Bristol fashion

May 17, 2010

Over the last year or so we’ve had tantalising hints that the city council was trying to establish some kind of independent-led specialist food area.  Both a redeveloped market and a relaunched Silver Arcade were touted as possible venues. 

Where things stand right now I’m not really clear. What I do know is that this could be a fantastic asset to the city centre.  I’ve just got back from a couple of days in Bristol and was really impressed with the  St Nicholas market area of the city there.  It’s a historic, slightly ramshackle area but one which seems to revel in it’s difference to the glitz of the nearby Cabot Circus development  – which in Leicester terms translates to the Highcross with all the usual retail suspects except with John Lewis replaced by an even more upmarket store (“Never mind Harvey Nicks, come to St Nick’s” read a T-shirt on sale).   

The food section of St Nicholas has a key anchor tenant The Source, a high quality food hall with excellent, helpful butchers, fantastic charcuterie (I got some tasty-looking finochiana – fennel-flavoured pancetta), wet fish and local fruit and veg.  There is also an informal restraurant attached serving modern British food, but what seemed to be bringing crowds into the area was the row of tiny independent cafes operating out of what were nothing more than lock-up sheds at the side of the market. Festival-goers may well know the Pieminister stalls, and this is the  home of the business, selling seriously tasty originals such as free-range chicken and taragon or wild mushroom, asparagus and white wine. Then there was Bab Mansour, a North African outlet  where I had tender and tasty  Morrocan lamb with fruity cous cous, accompanied by mint tea,  in a magnificently atmospheric little seating area done out with low cushions, exotic wallhangings, beaten copper tables and so on. Next door was a Carribean diner and a juice bar, just further along a sausage shop with a dozen or so varieties, an olive bar, a Portugese cafe with feijoda and piri-piri chicken and an awesomely stinky cheese bar – with, I’m pleased to say, a large wheel of Sparkenhoe Red Leicester very much to the fore.

The great thing about the area was that it did not seem exclusive or playing up to some aspirational foodie image, but it did feel, modern, quality and exciting. Apparantly there are weekly farmer’s markets and monthly Slow Food Markets, but on the day of my visit there just seemed to be a focus on simple, fast, tasty food done by small-scale entrepreneurs with a love of their produce. By 12 o’clock there were queues at every outlet as the office workers came out for lunch. 

Leicester’s city centre manager could do worse than pop on a train down to the South West to see how they’ve done it.  The more go ahead retailers in Leicester Market, and new generations of potential cooks and producers, deserve the right setting.


3 Responses to “Bristol fashion”

  1. Ben said

    Sounds good! I’ve been saying for years that we need something similar to the food courts you get in places like Singapore with lots of small food outlets and a communal seating area. Beats eating BLT sandwiches from the supermarket!


    • riponia said

      Yep, that’s absolutely my point Ben.


      • Chris said

        Hey – I thought we did have a food court in Leicester. Haven’t you guys been to Fosse Park. There’s a Pizza Hut, MacDonalds, KFC and Costa all under one roof !

        Or did you have something else in mind ? 🙂


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