Mon. May 20th, 2024
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The Hophouse is no more – and to be honest, it was never really somewhere that shone out of the crowd when choosing a drinking venue in Clifton. Now, in its place, Nettle & Rye has sprung up: and run by the same team at The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer, we had high expectations when we visited for a special evening that showcased some of the dishes to be found on the menu of the upstairs restaurant.

Downstairs, you’ll see the similarities to TFRNV – draft beers and ciders are displayed on wooden boards running the length of one side of the room, each with their own tasting notes to make it easier to order. What made it harder, though, was the fact that the bar staff know each by number rather than by name, meaning that we saw plenty of to-ing and fro-ing from the boards to the bar when customers were looking to place orders. That said, we were impressed with the range of drinks on offer: from Beavertown Brewery’s Black Betty to ciders including Harry Taylor’s Thrown Hat, you’re spoilt for choice.

Customers have a choice of dining either upstairs or downstairs: the latter offering a more casual menu that includes burgers, open sandwiches and fish and chips; the former going more down the fine dining route. And that’s exactly where we were headed last Thursday night.

Our eight course menu was designed as an introduction to some of the dishes on the main menu, which can be seen here. The menu will change with every season, with the decor in the upstairs restaurant also changing: the current winter setup felt very Scandinavian – and the menu hinted at a Scandi influence too.

We began with a twin amuse-bouche: a crisp and crunchy radish served on a punchy tarragon mayonnaise with a scattering of herb salt – a REALLY salty herb salt, if that doesn’t sound too odd. A beautiful little mouthful. It was the other amuse-bouche that had us salivating, though: an espresso cup of velvety smooth pumpkin velouté with beautiful autumnal flavours. Digging a little deeper, we discovered toasted pumpkin seeds, crème fraiche and what appeared to be a chunk of pickled pumpkin at the bottom of the cup, adding both flavour and texture.


Nettle & Rye - Amuse Bouche


Simply listed as “carrot, ewe’s curd, caraway, pumpkin seed, prunes” on the menu, our starter consisted of carrots prepared in four different ways: roasted with the skin on, pickled, fermented and puréed. It was a well-executed dish. Each of the four methods of cooking gave the carrot a different flavour and texture: the salty roasted carrot, the sweet purée, the slight sourness of the fermented carrot and the sharp edge of the pickled version. The tanginess of the homemade ewe’s curd was fantastic (what wasn’t so fantastic was the large, sharp piece of plastic that Chris found in his and which cut his gum…), while the sweet prune, crunchy pumpkin seeds and tarragon oil (tarragon was a common theme, as you’ll see…) finished the dish off nicely.


Nettle & Rye - Carrots


The first of the two fish dishes featured yet more tarragon: described as “mackerel, buttermilk, rye, apple, cucumber”, we were presented with a slice of cured fish, pungent in its flavour, along with a flavourful tarragon mayonnaise, sliced Granny Smith apple, pressed cucumber in apple juice, a granita-like buttermilk snow and an incredibly delicate rye bread crisp, which added plenty of texture. The sweetness of the cucumber and apple tempered the (in my eyes) over-cured mackerel somewhat, but I wasn’t a fan of the buttermilk snow: while I enjoyed the flavour, it was the sensation of frozen against chilled and room temperature elements that I didn’t particularly like.


Nettle & Rye - Mackerel


The pollock course was one of my favourites of the evening: a firm and meaty slab of fish, skin still on and beautifully cooked, served with cauliflower done four ways: couscous, charred, pickled and puréed. I loved the textures and flavours of the cauliflower, and we were also presented with two big juicy mussels which had been smoked in hay for a lovely flavour. I’m not sure whether the sauce was supposed to be there or not, but it was a little too watery and didn’t really add much to the dish…


Nettle & Rye - Pollock


Another of my highlights was the roe deer loin, which was perfectly seasoned and simply seared so that it was still wonderfully pink in the middle. Slivers of pickled beetroot and a rich beetroot purée (they do their purées well here!) flanked the meat, along with onions braised in saison which were lovely and sweet. The fennel shoots on the top were a nice touch too. While the presentation was great, it seemed even more lively for those who dined later in the evening, with beetroot splashed across the plate in an arty way…


Nettle & Rye - Roe Deer


Before dessert was served, it was time for a palate cleanser: a granita of Paychopomp Woden gin and crab apple which (luckily for me, as I can’t stand gin), tasted more of the fruit than the booze. Surprisingly, it was served alongside more of that buttermilk snow from earlier in the evening – call me traditional, but I would have preferred just the granita: it’s fresh, light and clean flavours that best cleanse the palate in my book.


Nettle & Rye - Palate Cleanser


Our dessert of “Hazelnut, rapeseed oil, sea buckthorn, white chocolate, yoghurt” turned out to be a small square of hazelnut and rapeseed oil cake, which was dense in its texture (as you’d expect, with the use of oil) but very light (almost too light) in its flavour. The fantastic tartness of the sea buckthorn curd made up for it, though, as did the sourness of the yoghurt ice cream. The white chocolate and hazelnut crumb scattered across the plate was lovely and salty, but we couldn’t detect the slightest hint of white chocolate – a bit hit and miss, on the whole.


Nettle & Rye - Hazelnut cake


The menu listing of “Pine and rosemary” for our final dish had been intriguing us for the entire meal…turns out that it’s normally listed to have alongside coffee on the standard menu. Essentially, it’s a take on peanut brittle, but with the flavours of pine, rosemary and salt – an unusual combination, but one that really does work. The combination of sweet and salty is a winner, in my book, and I could happily have eaten more…


Nettle & Rye - Pine Bark


So…would I go back? In all honesty, I’m not too sure. While it’s clear that the kitchen team have plenty of talent, the meal just felt a little hit and miss – some ingredients seemed a little over-used, not all of the flavours seemed to work that well together and the aforementioned piece of plastic didn’t instil us with confidence. In addition, many of our hot courses were luke warm at best…

The pricing’s something else that puts me off a little – while I’m well aware that the dishes we were served on the night were tasting menu-sized portions, photos that have been tweeted by Nettle & Rye suggest that the pricing is definitely aimed at a Clifton audience. The roe deer dish is priced at £20 per head – and I honestly don’t think that two small pieces of venison and the accompanying onions and beetroot would fill me up – you pay extra for sides. Even the vegetarian main course of “Salt baked celeriac, pear, hazelnut milk, winter chanterelle, celery leaf” is priced at an ambitious £14 per head with no sides…it may just be me, but for £20, I’d rather head over to Bellita (where I dined in the same week) and enjoy a selection of dishes to share – we paid £20 per head each for lunch including a soft drink each, as you’ll see in my review). Let me know if you disagree…


Please note: We were invited to Nettle & Rye to dine at a special preview event, where we were simply asked to make a voluntary donation to StreetSmart, but this in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the venue did not see this review before it was put up on the site.


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