A quiet, sunny street of Georgian houses in a Bristol suburb seems an unlikely spot to find a gastronomic destination. But the Kensington Arms certainly deserves its reputation as a local foodie magnet – and revels in serving up the unexpected
The Kensington Arms’ traditional English pub interior – worn leather banquettes, generous big oak tables – has been updated with whimsical portraits and prints, and an open-plan kitchen which brings liveliness and spectacle to its dining room.
The welcome was warm and generous, as we were bidden to a table by a large floor-to-ceiling window where the sunlight flooded in. To toast the unseasonably gorgeous autumn weather we kicked off proceedings with an elderflower Collins: elderflower gin warmed up with a quince liqueur which was tangy and truly outstanding.
The plumpest olives were brought to the table along with warm, raisin-studded bread to mop up the oil. These came with croquettes, perfectly crispy and not too heavy, the centre oozing hot cauliflower and cheese.
The starter was the stand-out dish: a roasted squash and ewe’s curd salad with caramelised nuts and toasted seeds. It is one of those dishes that fall into the genre I call ‘posh salad’, which you can try to recreate at home but which will never be as beautiful as the restaurant dish. This one was served warm, the melting butternut squash crunched up by the sweet nuts and cut through by the tangy, almost sour curd. It was a triumph.
My companion enjoyed scallops to start, served in garlicky sauce, the texture springy and not on the meaty side as scallops can sometimes be.
The restaurant specialises in meat of all varieties – its menu is thick with nose-to-tail offerings like Bath chap and crispy brawn – so it felt only right that we should both have meat for our main course. My pork belly was a very generous sized brick of meat, soft and tender until the heavily-scored and heavily calorific crackling top, which I enjoyed smashing open in the manner of a crème brulée. This was served with broccoli and colcannon potato, the highlight of the dish, drowning in rich, red wine gravy.
The sirloin steak enjoyed by my companion went down a treat, cooked medium rare and tender, with good fat English chips which were a mouthful each in themselves (no French fries at this establishment).
While we were there on a sunny day, it is the kind of fare probably best enjoyed on an autumn or winter’s afternoon; after a cold and blustery walk on the nearby Clifton Down there could be no better pick-me-up than these hearty cuts of meat. In other words, we were nicely replete by the time pudding came around, and limited ourselves to a glass of coconut sorbet. It can be tough to freeze coconut without it tasting like soap powder, but one taste of this immediately brought to mind the coconut ices I have enjoyed in Italy – cool and creamy – and which as I had previously thought only Italians could make.
It was an exceptional meal, made even nicer by the service of our waitress Anne, who never let the glasses run dry and knew the menu backwards. Anyone finding themselves in Bristol – or who fancies a day trip to the West Country – should make the Kensington Arms their first culinary port of call.