Maitreya Social

Samphire Fritters- Maitreya Social

Samphire Fritters- Maitreya Social

Is a restaurant and arts space from chef Barney McGrath, who has taken over from former chef/proprietor Mark Evans. Maitreya Social or the former Café Maitreya has always been placed in the top 5 or 10 must visit veggie restaurants in the UK. Since we were in Bristol for the VegFest anyway we decided to check it out.

I made reservations, a few weeks ago, as the website states: “Its always best to book a table in the evening as we are often full.”

Once we arrived, I didn’t get the sense we needed reservations anyway.

Waiting at the bar, sipping cocktails until a table became available might have been nice. Within two minutes a friendly server appeared and whisked us to the upstairs dinning area on the far right next to the empty wine bottle and light display.

The place has a comfy vibe and looks like a house that has been converted into a restaurant not unlike buildings you might find in some areas of San Francisco or Brighton. As it’s also an art space the quirkiness extends to the work hanging on the walls and the vibrant furniture installation placed next to the door of the upstairs dinning room. We were seated at the only other table for two with the rest being larger tables of four or more. At one particular table, full of social workers, you could tell they had been coming here for years.

The menu is small – all items fit on one page. I find it kind of scary dinning at a restaurant where they hand you a book for the menu. So small is good. The menu is seasonal with a few nods to the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia and a number of vegan and gluten free options. Beetroot appears on the menu as a starter and as a side dish. Reminding you that seasonal and local are not just buzz words. The wine menu is also compact. Nevertheless, they managed to squeeze in an English white: Davenport Vineyards Horsmonden Dry, 2010 England described as ‘light, vibrant and super-fresh with a touch of citrus fruit’. Moderation is the key word here with no bottles priced over £30 and most well below that.

To start we had olives served in a ramekin with a soft white bap. And a deep-fried, tempura battered, ladder lattice of samphire sitting on a bed of slightly pickled carrot, red onion and cabbage accompanied by an equally delicious zingy tri-colour dressing. Instead of taking copious photos, I’d advise you to eat this dish fairly quickly – while it’s still hot. To drink we decided to play it safe and order the IGT Sicilia Mont’albano Nero d’Avola, 2010 Italy. On the other hand if you order the Roasted Shallot, Chestnut and Chestnut Mushroom Bourguignon I suggest you eat it slowly as it’s piping hot due to the fact that it’s served in a Mauviel Copper Mini Sauteuse with mini polenta cakes and broccoli crowns. The vegan option comes without the cheese, but the polenta and broccoli seemed orphaned. Perhaps adding another ingredient, not a fake cheese, might bring it together. Chef Barney’s take on a Laksa consisted of Cauliflower, Coconut and Tamarind with steamed rice pancake rolls and spinach and cashew dumplings. I would have liked a bit of heat to accompany this dish, but even without the heat it was flavourful and inventive. For dessert, we had the Pistachio, Almond & Vanilla Baklava. Of all the dishes we ordered I’d have to say this one missed the mark. The chocolate and passion fruit sauce clashed and the texture of the baklava were a bit chewy.

Maitreya Social is the kind of place where you’ll immediately feel comfortable, whether you’re a local, regular or just a visitor. If you are in Bristol it’s the place to go for friendly service and a compact menu of generous vegetarian comfort food.

Location: Maitreya Social, 89 St Mark’s Road, Easton, Bristol, BS5 6HY, 0117 951 0100 http://www.cafemaitreya.co.uk/

Prices: Starters, £4 to £5; Mains, £9 to £10; Extras, £2 to £4; Desserts, £5; Wine £13 to £30.

Details: Open 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Closed Monday.

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