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The Spotted Cow

A laidback soundtrack of choice choons, foaming pints of local ale and cracking crackling makes Sunday lunch at this über-cool south Bristol gastropub dangerously addictive, says MARK TAYLOR PHOTOS MARK SIMMONS

IT’S FOUR YEARS since The Spotted Cow was opened by Bristol DJs Dave Smeaton and James

Savage – the same ‘Midas touch’ team responsible for launching The Big Chill in Small Street and The Bank of Stokes Croft in, er, Stokes Croft. For those Bristolians with elephantine memories,

The Spotted Cow stands on the spot formerly known as notorious pubs 139° North and Liquid Assets, yet its history goes back further than that, even – turns out this boozer is at least 200 years old. (Indeed, it has the size and appearance of an old farmhouse, a hangover from the days when this part of Bedminster was still fields.)

Of course, since being gastrofied, The Spotted Cow has become very contemporary inside, decked out smartly in the dark-blue-and-cream Farrow and Ball-style colours favoured by so many gastropubs. Not that it hasn’t retained a character of its own: the black leather button- back banquettes look like something from a boozer in The Sweeney (a good thing), and there are lots of gilt- edged mirrors, vast pots of flowers and wax-encrusted candlesticks standing in the original fireplaces. Arriving half an hour after the doors opened for Sunday lunch, the place was already throbbing with conversation and a cool soundtrack, courtesy of septuagenarian jazz DJ Tony Clarke – we heard everything from Chet Baker to Grandaddy. The long farmhouse tables were packed by a good mix of young North Face-clad families with kids milling around and hungover couples immersed in the Sunday papers and reviving pints of orange juice – or hair-of-the-dog pints of Bath Ales Gem. Despite the definite autumnal nip in the air, there

were just as many people outside too, enjoying the large garden with its high walls, lawn and covered smoking area boasting distressed French chateau-style tables and chairs. The garden is a real draw here, especially for those with young children who need to let off steam. Indeed, it must be one of the best pub gardens in the city.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, head chef Iain Webb uses as much local produce as possible for the menus – and even employs a gardener to look after the thriving rooftop plot, which keeps him supplied with tomatoes and more.

90 After motoring through a pile of superb bread (from

Mark’s Bread down the road), I dived into a salad of home-grown tomatoes, goats’ cheese and red onion (£5) – the creamy, goaty cheese working particularly well with the mellow onion, although it was the full flavour of the toms that really stood out. Anaemic, tasteless tomatoes grown in a Dutch hot house simply don’t compare to these deep-flavoured fruits born on a roof-top in Bemmy. As well as two fish options and a vegetarian choice,

there are usually five different roasts available on a Sunday – from Wye Valley leg of lamb to sirloin of beef – but on the first Sunday of every month, the kitchen also cooks a whole suckling pig, sourced from a local farm by Buxtons butchers of Winterbourne. There are only about a dozen portions per piglet, and

it’s very much offered on a first come, first served basis – so I was glad I’d arrived promptly. The suckling pig (£14.95) had been cooked slowly overnight and the result was the most tender, juicy meat imaginable, a world away from the usual dry, bland thing pork can be in less capable hands. The pulled pork was served in a bowl with its juices and a jug of rich gravy, and came with perfectly cooked kale, whole baby carrots, excellent crisp roast potatoes and a ramekin of chunky, tart apple sauce to slice through the richness. To the side, a neat pile of the most perfect crackling with a deafening crunch. This was very much a Sunday roast inspired by Fergus

Henderson’s ‘Nose to Tail’ philosophy, and every bit of the beast had been used – apart from the head, which had been reserved and placed on a plate next to the serving hatch separating the kitchen from the dining room! To follow, a well made dark chocolate and cherry cheesecake (£4.50) with cherry brandy compote was a modern gastropub twist on a classic ’70s Black Forest gateaux, although the chefs are so young they probably didn’t even get the joke – which adds to the charm. As I waved the white flag of defeat, and Mazzy Star drifted from the speakers, I noticed that two hours had slipped by in a gorgeous haze. I’ll come again.

✜ THE SPOTTED COW 139 North Street, Bedminster, Bristol BS3 2EZ; 0117 963 4433;

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