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If you know Bristol even a little bit you’ll know that things aren’t always as they seem here, and that this city seems to harbour surprises around every corner. And Mathilda’s Chilli Bar, one of Bristol’s hottest new restaurants, is a prime example of this.
Hidden away just off the concrete jungle that is The Bearpit, the units surrounding Mathilda’s are certainly no oil painting. That said, don’t expect a vast change when you step through the door – Mathilda’s are keeping it simple in every way, shape and form. The interior is clean, simple and very basic – black walls, white tiles, an open kitchen at one end and furniture that looks like you sat on it and scrawled your name in it at school. But don’t let this put you off – appearances can be very deceiving! (and I promise you won’t find ‘Meg woz ere’ scrawled on any of the tables!)
Mathilda’s do one thing – Chilli. And I mean it – the only main course on their menu is Chilli – meat, mixed bean, or a mixture of both. They also have a handful of sides and desserts, and the drinks menu could be written on the back of my hand. But again – don’t let this put you off – I’m getting to the point!
When we visited it was a Wednesday, and having settled ourselves in and had a look at the menu our lovely waitress informed us that it was Free Beer Wednesday. Now THAT certainly got our attention! Every Wednesday, with every main meal you can choose a free can of Thatcher’s or Red Stripe (how brilliantly Bristol?!) and I repeat – this happens every Wednesday! If we weren’t thinking it already, this was when we started to realise that we might be onto a bit of winner…
So the grub! As I said, the mains are incredibly simple – meat chilli (or slow cooked beef brisket to be precise), mixed bean or half and half. The sides are similarly simple – deep fried pickles with blue cheese sauce, onion rings with BBQ dip or corn on the cob with lime butter. We opted for the pickles and onion rings to start, two helpings of half and half, and one mixed bean.
Now where to start…
From the beginning. The deep fried pickles. OH. MY. DAYS! I recently raved about the deep fried jalapeños and pickles at Small Bar, but these are on a different level. Not better, not worse, still absolutely blinking amazing. Whereas Small Bar’s are battered and greasy (in a good way, yo!), Mathilda’s are crunchy, crispy and when you dip them in the blue cheese dip, downright heavenly. The onion rings are coated in the same batter, so are equally amazing, but give them to me with the blue cheese, all the way – I’m not a big BBQ fan. The starters passed in a steady hum of “Mmmmmm” and “Aaaahhhh” – very happy customers so far!
So onto the mains! In my experience, restaurant Chilli can be so varied. Some places go for really heavy on the tomato, some restaurants slow cook it for so long that the meat is indiscernible from the sauce, but nine times out of ten it’s always really, really tasty. You just can’t go far wrong with spicy, slow cooked beef. Mathilda’s have taken things up a notch. Their beef brisket chilli is rich, spicy, saucy and seriously meaty – big old chunks of steak are always a winner in a chilli, and if, like me, you go for the half and half you get the delicious combination of the mixes bean chilli, that’s so well seasoned and spiced that you’d never know it wasn’t choc full of beef. All Chillis are served with guacamole, jalapeños, sour cream and a very generous portion of rice – you can also add cheese for 50p (which of course we all did). The portions are so generous in fact that none of us could finish, and Cloe ended up taking the leftovers home in a lunch box!
I think you can tell by now that I’m a big advocate of Mathilda’s, so if you’re thinking of eating out over the bank holiday this weekend but you don’t want to spend a fortune then this is your place – all mains are less than a tenner, and if you’re cheap (like me) you can book a table on a Wednesday and even get your booze for free!
Top marks Mathilda’s – loving your work!