Posted: November 07, 2014|
Bordered by Corn Street, Welsh Back and Baldwin Street, this compact corner of central Bristol is being hailed as Bristol’s new, self-styled Italian Quarter because of its high percentage of pasta and pizza restaurants.
The latest is Aquila – which means Eagle – owned by Pete Dunford, the entrepreneurial son of ex-Bristol Rovers chairman Geoff.
On the ground floor, a shiny new kitchen is open for all to see, with wall-to-ceiling glass doors that allow diners to observe chefs making fresh pasta and throwing pizzas into the oven.
In the larger upstairs dining room, window tables provide a unique new view of Baldwin Street below and carefully positioned mirrors in corners and on pillars give the illusion that the place is even roomier than it is.
Although wall artwork and plants had yet to arrive on this first-week visit, cream leather upholstery on chairs and banquettes complemented unclothed dark wood tables.
The head chef is Emilio Titillo, who was previously at The Herd in Bath, and the majority of chefs are fellow Italians.
A signature starter of triglie fritte (£7.95) was as simple as it was assured – two lightly floured fillets of red mullet fried until crisp-skinned and juicy within, dribbled with what was described as a basil emulsion, but was, in old money, a loose and punchy pesto. Much of the pasta is made on the premises and each of the dozen options can be ordered as a starter, or main course.
Desserts are a strength here – unusual for Italian restaurants, many of which tend to buy in puddings and rarely stray from the tried and tested tiramisu or ice cream option.
Bristol’s city centre is now home to a brand new Italian restaurant in the form of Aquila. After two years of planning applications and extensive redevelopment work, the restaurant – located next to the RBS building on Baldwin Street – is open for business from 11.30am on Wednesday, October 29th.
This family-run restaurant is the first standalone restaurant for the family: previous business ventures include a dairy, a few hotels in Bath and The Beeches Hotel in Brislington, meaning that while they have plenty of hospitality experience, Aquila is something a little different.
Set over two floors (and with a lift for disabled access to the entire building), Aquila features a small waiting area which opens out onto a ground floor bar – complete with cocktail offering – and the restaurant’s wine station. The downstairs dining area seats around 60 people, with a mixture of normal tables and large booths, which can seat up to 10 people.
Those dining downstairs will also have a great view of the semi open plan kitchen, where head chef Emilio and his team are hard at work creating a range of authentic Italian dishes.
Upstairs features seating for another 100 people, along with a separate bar to speed up drinks orders. The floor to ceiling windows also give great views over Baldwin Street, from an angle from which the road is never normally seen.
There are some beautiful touches to this well-designed restaurant, including some stunning chandeliers.
Head Chef Emilio hails from Naples, with other members of the kitchen team from Molise, Sicily and other regions of Italy. Emilio himself joins Aquila from a stint at Joya in Bath, and is keen to introduce Bristol to authentic Italian regional dishes that are not often found on other local Italian menus.
While you’ll find some recognisable dishes on the menu, you’ll also find plenty of dishes that are a little bit different. Starters are priced at between £7 and £12, and include dishes such as crispy red mullet with basil emulsion and confit tomato, as well as zucchini and goats cheese layered in a carasao bread stack.
Mains are divided into four sections. In addition to a few salads, there are 12 different pasta dishes, priced both as starters and as mains, including classics such as a carbonara (£5.95/£9.95) as well as more unusual options like the fusilli with fresh king prawns and a pistachio cream (£6.95/£11.95).
The Secondi menu includes both fish and meat dishes, ranging from £9.95 for a homemade beef burger to £24.95 for a whole grilled Dover sole served with fresh parsley and citronette. You’ll also be able to choose from 10 different traditional Napolitana pizzas (either deep or thin crust) – with the flour, tomatoes and mozzarella imported directly from Italy to ensure the highest possible quality and authenticity. Again, there are a few more unusual options on the pizza menu, including the Friarelli E Salsicce (£9.95): a pizza topped with smoked mozzarella, Italian sausage, turnip tops and a tomato base.
Aquila also offer a selection of sweets (I’m looking forward to trying their cannoli…), as well as an express lunch menu, priced at £8.95 for one course, £12.95 for two or £15.95 for three courses.
It’s great to see somewhere new and independent opening up on Baldwin Street, and I wish Pete and his team the best of luck. We’ll be heading in very soon to test the place out…
Sian Griffiths heads to Aquila for an evening of fine Italian dining in one of Bristol’s newest restaurants…
Bristol has welcomed a steady stream of new restaurants of late, and Aquila is one of the most recent and most luxurious of them all. Located in what’s now being dubbed as Bristol’s ‘Italian Quarter’ due to the number of Italian restaurants nestled in this corner of the Old City, Aquila (meaning ‘eagle’) is a family-run, modern Italian restaurant that quite simply oozes style. This building on Baldwin Street is hard to miss, having undergone a multi-million-pound investment to turn it into a haven of fine Italian dining in a setting that is at once elegant and relaxed. Owner Pete Dunford explains: ‘Our investment reflects our passion for great Italian food, and our passion knows no bounds. Our commitment to bringing the best in fine dining to the people of Bristol is paramount.’
Before the official launch of this impressive restaurant, I was thrilled to be invited to try it out for myself. From the outside, the full-length windows stretching from floor to ceiling are most impressive, and I hoped that the theme continued inside.
It most certainly did. On arrival, we were greeted by Steve Mason, who joined Aquila from the Michelin-starred Crown at Whitebrook, Monmouthshire, and we were immediately charmed. He led us past the ground-floor bar and wine station, through the spacious 60-seat restaurant, towards our table – a plush cream leather booth with a sleek dark wood table – and brought us a glass of sparkling Prosecco to enjoy as we took in our surroundings. Design is quite obviously key here: the shimmering chandeliers dangling from the high ceilings were impressive, the mirrors were carefully positioned and the split-level layout, with 100 seats and a second bar upstairs, was very neat.
