BANK, 107 Wells Rd, Totterdown, Bristol BS4 2BS

- Review -

BANK: Worth the interest?

Gentrification is a relatively insidious process if you’re in amongst it; gilded tendrils glacially sprawling their way to certain neighbourhoods until all of a sudden, house prices become a punchline to a prevailing economic joke, spirulina and oat milk make their way into the water system. Possibly ketamine. The last time I’d checked in my hometown of Bristol, it was Bedminster’s time to shine. Now it’s apparently Totterdown’s turn with BANK- a restaurant set in an old Lloyd’s bank. It couldn’t be more on the nose if you tried.

BANK (sorry, just three more times, I swear) is perched on top of a Totterdown hill, commanding a view of all that was gentrified before it. From the attempted slice of Berlin that is Spike Island, the gastronomic plaza of shipping containers at Wapping Wharf to the St. Philips industrial estate with the nearly court-ordered spit n’ saw dust breweries, Bristol has it all, neatly tucked under its rolled beanie.

I first saw BANK via sponsored Instagram posts and quite honestly, it made me nervous. It gives off spreadsheet and investor strategy energy much like Birch Mk. II did, in lieu of soul and character. Housing the kind of ambition that drags my own into sharp relief. Driven by zero waste, Dan O’Regan opened in 2021 and it’s a reflection of the young man himself, bright, assertive and with clearly more going on behind the scenes than you’re led to believe.

Taking our seats, certain dishes begin to leap off the menu. The sourdough focaccia comes with three choices of butter; Mission crab, black garlic amino & roasted tomato and miso. Opting for the first two sees three springy, golden-edged slices that, whilst both equally sapid round-houses to the mouth, are suffering. Spread as if rationed and applied with brute force as if too chilled respectively it’s a slightly flat, albeit delicious, start.

Tempura oyster mushrooms arrive in a batter that might not be the lithe chrysalises anticipated but are nonetheless crisp yet close-fitting sheaths, toothsome and fubsy within. The Caesar miso dressing is a lovely touch, bolstering this ode to umami but a few more wouldn’t go amiss. As much as I hesitate to bring that sort of thing up in These Times.

A slice of Duroc pork belly comes heaped with acerbity- a Weeping Tiger salad baring all teeth, lime and chilli stuck between them, in an undergrowth of fresh mint and coriander. Tender slices of carefully cooked octopus bring that element of surf and turf that I’ve so much time for- although there isn’t quite the snap and crack you’d cross your fingers under the table for in the rind, it’s a captivating plate regardless. With its swirling shocks of a luminous SOKO vinaigrette and blood-red cherry hoisin, there is obviously great skill at work here.

You’d think my intrigue would’ve peaked with this Dayglo surf and turf number, but no- let this come in the form of that which resembles a dessert from range. A mound of braised beef shin interwoven with chipotle that’s near chocolatey in appearance is tumbled with savoury profiteroles that are billed as gnocchi Parisienne. Personally, this is an upgrade. Tearing open these cheeseless gougères and smearing the ricotta laced with a nicely smoked bone marrow caramel pocketed around the dish, it's all thoroughly balanced. This is probably one of the more interesting dishes I’ve demolished in recent memory- each subsequent bite spurred on by both perplexity and fascination. Sure, the caramel could’ve done with warming a little to produce unbroken lines and the beef shin sauce is slightly under-reduced but overall, it’s perhaps the standout dish due to this interplay of rib-sticking comfort and refinement.

Comparatively, the actual desserts are a bit of a step-down. Panna cotta, at least for me, isn't the most exciting thing and can often feel a bit ‘by-the-numbers’. Despite this, BANK maintains a sense of playfulness with cornflakes and burnt honey with a dense, bitter lick of chocolate ganache. Ultimately, it’s a textbook panna cotta and to that end, a satisfactory dessert.

The pineapple tarte tatin is neither mind-blowing nor does it disappoint; even if the caramelisation could’ve been taken further into its beloved sombre, sticky realms. Still, the pineapple is pudgy with sweetly tempered juice and topped with miso ice cream is a well-trodden path neatly reworked. There was a peanut butter-based option that, if they hadn’t run out of it just that moment, you can bet your buns you’d be reading about that instead.

BANK is, at its core, a relatively exciting development. Borrowing from Japan, Thailand, Central Europe, to South America (via Califonia at times) there’s a blueprint for potential brilliance. If gentrification insists on unfurling its tendrils in this neck of the woods, let it do so dressed in those signature Dayglo sauces. It’s largely a positive experience to the point where I feel duty-bound to visit again in the future as O'Regan clearly has a vision with a body of undeniably skilled staff to realise it. To quote another half-man equally hellbent on checking in with the time and space, 'I’ll be back’.