It takes two

A husband-and-wife team in Bristol could make their dream come true
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
As if matrimony or its imitations weren't hard enough to sustain, some couples reduce their chances by opening and running a restaurant together. Statistically their new business - a similar triumph of hope over experience - has only a slightly better chance than a marriage. Even without a domestic relationship in the equation, restaurants come and go, because the operators get their sums wrong, or aren't as good at cooking as they imagine. Combine the two, and the recipe may lead straight to Relate and a financial adviser.

Yet husband-and-wife partnerships do run some inspired small restaurants - Adam and Katie Robinson at the Brackenbury in Shepherds Bush, west London, spring to mind. The hard work, long hours and insecurity involved make them heroic when they succeed, but pitiable (and short-lived) when they don't.

When John and Joanna Raines left the Cutty Sark pub on the Thames in Greenwich to open their own restaurant, Red Snapper, in Bristol less than a year ago, their aspirations were typical enough for them to be taken up by Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, which followed their progress pour encourager less autres. But while a trade press profile may convince the bank manager that you are on the right track, it's no guarantee that anyone will want to eat your food.

At least one half of the partnership has to be able to cook. Fortunately, John Raines has taught himself to, and very well indeed. His menu isn't wildly ambitious - gazpacho, given a professional-seeming but superfluous slick of olive oil, is, after all, ubiquitous on the summer dinner party circuit, as is lemon tart, which he serves with a fine, citrus-sharp, light cream sauce. But his versions demonstrate the difference between the competent home cook and the chef - a classic stumbling block for the self-trained.

When John Raines is not in the kitchen he's out gathering wild food. Although we didn't have any of the sea beet, samphire, wild garlic, sorrel or morels he says he collects, ingredients were notably well sourced. Warm salad of chicken livers had a refreshing variety of leaves, distinct from the lollo rossa-bulked mixed bag. The rocket might have been picked from a back garden; the pine kernels, finely chopped red onion, cherry tomatoes and balsamic vinegar made it a distinctively perky assembly.

The name of the restaurant isn't altogether a red herring, either: snapper is featured among a vigorous showing of fish. On the dinner menu, mackerel with aubergine and roast pepper relish, and red mullet with king prawns, join venison steak with sage and juniper, and duck leg confit. John catches some of the other fish himself on his day off.

Nevertheless - and even self-effacingly - the provenance of produce isn't tediously itemised; menu descriptions are kept simple, with the pleasing result that you get more than you expect, rather than less. "I could do this," boasted my lunch guest, looking at her pan-fried trout with wilted spinach, as the dish was put before her. "No I couldn't," she conceded before she was halfway through an accurately seasoned and cooked fillet, accompanied by just-softened stalks and leaves.

As soon as our orders were taken, we could hear sizzling coming from a kitchen only a little bigger than a domestic one. A one-man operation and unpredictable numbers of customers can lead to short cuts; our only suspicion was that the slightly overdone new potatoes roasted in their skins, and braised celery, had been prepared well in advance.

But there was no doubt that mango and muscat creme was bruleed immediately before it reached us: the caramel crust was just going for the burn. The spoon passed through the warm, foamy layer underneath, probing thick cream below on the way to a cool mango microclimate at the bottom.

Only then, when the steadily rising scale of successful cooking should have culminated in a bitter coffee, did the cafetiere provide a slightly weak ending. Can the bank manager be persuaded that it's worth investing in an espresso machine?

Lunch was a steal. At pounds 7.50 for two courses and pounds 10 for three it must almost be a loss leader designed to encourage business in quieter times. The same dishes - three starters, one vegetarian, one fish and one meat main course, and puddings - may appear on the twice-the-choice-and-double- the- cost dinner menu. From which I hope that these deserving proprietors are profiting

Red Snapper, 1 Chandos Road, Redland, Bristol (0117-9737999) Children welcome. Tue-Sun lunch (2 courses pounds 7.50, 3 courses pounds 10), midday-2pm (Sun 1-3pm). Tue-Sat dinner, 7.30-10pm. Dinner about pounds 25. Access, Switch, Visa

Comments