Timbrell’s Yard is centrally located in busy and beautiful Bradford-on Avon, just by the river in one of the fine old buildings with cream coloured stone and appealingly wonky angles. The fact that the whole building leans back like an elderly gentleman relaxing into a favourite armchair adds to its charm. Inside we found a mixture of traditional and modern, with much use made of natural materials – lots of bare wood and stone – while distressed furniture, metal and industrial-style lighting add a contemporary spin. One enters through a flagstoned courtyard (nicely delineated with low barriers formed of railway sleepers – an idiosyncratic touch) full of tables of patrons lazily enjoying drinks, and so to the buzzing bar.
We found it a little difficult to find someone to take us through to the restaurant and thus our table, but once we had located a member of staff he could not have been more affable – an attribute which all the staff shared. Every waiter we encountered was extremely friendly and helpful whilst also being polite and professional, with only their rather informal dress (jeans and t-shirts) and worrying tendency to call us “guys” to detract (do we look like extremely combustible straw-filled dummies?). Rather incongruously, it was the slightly hippy-looking sommelier, whose looks and long locks intimated a more laid-back and casual attitude, who addressed us more correctly as “Sir” and “Madam”. Our waiter, though young, was excellent. He asked for feedback on the new item on the menu (the lamb) and duly passed it back to the kitchen. He also forgot about Tristan’s fish and when we reminded him apologised so profusely that we ended up apologising for reminding him. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever heard a waiter say “It’s entirely my fault”. Impressive.
The informal air is continued through to the tables, which are undressed, with no tablecloth, just a single candle in a basic candleholder and the correct glasses and cutlery. The wooden chairs are mismatched between the tables, giving an air of slightly studied casualness. Lighting is provided by a large ceiling light, somewhat industrial in tone; and the walls a light-ish honeyed grey, with the railway sleepers in the courtyard echoed in the vertical, slightly rough wooden panelling.
We found the fact that there was no music incredibly refreshing. In fact, a rather attractive light jazz was playing in the lavatories, which would have been pleasant in the restaurant as well, but the lack of popular music was an absolute joy and showed a confidence in the establishment and the pleasures offered by the food and drink. In fact, the only negative point of a “comfort” nature arose from the fact that whether by some vagary of airflow from the front door or because of (slight) leakage round the edges of the single glazing, wafts of cigarette smoke found their way from time to time into the restaurant: singularly unpleasant to non-smoking diners, and especially those concerned that their young children aren’t subjected to health-damaging fumes.
The menu itself isn’t too extensive (a too-long menu is always a dangerous sign), yet still offers a good range of options, with starters broken into three sections of three items – “little things”, ”small plates and starters” and salads – the latter as either starter or main sizes. There are then a good range of nine main course choices, with a focus on meat but with some fresh fish and also more-interesting-than-usual vegetarian options. The sides all sounded extremely homely, comforting and tempting. The back of the menu lists suppliers – all very local, with meat from Bristol, fish from Poole, vegetables from Wiltshire and organic dairy products from near Frome. Bread and cakes are from Bath’s famed Bertinet Bakery, and Timbrell’s Yard make their own ice-creams; honey and most dry goods are local, while others are fair-trade. This all seemed jolly impressive, even before we tasted the goods on offer.
The wine list, on the other hand, was just slightly disappointing in that it doesn’t offer descriptions so appears rather basic, and although there are a reasonable number of red and white choices it would have been nice to see, for example, Gewurztraminer or some slightly more unusual grape varieties or locations.
We went for a bottle of Bogle Zinfandel, which was beautifully rich and powerful; dark purple in colour, with deep, ripe black berry fruits on the nose and a dark, suave and sophisticated taste of forests, with a tiny hint of sweetness tempering the blackness. A gorgeous wine that went very well with our food.
For starters both my husband and I went for one of the light bite options. My cauliflower and smoked Dorset red croquettes were excellent; with a spicy bite (I detected the inclusion of chilli), and a very strongly cheesy smoked flavour, these were gorgeously fluffy and light on the inside and beautifully crunchy on the outside with a perfectly-done breadcrumbed exterior. They were served with a creamy mayonnaise which was needed to cut through the salty smokiness and worked extremely well. Mr Marshall-Luck’s venison chipolatas were richly and darkly flavoured and, although they were not numerous, their intensity rendered the whole very satisfying, whilst leaving plenty of room for the steak to follow. The accompanying mushroom ketchup could have answered the venison more in piquancy, but was nevertheless well textured.
The following steak was superbly flavoured and cooked: some might find it a little on the fatty side but we found that this enhanced the flavour. Not only was it a generously sized steak, especially for the price and the cut, but it was accompanied by hand-cut chips – deliciously crunchy on the outside; melting within – and a simple rocket salad, which complemented the other items perfectly, being slightly peppery in flavour, and therefore holding its own against the steak, whilst in no sense overpowering it.
My lamb, cooked with pearl barley and spinach, was the only slightly disappointing dish: the meat was not particularly flavoursome, and the texture could have been firmer and more cohesive. The pearl barley was fine, but didn’t particularly help to lend flavour, and there could have been more presence in the spinach, too. Overall, we felt a little more work was needed on this dish.
Tristan, though still only a year old, nevertheless had the fillet of sea bream from the children’s menu. This came (served with rocket and a few chips) beautifully fresh and unadulterated by breadcrumbs (a pleasing touch), and was wolfed down with the greatest of relish.
We followed the main with a cheese course – one has a choice of two out of five English cheeses. We opted for the White Lady from Glastonbury and the Dorset Blue Vinny. The White Lady was the perfect goats’ cheese – a soft, creamy cheese coated in ash and with a delicate flavour and just slightly crumbling texture. I could have sat and eaten it all evening! The Blue Vinny was also excellent – a soft, creamy cheese with a piquant bite; these two were complemented by a deliciously fruity apple chutney, thinly sliced apple and celery, all of which, together with the accompanying savoury biscuits, made for a very satisfying course.
I couldn’t resist a glass of the Noble Wrinkled from Australia – a beautifully golden colour, sublime nose of fat, sun-drenched sultanas and a slightly dark, very rich and honeyed taste of citrus fruits tempered by lashings of honey and nectar. It worked beautifully both with the cheeses and with the following dessert. This, the chocolate and sea-salt caramel tart, was very well done, except that (an all-too-frequent complaint in British restaurants) the pastry was a little on the tough side. The chocolate, however, resisted the temptation to be too sweet and the sea salt brought out the flavour well. It was accompanied by extremely sticky honeycomb; a tried-and-tested combination with chocolate which brought an extra dimension to the dessert. The ice-cream, with a slight lemon flavour, was a little more incongruous but by no means unpleasant.
We also ordered a vanilla panacotta for Tristan. I cannot comment on this, as Tristan ate every last morsel, including with the very (and naturally) sweet rhubarb that it came with –but I think we can take this as a definite sign of approval.
We finished with tea and coffee and even this impressed. Tea was Clipper’s organic English Breakfast and very good it was too, whilst the coffee tended more towards the Germanic / Austrian end of the beverage – that is to say that it met my husband’s extremely high expectations, in being actually drinkable by him and not something that could pass for tepid dishwater. No petits fours – but, to be honest, these weren’t necessary and perhaps would have been slightly incongruous in the setting and with respect to the tone of the meal.
By the end of the meal we had managed to stay a good couple of hours later than intended (making for a relaxed evening of a good four-odd hours) – but we were never made to feel that we had out-stayed our welcome; it ended being one of the most enjoyable review meals we’d had for some time. Warmly recommended.