Tom is tempted to order everything and lick his plate clean at an Italian restaurant in Bristol.
Sonny Stores is an Italian restaurant on the site of an old off-licence in Bristol’s Southville. We sit outside, as is the way these days, at a small table that struggles to fit the seemingly endless cavalcade of plates – this being the sort of place where you really have to order everything. Because the food here is River Café quality, at almost local café prices. Which makes sense as chef and co-proprietor Pegs Quinn worked at that peerless West London institution for four years, before moving down to Bristol and shaking the pans at the doubly adored Pasta Ripiena and Bianchis.
We start with a soft sliver of farinata, that Sicilian chickpea pancake, anointed with grassy young olive oil, then home-cured Cantabrian anchovies, sweet and subtle, and heavy on the oregano. There’s burrata, fresh and gloriously lactic, served on chargrilled, garlic-laden toast, and a crisp, clean little gem salad, snowy with grated parmesan, studded with almonds, and heady with fresh mint.
Then the potato bread, dear god, that bread. ‘Like pommes Anna on toast,’ sighs my friend Mark, a veteran eater and not easily impressed. Thin slices of potato, piled high on bread, then drizzled with habanero-infused honey, and topped with crisp slices of pancetta. The honey packs a serious punch, and brings together the pork and potato in blissful unity. The flavours are big but never brash. Raw wisps of deliriously fresh seabass are doused in olive oil, gently seasoned, and finished with a squeeze of lemon. The very essence of piscine simplicity.
Sweetbreads, gently spongy, come with fresh peas and a marsala sauce of such profound depth and elegance you want to lick the plate clean. But even the famously easy-going Bristol might balk at such a sight, so I make do with my fingers. Fresh tagliarini is as delicate and joyous as a Puccini aria, each strand coated with a creamy parmesan emulsion, and the whole dish studded with asparagus. And because we hadn’t ordered quite enough food, a margherita pizza, all puffy, blistered cornicione, thin crust, puddles of mozzarella and a tart tomato sauce. Oh, and finally, a tiramisu, light as a cumulus cloud. Beautiful food, charming service and incredible value. Yet another Bristol belter.
About £20 a head. Sonny Stores, 47 Raleigh Road, Bristol; sonnystores.com.
DRINKS: Olly’s supermarket stars
I’m encouraged to see supermarket wine buyers taking risks, selecting wines from off the beaten track. Marks & Spencer’s Found range is a case in point and my Portuguese wine of the week from Aldi is exceptional. If you’re going for a classic summer rosé, Belle Année is near-perfect. Hats off to the British family behind it – the Cronks – a tenner for this joyous rosé feels like a short-cut to the South of France.
WINE OF THE WEEK: MIMO MOUTINHO LOUREIRO 2020 (11.5%), £6.49, Aldi. Apple sherbet with tropical flair and sharp vitality. The best value white wine I’ve tasted this year.
ZALZE BUSH VINE CHENIN BLANC 2020 (13%), £7.25, Morrisons. A sliver of silky pineapple, perfect pairing with light salads.
FOUND MOSCHOFILERO & RODITIS 2020 (12%), £8.50, M&S. Exceptional! This scented Greek summery white is a must-taste wine.
MOST WANTED ORGANIC MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2019 (13.5%), £9.99, Waitrose. A full-bodied, purple, juicy, black cherry joy. An epic pizza or pasta wine.
MIRABEAU BELLE ANNÉE ROSÉ (12.5%), £10, Tesco. A cherry spliced with a lemon. A delicious poolside rosé. Dive in!