Recently opened in the Bristol Old Vic, The 1766 Bar & Kitchen is no ordinary pre-theatre dining and wining experience - with a smart new head chef and a buzz resounding around Bristol's foodie circles. Bright red neon lights and soaring windows didn’t prepare me for the cavernous space we entered. The high ceiling echoes the theatre experience right away; the twinkling candles set in the huge wall opposite the entrance giving a feeling that musical characters might jump out and give a rendition at a moment’s notice.
Now seated, a faint red glow from the entrance on my partner’s face, we dug straight in to the main event; imported Italian chef Coco Barone’s new-born menu. Instantly I was faced with a major issue, in that every single thing on the list required me to eat it. The classic French elements with an eye to a modern trendy theatre going audience could have kept to its roots, but the tiny twists and variations made the menu read like a book of subverted expectations.
My partner chose a classic: smoked mackerel rillettes on toast with home-pickled cucumbers and tomato, whilst I went veggie with homemade deep-fried ewes curd balls, served with a beetroot, almond and orange sauce. Some of you may have noticed you just started salivating; this is the correct response. Utterly enamoured with our respective dishes, my dinner date and I experienced a first: the food was almost too good to share as neither of us wanted to miss so much as a morsel of our plates.
For the main course, I went full classic with a confit duck leg served with quince compote, while the mackerel hoarder opposite me went for a beetroot risotto. Tackling classic dishes while keeping them fresh and exciting is a monumental task, but one that this dish passed with flying colours. The beetroot jus and compote made for a delightful sweet and sour accompaniment to the rich, buttery duck. Cooked to the point of perfection, the meat retained a brief firmness before melting in my mouth entirely. I spend a lot of time eating my way round Europe, so do have an idea in my mind as to what “a good duck” constitutes and this was still one of the best I have ever eaten.
Rich and nutty, the vegetarian main of beetroot and almond risotto was equally deserving of high praise. The mark of a good veggie/vegan meal is that at no point does anything feel missing, or indeed that the addition of an overpowering meat would in fact detract from the meal and this is precisely what the beetroot and almond risotto provided. Any more powerful flavours would have upset the balance.
Dessert was a repeat of the starter, my panna cotta and poached pear not leaving my sight until it was gone, with little caramelised pecans dancing (not for long) around the plate, my partner’s chocolate mousse also disappearing in a record time. A particularly good mousse it was too, smooth and slightly bitter as it should be.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Outstanding food at surprisingly low prices, 1766 Bar and Kitchen will become many couples' date spot, as it will likely become my own. Based on the quality of the duck leg alone, £22.95pp for three courses is worryingly in budget for even cash-strapped diners, while two courses will set you back £17.95pp. The main shock for me was the quality at the cost, pre-theatre restaurants often work to a tight schedule which leaves little room for luxury quality food, or if they do then cost ~£30 a dish, The Old Vic’s 1766 Bar and Kitchen does neither, the food all arriving punctual and delicious.