8 April 2014

Mathilda's Chilli Bar

When I heard that a new chilli restaurant was opening in the Bearpit, I knew this was somewhere I was going to try very hard to love. I think it’s the attraction of a restaurant that is confident enough to serve one thing. Mathilda’s Chilli Bar serves chilli. Admittedly it comes in two varieties, but that’s about it. Like chilli? Go to Mathilda’s. Don’t like chilli? Don’t. It’s as simple as that.

And speaking of simplicity, Mathilda’s is definitely setting out its stall in terms of décor. Black walls, white tiling and tea-lights in treacle tins are about as decorated as it gets (if you discount the row of tiny cacti and Tabasco sauce bottles above the kitchen). The effect is striking.

I visited Mathilda’s on ‘free beer’ Wednesday. Why is this not a thing everywhere? And what a ridiculously excellent marketing strategy – the place was full. It may only have been a can of Red Stripe (or Thatchers if you’re one of those cider people), but give anything away for free and the people will come.

Having had a sneak peak at the menu before visiting, I knew before even sitting down that I was going to have to order a portion of the deep fried pickles with blue cheese sauce. Thankfully my companion, being a huge gherkin lover (this isn't a euphemism) was game, and we settled down with the free salted popcorn to await their arrival.

And after that first bite I was hooked. I can honestly say that these are one of the best things I've ever eaten in Bristol. I was afraid there would be sogginess, and a level of grease that would make me feel slightly nauseous and guilty. There was neither. Crispy batter, a huge slice of sour pickle and when dipped in the salty blue cheese dressing, oh my! Total, unadulterated food heaven.

After that beasting, I was worried the main event would fall short. How can you come after a deep-fried pickle? Thankfully, Mathilda’s is called a Chilli Bar for a reason. They know what they’re doing here. On offer is the Texan brisket chilli (no beans) or the three bean chilli (no meat). Or you can go for the half and half which is, well, just what it sounds like. All are served with rice, soured cream, guacamole and jalepeños.

I obviously went for the half and half and, being a woman of the world, opted to add cheese to the already mammoth-sounding creation. The dishes were served full to the brim with a decent splodge of vibrantly green guacamole. The brisket chilli was rich and deep flavoured, the meat falling apart just as it should. The beans were sourer and spicier than the meat but equally good; something which surprised me a little as a die-hard carnivore. The guacamole was delicious and full of fresh coriander, and the soured cream cooled it all down, ready for another bite. 

And some may need that cooling down because there’s no denying that Mathilda’s like a spicy chilli. As I ate, my Red Stripe consumption certainly increased and my nose started that tell-tale dripping pretty early on. However, it’s not so spicy that you can’t taste the flavours and we’re talking about chilli here anyway. It’s got chilli in it. However if, like my companion, it all gets a bit much, they will happily supply you with gallons more soured cream.

We didn't have room for dessert, although you can opt for American-style waffles or ice cream from local producer, Copoazu. A good shout if you’re looking for a little cooling down.

Overall, I was hugely impressed with Mathildas, the “friendly, neighbourhood chilli bar”. Bearing in mind it has only been open a matter of weeks, it has a real sense of identity, great service and some seriously good food. It’s also a great addition to the Bearpit and keen on using local producers (the craft beer on my visit was provided by Wiper & True brewery now based in St Werburghs).

So if you're thinking of going, remember what I said...if you like chilli, then go to Mathilda's. If you don't like chilli, then don't. But you'll be hugely missing out. It's as simple as that.

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