Tucked into a renovated shipping container atop Bristol’s newest independent retail space, Cargo, Root is a relative newcomer to the city’s foodie scene but is already making waves in Bristol’s floating harbour (it replaces the hugely popular Chicken Shed). With Rob Howell, former head chef of the Michelin star Pony and Trap at the helm, Root is all about seasonal produce, brought together to create a feast of innovative dishes from simple ingredients.
Root is unashamedly all about the veg. The regularly changing menu features a selection of small plate veggie and vegan dishes, along with a lean selection of meat and fish options. The result is sensational. From chipotle and honey corn on the cob to salt baked celeriac with girolles, this is creative cooking at its best.
For a hit of autumn in a bowl, try the pumpkin risotto. It’s smooth and velvety, rich in colour and topped with nutty pumpkin seeds and slices of pickled marrow, harvested from Howell’s nan’s garden. For a little decadence, the cider rarebit is an umami feast of creamy cheddar atop a thick slice of toast, served with homemade sauerkraut. Every bite is a delight.
“It’s earthy, cosy, convivial, and very Bristol. Pull up an old-style metal tractor seat turned bar stool and enjoy”
Creating exceptional vegetarian food takes a certain level of skill; having the talent to make vegetables taste more flavorful than meat is another story altogether. Howell excels at both these challenges, and the cauliflower steak, braised and finished with cashew milk and served with raw salad and a zesty preserved lemon vinaigrette, is no exception. The best thing about Root is that the small dish approach means you don’t have to settle on one dish, but rather choose a few. This means you can save room for the homemade parmesan and courgette gnocchi or the Severn Project leaves, a simple but perfectly dressed salad with radish, shallot and button mushroom.
Root’s creative and innovative approach is due in large part to Howell’s confidence mixing it up and trying new things in the kitchen. This confidence becomes apparent at dessert, when we try a lemon posset that Howell is still working out – it’s not on the menu yet. Topped with pieces of buttery biscuit and chervil-dusted meringue flake, it’s intensely light and lemony, not too sweet and incredibly tasty.
There’s a solid selection of carefully chosen European wines, including two varieties from the Cotswolds-based Three Choirs vineyard, which sit well alongside the Italian, French and Spanish options. Bottled beers come straight from the independent Bristol Beer Factory, just a stone’s throw away.
The drinks menu also features an exciting selection of vermouth and bitters, plus a handful of whimsical non-alcoholic drinks including malted barley ginger beer and dandelion and burdock with star anise.
With its aubergine walls, accents of wood, and low lighting, Root immediately feels like the sort of place you secretly hope to get stuck in during a downpour. The sound of sizzling skillets drifts from the open kitchen and mixes with the low thrum of conversation from people catching up, and the space has reminders of food and farming throughout.
Terracotta pots of herbs hang from the floor to ceiling windows; the short wall separating the kitchen and dining area is surfaced in egg cartons, and the bar is built into frames lined with chicken wire that look like they could once have been part of a rabbit hutch. It’s earthy, cosy, convivial, and very Bristol. Pull up an old-style metal tractor seat turned bar stool and enjoy.
The sustainability bit
Root is part of the Eat Drink Bristol Fashion family, which has arguably been one of the driving forces of the sustainable food movement in Bristol. The restaurant’s drive to be more environmentally sustainable is reflected in the food it serves, particularly, the choice to serve less meat. Much of the menu is sourced locally and regionally, helping cut down food miles from plot to plate.
Howell is a regular at the the local fruit and veg market, and the team forages in their families’ gardens for extras like apples, pears, figs and marrows, all of which are used in the menu. The deliciously nutty sourdough and flatbread come from Joe’s Bakery down the road, the burrata from a London producer, and the salad leaves from the Severn Project, a Bristol urban farm initiative that helps vulnerable people back into work.
Sourcing local food has another benefit too, of course – it drives money back into Bristol’s economy. Plus, the regularly changing menu reflects the availability of produce, so along with super fresh ingredients, there’s less wastage.
When to go
Two words: go hungry. Root is a place best enjoyed with a partner in crime or friends, as you’ll have more opportunity to work your way through the alchemic menu. Root’s terrace is as big as the restaurant itself and is a perfect place to take in the sunset on a mild evening.
Where is Root?
Find Root at Cargo in Wapping Wharf, the relatively new community of containers that houses restaurants, bars and cafes, at the harbourside development.