While recent years have seen an explosion in the breadth and depth of eating options available to the average diner, there’s definitely also been a degree of convergence. “Modern European” has emerged as a very specific style where restaurants use the same ingredients and similar presentation to re-invent English, French, Italian and Spanish classics. When it works it’s absolutely brilliant – see Cherry Duck for details – but it’s very difficult to pull off.
On the surface Riverstation in Bristol is very similar to Cherry Duck, it sits on the Welsh Back, overlooking the harbour. It has a sleek modern design, with lovely windows and an open kitchen. The menu is very similar too – carefully sourced ingredients offering new takes on traditional dishes. On arrival the staff were friendly and inviting and we were shown to a great table by the window. The bread was made in house and very tasty – the rosemary and sea-salt focaccia was fab.
maple-smoked english duck breast with chicory, blood orange jelly + walnuts
The salad was nicely put together, but the duck lacked the rich, sweet smokey flavour I was after. The same goes for the blood orange jelly – it was just a little sweet rather than a full-on sharp, citrus tang.
eight-hour pulled lamb shoulder, pomme purée, heritage carrots, salsa verde
The lamb was gorgeous – soft, unctuous and rich. Given the popularity of pulled pork, I’m glad to see lamb getting the same treatment. The potatoes were wonderfully smooth without being too rich and the carrots brought some nice crunch. The salsa verde slightly missed the spot – while the saltiness works well with the lamb, it needed a lot more acidity to cut through the richness.
hot chocolate fondant pudding with vanilla ice-cream
A well-cooked fondant is a magical thing, part of the fun is breaking into it and watching the centre ooze out. This was a bit of a cheat – it looked like they’d placed a puck of frozen ganache in the centre of the pudding batter and then baked it. While it looks the same – and it’s much easier for the kitchen – it doesn’t give you the beautiful ‘gradient’: moist cake transitioning into liquid delight.
While the whole meal was well cooked and the ingredients are top notch, a few niggles stopped it being spectacular. A little more seasoning and acidity would transform the dishes, and taking the risk of cooking the fondant in the traditional way would seal the deal. Riverstation is still a really good restaurant, but if you’re looking to see what the modern European fad is all about, there are better options in Bristol.