Zero Degrees has been a fixture on Bristol’s restaurant scene for over ten years. The building still looks vibrant and new, designed to make the most of the steep slope on which it’s built. The different levels of the eatery have a very distinct feel. Entering from Perry Road, upstairs is light and airy, all steel and glass, the epitome of industrial chic, making the most of the views over Bristol. Guests get down to the main space below via a staircase making a show-stopping entrance deep into the dramatic heart of the restaurant which has striking dark red walls, and a smooth black marble floor.
Invited to sample the new spring set menu of mains paired with beers, I was tempted to the a la carte by Gino, the new manager. However I really liked the concept of the food pairing, so for once I stuck to the brief.
Aside from the great space, and the cool vibe, the underlying concept of Zero Degrees and what sets it apart from all Bristol’s many other chic restaurants is its micro-brewery. Zero Degrees was one of the forerunners in the first wave of micro-breweries, and craft beer is having a resurgance. Five core beers are brewed behind the bar and a couple of specials which change regularly.
Zero Degrees have three mains on their spring pairing menu – garlic chicken pizza, salad, and a spaghetti piccante -with three different beers – Pilsner, wheat beer, Pale Ale – all brewed right here on the premises. I was intrigued by the garlic chicken pizza with Pilsner, and so was my companion, Fee. After a polite ‘no you have it’ she magnanimously allowed me to have the first choice. Fee liked the idea of piquant pasta, but not the Pale Ale, so she plumped for the salad with wheat beer.
Upon questioning, Gino described the rationale behind the pairings. The bubbles of the Pilsner slice through the richness of the pizza. The wheat beer complements the salad and the more robust Pale Ale stands up to the strong flavours of the pasta sauce. I got it. I’m not obsessive about food/beverage matching generally, but it makes sense to drink something that enhances the meal, rather than competing with it.
The Pilsner arrived in the tallest glass I have ever held. It was fizzy and flavourful. I have managed pubs and restaurants in my time and have felt it my duty to taste a few Pilnsers along the way. This Zero Degrees Pilsner was a very good beer. All the better for being brewed just a few feet away from our table. The wheat beer was cloudy (of course), fruity, and had sweet notes of banana and bubblegum.
We enjoyed the beer, overlooking Christmas steps feeling Fridayish and relaxed to be starting the weekend early. Everything is open, we could people-watch and see into the core of the restaurant; the kitchen. I prefer an open kitchen, for me it is part of the theatre of eating and Zero Degrees extends this concept further as diners can also see into where their beer is brewed.
My pizza was pale and interesting, relying on red onion and parsley to set off the cheese as it was cooked without pomodoro. The base was crisp and soft at the same time, which for me is the mark of a good pizza dough, as it showed it was cooked hot and fast. The garlic was pleasantly present, delicate and not overwhelming. The lager was a good pairing with the dish as the hoppy flavour and bubbles cut through the garlic creaminess and the mozzarella, and it had a crisp clean finish. A winner. I can see why the Pilsner is Zero Degrees’s most popular beer.
The vegetarian salad, was huge with chunky roasted vegetables, egg, cheese, and garlic bread. The only thing lacking was a salad dressing, but perhaps this is deliberate for eaters who are watching their weight. However, I think salad should come with a dressing, at least on the side, to give it more character. Attentive Gino offered a selection though. The wheat beer was light and went well with the salad’s peppers and artichoke.
There is a thing that I notice when I order food in a restaurant – a mild anxiety that someone else will have a better meal than I will. This time though I won lunch choice competition. But, reader – please note – I did share my pizza with my companion.
After a leisurely and substantial lunch we had to pass on puddings, which all looked delicious. There were sweet pizzas, tiramisu and my personal fave pudding of all time affogato. Never mind, I’ll be back.
After lunch we had a chat to the Gino and Master Brewer Simon Gueneau who were clearly proud and knowledgeable about their beers. The beer is fresh, with no preservatives, as it does not travel on a drey lorry then have to settle in a cellar. It is fermented in-house and then transferred to the maturation tanks from where it connects directly to the beer tap.
The concept of pairing Italian food which relies so much on good quality ingredients and simple cooking, with beer brewed on the premises works well and is no doubt why Zero Degrees has proved so popular since its arrival. Long may it continue.