This is not my first review of The Pony and Trap but it has been over a year since my last visit and I noticed some of the things I loved most about this place have changed. If you have not been there before, this is one of the top gastropub / restaurants in Bristol and has been gaining more national recognition over the past few years. It is about 30 minutes’ drive towards the south of Bristol which can be tricky for directions if you are not using a SatNav device. Once you arrive and if the weather is permitting, the restaurant offers beautiful views overlooking rolling country fields of Chew Magna. This 200 year old pub restaurant is a wonderful escape from the city.
This review is a little different from my past reviews as it is based on two lunch visits two weeks apart from one another. Having not been here for over a year, there were some obvious differences. The pub side had almost disappeared and replaced by restaurant table setting and now there were many more young waiting staffs. In the past visits, there was always the sight of one or two local pub drinkers but now the local presence has gone and has been replaced the many out of town visitors, not all that different from myself. Not that I knew any of the local dinking folk but it was a sight I did not think I would miss, as I have always found it more reassuring to visit a place, knowing it had a strong local regular following. After all, a visitor like me never really visits enough times throughout a year to vocally comment on the food in making a difference.
For starters, we had the Lamb Offal Fricassee, Anchovy Toast (£8.00) which is something that I felt compelled to order because I rarely see this offered on menus nowadays. I enjoy rich flavours and this turned out just as I had hoped. It was a good pairing with the anchovy toast and it brought out both ingredients’ outstanding attributes but the focus was more on the introduction of this taste as the portion was small. The second starter we had was the Steamed Mussels, Shallots, Cider & Garlic Cream (£9.00). It is one of the more popular starters and we noticed that someone had ordered this on almost every table. Knowing what to expect as this was not the first time we have had this; it was still as good as we remembered. Robust in taste and when all the ingredients are mixed together, it offers dynamic contrast between strong and smooth flavours. The fact that it stayed positively consistent to the last time we had it and that it was still a good sized portion is a big plus to our revisiting. For the third starter, we had the Diver Caught Scallops, Chickpea, Tahini, Pork & Fennel Salami (£11.50).
Beautifully presented, it was a page out of a coffee table cook book but with the main focus on a modern presentation, the balance of taste was a little too much with the varying ingredients and the portion size was sadly small.
For main courses, we had the Confit Duck Leg, Salt Baked Celeriac, Borlotti Beans & Consommé (£18.50). This was a modern interpretation of a traditional favourite which was disappointingly dry and somewhat lacking in flavour. The duck did not strike a convincing match with consommé and perhaps it would suit someone who wants to try something different from the classic duck confit. The second main course we had was the Whole Plaice, Seaweed, Brown Shrimp, Caper & Lime Butter (£18.50).
Perfectly prepared and not overcooked, the plaice was great example of how fish should be done. It’s a shame that this is not as consistent as it should be when you go to any random restaurant. For the third main course, we had the P&T Beef & Venison Burger, Sesame Bun, Mayonnaise, Mustard Red Onion Salad & Chips (£12.50). Positioned in the pub classics section of the menu, this was a refreshing interpretation to the pub burger. The burger was flavoursome and succulent and all too often burgers found in pubs or restaurants can be quite dry. The combination of beef and venison offered a lighter taste whilst the side salad was interesting and tasty. For the fourth starter, we had the Haunch of Venison, Chargrilled Ox Tongue, Parsnip & Blackberry (£20.00) which was beautifully decorated and an impressively modern presentation. The venison was lean and very tender but the sauce which accompanied it was merely a decoration and not sufficient enough to add to the flavour of meat. Again, I felt that it was a case of presentation over substance which was a shame.
For desserts we had the Sticky Toffee Pudding, Toffee Sauce, Vanilla Ice Cream (£6.00) and the Sticky Walnut Pudding, Salted Caramel Sauce, Stout Ice Cream (£6.00). The sticky toffee pudding has always been a regular feature here and favourite on the menu and just as before it consistently hits the spot of sweet indulgence you would hope for and maybe even a little more. However, the walnut pudding was a stark contrast to the popular toffee pudding. The walnut pudding was an inspiringly modern presentation, but for this positive comparison is where the common points end. Both desserts had a soft, fine textured sponge but the combination of walnut and salted caramel had a slightly bitter taste and if are seeking that sweet satisfaction from intensely rich desserts, this might not be what you are looking for. However, the stout ice cream was a first time for me and I would definitely welcome this again.
Of all my past visits, the last two have been the most different from what I expected. From my expectations of a countryside pub and restaurant, it seems that these qualities it has changed to that of a restaurant evolving towards a more modern direction. I personally preferred it when it was still a gastropub. Overall portions have downsized and in the past when I use to struggle in finishing two courses is now a much more different eating out experience. One of the menu items I noticed was a dish created to feature on BBC 2’s Great British Menu 2014 which did not hugely impress when I heard its description. Whilst the restaurant has gained much in public profile and maybe now in its efforts in gaining a second Michelin star, I cannot help but think the country charm which its sound reputation was built on has been a little compromised during the cosmetic facelift today.
The Pony & Trap
Bristol BS40 8TQ
Tel. 01275 332627