From our table, we had a great view into the kitchen, where Neapolitan Emilio Titillo, previously of Joya in nearby Bath, heads up the team of chefs (the majority of whom are Italian, I was pleased to learn). The authentic Italian menu – with a few modern touches – was an absolute delight, with its array of familiar fish, meat, pizza and pasta dishes. Amidst such opulent surroundings, I was pleasantly surprised at the competitive prices, which prove that fine dining can be approachable and affordable.
With a simple but superb Portobello con caprino (Portobello mushroom baked with goat’s cheese, pine nuts and truffle oil) and very inventive spuma di parmigiano (crispy Parma ham and carasao bread served on a Parmesan foam), we were off to a flying start. But it got even better as we moved onto the main event. I must admit to being tempted by one of the ten different Napolitana pizzas (how could I not be with six Italian chefs in the cucina?), but decided upon the rack of lamb, served perfectly pink with bread sauce, on the recommendation of our host. Deliciously succulent and coated in perfectly crisp Parmesan and mint crust, I was in heaven. Meanwhile, my fellow diner plumped for delicate and thinly sliced veal topped with Parma ham, sage and mozzarella in a white wine sauce. Again, it was sublime and showed real skill.
While I’ve frequently been disappointed by the dessert offering at Italian restaurants, this wasn’t the case here. It’s not just gelato and tirimasu – in fact, there’s not a tirimasu in sight. If you want your sweet fix, I can recommend the indulgent chocolate fondant Emilio (yes, it’s so good the chef named it after himself), with a rich and gooey melt-in-the-middle chocolate centre that flowed out as I cut through it – a chocoholic’s dream.
My verdict? Aquila exceeded expectations. The food was every bit as good as the lavish surroundings suggested, without charging sky-high prices, and the service was highly professional. It’s a testament to the place that diners can feel just as comfortable ordering pizza (which I’m dying to try) as they would ordering something more elaborate.
Does Bristol’s city centre need another Italian restaurant, asks MARK TAYLOR, as he visits the newest addition to Baldwin Street
It might not have the sultriness of Sicily or the romance of Rome, but Baldwin Street and the surrounding area is being hailed as Bristol’s new ‘Italian quarter’ because of the rising number of places serving pizza, pasta and other Neapolitan staples. Admittedly, that might sound like a load of PR fluff, but you can’t really argue with the fact that there are suddenly a lot of Italian restaurants – and even a newly opened ice-cream parlour – dotted around the centre, especially if you ring-fenced Corn Street, Baldwin Street and Welsh Back.
The newest kid on the block is Aquila, which is owned by Pete Dunford, whose dad Geoff used to be Bristol Rovers chairman and has fingers in all sorts of entrepreneurial pies, from hotels to haulage. The Dunford family’s business connections certainly help, and there were plenty of well-known local captains of industry dining in the restaurant on the midweek lunchtime we visited. I’ve never seen so many chalk stripe suits and briefcases – and it has been a long time since I detected the retro whiff of Old Spice (or was it Brut?) in the air.
The original plan for this new two-floor building was as a hairdressing salon, but the space has been used well, with the 160-cover restaurant set across two floors. An open kitchen with wall-to-ceiling glass windows is the focal point of the ground-floor dining room, allowing diners to observe chefs at close quarters. Upstairs, window tables look down on bustling Baldwin Street and across to Bristol Bridge. Chairs and banquettes with cream-coloured leather upholstery are complemented by unclothed dark wood tables.
It’s all very sleek, and the restaurant is clearly aiming to attract a similarly well-heeled clientele to that attracted by nearby Italian eateries like Aqua and San Carlo, although the excellent value ‘express’ lunch menu (£8.95 for one course, £12.95 for two or £15.95 for three) is sure to appeal to diners regardless of their current bank balance.
Head chef Emilio Titillo used to work at The Herd steakhouse in Bath, so he is used to cooking for big numbers, and his team is almost entirely Italian, which certainly adds to the authenticity of the cooking, not to mention the lively banter audible from the kitchen. The menu, too, treads pretty familiar ground, with its selection of fish and meat dishes, salads, pizza, pasta and risotto, and prices are sensibly structured, with many pasta dishes available in two sizes.
I kicked off with arancini gourmet (£6.95) – three crisp-on-the-outside balls of firm, sticky rice, peas and fibrous, slow-cooked beef served on a pool of rich and silky ragu sauce. To follow, orata all’acquapazza (£17.95) – a generous whole sea bream perfectly cooked in a parsley-flecked, garlicky fish stock and served on the bone with soft and sweet roasted cherry tomatoes. Although the dish was served with crushed potatoes, an additional side dish of zucchini fritti was worth the £3.45 price tag – the crisp, lightly fried slices of courgette were seriously addictive.
Rather than buy-in desserts, as many Italian restaurants do, Aquila unusually has its own dedicated pastry chef, and the pudding menu is well worth leaving a space for. An individual apple tart (£6.45) comprised overlapping, razor-thin slices of apple was served with a jug of spicy, cinnamon-speckled sabayon sauce, although I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out that the soft pastry could have been a little crisper.
The general manager here is Steve Mason, whose background includes Michelin-star restaurants, including The Ledbury in London, Michael Caines’ Gidleigh Park in Devon and The Crown at Whitebrook in Monmouthshire. He has also curated the excellent wine list, which isn’t exclusively Italian, but certainly features some of the country’s most exciting bottles. His wine recommendations and pairings were spot-on.
A stylish restaurant with contemporary Italian dishes matched by excellent wines and service smoother than the finest Tuscan olive oil – Aquila, which means eagle, is already flying high.