The South Bristol restaurant where meat is cooked to 'pink, velvety precision'
"Almost two years after an unmemorable first visit, The Malago has found its feet"
When I first visited The Malago soon after it opened its doors in June 2017, I was less than impressed.
Long waits for food, overcooked fish, an underseasoned main course and a cloying, rubbery pannacotta were just a few comments I made about that meal and until last week I hadn’t been back.
Although it’s part of my job to check out places as soon as they open, often when the paint is still drying, I’m fully aware that it takes time for new restaurants to settle into a groove and iron out the creases.
The simple fact that The Malago is still open and busy is testament to the hard work of sibling owners Helly Highland and John Carnegie.
Since they opened just under two years ago, Bristol has seen a wave of high-profile restaurant closuresso it’s always a relief to return to a small family-run operation that’s doing well in such difficult times.
Highland worked here previously when it was Za Zu’s Kitchen so she certainly knew her customer base and she appears to have retained old regulars and gained plenty of new faces along the way.
A prime corner site on North Street, the spacious room has an open kitchen at the far end and a sun-trap terrace that will come into its own now that summer is officially here.
When I arrived, a few locals were perched on stools at the bar, supping pints of Bristol Beer Factory Badlands ale and nibbling chorizo scotch eggs from the snacks menu.
As well as Bristol Beer Factory, which is a stone’s throw from the restaurant, other local breweries and producers appear on the drinks list, including Wiper & True, Arbor, Thatchers and Turbo Island gin named after the notorious patch of scrubland on Stokes Croft.
I kicked off with a cocktail and even though I couldn’t spot a Negroni on the list, a request for one was met with a friendly ‘yeah, of course, no problem’. I may have been ordering off-piste, but it was as good a Negroni as I’ve had in bars around the city and sensibly priced at £8.
After the simpler daytime menu, things move up a notch in the evenings. The menu sticks to the seasons so ingredients like wild garlic, asparagus and artichokes were all present and correct on an early April menu.
A starter of crab cakes (£7) was a dish with a high comfort factor. Piping hot pucks with the correct ratio of crab to potato, they were served with a cool cucumber and horseradish salsa with plenty of pep and a thick, dill-speckled mayonnaise.
To follow, a 6oz marinated lamb rump (£18) was treated with respect and cooked to pink, velvety precision. It was accompanied by an assertive mustard mash, sweet caramelised shallot purée, chargrilled baby gem lettuce, pearl onions and a seasonal jumble of peas and broad beans.
It’s increasingly hard to find decent staff but service at The Malago was impressive from start to finish. Friendly, chatty, efficient and quick, nothing was too much trouble and everything was delivered with a smile and a sense of humour.
When I asked the waitress for a tip on the best dessert, she was quick to steer me towards the lemon meringue pie (£6) although forewarned me it was a deconstructed version of this classic pud. ‘Sorry for using the D word,’ she laughed, rolling her eyes as she took my order.
Even the 'deconstructed' lemon meringue pie won Mark over (Image: Mark Taylor)
Deconstructed it may have been but the lemon meringue pie turned out to be one of the stand-out dishes of the meal, with a zesty lemon sorbet, sharp and fruity lemon curd, shards of crisp and buttery biscuit and sticky, shaving cream-like meringue.
Almost two years after an unmemorable first visit, The Malago has found its feet and it now feels more like the finished article. Well-executed seasonal dishes and savvy service, it has grown into a neighborhood restaurant to savour.