Last night, Ian and I headed over to Bristol to take advantage of a Groupon deal we bought a little while ago. It is also our 9 year anniversary on Monday and my last weekend off before going back to work so it felt like a good idea to go out for dinner.
I was also happy for an excuse to wear my new polka-dot shirt!
Our voucher entitled us to two 5-course dinners with a glass of wine for just £47 – a real bargain I think you’ll agree! Judging by the prices on their website, it would have cost us £55 a head if we had paid full-price so there was no denying it was good value for money.
The restaurant itself is very cosy and welcoming and it was full last night so had a good atmosphere.
We both had a glass of the house red, which was very pleasant, and ordered. I was very impressed with the selection available to us. We had about 5 different starters, mains and puddings to choose from with the 2nd and 4th course offering just the one option.
For my starter, I ordered flaked smoked haddock served with pancetta, salad, a soft boiled egg and a mild curry dressing. This may sound quite an odd combination but it reminded me of the tastes you get with a good kedgeree; slightly spicy, smoky fish and soft creamy eggs. It was a really interesting and well put together starter. The only thing I would say is that I was expecting this to be served as a warm salad and it was cold which didn’t take away from the enjoyment but was slightly unexpected nonetheless.
Ian ordered a duck starter which consisted of a duck liver terrine, slices of duck breast, some toasted brioche and a red wine and shallot jam. He let me try all parts of this dish and it was another well put together starter and I felt both plates were very generous with their portions. It was lovely to have the duck served two ways and the breast was very moist and tender.
After our starters, we were brought a lovely fresh salad of heritage tomatoes, beetroot, goats cheese, horseradish crème fraîche and a balsamic dressing. Again, the flavour combinations were exquisite and there was a nice variety of textures on the plate too.
Next were the main courses which were enormous! I have to say that while I like to feel like I have got my money’s worth when I eat out, I also think too much food on a plate can be a bad thing. The type of people who would be going to Juniper to enjoy their 5 or 8-course menus, I would assume, are into their food and not simply going out to feel stuffed when they leave. When the quality of food is good, which it definitely was at this restaurant, I don’t think you need to cram the plate full of food to please the customer and neither Ian nor I managed to finish our mains – and I have a very good appetite!
Anyway, onto the food itself! I ordered the pork which came with a very large pork loin, a pulled-pork and pearl barley casserole, dauphinoise potatoes, an apple salsa and a stilton, Parma ham and sage cream sauce. The loin was well-cooked but as I mentioned before just too large for me to manage it all. The crowning glory of the dish was the pulled-pork casserole which was absolutely stunning. The meat was falling apart, the seasoning was spot on and the pearl barley added another texture to the plate. The dauphinoise potatoes were good but tasted strongly of garlic. The sauce was perfect for the pork, although I couldn’t taste the stilton in it. The only disappointment was the apple salsa. The lovely balance between sweet and sharpness that I was expecting was completely overpowered with the addition of green peppers in it, and I struggled to taste any apple at all.
Ian opted for the lamb which was delicious. His meal came with two generous pieces of lamb rump, served pink (how it should be!), dauphinoise potatoes, ratatouille and a rosemary jus. All elements on the plate really complemented each other well and the sauce was divine. Again, one thing neither of us were keen on was the ratatouille. I thought it sounded like a great pairing to the lamb but it was extremely salty (and I do like heavily seasoned food) and sharp.
The main courses also came with a bowl of vegetables but we barely touched them and to be honest the al dente celery which was mixed through the vegetables didn’t really go.
After our monstrous mains, we asked the waitress for a little break in the food so we could make some room for the last two courses!
Next up was the cheese course, which was very simple but tasty: three crackers, a lovely tomato chutney and three mature English cheeses; a cheddar, a brie and a stilton. I did have to ask for some butter because, as I am sure my Mum would agree, you can’t have a cheeseboard without some good salty butter! All three cheeses were lovely and the chutney cut through the richness of them.
Finally, we had our puddings. I don’t know how I found the room but I couldn’t resist the sticky toffee pudding, which was served with a rich toffee sauce and honeycomb ice-cream, and a chunk of very hard and sharp kiwi which added absolutely nothing to the dish! The cake was gorgeous; warm, rich, moist and complemented perfectly by the sauce and ice-cream.
Ian had a lovely chocolate and orange truffle pot, topped with a sour cherry compote which worked really well together.
Now, I have to mention the next thing that happened because it really annoyed me and I am interested to know what you think of it…
We asked for the bill, knowing the food would come to £47 because we had already prepaid this through Groupon, expecting to pay for the wine and then a tip. I usually tip around the 10% mark, obviously adding or taking away a bit for exceptional or poor service, which I assume is fairly standard, right? On our bill, the waitress had costed our dinner at £55 a head (what it would have cost us had we paid full-price) and then worked out her 10% from that £110 amount. Does anyone else find that a bit cheeky?!
Part of me felt we had got a fantastic deal anyway so it wasn’t that big a deal but then I thought to myself ‘what am I paying over £10 for?’ The service was fine but by no means exceptional. For example, when we were served our cheese course, the waitress simply put the plates down on the table in front of us without telling us what each cheese was. For a higher quality establishment, this quick explanation of the dish is what I think is generally expected and all our waitress really did was deliver the food then clear the tables. So I ended up leaving a tip of about £7-8 (the change that was in my wallet basically). I know the difference of a couple of pounds may seem petty but, for me, it was the principle of expecting a hefty tip for not much work – I would love to know what you think or what you would have done!
While I am on the negatives, I also have to say that I found the stairways and toilets damp-smelling and quite grubby. I know it has nothing to do with the food but, as part of the whole dining experience, the restaurant itself wasn’t completely up to scratch.
Overall, apart from the sneaky tip calculation and toilets, we had a fantastic evening and I would definitely return to Juniper. It was laid-back and friendly and the food was excellent. My only niggle, and I imagine it is something many people wouldn’t mind, was the huge portion sizes. If you were going in for a main course alone, then fair enough it is a hearty meal, but as part of a larger tasting menu I think the chef needs to slightly refine the quantities on the plate because when the food is that good you really want quality over quantity.