We got to Sonny Stores later than planned. I could lie and say my mate’s train from London was delayed but the simple truth is that we stopped off for a quick pint outside Bristol Beer Factory’s tap room on North Street.
Well, it’s thirsty work wearing face masks on the train from Paddington to Temple Meads and, anyway, I wanted him to get the full South Bristol experience during his fleeting visit.
Since I last ate at Sonny Stores at the end of last year, it has become the most talked about new restaurant in Bristol.
My last visit was shortly after it opened but lockdowns and stop-start trade has helped its owners redefine this modest little Southville business. It took a while but they now know what it really is.
What started out as an Italian deli with a few tables has morphed into the sort of neighbourhood restaurant relocating Londoners must already be writing home about.
Sonny Stores is named after the eldest son of husband-and-wife owners Pegs Quinn and Mary Glynn but it’s also a tongue-and-cheek reference to a Mafia gangster in The Godfather.
Prior to taking over this site – previously the highly regarded Birch restaurant – the couple ran their own lockdown pizza takeaway business from home.
Pegs had also worked at Bristol restaurants Bianchi’s and Ripiena, but before that he was a chef at London’s legendary River Café for five years.
And it was this latter connection that had lured my friend down from London for lunch. He’s a regular at the River Café and had eaten there twice in the past fortnight so he was well and truly in the zone.
The blackboard menu at Sonny Stores is concise, and dish descriptions are economical. The menu evolves throughout the week so it will be different on the next visit and the visit after that.
OK, our chilly pavement table was wobbly and space became a slight problem simply due to the amount of food we ordered, but this was a lunch against others are sure to be judged over the coming months.
A starter of potato bread was a show-stealer. Carefully layered potatoes were drizzled with honey spiked with fiery chillies and topped with crisp pancetta.
The textural contrasts and rollercoaster ride of sweet, salty and spicy made this a dish not forgotten in a hurry. Actually, I’m still thinking about it.
Silvery, salty Cantabrian anchovies were speckled with finely chopped oregano. An intensely garlicky bruschetta had been smothered with burrata as rich and runny as clotted cream.
Firm, creamy sweetbreads with fresh Italian peas were napped with a rich, sweet and fruity Marsala sauce.
A tumble of fine tagliarini pasta and chopped asparagus was dusted with a snowy shower of grated Parmesan.
Delicate carpaccio of sea bass wouldn’t have been any fresher had it been prepared on the deck of the Cornish boat that landed it.
A hillock of moist and boozy tiramisu was washed down with very good espresso.
I was enjoying myself too much to take a note of prices but let’s say starters are around £6 and most mains around double that.
For the quality of the ingredients and cooking, that’s a serious bargain.
My friend said it was as good as any meal he had eaten at the estimable River Café and at a fraction of the price.
That’s a serious compliment and the sort of high praise that Sonny Stores thoroughly deserves. Yes, it really is that good.
Sonny Stores, 47 Raleigh Road, Southville, Bristol, BS3 1QS. Tel: 0117 9660821.