“ 38 Queens Road / Clifton / Bristol BS8 1RE „
Having visited Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery on more than one occasion, I'd always looked at Browns Bar and Brasserie next door to it and wondered if it would be a good place to have lunch. It is a fascinating piece of architecture that looks almost as though it could have been a church, but apparently it was once part of the museum. It was restored in 1992 and Browns opened their establishment there. There is a number of stone steps to be negotiated up to the entrance; not suitable for the disabled, unfortunately, but very popular with young people as a place to sit and sip a drink in sunny weather.
I was visiting my younger son one Saturday and we wanted some lunch before going to see any exhibition at the museum, so I suggested trying Browns. We picked our way through the crowded steps and went in. A waiter just to the left of the door was busy doing something, so we waited a while. He didn't come to attend to us, so we presumed we could go and choose a table. I liked the look of a slightly raised area to one side, so we went up to have a look. The waiter then followed us and indicated a table for two to one side. Some of the tables are in a dark wood, while others are metal. The chairs are upholstered and comfortably so. Menus were brought, and we each ordered a soft drink. My pineapple juice was over £2 but it was a generous serving.
The menu begins with Aperitifs and Appetisers. As well as cocktails, there are sharing platters, flatbreads, olives, focaccia and camembert. Then come Starters, which include soup of the day (£4.95), smoked duck parfait (£6.95), goat's cheese filo parcel (£5.95) and pan seared scallops (£8.95). Main dishes are divided into two sections: Fish, Pasta, Salad and Vegetarian, and then Browns Classics and Grill. In the first section you can choose from four cheese macaroni (£9.95), grilled fillets of sea bass (£14.95), lobster tagliatelle (£13.95) and also fresh fish of the day or a vegetarian special. In the second section you will find shepherd's pie or burger (£9.95), grilled breast of chicken (£11.95) and medallions of Scottish venison (£19.95) among others, and again there is a special of the day. There are side orders of salads, various kinds of potatoes, vegetables and breads with prices ranging from £2.75 to £4.95. The children's menu is £4.95 for two courses or £6.95 for three.
I decided to have salmon and smoked haddock fishcakes, served with a baby leaf, chicory, cucumber and cherry tomato salad with noisette sauce (£10.95). My son chose the wild boar and chorizo burger served on a brioche bun with lime and chilli mayonnaise and seasoned chips (£12.95). We didn't have a long wait. My fishcakes came on a square plate; the baby leaf was watercress, and the sauce was served in a separate pot. The cucumber was attractively sliced in a thin ribbon, but it is one thing I can't abide so was immediately cast aside. The addition of the chicory was certainly unusual; there was one green leaf and one red one. One of the fishcakes had been browned more than the other, but that didn't really matter. I enjoyed them, especially with the noisette sauce, and found them quite filling because of the potato. My son's burger came on a long, rectangular plate, with the mayonnaise and ketchup served in shot glasses. There was such a thick chunk of lettuce in the burger than my son had to take it out. He commented that the chorizo had a very dominant taste that meant it was hard to tell that wild boar was the other main ingredient, but it was nevertheless a decent burger. I tasted the lime mayonnaise and it was delicious.
Prices for puddings range from £4.95 for profiteroles to £6.95 for the cheese board. There are ten other choices, including chocolate brownie, trifle, cheesecake, and pear and blueberry crumble. Neither of us had room for puddings, so we both ordered a single espresso (£1.75 each). I was rather surprised that mine came in a cup with a hairline crack. Some of the puddings are shown on the Afternoon Tea menu, which is served from 2pm to 6pm. Afternoon Tea for two is £10.95, but there is also a champagne version at £20.95 or an "Unusual Afternoon Tea" that includes two glasses of gin and tonic at £18.95. You can just have a selection of mini cakes (£4.95) or English scones (£2.95) if you don't want sandwiches.
During the week, from noon to 7pm, Browns have a special lunch and supper menu with mains starting at £7.95 and two courses from £10.95. You can also choose to have bar food, which features the Aperitifs and Appetisers from the main menu as well as goat's cheese or crab crostini, grilled chicken skewers, pan-fried prawns and one or two others. These are two for £8, three for £11 or six for £21.
Browns serve breakfast and brunch until noon. There is a choice of pastries (£1.75), traditional breakfast (£7.95, or a vegetarian version at £5.95), several egg dishes, sausage or bacon sandwich (£3.95), porridge (£3) and fruit compote with honey and yoghurt (£3.75). If you really want to push the boat out, you can have a champagne breakfast for £14.
Browns has an extensive wine list as well as an interesting variety of soft drinks, smoothies and mocktails. Their signature cocktails are £4.50 after 4pm, Sunday to Thursday. Hot drinks are also served.
Our bill came to just over £31, to which we added a tip. The service was polite and efficient, but I did find it strange that we were ignored when we first went in. I also noticed that a woman and a girl tried to sit at a table for four next to us at one point, but the waiter ushered them to another area, telling us that it was reserved. There were no reserved notices on any table, but he then came and put menus down on several tables near us as though he didn't want anyone to sit there.
The place was very busy and we were constantly aware of the sound of conversation and the clatter of cutlery. I was glad that we had chosen to sit in the raised corner as it was a little quieter than the crowded lower area. Apparently there is live piano music at certain times, which might make the atmosphere more pleasant.
If I were to find myself in Bristol on a weekday, I would happily try the special lunch menu, which sounds very good value. I'm not sure that we would be in a desperate hurry to go there again on a Saturday, especially as there are so many eateries to choose from in Bristol. It is a super building and it is a cut above the usual chain restaurants, but the a la carte prices are higher too. On the whole I would say Browns didn't quite live up to my expectations, but I would give it another go on a different day of the week.
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 11pm. Sunday, 11am to 10pm. The bar is open until 11pm Monday - Wednesday, midnight on Thursday - Saturday, and 10.30pm on Sunday.
Browns Bar and Brasserie Bristol
38 Queens Road
Tel. 0117 930 4777