Bianchis, 1-3 York Rd, Montpelier, Bristol BS6 5QB
Bianchis: It's part of a cabal that's laughing up its cash-padded sleeves at your expense
I’m in no way superstitious, believe in karma or think ‘vibes’ are somehow a kind of currency; I’m a man of science and reason. However 1-3 York Road is definitely haunted or at least built on ancient burial grounds, and I know this because the last time I was there it was Bell’s Diner- the scene of a brutal mass murder of my expectations. By now you know this isn’t going to segway positively but stick with it, because I did.
The launch of an independent restaurant in Bristol is not unusual but lamentably neither one’s closure, for which I believe people have started to acquire another sense. It starts with the odd Wriggle deal that eventually metastasizes to the palliative care of First Table, Eat Early and City Munch. You watch the decline of once-great places helplessly and remember the first time you saw a komodo dragon bite, venomate, track for two weeks then eventually kill, a beautiful animal or innocent child. It makes you ask, ‘why them and why now?’ and often this seamlessly leads to the righteous indignation of asking yourself ‘why not them instead?’
We arrive outside to a freshly white-washed exterior, still bearing ‘Bells Diner’ above like some sort of sick joke. Much like returning to a murder scene that’s since been painted over and bleached, I still can’t forget what once took place here. However, the building is undulating with expectation in such a way it hums- yet a chill continues to runs down my knackered spine, face contorted with thought. The knot unravels and I realise- The Loco eye. It’s here too. As if on cue, we’re gleefully informed that ignorance is basically expected here, because of the zeitgeisty way the Italian language has been deployed throughout the menu no mortal could ever be expected to really know all of it and Lord knows, we’re all human in The Loco Eye. And that’s because The Loco Eye is God.
The bresaola. Just waiting to be mispronounced.
I slide my signed J-Dilla passport photo from under my fresh new flat peak, kiss it gently and whisper a prayer.
The bresaola is dappled with fat and neatly spiced- it comes dashed with lemon and black pepper which I’d prefer to administer myself, but then I’m probably don’t have the skillz. The Prosciutto San Daniele is the most intriguing, describing itself with flits of dark woods, chestnut and truffle bound with exquisitely melting fat. The stone bass carpaccio is reassuringly fresh with a subtle pearlescent shimmer, firm and sweet. With the exception of grated horseradish, it’s a vibrant and reasonably well-balanced dish- the mellowness of the Meyer lemon delivers an understated brightness.
The salt cod and ‘nduja frittellas land amongst the killzone and we unanimously reach for our targets. Frittellas like most deep-fried things have a fairly simple criterion- crisp exterior and a well-seasoned interior that is preferably softer than the outside. It’s a satisfying morsel, the residual heat from the fryer being the only thing that causes me to eat it in two bites.
Laid out like cobbles are ovoids of blushing octopus, strewn with plump mottled capers bursting with intense saline that washes boldly with the boquerones-like brine. It’s so delicious, I almost do something mental like order a second portion. But I gather myself and fixate on the next round, groaking for this charcoal bone marrow, Bull’s heart tomato, garlic bruschetta. Eating bones is a facet of our evolution that, unlike the appendix, hasn’t become redundant.
Like the beginnings of so many dishes, some absolute legend decided to stick that in the fire too with a view to scooping out the magma. Fine crescents of red onion, some eviscerated Bull’s heart tomato, squintingly oiled and bruised basil leaves adorn the marrowbone absent-mindedly not unlike distant relatives surrounding their wealthy and dying kin for one last selfie- their deathbed a tepid thud of chewy, damp bruschetta that has kissed a grill but couldn’t bring itself to use tongues.
Plating is, at least to me, a fascinating aspect of food. It tells you how the restaurant itself feels about a dish and itself. Mimi Sheraton once quipped as if in binary, that food is a science much less an art, but that’s to be expected of someone whose first love is science and doesn’t feel obliged to ‘understand the chef’. I resented this seemingly one-dimensional opinion until this pork chop lands in front of us. The bold char on the cut is a mini fist pump whilst the salsa is an edible shrug. Stashed underneath as if out of shame, is the potato lucasi- soggy and coy. The real mystery here is the prosciutto left sweating on top, like shreds of used johnnies.
To heal the wound, the cacio e pepe winds its way toward us with emulsified sweet nothings- the reassuring under-the-table hand squeeze of a lover amid a family feud. Though the real blessing is my amazing and cultured brain because I already know the ‘casarecce’ in ‘casarecce cacio e pepe’ refers to a ‘short type of pasta’. I sit smugly, knowing several other words for things in Italian also. In all iterations that I’ve seen of this dish, it’s never been this colour. Instead of rich flaxen pasta leopard-spotted with black pepper, it’s murky and a little sharp, as a cheddar might be. In any event, it’s not so much a tender and radiating cwtch, but a non-committal hug from a resentful pickpocket.
Somebody must be watching over me- perhaps the spectre of Dilla or maybe Nipsey protects me tonight because next is the ‘carne cruda, aged parmesan, radish, celeriac leaf’. But psych! I know what carne cruda is! The Loco eye now frothing at the bit whilst I think about how selective the use of Italian is throughout the menu. The leaves have been handled in the same way Lennie might handle a puppy in George’s absence, the carne cruda evoking images of Lennie’s brain matter scattered by the river. Parmesan planks itself across the plate, it too complicit in covering up the remains of the carne cruda, the way a panicked killer might.
Medusa’s weave channels the next course. Onyx and broody is the bucatini nero, cuttlefish vermouth ragu. It’s sweet with reduced vermouth and enticingly oceanic, though the cuttlefish is a touch over I find myself making concessions as the bucatini is lovingly al dente as well as the undisputed master of sauce transport.
Everyone said I was mental in suspecting heat is getting hotter or pans are heating up more quickly- but I say to them, ‘exhibit B- the confit duck leg, barley risotto, radicchio, figs, balsamico’. Burning food can be great- sometimes a masterstroke – it’s en vogue to a point but the radicchio isn’t burnt, it’s comprehensively fucked. The duck skin is for the most part nicely rendered but isn’t helped by the slicks of seeping balsamico that ensicken thefigs. The risotto is the voice of reason against this confused tirade of fat, sugars and fibrous soot. Homely and repleting, it’s everything I’d wished the cacio e pepe to have been. But comparison is the death of joy and right now I’m wishing I’d just gone to Wilsons.
It’s so crazy how one word can have, like, multiple meanings? Isn’t it? Nowhere is a better example of that than Bianchis. Here, the meaning of the word ‘burnt’ varies from ‘scorched with a blowtorch’ to ‘cremation’. With this in mind, we order the ‘burnt lemon tart’ which has been one of the most talked-about deserts in recent memory. It's a roughly cut piece, a bit still clinging on from the previous slice, but I chalk this up to ‘trattoria rustica’ or whatever it’s called to make it sound not like a mistake or a bit shit. It’s a lemon tart and, believe me when I say, nothing special.
The bitter chocolate torte and I at least share a sentiment but regardless, it’s a dry-sided piece that resembles a cross-section of an abandoned ant farm repurposed for burying almonds. It too comes with an unceremonious splodge of sour cream which screwballs both the face and mind.
The bill comes. On average our estimates are 30% higher than anticipated. Whilst a slightly less patronising arm of the ‘Loco Empire’ than Pasta Loco itself, I feel the same little gut punch that one might feel from a friend's ‘I told you so’ after a disappointing one night stand with a local fuckboi. ‘Love like you’ve never been hurt’ is a cute but gullible notion and one that The Loco Eye has profited from again; a valuable lesson in remaining cynical.