From French food to foraging, George Livesey lists a diverse range of influences at his Bristol bistro. Andy Lynes reports
Bulrush doesn't look exceptional. Set next to a sandwich bar at the end of a row of shops in the Kingsford area of Bristol city centre, you could mistake it for just another neighbourhood bistro. But one look at the array of menus in the frosted window tells you that this is somewhere quite special. How many neighbourhood bistros serve soy-glazed beef cheek, roasted bone marrow, violet artichoke and pear kimchi (£19)?
The dishes encapsulate 31-year-old chef and co-owner George Livesey's approach: a heady mix of Roux classicism, St John rusticity, Asian influences and foraged ingredients. What makes it all work is Livesey's knowledge of those apparently disparate elements. He spent nine years within the Roux empire (Albert was his chef sponsor at the Academy of Culinary Arts in Bournemouth and he was part of Dan Cox's opening brigade at Roux at Parliament Square); learned how to cook tripe and to brine at St John; is a regular visitor to Japan, where he's staged pop-up events with his brother's Anglo Japanese Brewing Company; and he forages on his parents' farm in Derbyshire.
Livesey opened Bulrush in November 2015 with partner Katherine Craughwell, who runs front of house, after test-driving the idea at a series of supper clubs in east London in 2014. After a site in Oxford fell through, the couple widened their search for properties to Bristol, where they found 21 Cotham Road South, that had previously been run by local legend Stephen Markwick as Bistro 21 in the 1980s. Within a week of the launch, The Bristol Post was tipping Livesey for a Michelin star.
Impressive stuff, considering Livesey has only recently increased his brigade to three chefs plus a kitchen porter, and was for a time running the kitchen alone. And for a relatively small restaurant, Bulrush offers an impressive amount of choice, with a seasonally changing nine-course tasting menu and a vegetarian equivalent (both £48), an à la carte menu and a three-course set lunch for £18.
ent best-selling dishes have included a starter of barbecued leek and baby turnip (£7.50) served with an unusual sauce. "We get standard baker's yeast and bake it until it's really brown, blend it with leek stock and emulsify it with butter," says Livesey. "We cook the leeks on a Japanese barbecue and serve them in the sauce with salt-baked turnips from Good Earth Growers in Cornwall, chanterelles, pickled turnips, powdered chanterelles, and wild garlic buds that I picked near my parents' farm and pickled. They're almost like a wild garlic caper and they really bring everything else to life. That dish is very us; it's very simple, but very complex in its flavour."
Yeast also makes an appearance as a topping on a Guinness cracker, served as a snack. "We cook porridge oats with Guinness, butter and cream, blend it to a really thick paste, let it cool and then spread it on a sheet and put it in the oven," he says. The resulting crackers are topped with crème fraîche blended with baked yeast, dried yeast flakes and grated Parmesan.
Miso is another umami-rich ingredient favoured by Livesey, who has served the paste that he ferments from soy beans and koji culture in everything from a dessert of white chocolate mousse, black bean miso parfait, passion fruit and roasted white chocolate (£8) to a delicious and unusual starter of miso-glazed cod collar with dill crumb, pickled gooseberries, pickled celery, wheatgrass and spirulina sauce (£8). He also makes the Japanese fermented drink kombucha with anything from cabbage to Guinness.
Although Livesey has welcomed rave reviews in the national press (The Guardian described his food as "thrilling" and The Times called it "sublime") he admits to being frustrated at not having the time to develop his food. He sees dishes like mallard, medlar jelly, faggot, charred Hispi cabbage and chicken of the woods ketchup (£19), that have "less on the plate, but the flavours are much bigger", as indicative of the direction his food will take.
"We're not the finished product, not by any means," he says. "If we were perfect, we'd have three Michelin stars. We try and do the best we can, every single day. Regardless of who's coming into the restaurant, we want everyone to have a nice experience."
From the menu
- Barbecued parsnip, Guinness kombucha, cured egg yolk £7.50
- Sunflower seed risotto, smoked beetroot, sweetbreads £8
- Braised snails, Red Desiree potatoes, confit chicken £8
- Brill, cuttlefish, cauliflower, mushroom £19
- Pheasant, swede, chestnuts, sprouts £19.50
- Venison, suet pudding, rowanberry jelly, swede £21.50
- Chocolate delice, crème fraîche yogurt sorbet, Horlicks meringue £8
- Barbecue clementine, mandarin sorbet, star anise £8
- Stout ice-cream, brown butter sponge, hawthorn £8
Bulrush21 Cotham Road South, Bristol BS6 5TZbulrushrestaurant.co.uk