Bulrush lies on a row of rather uninspiring shops, with an unassuming exterior that belies the excellence of its cooking. It is part of a small wave of neighbourhood restaurants set up by chefs, like Bulrush’s George Livesey, who trained in London before moving to Bristol to express their culinary creativity. Similarly to Adelina Yard and Birch, Bulrush is characterised by its simple decor, friendly but unfussy front of house and, crucially, its focus on local, home-grown or foraged produce.
We start with a complimentary onion soup, which is proof of the miraculous power of careful cooking to transform such a harsh, pungent raw ingredient into something mellow and sweet. Its sweetness is distilled by a pool of elderberry juice, before being focussed on the palate by bitter burnt onion 'dust'.
This deft balance of tastes continues into the main courses. A perfectly pan-fried piece of hake and its attendant white asparagus are both delicately flavoured, yet robust enough to stand up to the sweet earthiness from celeriac puree and girolles and to the aromatic ox-eye daisy garnish. Seafood is celebrated throughout the menu: there is scallop ceviche with black sesame, mooli and beet; octopus in a tomato consomme; and turbot with courgette, blackberries and beetroot.
More bold and experimental than the hake is a ‘risotto’ of sweetcorn and sunflower seeds, whose creaminess is tempered by starchy, nutty purple potatoes. The reappearance of the elderberry juice here is an unnecessary addition in an already sweet dish, but it is prevented from becoming cloying by a wreath of astringent shisho leaves, grown in the restaurant garden.
For dessert, we cannot resist the charms of a chocolate delice. Comforting slabs of rich, velvet chocolate are cut though by the freshness from poached apricots and camomile ice-cream. The accompanying olive shards divide the crowd: I find their saltiness a distraction from the sheer, unadulterated joy of sweet chocolate and fruit, but others appreciate them as a counterpoint to the sugar. Love or hate them, these shards show that the kitchen here is unafraid to experiment.
At Bulrush, familiar ingredients - onions, roots, seasonal vegetables, fish, seeds, chocolate - are elevated by Livesey's evident pleasure in playing with flavours. Every dish has touches of originality, whether an unorthodox cooking technique or an unusual, foraged ingredient. Yet the simultaneous adherence to sympathetic cooking ensures these ingredients are not lost amidst experimentation, and retain their simple, integral beauty.
I hate to jump on the Bulrush bandwagon, but the place is blooming brilliant.