Its coming up to the end of exam season and so, there's been a distinct absence in our social group of those poor unfortunates who are still at the will of the academic machine. High-time then, to organise a simple meal to catch up with some good friends, who will be in academica for a while to come (they've just signed up to PhD's). Clever whatsits. Anyway, they'd both been working incredibly hard so we decided to jointly celebrate my birthday and the end of term. We were in need of something simple - a crowd pleaser - as the setting for our reunion and I decided to try a local chain rather than one of the nationwide franchises that have been springing up to provide Med to the masses.
Aqua is a South West based chain with two branches in Bristol (Clifton and Welsh Back) and one in Bath. Their Welsh Back restaurant jostles for attention amongst the other popular river/harbour side venues. Parking was relatively easy to come by as the single yellow lined streets become a free for all after 6pm. We arrived in good time for our 8pm booking, just in time to see a hen party - complete with pornographic sailors outfits - dance their way through Aqua's door. My heart sank but I tried to remain positive - one hen party wouldn't spoil a lovely quiet meal with friends. Well, yes, maybe one wouldn't. As it happened, we were seated squarely between three separate gaggles of scantily clad hens. Fifty screaming girls on the lash combined with an already stuffed restaurant and topped off with loud music did not make for a relaxing and chilled out atmosphere; we could barely hear ourselves think, let alone get into the banter.
Our waitress seemed to be taking the whole thing in her pride; unpromptedly bringing me a jug of water for the bunch of flowers that I'd been given. Very thoughtful! We decided on sharing a Doppia Flatbread (£4.30) to start with a bowl of olives (£3-ish) to get us started. The glorified pizza was very hot and fine - pretty garlicky if nothing else - while the olives were a little soft and soggy with no real flavour. Not a good start.
For mains, we had a bit of a selection among the four of us. Tagliatele Gorgonzola (£9.75) which seemed to feature none of its namesake cheese. My Ravioli ai Crostacei (£12.25) had shell in which at least proves that it contained some lobster even if I did nearly break a tooth while The Boy's Grigliata di Pesce (£16.95) was a cacophony of overcooked, griddled-within-an-inch-of-its-life seafood. The only dish that didn't disappoint was the Rissotto all Zucca (£9.95).
Needless to say that we decided against pudding, partly because of the dismal standard of our mains and partly on principle on seeing Torta ingelese caramellata. Translated: sticky toffee pudding. Traditional Italiana, innit? As The Boy very rightly pointed out, we'd come out for Italian, not "ingelese"! We wandered instead to Graze, only a few minutes away on Queens Square. They didn't bat an eyelid at our late arrival and our demands for sweet things. They seated us sharpish and we swiftly chose Eton Mess pour moi and the Chocolate Plate for The Boy (he's always had impeccable taste...) while our friends went for a selection of sorbets and a banofee Cremé Brulee. Everything was very tasty and we shall definitely be returning. The less said about about Aqua, the better, but Graze is definitely somewhere we'll be returning to.
Puddings: around £5
Graze can be found 63 Queens Square, Bristol, BS1 4JZ.Tel: 0117 927 6706