We ate at The Pumphouse on Saturday night. I like the place. It's in a great spot in Hotwells, right on the river which gives it a nice feel, and inside enough original features exist to remind you of how it got its name.
We had been really excited by the menu and thought we'd treat ourselves to the a la carte menu rather than going for the deal, 3 courses for £20. If it wasn't for my main of Mendip Fallow Deer that could almost be seen as a mistake.
Things did not get off to a good start. I ordered Mackerel with Rhubarb. I got mackerel and rhubarb. Very well presented, but a tiny, meagre, stingy portion. It seemed a confused little dish really. 2 slim pieces of cold sashimi style mackerel, which tasted like it had been soused, sat along-side a marginally bigger piece of freshly cooked mackerel. If the menu had described it as that, I would never have ordered it. And, worse, it clashed with the generously portioned and very well cooked Wood Pigeon that my missus chose. I felt a bit cheated.
And so I didn't know whether to be excited about my main course or not. As it turned out I had no need to worry. I ordered the Rare Saddle of Mendip Fallow Deer which, according to the menu came with Venison sausage, spiced red cabbage and new season wild garlic. The menu didn't mention the gorgeous pieces of marrow, nor the ridiculously tasty Mirabelle Plum sauce and it didn't say that it would be a sauce of new season wild garlic. I like to know what I'm getting, especially when it's all of that!
Ok, so I had to remind the waiting staff about the red cabbage, but that was a small distraction. This was one of the best dishes I've ever eaten. The wild garlic sauce was insanely good. That sauce, and the Mirabelle Plum sauce created mouthful after mouthful of rewardingly complex tastes - sweet, rich, smoky, iron-rich and meaty. Superb. My disappointing starter soon became a distant memory.
To be honest it seemed like whoever was doing the fish courses was having an off night. My missus went for the Butter Roast Cornish Sea Bass which, although not as underwhelming as my starter, was not a patch on the pigeon she'd enjoyed beforehand. It lacked imagination, and, it has to be said, taste. For the most expensive dish on the menu it failed badly to live up to its status.
We were, however, both very happy with our choice of desserts. We both ordered a freshly cooked option. My missus went for the Bitter Chocolate Fondant and I chose the Apple Tart Tatin which came with some very moreish cinnamon ice cream (and sadly some forgettable, weakly-flavoured Calvados custard). The dish was a winner without the custard, especially with the nice touch of the waiter serving out of the hot pan for me. My partner's chocolate fondant was another treat and showed some real skill. The accompanying gingerbread mousse and burned butter ice cream worked nicely with the rich and bitter chocolate.
If I'd been disappointed at the start of the meal my partner was left offended at the end of it. I think it's a basic requirement for waiting staff to say thank you when the bill is paid. A pity then that our waiter couldn't bring himself to do so, instead waving my partners credit card rather dismissively in her direction after taking payment. Rude. And please, please don't add a tip to my bill before I've decided I want to pay one. Why do places assume you'll tip? It's infuriating.
Would I recommend The Pumphouse? There's a lot that's good about it. Some of the food is very, very good. But some of it isn't. Some of the staff are very nice, sadly some aren't. Some of the prices reflect very good value and others don't. So, would I recommend The Pumphouse? I don't know. Which isn't exactly a yes.
Thinking of eating out in Bristol, read more reviews of Bristol Restaurants.