Sonny Stores, 47 Raleigh Rd, Southville, Bristol BS3 1QS
Sonny Stores: I know a meal is good when a dish conjures up my dead Mum's approval
47 Raleigh Road in Southville is hallowed ground. Originally the site of the legendary Birch, the likes of which Bristol will never see again, it then became ‘Birch’ under new management. With the menu never changing and seemingly dictated by spreadsheets as opposed to seasons, I never ended up going because I was never enticed to in the first place. Today, Sonny Stores has people tearing out each other's eyes for a space inside and out. And beggars shall not be choosy.
Retaining all the subtle class of Birch Mk.1, natural light pours in against plain white walls, splashed across simple wooden tables and chairs. More importantly, it serves up plates that soothe the anathema of a day job.
Slices of golden farinata are almost immediately laid down in front of me, with the assumption that I need the time to peruse the menu. I do not. Being nimble enough in the thumbs to bag a table due to a cancellation that day, I’d already made up my mind. And it starts with their potato bread with hot honey and pancetta.
Hot honey. You’ve seen it. Everyone’s doing it. Once innovation becomes mainstream, it's simply a case of who does it best, rather than doing it at all. And lo, there was Sonny’s.
This utter roof tile of carbs two-ways is scaled with thin slices of potato and blackened on every corner, every edge and positively glistening with lacings of this hot honey. But it’s the scotch bonnets that have been steeping in this elixir that I cannot take my eye off of.
Practically glowing with heat, they resemble glacé cherries with that exact same hue of juicy, translucent red seen in every film that launches a nuke. The kind of button that, if locked in a room with it, having no idea what might happen if you did press it, you’d do it anyway. Planked with ribbons of thoroughly rendered pancetta, it’s something that sighs ‘brunch’ just to my tune. Evoking deeply rooted memories of thick American pancakes piled with gnarls of bacon and maple syrup, but when you substitute the pancakes for potato smilies, soda farls and hashbrowns- and slightly burn them all.
Likewise, the sweetbreads with courgette, capers and lemon have all been scorched. Whilst the char is great on the courgette along with all the acidity and salinity it’s anointed with, the sweetbreads don’t fare so well. A little firm, the charcoal bitterness bludgeons the dish beyond what this marriage of flavours can take.
The flipside of this, however, is the turbot carpaccio, fennel herb, purslane, lemon and Capezzana olive oil bursting with zest and the nose of cut grass with mellow aniseed. Quietly seasoned with toothsome Purslane, there’s an incredible array of flavours that are so harmonious, it speaks volumes of how fish is philosophised here.
Quail, green beans, roast datterini tomatoes, prosciutto, dijon. Sonny’s deftly strikes that balance of rustic and refinement; that welcome Trojan-horsing of expectation which has my hands drumming in my lap through pure anticipation.
This bird has been cooked with love. Tremblingly succulent and blushing, it’s served whole so that the honour of making a pig's ear of the carving, is all yours. Essentially spatchcocking it with my face, I’ve gone full-piranha and although I know it’s all around my chops, I couldn’t give a toss. Seasoned with the prosciutto, the fat melts away almost instantaneously with the heat of the Quail, the green beans delivering their sweet tender snap.
But the roast datterini tomatoes tie it all together- their mellow acidity dousing the plate with this intense seeded juice, backed up with the tingle of dijon. Sonny’s appears to insist on the kind of cookery that had me fawning over Bitch Mk.1 - deceptively simple, rife with technique and offered with affection. Sweetbreads notwithstanding.
Because it’s so bloody humid, no tart or even ice cream is going to cut it. The erudite Lucy who has picked the short straw and has ended up waiting on me, is of St. John’s fame and tells me that there is a dessert honouring her former workplace on the menu today. A strawberry granita served with a shot of frosty vodka. Contrary to most, booze in my dessert doesn’t tend to move me but given that I’m tacky to the touch in the sticky warmth, I throw-in with Lucy. And I’m glad I did.
‘I’d sip some vodka, a bite of granita first, then pour it over the rest over’. Lucy strikes again with excellent counsel.
One of my mum’s favourite things was fruit sorbet. We once stood in the Mall at Cribbs Causeway after she got a round of Häagen-Daz in from the stall, and told me you can always tell a good sorbet if it transports you to the field of the fruit when you close your eyes. With hers firmly closed as if accessing REM straight away, I followed suit only to reopen mine to see her still savouring the experience in earnest.
This is probably one of the most enduring memories I have of her; this dessert whisked me back in time, so fast I suddenly felt small in my adult clothes, up higher on the stool and alarmed that I now also wear Birkenstocks unironically, like she did. Capped off with the sparky chill of iced vodka, I am replete.
Sonny’s continues to be saturated in bookings and more power to them. I’ve banged on before about restaurants bobbing and weaving their way through these times with great aplomb, but heck, I mean it. Southville, thou art blessed once more.