Glassboat is, in spite of its description as a brasserie (an everyday French eatery for long relaxing visits and commonly attached to a brewery) a restaurant for special occasions, and the special occasion here was my daughter’s graduation with first class honours in Biochemistry.
It was not the first celebration of the day for Glassboat though, since its owner was married and had a wedding party at the restaurant at relatively short notice, causing a 30-minute delay in our booking – not that I could possibly object when the request was so polite.
Glassboat sits on the quay in Bristol with a spectacular view of the water and surrounding buildings. Thankfully GB is moored with a solid foundation to prevent any instability and therefore risk of seasickness to temporary passengers. It is beyond doubt a restaurant elegantly presented, with a bar at one end, tables in light wood and quality lighting for the remaining two thirds, while the engine room is devoted to kitchens. The ambience strikes exactly the right note, being warmly amenable to sharing good company without placing obstacles in the way.
Also worthy of note is that unlike many restaurants carrying the “brasserie” tag, the food menu comprises primarily classic French dishes. It errs rightly on the side of simplicity, all the better to display the quality of the wares. I hope others take note and reduce the cheffiness – it really does not help.
Since we had eaten a fine breakfast at the Cosy Club and a buffet lunch with the University Biochemistry department, we dispensed with starters and moved straight on to the main course.
In the absence of the roast chicken for two, my two children each chose its replacement, a combination of white and brown meat from a guinea fowl, though I can’t honestly remember what it was served with. For ex-wife, it was pan-fried lemon sole (ie. à la meunière) with samphire and a seafood sauce that included tiny brown shrimps; and for me it was a splendid entrecôte steak with Pommes Anna, roast bone marrow, roast shallot and a pungent bordelaise sauce (traditionally made with red wine and yet more bone marrow.)
On the side we ordered one portion each of Pommes Dauphinoise and légumes de la saison, which turned out to be green beans. I little more variety might have been welcome, all the more since ex-wife had grown a glut of green beans and did not want to look one in the face again. Perhaps more specific vegetable dishes on the menu would be welcome.
The three wines and one beer ordered to accompany our dishes pleased everyone. The waitress did not even turn a hair when my daughter asked for ice with her glass of rosé, which arrived in a tumbler on a saucer, complete with a teaspoon for serving. Everyone has their own idea of what constitutes good service, but that was, to me, a case in point: minute attention to detail with minimum fuss.
The good news is that, unlike our experience at Browns the previous night, none of the dishes failed. Each was well-cooked and well-constructed, provided an appealing sight (see pics above) without any stupidly elaborate attempts to be fashionable, and focused on the flavour. The best test was cooking the sole à point – barely cooked through but not a moment longer for fear of serving mushy fish. From what I could tell, it was spot on.
Another good test followed. We were too full to sample the dessert menu but did select a plate of cheeses between us, comprising brie, forme d’aubert and comté, high quality cheese biscuits and some of that excellent Spanish complement to fine cheese, membrillo (aka quince paste.) Apart from the fact that there was enough for four to enjoy at a reasonable price of £8.50, what stood out was that each cheese was perfectly ripe and ready for serving, and with no hint of fridge coldness.
This is not fine dining but competent cooking delivering on its promises, which is precisely what you could expect from any genuine French brasserie. I very much approve of restaurants doing simple things well, which many promise but few deliver. This one did precisely that, and I can think of no better praise.
Sadly, daughter has now finished in Bristol, though I would definitely enjoy the opportunity to return to Glassboat and sample more of the menu there, particularly the lamb rump with white beans and garlic, another rural specialty.
Prices not cheap but fair, certainly well below the 2017 equivalent in London, and better value than many of the same ilk.
****1/2 out of 5