weathered wood to give the place a casual feel, while preserving its Victorian lines.
The food, though, was only intermittently yummy, to use a technical food-writing term. There were some real hits – notably a main course of braised ox cheeks, unctuously tender and partnered with perfect mash and glossy sprout tops. But other dishes were lacklustre, including the flabby florets of deep-fried cauliflower that got the meal off to a poor start.
Flavours were generally punchier than that, but some plates were let down by the presentation. A starter of clams and tagliolini looked as though the clams had been plonked on undressed pasta; some digging eventually uncovered a chilli and garlic-scented broth, after which the dish started to make sense.
From the wood-fired oven, a juicy slab of hake came with sweet and sour leeks and salsify, and was a steal at £7.50. But only a bulimic vegetarian could have loved Fiona's main course, chard gozleme (food writers always order the most unfamiliar dish on the menu). A calzone-like envelope of pastry stuffed with sautéed chard, it was depth-charged with spiced raisins and unexpected blasts of clove, like some unearthly descendent of a minced pie. We polished it off, though. There's nothing like watching other people exercising to give you an appetite.
Lido is clearly causing ripples on the Bristol dining scene; sitting at the next table was another food writer, Xanthe Clay, who liked the pheasant with butternut squash so much she ordered it twice. If the staff were aware they had a trio of professional eaters on the premises, it didn't show. Service, from a young North American who addressed us as "y'all", was smooth and relaxed.
Personally, though, I was feeling the pressure; Fiona's an expert in the field of food and wine matching, and runs a website on the subject. So I stood trembling at the shallow end of the wine list, while she plunged in and started splashing around.
Her belief that you can tell a lot about a restaurant by ordering the cheapest wine on its list was happily confirmed by our sampling of that Macabeo – at only £12.95 a bottle, it was crisply enjoyable and augured well for the rest of the selection. Also more than fit for purpose was the Malbec that Fiona recommended as being "grunty" enough to work well with my ox cheeks.
The dessert list is limited to a couple of puds and an unusually tempting selection of ice-creams and sorbets. Waiting until the svelte Xanthe had left, we ordered a scoop of every ice on the menu, and particularly loved a subtle rosewater ice-cream, and another made with Seville orange curd. "They should open an ice-cream parlour," was Fiona's buckshee bit of consultancy.
As our lazy lunch extended towards tea-time, a holiday-like relaxation crept over us; there is something intrinsically stress-relieving about eating beside water. Our meal may not have been perfect, but it was perfectly enjoyable. And now that they're properly in the swim, I'm pretty confident that the folks behind Lido have got what it takes to make it a truly wonderful destination, to infinity pool and beyond.
The Lido, Oakfield Place, Clifton, Bristol (0117-933 9530)
Around £30 a head for three courses excluding wine and service
Tipping policy: "Service charge is 10 per cent optional – all of it goes to the staff. Customers don’t need to tip any further"
Side Orders: Avon calling
Cornish hake with fresh cannellini beans and artichokes is a typical main at this popular local Italian.
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