Keith and I got off to a shamefully late start our first morning in Bristol. Suffice to say that my use of the word morning is a total stretch, as neither of us even stumbled out of our friends Judy and Dorian’s spare room for a shower until one in the afternoon. In our defense, we were both at varying degrees of sick — the next day I would lose my voice entirely, after an evening of feeling like my throat was coated in shards of glass, and Keith was already coughing into a series of tissues. Still, we managed to eventually make our way down to Bristol Harbor, then walked about ten more minutes to River Station, a restaurant housed in a former police station.
River Station is divided into two sections, the restaurant upstairs and the bar/kitchen on the ground level; both have excellent views overlooking the River Avon. (Here’s something confusing about the UK — there are eight Rivers Avon: four in England, three in Scotland and one in Wales. This River Avon is also called the Lower Avon or Bristol Avon, and is not Shakespeare’s Avon, which flows through Warwickshire in the West Midlands.) While the restaurant was serving food, we decided to stay downstairs in the bar, where we sat on a curved leather banquette and watched a trio of swans lazily paddle in concentric circles.
Sick or not, I was starving; at this point it was probably something like eighteen hours since my previous meal, a vegetarian moussaka and a half-pint at The Watershed’s Café/Bar. Not only was I craving something filling, but I also wanted something that could scratch at my sore throat on the way down. (See number four.) For that reason I chose the goat cheese bruschetta and beet coleslaw (£5.00) as my starter. I was a little surprised when my plate arrived, as River Station’s interpretation of bruschetta seemed to be simply a toasted slice of crusty bread topped with cheese; I’m not quite sure what I had been expecting, but I do know that I did anticipate something garlicky. In the end I didn’t mind though — goat cheese is a weakness of mine, and River Station was extremely generous with theirs. The beet slaw was both sweet and tangy, and the addition of watercress added a nice peppery bite. In retrospect, I wish I had thought to pile the vegetables on top of the melty cheese, but they were just as good alongside.
I knew I would hanker for something to soothe my unhappy throat after the crusty bread did its job; squid ink spaghetti and smoked salmon tossed in a vodka cream sauce (£8.00) sounded like the perfect solution. And perfect it was. Not only is pasta made with squid ink fun to look at, with its jet-black color, but it’s also fun to eat, as each bite releases a briny zip in your mouth. Combined with the delicate salmon, milky sauce, fresh herbs and lemon, it was simultaneously comforting and refreshing — exactly what I needed to bolster me up so I could face the day. Or at least the rest of the afternoon.
Judy met us after she finished work, and the three of us sat with lattes and tea while we chatted and reminisced. Not once were we bothered by waitstaff, except to clear our scraped-clean plates. I got the feeling that, had we chosen to, we could have sat there all night, laughing and watching the water, and peering into the dark for the swans we could no longer see. River Station has the ideal atmosphere and menu for doing exactly that.
Bristol, BS1 4RB
+44 0117 914 9463