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Table talk: Dive into a Mediterranean holiday in the heart of Bristol

Eating & Drinking
Table talk

Hayley Coristine

3 July 2017

Forget flying off somewhere, all you need in the summer heat is a visit to The Lido in Bristol and a long lingering afternoon at its restaurant where you can put the 'no swimming after eating' legend to bed. Eat, drink, float, repeat.

The Lido is a Bristol institution. From 1849 it served the Victorian public as a pool and medicinal baths, but it was a whisper away from being converted into apartment blocks when it fell into disrepair in the 1990s. Restored a decade ago under new (food loving) owners, the Lido is well and truly back on the map.

But don’t be fooled - this isn’t just a pool with a snack bar. The Lido’s poolside bar and upstairs restaurant takes dining to new heights under head chef Freddy Bird, who favours a feel-good, hedonistic approach to his regularly changing menu.

The restaurant at Bristol Lido

Poolside view anyone? It might not be the Med but it's close.

The food

The Lido’s menu is a feast of Mediterranean-inspired dishes concocted with ingredients from near and far, with strong Galician flavours and vivid colours. It’s decidedly unpretentious, tasty and fun. The sourdough is baked daily in a wood-fired oven and delivered to your table in oversized thick slices. Once dipped generously in olive oil, the bread is pleasantly sour, smoky and nearly impossible to stop eating. But seriously, do - you’ll regret not having room for everything else. Vegetarians, delight: while the veggie selection is limited, there’s not a token pasta dish or goat cheese tart in sight. To start, try the gazpacho - perfectly cooling on a hot summer’s day with a generous hint of spice and a light fruitiness. Fish lovers can opt for the scallops, which are rich and buttery and perfectly seasoned with dill.

The mains are hearty - whatever your choice, you won’t go hungry. Dishes include charcoal-grilled Pyrenean lamb leg, hake with sprue asparagus; or, for a twist on a Valencian classic, rabbit, snail and chorizo paella. The veggie standout is imam bayildi, a superb Turkish-style roasted aubergine dish, every mouthful is full of soft, mild curd with roasted tomato, fresh baby basil and rich aubergine. It’s unlikely you’ll have room for dessert, but the Lido’s ice creams are enough to change your mind - they’re churned fresh daily, with colours and flavours changing on Bird’s creative whim. Choose from nine decidedly out-there flavours, including a decadent chocolate Estrella; a milky, fragrant, but not-too-sweet rose and cardamom and a calamansi lime sorbet made by blitzing fruit and skin. This one’s so sour you’ll be pulling faces, but don’t think you won’t be going back for more. 

Bristol Lido restaurant - scallops

The food is expertly sourced and perfectly cooked.

The drinks

The wine list is extensive and wallet friendly, with the bulk of the selection coming at under £40 per bottle, and many hovering around the £20 mark. Wines are produced by small artisanal producers in Spain, Italy and Lebanon, and the team visit regularly to select wines. The drinks change fairly often - when a wine becomes too popular, it’s taken off the menu and swapped for a new variety. The cocktail and gin list is extensive; and, keeping the Mediterranean vibe up, homemade vermouth is on the cards for next year, so pool-goers can have a cheap, fun drink to slosh by the poolside.

Bristol Lido's cafe and bar counter

Homemade pastries, a succinct wine list and a pool on tap what more could you want?

The vibe

Pass the poolside bar with its overflowing baskets of citrus drenched in dappled sunshine, climb the staircase to the Lido’s open air restaurant on a veranda overlooking the pool and you’ll be transported from the side streets of Bristol to the Mediterranean seaside. The water laps and splashes below and there’s a low hum of Indian-style punkah fans on the ceiling beating the air down. It’s unpretentious and modern in washed out coastal blues, reds and tans.

Bristol Lido design - beach huts

Bristol's Lido has breathed new life into the urban outdoor swim

The sustainability bit

Bird’s geographical boundaries for sourcing food are loose but his ethics tight. Whether it’s fish and game from the West Country or lamb from the Pyrenees, provenance is top priority at the Lido. But it’s not just about the food - the whole enterprise is run through with sustainability. One of the Lido’s roofs is blinged up with 700 solar tubes, which provide around a third of its energy use when the sun shines. Rainwater is collected and used to top up the pool and water plants. And when, a decade ago, the Lido was restored to its full glory after years of decay, old materials were reclaimed and reused. The traditional outdoor changing cubicles were taken apart and rebuilt using most of the old timber; window frames were given a new life in new locations and the heavy wooden changing room doors were recovered from a nearby building site. Even the railings from the old pool were given a new lease on life as handrails in the restaurant.

When to go

Did we say midweek holiday? The Lido gets busy at weekends but you can bag yourself a bargain between Sunday and Friday, when a three course meal is £20 between 6 and 7pm. If you fancy a splash in the pool, £45 will get you a two course meal and a swim, plus time in the steam room, sauna and hot tub.

Where is the Lido?

Find the Lido at Oakfield Place in Bristol.

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