Review: Bell's Diner and Bar Rooms, Bristol
Bell's Diner is something of a Bristol institution. One of those restaurants that when you move here everyone says 'Oh you must visit Bell's' with an approving nod of their head. It has been open since 1967 so no wonder everyone knows of it. The restaurant is based in a former greengrocer's shop in Montpelier - a slightly down at heel, arty, graffiti-ridden, sort-of-cool, sort-of-rough area close to Bristol city centre.
It has recently been renamed Bell's Diner & Bar Rooms (not sure why) but everyone still calls it Bell's. It has three rooms that are slightly ramshackle, but cosy. Think lots of 1970s-style big palm plants, random vintage objects like typewriters, vases, pairs of spectacles and crockery dotted around, plus the most uncomfy old vintage school chairs and benches you will ever perch your derriere on.
We visited on a Wednesday night in August 2015 and it was full to the rafters. The clientele was the most mixed I have seen for one restaurant. Two completely separate tables had very smartly dressed (think jackets for men and pearl-clad ladies) couples aged 60+, whereas other tables had twenty-somethings wearing top-knots, tracksuit tops and tight jeans. There were a few bearded hipsters (of course) and one large table with middle-class mummies and children. A total mix.
Now, to the food. The waitress came over to tell us that the menu always has to be explained as it appears to be a simple list of starters and mains but it is in fact a list of tapas-style food and she suggested we chose six dishes between us to start with. Prices for each dish vary between £3-8 each. They describe their food like this: "Our food is probably best described as being Modern Mediterranean. It is inspired by the robust, flavoursome cooking of Spain, North Africa, Italy and France."
We opted for sweetcorn and courgette fritters, Turkish falafel with tahini sauce, salted Valencian almonds, salt cod fritters with aioli, venison pincho and monkfish cheeks. For dessert it was blue cheese, quince and chocolate truffles.
For our food plus two gin & tonics and one coffee it was £60 which we topped up to £70 to include a tip for our excellent waitress. All the food was flavoursome, fresh, had excellent side sauces/dips and was a delight.
Please note: This restaurant isn't suitable if you have mobility issues as the rooms are packed with tables and chairs with not much room between them, plus lots of steps. The loos are communal with one sink outside two loos. I had a nice chat with an elderly gentleman as I washed my hands.
1970s vase and other memorabilia
Bell's Diner and Bar Rooms has a vinyl-only music policy and they play all their records on a Bush Dansette, which was next to our tiny table as was the box of vinyl's. This meant I didn't have much room to sit but on the plus side I got to hear Kid Creole & The Coconuts and Stevie Wonder in my ear all night (this was a good thing). All their vinyl is available to buy via their resident DJ Mont’s Mosaic.
Bell's Diner 1-3 York Road, Montpelier, Bristol, 0117 924 0357. Open Tues-Sat, 10am-10pm. £25-30 a head, plus drinks and service.