Papaji’s Restaurant – Clifton – Bristol – Restaurant Review

This restaurant has recently had a re-lunch in where they have introduced a new look and a new chef.  The place used to be well known for its bar and also its wide array of tea which they offer, this is a sort of speciality of the owner and his knowledge of tea seems to be vast.  This is also shown by the extensive 73 item Tea menu which has every combination of flavours one could ever imagine.  The cuisine is stated as European with Indian influence, which on first glance I was very intrigued to how the menu might play out and immediately got my hopes up for what was to come.

The restaurant has been refurbished with a new fresh look which includes warm woods with clean and simple wooden tables, finished with simple glasses and cutlery.  The entire place has a great fresh feeling and due to the upstairs being a mezzanine floor with an open balcony looking down onto the bar below, the entire atmosphere manages to flow right into the dining area making it very relaxed and even if you are the only diners you don’t feel alone.  The only complaint here is that due to the dining area being small, the tables are incredibly close together and if I was having a romantic meal I would find this very disconcerting as you most definitely be able to hear each others conversations.

Now having being handed out the menu and drinks served, the menu is certainly a mixed bag with most dishes starting off sounding quite standard but then quickly adding a fusion twist with a chutney or spice.  Nibbles are offered for the table such as “bread and oils” but these are an extra charge and I would like to see these offered as a complimentary appetiser as I feel it sets the mood for the meal.  There is most certainly a dish for everyones tastes, with each having either a large Indian influence or very subtle one.

Roasted beetroot, caramelized goat’s cheese, mixed leaves, autumn chutney, balsamic reduction

When this dish was presented I was quite surprised, as due to the modern style and updated theme I thought there would be abit more done with the presentation of this dish.  On first inspection I could see the goats cheese which had a lovely caramelized topping,  this was then melted down on top of various mixed leaves etc, but the rind of the cheese was left in a not too pleasing to look at way on the plate, and I do think more could be done in terms of presentation of the dish here .  However while looking through the leaves I could not see any form of beetroot which was the main advertisement of this dish, once I began moving the salad I found on the base of the plate a light scraping of the chutney which was promised, oh and surprise surprise 2 very very small cubes of beetroot, which was the only beetroot present.  I was rather shocked to find that while the dish is mainly promoted as a beetroot salad, it really only had 2 single cubes of beetroot….. this aside the salad was good with a good crunch to all the leaves, with the lack of dressing on the actual salad, it seemed that most of the balsamic reduction of on top of the goats cheese.  Due to the dressing being not on the leaves themselves, they relied on the chutney on the base of the plate but I found this was not enough and would have preferred a much larger serving of this to add some moisture to the dish as a whole.  The goats cheese was the dominant taste throughout this entire dish and was just to powerful for everything else, I found the dish quite a large disappointment really and was expecting a lovely light and tasty salad.

Tamarind Glazed Pork Belly, Masala Sauteed Jerusalem Artichoke, Shredded apple, Mango Chutney

Here I was more than impressed with the size of the portion which was presented and immediately it grabbed my other diners attention, the size of the pork belly cut was massive and I was slightly worried about being able to tackle such a mammoth bit of porkiness.  I was mainly worried that due to size I thought it would be 50% fat and the rest made up of pork, but once I started to cut into the meat I was very pleased to see it had been cooked excellently, with the fat rendered down suitably to avoid any claggy raw fat, and give the entire cut a great sweet flavour.  The tamarind glazed added a wonderful sourness to the top of the pork, however due to this being glazed and then not finished correctly the entire top “crackling”, lacked any sense of crispness and ended being a flappy piece of very nice tasting, but still soggy fat.  The artichokes beneath the pork, again were very well cooked with the texture being perfect and still having a slight bite in the middle but being soft enough to just push your fork into the outer edges, although sadly these had no heat or flavour of the masala what so ever and found them lacking on any flavour.  The mango chutney was more of a puree than that of a chutney with it decoratively sprayed across the side of the plate, but this was lacking in any sense of sweetness and although it added to the flavour of the pork it could have really done with some added sweetness to compliment the meat.  The apple was of such small quantity it is hardly worth mentioning and was literally as described, a raw cold grated eating apple, this didnt add anything to the dish and would have been better as a puree to compliment the pork.  Overall I did enjoy the dish, everything was cooked well with the pork belly being one of the tastiest I have sampled of late, in terms of pork flavour but this is where the dish ends. The flavours on paper should all work well together, however when tasting you are confronted with a serious lack of distinct flavours coming together, and some of them just not appearing at all on the palette, the individual elements really do need added work to allow them to work with each other as a whole.

Rice Pudding, Saffron, Green Cardamon & Pistachios, Banana Chutney (Served cold)

Here again the menu stated alot of different elements and again on paper they all seemed and meld with each other lovely, the chef must be praised here for stating that this is served cold on the menu, as I’m sure many people instantly think of rice pudding being a warm/hot desert and would be disappointed upon the dishes arrival.  On first tasting of the rice pudding you instantly get the sweet taste of your traditional creamy flavour, then at the end of the tasting on the back of your tongue you get a subtle hint of saffron which really compliments the sweetness well, I wasn’t initially sure how this combination of rice pudding and saffron would go but upon tasting it, I was very pleasantly surprised how nice this was.  The nuts which were placed on top of the pudding were just your standard nuts with nothing out of the ordinary done here, but disappointingly these were only placed on the top? No other sign of nuts were present throughout the entire dish, I was very saddened at this as they added such a great texture and taste to the palette when your mouthful contained one of the few nuts present.  The chutney was served in a surprising small quantity for the size of the rice pudding, and due to its subtle flavour it didn’t add anything at all to the dish, the first full bites had a subtle hint of banana which worked but once you got past these first few mouthfuls it was just undetectable on the palette.  The pudding overall was brilliantly cooked with the rice being just the right texture and to my liking with the main pudding being a brilliant marriage of creamy rice and saffron, but this is where the dish comes to a end in terms of excellence.  It needs some really added “umph” to lift the dish up in terms of flavours and due to it being served cold it does not have the creaminess of the rice to hide behind, and really needs to have a larger dose of banana and nuts to heighten this pudding.

The entire meal came to £22.75 for the food alone, which although is quite cheap I do feel the starter was slightly over priced for what this was, however the main course is a steel at £11.50.

Service was good throughout the night, but this was provided by a single waiter to the entire upstairs and because the food is required to be carried from the kitchen downstairs to the diners upstairs, we found he was not present enough to take further drink orders etc etc.  I do think he could do with extra help as towards the end of the evening when things started to become busy he looked more than stressed and flustered.

Overall – 5/10

At the end of the meal I found I was quite satisfied and full with the portions all being of a good size, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed as the menu promised so much in terms of flavour and fusion which just didn’t show in the actual eating.  All the dishes were cooked well with some elements such as the pork belly really showing promise, but the other areas of the meal are just a complete let down and at this moment do not work.  I believe the chef is more than capable but is trying too hard with his insistence of Indian fusion, which I think could work but his actual execution of this needs major work.

I would like to return in a few months in hopes that the menu, chef and waiters have had time to settle in and adapt/improve.

P.S I have to also mention that a fellow diner had the most amazing and at the same time disgusting desert I’ve ever heard of…… “Deep Fried Chocolate Brownie”

This was described as batter with liquid hot chocolate inside by my fellow diner who loved it!! I will also mention that the waiter equally describe it as “the artery clogger”, this is the first time I’ve seen this offered in a fine dining environment and just had to show the picture.


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