I always feel that the uniqueness of a dining experience can be gauged by people’s reactions when you inform them of your plans for the weekend. Ranging from a dismissive ‘that sounds nice’, to the more interested ‘let me know what it’s like’ or ultimately ‘you lucky b*tch, how did you swing that one!’ Needless to say when I said I had booked to eat in a shipping container in Bristol, my dining announcement was met more with a look of WTF – it got worse when I informed them I was also having a pint with a cat (a story for another time!)
You see the shipping container conversion revolution (wow that’s a mouthful!) hasn’t quite hit Cardiff yet – although it is spectacularly on the cards in the form of Box City in Cardiff Bay. However, it’s certainly not a new concept in the UK, with examples such as Box Park in Shoreditch and Croydon and Cargo 1 and (soon to be) Cargo 2 in Bristol. While many are home to offices and retail units, I do feel there is something just a little bit special about a restaurant that can operate in such a confined space…
Based in Cargo 1, the aptly named Box-E accommodates just 14 diners (with an additional 4 at the kitchen table). Owned and managed by husband and wife team Elliott (former head Chef of the Michelin starred L’Ortolan) and Tessa Lidstone, it’s certainly up there with one of the most intimate dining experiences I have had…so far.
And yet, as we entered Box-E, were greeted and took our seats, I found myself missing the warmth and personal touch that perhaps I had been expecting from such a small restaurant. I liked the interior; considered and in keeping with the shipping container concept, plywood had been used and it was fantastic to be able to see into the open kitchen. However we dined early, and until about 7.30pm were pretty much the only guests in the restaurant. Intimate dining…yes…atmosphere…no…and it pains me to say this, but I felt like I was dining in an actual box. It was also unfortunate that while I enjoyed being able to see the Chef at work, there was no interaction with us as guests. If I am honest I found this a little strange, seeing as we were the only people dining and sat less than 2 metres away at the time.
Needless to say the front of house staff were polite, and while maybe a little too unobtrusive, were more than happy to answer any questions we had in regards to the menu. They were also keen to point out an offer they had on one of their selection of wines (a point I will come back to later…when I get over the undeniable fact that I really am falling apart now!)
Unsurprisingly for this size of restaurant, the menu is succinct. It changes daily, is led by seasonality, and with a selection of just four starters, three mains, two desserts and a cheese course, it certainly made my life easier in terms of choosing a dish.
On arrival – a plate of thinly sliced, fresh white crusted bread and the other with whipped butter flavoured with seaweed, which was light as air. At this point I hadn’t eaten all day, and this was so good we ended up having two servings.
Charred hispi cabbage, crab and lemon butter | £8.00
With a selection of four starters on the menu for the evening, we opted for dishes of crab and smoked trout. Well presented, a large wedge of slightly charred hispi cabbage formed the base of the dish, while a good amount of crab meat combined with a delicious lemon butter, flowed artfully over it.
While, the trout starter appeared a little more haphazard in presentation, the thin slices of beetroot, beetroot cubes, dill and yoghurt complimented the well cooked trout.
Smoked Trout, heritage beetroot and buttermilk | £7.00
Onglet with Moroccan spiced chickpeas and yoghurt | £16.50
The main course required a touch of culinary education, as unfortunately I hadn’t come across Onglet in my previous dining experiences. The French name for a cut more commonly known in English as hanger steak or butcher’s steak, (apparently it is said that butchers recognised its superior flavour, and therefore never put it on display but kept it for themselves). I can now see why they kept it hidden away! A beautiful, cut of medium rare meat with a good beefy flavour, it combined well with the Moroccan spiced chickpeas layered underneath. However, I found the portion a touch on the small size, and personally would have preferred something a little more filling than the accompanying chickpeas.
Chocolate mousse, pistachio and cherries | £6.00
Heading back to that wine list…I have to say Box-E did have a good selection but with £22 being the cheapest bottle, the mark-ups were a little scary. Needless to say when we were informed they had a carafe of Chablis Mont de Milieu Premier Cru on offer (it wasn’t, it was just available as an alternative to a glass or bottle), we thought we would opt for this. On the production of the bill and at £44 for a 500ml carafe, and £66 for a bottle that retails on average at £21, I felt a bit twp (for the non-Welsh amongst us…bloody stupid!). I also realised I needed my eyes checked as I had read the price per glass as opposed to the actual price!
Taking that issue into account and throwing into the mix that in order to access the toilets you need to go outside (just fantastic…if it’s raining or cold!), down the metal stairs (my knees are to put it nicely, lacking the flexibility they used to have), and you require a key code to access them (I have the memory of a goldfish and I had to write it down!) – and my sincere apologies to all those aged over 65 currently reading this, but to be honest I left Box-E feeling like I should be collecting my pension on Monday!
- They have a Chef’s kitchen table – four stools at a high table directly overlook all of the action in the kitchen – here you can experience a blind seven course tasting menu for £45 per person.
- Seriously if you can fit a kitchen and dining space in a pair of shipping containers, and take the No. 85 spot in the UK at the National Restaurant Awards Top 100 in 2017, in your first year of trading – you must be doing something right!
- You have to applaud Elliott and Tessa Lidstone – at the end of the day they are chasing their dream and doing something they both love. It is fantastic to read the story behind the restaurant.
Would I go again?
Probably not (at least not while Box-E is based there), that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the dishes, it was more down to overall dining experience. The dishes were tasty and customer service was good, but overall the experience didn’t excite me as much as I thought it would. However I will follow Elliott Lidstone’s career with interest, and I believe Box-E has a bright future.
Would I recommend Box-E?
I will say that overall the portion sizes are a touch on the small side, and if you’re a vegetarian the choice on the menus is limited. With only one dish per course to choose, it may be worth contacting them prior to visiting to check what is being offered.
The more I read various reviews, the more people recommend the Chef’s table; so to be honest I am a little annoyed with myself I didn’t opt for this experience. Overall, I would recommend going and checking Box-E out, especially if you are local to Bristol. There is certainly an element of uniqueness to be experienced by offering this level of dining in this sized space.
Box-E is open for lunch from Wed-Sat 12pm-3pm (last orders) and Tues-Sat 6pm-9.30pm (last orders).
Address | Unit 10, Cargo 1, Wapping Wharf, Bristol, BS1 6WP
Web | www.boxebristol.com