News that one of Bristol’s best chefs had taken over at her local pub had clearly spread by the time we bagged a table at The Blaise Inn.
On what was only day two of food being served at the Henbury pub just outside Blaise Castle estate, bookings were strong and the place was already buzzing.
But then Louise McCrimmon gained quite a loyal following during her 12 years behind the stoves at the Second Floor restaurant at Harvey Nichols in Bristol’s Cabot Circus.
Prior to that, she had worked for a similar length of time at the Leeds Harvey Nichols but now, due to pandemic-elated redundancy, she has started another chapter of her career as a partner in her local pub.
McCrimmon and her husband joined forces with a couple of neighbours to take over The Blaise Inn, which has always been one of those tucked away drinking pubs ripe for the picking when it comes to a makeover.
The couple running it before retired and suddenly the freehold was up for sale. Which chef or ambitious neighbour could resist such a temptation?
And how refreshing that it has passed into the ownership of people living in the same road, rather than a greedy pub company hungry to make a quick return, or a developer with an eye on turning it into flats.
The pub has been spruced up and one side is now a designated restaurant area, but the character of this venerable inn is still there.
And so are some of the drinkers from the old days. A couple of flat-capped gents were nursing their pints in the bar when we arrived. They probably haven’t seen the place looking so busy for years.
McCrimmon and her business partners want to keep the village pub feel and although the food will inevitably attract people from all over the city, she doesn’t want it to become one of those pubs that feel like full-on restaurants with a bar.
McCrimmon is clearly enjoying time spent back in the kitchen and cooking for people. By the time we had finished the meal, she was out front mingling with diners, many of whom she knew from her Harvey Nichols days.
The December menu features many old favourites which will be familiar to anybody who ate her food before.
At £30 for three courses or £25 for two, it’s sensibly priced, especially considering the high quality ingredients she sources from local suppliers.
Always the sign of a good menu, there really wasn’t a single dish we weren’t tempted by – all the more reason to return as soon as possible.
It’s a concise seasonal menu with four starters and five main courses but even its brevity still allows McCrimmon to slip in a few vegan and vegetarian options – and all five desserts are vegan or vegetarian, too.
This isn’t fancy cooking, either. No froths or foams here, just proper, honest cooking.
A thick and silky parsnip soup was topped with matchsticks of crisp apple and a swirl of spiced butter. It was bowl of pure comfort and joy.
A thick slab of duck and pork terrine was a meaty mosaic served at the correct temperature (not straight from the fridge) and flanked by a few crunchy cornichons, good homemade bread and blob of nose-tingling Dijon mustard. A French bistro staple in a classic English pub.
McCrimmon has always been a keen game cook and it was good to see roast pheasant – breast and confit leg – on the menu.
Pheasant requires careful cooking and this was spot on, both cuts tender, juicy and full of flavour. It was served with just with some Savoy cabbage, pickled walnuts and parsley butter.
On a damp and cold night, slow-cooked beef carbonnade was a proper winter warmer. The meat fell off the bone and the roast carrots added a sweetness to the dark, rich sauce.
We also happily paid the £3.50 extra for side dishes of excellent hand-cut chips and buttered greens.
To finish, a properly wobbly crème caramel in a moat of dark brown syrup was served with mandarin segments to counter the richness and add a festive note.
A small puck of warm and fruity figgy pudding with boozy rum custard sauce was Christmas on a plate.
After a quarter of a century working for Harvey Nichols, McCrimmon may have wondered how restarting her career in a small pub kitchen might work out. She may well have even questioned herself about whether she still had the old magic.
But after this brilliant meal, there’s no doubt that she’s still got it and the Blaise Inn is as re-energised as its new chef and co-owner.
The Blaise Inn, 260 Henbury Road, Henbury, Bristol, BS10 7QR. Tel: 0117 9071115.
Get the best stories about the things you love most curated by us and delivered to your inbox every day. Choose what you love here.