Travel: Eating England - No 11 Bristol: The hot city is a perfect place to chill

From cool crypt cafes to hill-top high teas, visitors can start with a lazy breakfast and keep going all day

LAID-BACK BRISTOL is a city for summer slacking, with waterside restaurants and a relaxed pace of life to take the heat out of August while retaining an edge of urban cool. Urban surfers head for quayside cafes and mellow bars to chill with an iced drink. For down-sizers, there are plenty of parks to stroll in, have a picnic or lie in the shade of a tree, reading a novel.

THE BEST open space in Bristol is Ashton Court, a short walk across the Suspension Bridge from Clifton village. Part deer park, part golf course, its rolling hills are also home to the international kite festival held on 5 and 6 September, complete with international food stands.

If you want to escape the heat, go into the cool interior of St Mary Redcliffe church. It has wonderful medieval stained glass, a famed hexagonal north porch and a cafe in the crypt. Staying with the subterranean theme, Harveys Wine Museum (tel: 0117 927 5036) can be found in the medieval cellars in Denmark Street, where they used to bottle the company's Bristol Cream sherry. Wine, sherry and port tastings can be arranged in advance for groups of 20 or more.

Your climb up the pretty Christmas Steps can be broken at cafes with Mediterranean-style terrace gardens. For exercise and views, go up Cabot tower on Brandon Hill. Or relax at The Arnolfini, a waterfront modern art complex with an arts bookshop and a good cafe/bar. The City Museum and Art Gallery (tel: 0117 9223571) has an exhibition on Henry Moore until 6 September.

THE ALL-DAY breakfast is a Bristol institution and, since this is a reasonably 'green' city, the eggs may be free-range. St Michael's Cafe, on the top of St Michael's Hill (tel: 0117 907 7804) also has one of the best jukeboxes in the city so you can indulge your hangover moodiness with Seventies tunes. The York Cafe, York Place, Clifton (tel: 0117 923 9656) is another classic breakfast venue with builders' tea in big mugs.

For more modish brunching, Naranjas (tel: 0117 973 4892), near the top of Whiteladies Road, wanders round the globe for anything from finnan haddie to a Manhattan steak breakfast, using organic beef. Cafe Tasca (tel: 0117 942 6799) in Montpellier is a popular, relaxed cafe. The Boston Tea Party (tel: 0117 929 8601), half way up Park Street, has good coffee and cooling milk smoothies.

Outdoor venues in the city include Emmaus House (tel: 0117 907 9950) on Clifton Hill for tea and cakes or lunch in a garden with a view.

Highbury Vaults (tel: 0117 973 3203) is a good pub with outdoor tables which serves the Bristol beer, Smiles. It also has very reasonably-priced food and bar billiards. The Hope and Anchor (tel: 0117 929 2987) on Jacobs Wells Road has a beer garden, BBQ and real ales.

Bristol's hottest take-away is a stand on Corn Street selling Hot Doubles, a delicious Trinidadian chickpea and chilli combo.

ROCINANTES (tel: 0117 973 4482) epitomises Bristol mellow. Organic when possible, it serves tapas, Sunday brunches and restaurant food in a friendly atmosphere. The informal charm can tip into the casual, but overall, its style, food and ethos are enjoyable and admirable. A broad spectrum of prices means you can snack, or spend up to around pounds 30 for dinner.

A former chef from Rocinantes has gone on to Bell's Diner (tel: 0117 924 0357) in the district of Montpellier. Here, the interior is partly decked out in old shop fittings, with shelves that are well-stocked with liqueurs, antique bottles and big jars of preserved lemons and pickles. The food is well-flavoured and unfussy. A duck soup with noodles had good stock and my panna cotta, deliciously cool and slippery, came with gooseberries fragrant with elderflower. I particularly liked their refreshing citron presse. Two courses cost pounds 12.95 and three pounds 15.95.

Meanwhile, the former owner of Bell's Diner has gone on to Bristol's best new restaurant, riverstation (tel: 0117 914 4434) in a former river police station. The cafe/deli downstairs and restaurant upstairs both have balcony tables if you want river breezes. My grilled halibut with chorizo, clams and basil butter sauce (pounds 13.75) and gooseberries with honey and saffron custard (pounds 3.75) were both excellent.

One of the most established smart restaurants in Bristol is Markwicks (tel: 0117 926 2658). More expensive than the other restaurants mentioned here, its food, style and clientele are less obviously Nineties. But far from being old-fashioned, it is a true treat and well worth the money. Squid stewed in red wine with fennel, orange and chilli (pounds 6.75) and duck with a honey glaze, peas and Sauternes sauce (pounds 15.95) were perfectly judged and made with that evolved good taste of a chef who loves and understands food. You pay for a certain confidence in the cooking and the service - friendly rather than stiff - which make the meal even more enjoyable.

CORN STREET, in the historic centre of Bristol, has a farmers' market selling local produce every other Wednesday, with the next one on 26 August (tel: 0117 922 4484).

Radford Mill Farm Shop (tel: 0117 924 5360) in Montpellier has organic vegetables and other good food. Nip round the corner to Herbert's (tel: 0117 9247713) for bread, including an old-fashioned organic loaf that is raised overnight, and weekend specials like five types of rye bread.

On Whiteladies Road, Out of this World (tel: 0117 946 6909) is an organic supermarket and opposite is the Chandos Deli (0117 970 6565) which has personalised wine notes and a sparky approach. Up the hill, Watermans (tel: 0117 973 2846) sells some excellent British foods, awarding stars to the very best.

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