Walk around Bristol’s harbourside and you’ll find countless waterfront bars, pubs and restaurants but few match the stunning views from the beer garden at The Cottage Inn. Once a Victorian timber store, this stone-built building on Baltic Wharf has panoramic views of the floating harbour that stretches as far as the bonded warehouses of Ashton and the rows of colourful houses clinging to the hills of Clifton Wood.
When I arrived on a sunny mid-week evening, the tables at the front were already occupied and all tables inside were reserved for diners. Down on the water’s edge, there were several groups of people soaking up the rays with their pints after work.
This corner of the harbourside has a genuine community feel that extends beyond being simply a place for boat dwellers. The Baltic Wharf caravan and motorhome site provides The Cottage with plenty of business as do people involved with the numerous watersports including the gig rowing club.
The pub has long been part of the Butcombe brewery – or the clumsily named ‘Butcombe Pubs & Inns (part of Liberation Group)’ as it likes to be called these days – and it is looking a lot smarter these days than it did before. A light blue colour scheme and nautical paintings give the pub the sort of seaside feel you might expect in a pub on the Devon or Cornwall coast.
It’s also a popular haunt for sweaty joggers popping in for a cool drink after running around the docks, and dog walkers. Canine visitors are made to feel welcome and there’s even a jar of ‘help yourself’ dog treats in the bar.
Butcombe’s own beers dominate the pumps and taps here. If you don’t fancy the Original (there are two pumps for this so it’s clearly still the best-seller), there’s Rare Breed Pale Ale, Gold Golden Ale, Stateside Session IPA and Goram IPA.
Also on tap is Butcombe’s ‘triple filtered’ lager Underfall named after the boatyard around the corner. Cider drinkers can enjoy Thatchers and there’s also an extensive range of gins and cocktails.
The food offering at The Cottage has improved hugely in recent years. Butcombe has pumped a lot of money into the food side of its pubs, with venues like The Ostrich in Redcliffe and The Whitmore Tap on Whiteladies Road being as much a draw for diners as they are drinkers.
The head chef at The Cottage is Ash Bonner and his menu combines pub favourites like West End Farm gammon steak, thick cut chips, Clarence Court eggs, pineapple and piccalilli with burgers, sandwiches, snacks and nibbles. There’s also an emphasis on seafood to reflect its waterfront position.
Next to the menu description for the Butcombe Gold beer-battered haddock and thick cut chips, minted peas and tartare sauce, it has ‘best fish and chips!’ with an arrow and a different font. With places like Salt & Malt in Wapping Wharf and Catch 22 on College Green within short walking distance, that’s a bold claim so I had to order it to find out.
The fish and chips comes in two sizes. The small one is £11.95 and the large one £15.95 – prices that might raise an eyebrow if you’re used to buying your battered fish from the local chippy but let’s not forget the fact you’re also paying to eat it with that stunning view outside.
Views and prices aside, I have to say it was a cracking plate of fish and chips. The thick chips were nicely seasoned, the bashed peas seriously minty and the tartare sauce chunky.
The batter around the haddock was golden and impressively crunchy, with no greasiness, and the large flakes of white fish steaming hot and juicy. It certainly lived up to its billing as the ‘best fish and chips’.
The Cottage, Baltic Wharf, Cumberland Road, Bristol, BS1 6XG. Tel: 0117 9215256.