Whenever I ask around for restaurant recommendations worth trying out around town, The Pump House is often mentioned by my friends as a place worth visiting. After several months of persuasion, I finally made it there a couple of months ago to sample the goods. Situated in a tucked away harbour front location in Hotwells, this gastropub venue has a unique and relaxed setting away from the main road but the best of all, they have a few dedicated car park spaces which are quite hard to find in the area.
Whenever I make telephone booking for a restaurant, I would usually ask if there are any dishes which are a must to try and they were keen to recommend their 5 course tasting lunch menu for lunch. The tasting menu offered a number of their signature dishes as smaller courses. I have never been a huge fan of tasting menus as they seem to prolong the dining experience whilst some courses can be so hit and miss. However, just as I was easily persuaded to come here on recommendation and that the staff I spoke to was enthusiastic to recommend this, I again acted on a positive recommendation as oppose to my prior hesitation about tasting menus. Priced at £35 per person, my expectations were raised for the occasion and rightly so not for the price but for the intricacy, presentation and detail needed to successfully pull off a good tasting menu.
The dining room was located on the mezzanine floor of the venue and it had a bird’s eye view of the bar on the ground floor. As we were the sole lunch booking on a Saturday, we had the entire area to ourselves. I would imagine if we had a dinner booking instead, the noise from the bar downstairs might have been a little noisy. We also had children in our party which meant the tasting menu could only work for adults and as we all know, children can barely remain seated for a single course before losing interest. The staff offered the option of some smaller courses for the children but as everyone else was going to have the tasting menu, there was some confusion in deciding whether they should have. There was the choice of typical kids’ meal item or instead they could share normal sized starters and mains so that they could also try something similar foods to what the adults were having. After considering the various options, we decided on the latter option for sharing standard portions.
Our first course in the tasting menu was Salad of Heritage Tomatoes + Goats Curd. As this was the first course to set the tone for the remaining courses on the menu, I was eager to expect something close to spectacular. This was a cold appetizer dish with different varieties of seasonal tomatoes accompanied with ice shavings to add to the cooling effect. It was refreshingly delicious and appropriate for the season, but it was just too ornamentally small and light to stand as one of the five courses. The olive oil was just outstanding.
The second course was the Barbeque in a Jar which was a wonderful spectacle, packaged in a closed jar presentation. Upon opening the jar, you are greeted with a tempting whiff of barbeque smoke and beneath it are cubes of rare beef onglet with olives onions, and radishes. The excitement of this menu is elevated again in this course and the scents and tastes from this course are very impressive. However, this is where my reservation with tasting menus usually starts because it is just as you get into the taste; it is just too small to last and it is over all too soon.
With the impressive second course, I must admit my hopes were reaching for the stars in the third course and for this we were served the Hake, Salt Fish Croquette, Summer Vegetables. Not quite as exciting I had hoped but it was conceptually interesting to have the two fishes are cooked and served together in bringing out each other’s flavours. This course was also served with asparagus, peas, and broad beans which were quite tasty and I suspect it was mostly like done with the fistful of butter used. Overall, I felt the saltiness of the salt fish croquette was a little overpowering and did not compliment the hake which was a shame as it was an adventurous paring.
For the fourth course, it was the Lamb, Pine Nuts, Sundried Tomatoes. As you would guess, this was a couple of slightly thicker than usual slices of lamb which was prepared splendidly well as it was pink and tender. There was a calligraphy smear of sauce and several pine nuts which seem to be more ornamental and did not really seem to add to the overall taste. From the spectacular presentation I had in the first two courses, this was a far cry from what I would have expected and although the display was decent, I had hope this main course would have a climatic wow factor but instead brought me back to earth and left me instead looking forward to the operatic finish I wanted in the final dessert course.
The final dessert course was the Vanilla Cheesecake, Cheddar Strawberries + Basil. I think the intention of this was to go back to the creative direction with this tasting menu and what we got was a deconstructed cheesecake that tasted a little like vanilla clotted cream with biscuit crumble on the side. Again it was a pretty display of different colours but it was not the type of cheesecake I would have liked however, the basil sorbet which accompanied it was innovative and refreshing.
The lunch experience was overall positive and had a few moments of brilliance. Although I still stand by my opinion that tasting menus are somewhat overrated unless you are visiting a Michelin star studded restaurant with months long waiting list for bookings simply because you don’t know if you would make it back again after a such a long wait. Presentation makes up for much in the price you pay and I would personally count substance over aesthetics every time. When you consider a gastropub able to pull off a fairly good tasting menu like this is quite impressive but it doesn’t quite reach for the stars if you were to judge this menu on par with some of the top restaurants in the country specialising in this area. Nonetheless I would agree with my friends that this is a place is well worth visiting but not necessary compulsive to return straight away for a similar tasting menu.
The Pump House
Tel. 0117 927 2229