Tucked away on Thames Street in Bristol, with a beautiful view of the harbor across the street, lies Hourglass Brasserie. As the second half of the name would suggest, it’s French, and when you enter the elegant dining room full of dark wood tables and high back, cream-colored suede chairs, you are certainly reminded of the relaxed, upscale setting a French brasserie is supposed to project. The first half of the restaurant’s name is extended into the décor with a large hourglass on a table by the entrance, the flowing red sand reminiscent of a little of paprika or cayenne or another fine red spice. On each table sits an engraved hourglass. There’s a small bar to the right and the room is lined with vintage French beverage posters for vermouth, absinthe and the like. Overall, it’s a very inviting space.
It seemed appropriate to start the evening with something off the wine list, especially since it grabbed me at first glance. I’ve gotten so used to seeing the same wines on so many local wine lists – a tribute to the wine salespeople in the area, but a bit boring for the consumer. The list at Hourglass wasn’t expansive, about 40 or so bottles in all, but there was some good variety from many regions around the world. I didn’t intend on sticking to France, even in a brasserie, but I love Cru Beaujolais and knew the 2009 Georges Duboeuf Fleurie would work well with the range of dishes we were going to order. The list was nicely priced, too, with the added feature that any wine by the glass could be had by the bottle for only $28.
The meal began with some very good light, crumbly focaccia and we were served an amuse bouche of red pepper gazpacho with basil oil and basil chip. As soon as the small cups of soup were set down in front of us we could smell the bell pepper. Coupled with the basil oil, this made for a very aromatic few sips of the bright red soup.
My wife and I couldn’t decide on which appetizers, soups and salads to split and in the interest of the review we decided on getting one of each. I first tried the Hay-Smoked Scallops ($12) with garlic and anchovy relish, garden greens and lemon dressing. The scallops were perfectly cooked, but the standout for me was the garlic and anchovy relish. It was like a salad dressing on flavor overload without overpowering the scallops. The taste of the two main ingredients lingered on my palate in a very good way.
I had to try the Lobster Bisque ($8) with sweet poached lobster knuckle, mascarpone, vanilla bean and tomalley dust. It just sounded so good and the combination of mascarpone and vanilla bean was almost like a little kick of vanilla ice cream. There was much more sweetness in the dish than I was expecting, but it was nicely countered by the briny richness of the bisque. The Beet Salad ($10) with whipped goat cheese, raspberry leather, orange supremes and hazelnut vinaigrette was a big wow of a salad and might have been the favorite of my both myself and my wife. I love raspberries and this salad didn’t disappoint on that front. The beets were excellent and the vinaigrette tied everything together very well.
After the first course, we were brought a watermelon consomme as a palate cleanser. It was well seasoned so that it wasn’t just a sip of watermelon. For dinner I had the Rump Of Lamb “Cuit Sous Vide” ($26) with chickpea polenta, goat cheese panna cotta, harissa, olive oil poached tomatoes and cumin jus. My wife ordered the Spring Pea Risotto ($18) with edamame, lima beans, crispy arugula, truffle essence and parmesan foam. The risotto was light – much lighter than I expected for such a traditionally creamy dish. All of the green items in it made for a great combination and as vegetarian entrées go, I would be more than happy to eat meatless if that was my choice. But I went with the meat and was very glad I did.
The lamb dish was a standout, with lamb presented two different ways alongside a plate just loaded with some ingenious accompaniments. Lamb leg was served as a compressed rectangle of meat, underneath the chickpea polenta with seared lamb on top. That polenta had almost a hummus taste to it, but yet still came across as a traditional Italian polenta. The harissa and cumin jus brought out the feel of the Mediterranean and the goat cheese panna cotta was a rich, delicious kick.
For dessert we had a traditional crème brûlée, which came with a non-traditional side of plum compote. Our first thought was crème brûlée doesn’t need anything added to it, but then we tried the compote and proceeded to wipe it out. The evening was capped with another treat from the kitchen – lemon madeleines, which were excellently baked.
Hourglass Brasserie served us a wonderful meal with great wine surrounded by a very enjoyable atmosphere. It’s well recommended for a fine dining experience in the East Bay.