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Le floating French restaurant

Once a working barge, nearly a floating botanical garden, and now one of Bristol's iconic restaurants. Let's hop onboard Glassboat Brasserie!

THE LOCATION

Just off busy Union Street on the historic Welsh Back (where boats from Wales used to unload their cargoes of slate), on the river Avon, one of the waterways in Bristol’s harbourside. Moored alongside a cobbled street with leafy trees, old lamp posts and bikes (not just this one belonging to Glassboat), this quiet little spot feels a bit like Canal Saint-Martin in Paris (or is that just wishful thinking?)

Not a glass-bottomed boat but a glass-topped one.

THE VIBE

You’re on a boat, so we’re talking nautical with wooden floors, tongue and groove panelled ceiling and panoramic views around the waterside from the top deck restaurant. Portholes and oak panelling on the lower deck, mainly reserved for private dining. Reclaimed bits and pieces from the city’s past, like marble worktops from St Nicholas fish market.

There’s a bar at one end.

Despite being on the water, there was no discernable movement, so no need to get your sea legs. A real mix of diners – couples, small groups of family or friends, a fair number of obvious business lunchers – and true to the French tradition, a couple of young children.

SCOFF & QUAFF

The emphasis is on classic French bistro dishes using ingredients sourced closer to home. So sip a pastis (not to be confused with pasty) from Cornwall or a Bristol Gin G&T while you peruse the menu, which is heavy on seafood but also includes beef, chicken and le French fave, le lapin.  These Portland Pearl Oysters, served with the trad mignonette, lemon and tabasco, were from Dorset…

… and this asparagus, served with a bantam egg and shavings of aged sheep’s cheese, was grown in the Wye Valley.

The Marseille style fish stew was spectacular – wild sea bass, red prawns, scallop and mussels, toasted baguette and rouille, sitting atop an inch or so of richly flavoured bisque – more of a very delicious still life than a stew.

Cornish hake came with summer chanterelles, pomme puree and a sauce vin jaune (the menu’s a mix of French and English too).

For dessert, the classic creme brulee with Breton shortbread.

Followed by coffee and Madeleines still warm from the oven.

Food tasted as good as it looked and the service was friendly, knowledgeable and efficient.  Although the menu is predominantly French, they throw in a couple of Sunday roasts at the weekend.

OUT & ABOUT

You’re near the main harbourside area so the Arnolfini, M Shed, Aquarium and We the Curious and all of that are close by.  Bristol’s vibrant street market St Nicholas Market is just up the road. You can be sitting down to watch a play at the Bristol Old Vic in two minutes, or a show at the Hippodrome in about five.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for:  lazy lunch on a girls’ day out in Bristol (it’s central); pre-theatre (there’s a 5.30 dinner service), romantic dinner for two (I imagine it’s magical with the lights twinkling on the water) and private dining (you’ve got the downstairs to yourself).

Not for: limited options for strict vegetarians.

The damage: A la carte is moderate, with starters from £7.50 to £12.50 and a charcuterie board for two at £15. Our oysters were £12 for 6 (£22 for 12); the asparagus and bantam egg £8.50. Mains range from £14.50 to £26. The Marseille fish stew was £22.50 and Cornish Hake £19.50. There’s a delicious sounding cote de boeuf with pomme frites and all, for two at £60. The prixe fixe is very good value at three courses for £15, and included mussels,  ham with remoulade and cornichons, a honey pannacotta.

Open Mon to Sat for lunch 12pm–2.45pm and for dinner 5.30pm–9.45pm. Long and lazy Sunday lunch from 12pm–4.45pm. If you’re driving, parking couldn’t be easier: the NCP Queen Charlotte Street is round the corner.

Glassboat Brasserie, Welsh Back, Bristol BS1 4SB. Tel 0117 332 3971.

glassboat.com

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