A successful (and boozy) launch party, a new head chef whose training included a short stint at El Bulli and a discount voucher proved to be three key factors in our decision to choose Papaji’s for dinner on Saturday night. After reading mixed reviews of the revamped tea house and restaurant, we were keen to judge the success of the relaunch for ourselves…
Seated upstairs on the mezzanine, we were able to soak up the atmosphere from the drinks parties downstairs while still managing to hear each other speak. We were the first table to be seated upstairs, and benefitted from the recommendations of a very friendly, helpful and relaxed waiter…although this relaxation didn’t appear to last long, with the poor guy’s stress levels increasing as the mezzanine filled up, giving him multiple tables to contend with on his own.
I’d already decided before we arrived that I’d be choosing the sandalwood breast of chicken with crispy bacon, cucumber yoghurt and Mamaji’s chutney as my starter…
I’d already sampled the chicken at the launch party, although without any of the aforementioned accompaniments. Although it may sound like a bizarre combination, the smokey, woody, aromatic flavours of the sandalwood are a fantastic addition to the dish. I’m not entirely sure that the crispy strip of bacon really added anything, but the sweetness of the chutney and the thick cucumber yoghurt were delicious.
The main course was a difficult decision to make, but as it was so cold outside, I opted for the slow cooked venison, amchoor and winter vegetable stew, black mustard seed and parsley mashed potatoes.
The photo doesn’t lie: that is indeed a LOT of mashed potato! The venison was perfectly cooked and tender, the root vegetables not overdone and the potato well mashed, with some strong flavours coming through. My only complaint would be that the sauce was incredibly watery and not at all what I was expecting.
Now normally I would have opted for the cheeseboard for dessert…but after eating a starter plus such a large main, I (correctly) decided that I wouldn’t have enough room! Instead, I chose the cardamom and star anise crème brûlée, served with a homemade biscuit.
It was when we reached dessert that the stressfulness of the evening for our waiter was evident – after dropping our desserts as he approached our table, we waited a short while for the kitchens to make them again. The top of my crème brûlée yielded a satisfying crack when tapped with my spoon, with the centre creamy and not overly sweet. Again, not a complete success, however: the cardamom and star anise flavours were barely noticeable, and the biscuit was burnt around the edges.
It was a similarly mixed bag for the three friends I was with: the Cornish mussels in a tomato and curry leaf broth were fat and full of flavour, but the roasted beetroot with caramelised goats cheese did not impress as much. The portion of pork belly was huge, and the deep fried chocolate brownie was quickly devoured, but the rice pudding didn’t get as positive a reaction.
At around £5-£6 for starters and £10-£15 for mains, Papaji’s is an affordable night out but needs, in my opinion, a bit of tweaking in order to draw diners back for a second time. The chef has some fantastic ideas and combinations of flavours, but we found that the execution didn’t always live up to the promise of the descriptions on the menu. It could be that these are teething issues, as the menu is only a few weeks old, but it remains to be seen whether the revamped venue can truly compete with some of the alternative dining choices in Clifton.
Papaji’s Bar, Kitchen & Teasmiths
Address: 109, Whiteladies Road, Clifton BS8 2PB
Telephone: 0117 9466144