Who doesn’t get tempted by the prospect of dinner on a boat? As you probably noticed recently, Mr M and I headed down to Bristol with his sister and her other half for a weekend of meaty madness at Grillstock. Before the chaos ensued, we managed a civilised meal at the Glassboat in Bristol for a belated birthday celebration for Claire. And rather than hold back ahead of a weekend of gluttony, we used the opportunity to start early, tucking into oysters, mussels, snails, cote de boeuf, and leg of lamb. Yep, we had it all.
It’s certainly a nice setting, taking advantage of Bristol’s copious amounts of water. Somehow you just feel rather sophisticated having dinner on a boat don’t you? The interior is light, bright and airy, with simple decor that works well, given the fact the main wow factor is that you’re surrounded by water.
The menu is definitely French-focused, with starters of mussels, shellfish and charcuterie, as well as classics like duck rillettes, veal kidneys and snails. If you’re a full-on vegetarian, this may not be the place for you, as the main courses are definitely a haven for meat-lovers. A whole blackboard full of steaks as well as sharing courses like Roast Pyrenean lamb leg or spatchcocked chicken.
There are some veggie choices, like aubergine gratin and risotto, as well as fish dishes, so you don’t have to rule it out but in my experience, usually it’s the case that somewhere that appeals to the Mannings’ love of meat isn’t the ideal place for someone who prefers to steer clear of carnivorous carnage like this.
For us, dinner at the Glassboat proved to be a meal of many courses and I loved the fact that we weren’t rushed at any stage and staff were happy to accommodate our eagerness to try pretty much everything on the menu. We started with some lovely fresh bread and butter – you know, real creamy butter – as we decided what to have.
As well as all sorts of other crustacea, they’ve got rock oysters on the menu – something Claire had never tried, so we decided on a little ‘pre-starter’ of some oysters. Beautifully-presented, fresh, and not too big, they came served with lemon and a kind of onion chilli vinegar, and were the perfect way for someone to try oysters for the first time. They must have been good because we promptly ordered another four as a second treat before our starters arrived.
For starter, Mr M couldn’t resist what is rapidly becoming his staple choice for the beginning of a meal – baked camembert. It is becoming to starters what steak is to main course, so you may be in for some blog posts that only look at what I eat from now on. What can I say about baked camembert – it’s gooey and oozey, it came presented well with some nice toasted bread, and was just the rich over-indulgent start we all probably didn’t need, but loved all the same.
Since you don’t see snails on a menu very often – at least not in England, I decided to go for them. I love it when snails come in one of these traditional cast iron dishes, swimming in garlic butter. When people ask me what snails taste like, I usually say that that’s what they taste of, a strong salty taste of garlic butter.
This butter wasn’t quite as garlicky as I’m used to so you could taste the earthy woodland taste of the snails. I’ve got to confess, having realised what snails actually taste like for probably the first time, I’m not sure they’re my fave, but maybe that’s just because their true taste took me by surprise.
Crustacean-loving Claire opted for mussels, another classic. They came mariniere-style, with a lovely garlicky, herby creamy white wine sauce that actually wasn’t too creamy and rich, but just the right balance to allow the little moules to still be tasted. Still on the seafood theme, her other half Dave went for some simple, but rather large, prawns served with parsley and garlic.
See, sometimes the simple things are just so blimin satisfying. Big fat prawns like these always remind me of a fabulous childhood holiday I went on with my friend to France, where I was given my biggest introduction to all things foodie.
That holiday I tried big prawns, bouillabaisse, rare steak, and artichokes all for the first time. The prawns stand out, and every time I get big old crevettes like these it brings back all those memories of trawling round a fish market and grabbing them the scoffing them with a French stick and a jar of mayo. Memories hey 🙂
Okay, enough of the trip down memory lane and onto the mains. None of us could resist the massive hunks of meat designed for sharing, so between the four of us we decided on one cote de boeuf and one leg of Pyrenean Lamb. Yes, because we are all very greedy.
It made for one of those lovely scenes of convivial sharing loveliness, where people are all digging in, passing different bits to each other, scoffing food and quaffing wine and generally having a fab time.
The lamb – on its glorious wooden board complete with scary looking carving implements – came with ratatouille and garlic potatoes, a kind of rustic French mountain dish. Pyrenean lamb is traditionally milk-fed, so it had a lovely mild delicate flavour, while being tender as hell. The garlic potatoes were a great, simple accompaniment, and seemed to fit with the back-to-basics (in a good way) feel of the dish.
It would be Manning sacrilege to go somewhere that offers cote de boeuf and chateaubriand and not have one of the two. We opted for the former and of the choice of accompaniments chose aligot, along with some bearnaise sauce and an extra side of creamed spinach.
The beef was similarly presented to the lamb, a hunking great big piece of meat, seared on the outside and still a bit moo’ing on the inside, on top of a board with some murderous weapons to carve it with. Yeah, so it’s not the most fancy dish you can choose, but it was good quality meat, it was cooked exactly how we asked and, well, it was exactly what we wanted. So there.
Of the sides, I think the aligot was my fave, although the creamed spinach was a close second. If you don’t know what aligot is (and we didn’t before this meal), it’s basically a French alternative to cheesy mash. It originates from the Aubrac region of France, and mixes mashed potato with melted cheese and often a bit of garlic. Slightly different to mash, it was almost more like a puree in texture, which was a good thing as it was slightly lighter – so basically you can eat more!
The creamed spinach was tasty, though utterly excessive as we had plenty on the table, though I felt slightly less of a cold-blooded carnivore (only very slightly) for having something green on the table.
As you can imagine, there was no need at all for dessert. Instead, we finished off our second bottle of wine from the rather nice wine list that even included a bottle from my friend’s dad’s vineyard, and planned our post-dinner cocktails.
On the night we went to the Glassboat, there was actually a wedding on downstairs, so the poor staff were rushed off their feet and could have been forgiven for being a little lapse with service upstairs. Not so at all. We felt very well looked after, not too fussed over, and weren’t rushed at any point through what we managed to string out into a four course meal over a couple of hours.
The food was right up my street – not too complex, but packed with taste and tradition. Kind of simple, but confident in its own simplicity, which is always a winner. I have no doubt that the idea of carving into two massive chunks of meat might not be everyone’s ideal Friday night dinner, but for us lot, it was just what we love, and made for a wonderful belated birthday celebration.
We paid in full for our meal at the Glassboat. They didn’t know I was a blogger.
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