I’m sure every city has a stretch of road that makes it famous; Paris has the Champs-Élysées, Vegas has ‘The Strip’ and Hackney has Murder Mile. In terms of food, Bristol has Chandos Road.
Of course, Redland is nice but my memories of it aren’t always necessarily- it’s where I first experienced true love and the loss of it. It’s where I meandered beautifully twee streets in a daze, trying to be anywhere but college, as my academic prospects dwindled. Nowhere else do I feel such a sense of comfort spliced with abject loneliness than here; a feeling akin to being left behind on a school trip to a museum- hearing the doors lock before I can catch up to the group and hearing the laughter and chatter disappearing into the world outside. The last time I was here was with someone in whose company I was giddy; ecstatic with the impending bliss of a meal at Wilsons with them. If Chandos Road was a classic bar tender, then I was the regular they’d roll their eyes at most nights and would eventually stop calling a taxi for.
Amidst the nagging recalls in my brain, I arrive at a door with softly lit windows and a glow from the kitchen. It’s as if Otira, meaning ‘food for the journey’ in Maori, heard me coming and wanted to take me in from all of this, as well as a particularly cold night. There’s a tapas bar in one half but I’m here for the restaurant in the other.
An appetiser comes that’s my favourite food of all time- bread and butter. Slightly toasted, the sourdough crumb is dewy, billowy with an elasticity of which I can never cease to revel in tearing from my bite. Accompanying it is a buerre noisette butter and suddenly I’m home; it’s deeply nutty, sweet, salty and complex.
The first course of smoked eel appears, with a parsnip velouté, parsnip crisp and Japanese pesto. The velouté bowls in on my limbic system as it’s doing the washing up and I’m immediately taken back over two decades to the stands of my rugby club, sodden and cold to the bone, gingerly sipping piping hot parsnip soup- thick, restorative and warm. The eel isn’t heavily smoked, but is unctuous and firm which contrasts beautifully with the textures of parsnip and the citric pesto.
The second course is violet artichoke, sea buckthorne, radish, kumquat and clementine sorbet. Unfortunately, the sorbet nullifies every other element it’s combined with, rendering them somewhat flavourless and rigid- save for the acerbity of the sea buckthorne. Despite this, the plump and juicy essence of the clementine has been captured wonderfully and reminds me of my Mum; her hands carrying the scent of the zesty oils as we’d share them in the car coming home from school. I would’ve settled for a bowl of this alone.
The wild mushroom, Venison, brown butter, Chervil root risotto and Porcini is served and any remaining winter chill now thaws completely. The ruby-rare venison sits in a glossy little pool of brown butter, with a rubble of chestnuts- it’s heartily supple and well rested. The risotto is viscous, silky and coarse; elevated by the underlying tang of Parmesan that speaks to the intense subtleties of the Venison- the mushrooms gesturing naturally to a deer’s home, with the addition of myself, gives a sense of a complete food chain.
Dessert is labeled ‘Late Autumn Mess’ comprising of speckled vanilla cream, honeycomb, hunks of marshmallow and pockets of raw passion fruit. The elements differ to those listed, but I am in no way disappointed- it’s a clear demonstration of adaptation on the fly, which is not to be overlooked. The first bite causes me to jolt with stifled laughter as I struggle to suppress a Cheshire Cat grin- it’s all there; creamy, chewy, crunchy, sweet, sour and bitter.
Mute with vivid recollections, my shoulders have dropped and my eyes are resting at half-mast, looking into a pitch black window, my table candle licking at its glass. With a clean plate I’m pensively thankful for Otira. Whilst it’s still early days, they are earning their place.
Food for the journey, indeed.