My night in Bristol’s rebel restaurant

Ra-ta-ta-tat on the big red door.

Entry into the wood panelled hall of Quay House.

Once Bristol’s customs house, now disused offices, the Quay House is squatted on behalf of Cloak and Dinner, Bristol’s rebel restaurant.

Seems criminal that such a place lies empty.

Good on the squatters, for invoking Section 6 and making such creative use of it.

For four nights, Quay house is host to what the Guardian calls the hottest ticket in town.

I pass the candlelit lounge where guests will be served gin and tonic.

Up another flight, past the red-curtained dining area, also wood panelled and candle-lit, where the diners will be served a four-course meal with vegan and vegetarian options.

Up the next flight to the brightly lit kitchen milling with volunteer helpers, which reduces to a core team of about seven, myself included.

An anarchist kitchen is the opposite of a  Gordon Ramsay one.

Amidst cries of “Table 7 just finished their starters” and “four vegetarian mains”, the kitchen is calm.

No one is throwing their weight around or shouting.

Anarchists believe – as do I – that human nature is basically cooperative.

And cooperate we did.

“Best borscht soup I’ve ever tasted,”  says a customer at the end of the night, the dreadlocked waiter reports.

Eve had made a soffrito of celery, onions, leeks – added grated beetroot and water to simmer. Blended when cooked. With Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar, grated lemon zest and sugar to taste. Indeed the best.

For starters: pillows of filo pastry filled with mashed pumpkin, carrots, wilted rocket and walnuts, served with Caerphilly cut from a truckle of cheese.

Steam rising on bean stew served on a cabbage leaf on top of potato mash flavoured with mustard seeds.

The venison comes from Fair Game in Nailsea. The young farmer shot the deer, skinned and butchered it last week. Chef Christopher cooked it with sloe gin and the bones until aromatically tender. “The venison was superb,” says another guest who visits the kitchen to praise.

Canterbury pie about to be plated. The recipe for sweetened pastry comes courtesy of Irish chef, Richard Corrigan, while apple puree topped with thin apple slices is from classic cook, Mary Berry. The vanilla ice-cream is homemade, by Eve.

The vegan option at the open window.

I make the pies, following Sarah’s  instructions, based on the available ingredients. No scales, just guess work. My sort of cooking.

Crush biscuits in a bag, mix with melted Pure organic marge (just enough to moisten crumbs). Press into a plate. Mash bananas with ground almonds and cinnamon. Drizzle melted dark chocolate, add hazel and walnuts and drizzle more chocolate. That’s it.

The banana mixture was too slurpy to cut cleanly so it became a concoction in a ramekin with chocolate and nut lattice broken to sit on top.

The washer upper working with grace all evening, backbone of the operation.

Darren, Saturday’s chef, sweeping the floor in readiness for his shift the next night.
His day job, The Kensington Arms, lent the linen for the rebel restaurant.

“Some people like vegging out in front of the TV. But something like this brings people together,” he says.

Cabbage in crates. Darren considers how to use them for his chef-shift.


Skye Gyngell’s cookery book, My favourite ingredients, amongst the coats.


Art by Libby in the lounge where gin and tonic is served as the punters arrive.

Happy customers.

“Most restaurants have no soul,” says a guest. He and his girlfriend heard about the rebel restaurant through Facebook. The 50+ covers a night got booked up as soon as word got out.

Each chef has £75 a night to conjure with, money made from a previous project, topped up with food donations from local food businesses.

People paid what they could afford. Last night we made £800 – to go towards the next project.

Everyone gives their time freely. I end the night with a heart full of love.

9 responses to “My night in Bristol’s rebel restaurant

  1. Just wish i could have been there Elisabeth. The cooking crew are welcome to squat my house and cook if they want. My landlord wont have to know. And if he comes back unannounced it’ll serve him right. Viva the Restaurant Revolution. Everyone loves a good homecooked meal.

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  2. This is just plain old joyful, there’s no other word for it. The food looks delicious, generous, beautiful, made with love. The whole evening seems to exude optimism and cheerfulness. Thank you for sharing this Elisabeth, it’s wonderful.

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  3. such a great evening and such a great idea. looks like the food was wonderful too. Really wish I could have been there

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  4. Sounds wonderful – transition in the making.

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  5. looks amazing – what a fantastic concept, wish I’d heard in time to participate! More like this is definitely needed…

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  6. Great report! Looks like a really special place.

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  7. Thank you to all for all these great comments. Really encouraging to read – especially for the brave squatters.

    It is an indication that this is an idea whose time has come: the combination of creative subversion for the sake of not-for-profit generosity and home cooked meals.

    Nadia, Deborah, Chris – you would have been in your milieu…next time! I will keep you posted.

    Edial and Licked Spoon – your thumbs-up on report warmed me.

    Choclette. Yes! Transition – now!

    Another world IS possible.

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  8. I felt that I was there. Brilliantly written.

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