26 March 2014

The Stable

The Stable opened on the Bristol Harbourside last year, with a promise of ‘pizza, pies and cider’. A West Country chain, they have five venues across the South-West, with a new location in Newquay due to open next month. They focus on South-West producers, and there are plenty of local name-checks to keep a Bristol food-lover happy.

The Stable is an impressively large restaurant, with huge wooden sharing tables and a vast bar which dominates the area. The venue is referred to as a ‘Cathedral to Cider’ which suggested to me that this was a place where the drink might be more important than the grub.

As a huge beer fan, I must admit that the charms of cider do somewhat pass me by. However if you are partial to a pint or two then the Stable is certainly the place to go. With a huge range in bottles and on draft you could easily while away an afternoon making your way around some of their finer ciders and perries. They also offer cider tasting flights which give you the opportunity to try some of the wackier brews without committing to a whole pint.

Because of my love of the ale, I often feel a little out of my depth when choosing a cider to try. However the staff at the Stable are knowledgeable and very helpful. They will talk you through what’s on offer, where it comes from and what it might go best with. They also won’t frown at you if, after all that, you order a pint of Tribute.

Pizza however, is more familiar territory to me. The ones on offer at the Stable are of the more traditional thin-based variety. You need to know this if you’re one of those people who crave a deep-pan, or stuffed crust. You won’t get that here so don’t even bother asking. Luckily for me that’s just how I like them, and points go for offering a gluten-free base option too.

The problem for me comes with the toppings. I don’t know why, but I’ve yet to have a really good combination. On my first visit I opted for the ‘West Country Porker’, which I thought would be an easy winner for me mainly because it had Bath Pig chorizo on it. Unfortunately it was far too salty. So much so, I couldn’t finish the dish. I tried my companion’s ‘Portishead Piggy’ however, and it was hugely better. The bacon was crisp, the mushrooms soft, and my God do I love an egg on a pizza. Cue much food envy from me.

On my second visit, and wanting to try something new, I went for the guinea fowl special. It promised just the ring thing to warm me up on a cold evening. Again however, it seemed my choice had failed me. It was a bad roast dinner on a pizza. Huge, flabby carrot and parsnips batons adorned a soggy base with 12 whole cloves of roast garlic and undercooked onions. I’m all for breaking boundaries but two root vegetables on a pizza? Twelve cloves of garlic? It felt like a pizza full of leftovers, with little thought given to how it might actually taste. And don’t even think about trying to pick it up. I’ve rarely had a pizza as bad.

Once again I grumbled my way into trying some of my friend’s pizza (lamb, goat’s cheese and sweet potato) and it was a revelation. The spicing on the meat was delicate and the sweet potato helped offset the richness of the goat’s cheese brilliantly. The base was crisp, easily standing up to the handheld test without caving in. It’s hard to believe it came out of the same kitchen.

Both of these experiences have left me feeling frustrated. With its Waterside location, trendy interior and use of local produce, the Stable should be hitting a home run. The fact is that on both occasions I’ve left feeling that I just made bad choices. Why did I go for the guinea fowl? I could have just had ham.

But isn’t that the point of eating out? I can get a ham pizza anywhere, but I want to try the special because that’s been put together by you – the pizza, pies and cider experts. And let’s be honest, I’m always going to go for the interesting sounding one. I have a food blog.

There’s no doubt that the Stable is doing a lot of things right. Keen on giving back to their customers, this month saw them hold a free pizza evening, as a thank you to the people of Bristol and Bath. If that’s not a whole ton of brownie points, I don’t know what is.

Their cider selection is impressive, their service good and the food is reasonably priced. They also offer a cheaper lunch time menu with smaller pizzas and surprisingly tasty salad. And full marks awarded for not just cutting a whole in a pizza and filling it with rocket. As someone who lives with the constant fear of not being full, I can confirm that they definitely passed the test.

I plan to return to the Stable. Not only so I can have a go at one of their pies, but also because I believe that deep down, they can serve a pretty decent pizza. My strategy however is thus; ignore the menu, ignore the specials and ignore my natural reactions. Ask my mate what they’re having. Then order exactly the same.

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