Continuing my series of Bristol light-biteries, I checked out Friska twice in as many weeks, having wanted to drop by since seeing them open shortly after I started working across the bridge.
The store is on my walk into the office from the train station so I am reminded of it every day, but had failed to make an appearance in there until now.
Friska’s slogan is “Feel Good Food,” which of course draws all kinds of thoughts into your head, from the usual (“It must be expensive”) to the ludicrous (“It’s probably bland”). Their branding works to drum up a fun, light and airy feeling about their food – as does the establishment; furnished relatively minimally, with long oak tables and benches, a few fridges thrown up against a random wall and a large open kitchen area behind the counter.
The kitchen is almost completely exposed and there are multiple chefs and kitchen hands busily cooking away, always appearing quite frantic. I see this in the mornings too, even when the shop floor is empty, and this gives a good impression. I hate walking into an establishment when all eyes are on you, and placing and order means having to break up a gang of nattering staff who have had nothing to do since the last customer came in.
I guess that Friska must do a lot of corporate orders, and this is what is keeping the kitchen staff so busy. This service is heavily promoted in their leaflet literature and on their website.
On my first visit, the vegetable Thai red curry with pad noodles caught my eye. I’m a firm believer in the notion that a meal should only really contain meat where it is of the importance to the dish – making a good sauce with fresh vegetable chunks and good noodles can be spoiled by gratuitously adding some chicken just because you think you have to.
In this case, I felt that there was something missing – the sauce was thin and it was more of a soup than a curry. It was mildly spiced, and the vegetables were few and far between – I found myself spooning up watery, spicy broth rather than eating a curry with noodles.
Despite this, I wasn’t deterred. It was, admittedly, an average lunch, but it wasn’t terrible – so when I was told that they had switched from their winter menu to a spring menu I wanted to check it out to see how different their offerings were.
I was enticed by the Lebanese lamb meatballs – it’s hard to find a good meatball, I think; especially lamb ones. Beef meatballs are hit and miss, depending on what spices are used and how they are bound into their spherical shape (I swear some places use PVA glue).
Not Friska, however. These were some of the tastiest meatballs I have eaten in a while – even more so than those made by my own father, who prides himself on having a recipe passed down through the generations (or taken from a Gary Rhodes cookbook in the mid-1990s if I’m to expose the real truth).
Presented in a well-blended tomato sauce, the balls of lamb are juicy on the inside after the initial warm bite, and when dipped again into the sauce the tomato gets right in there and takes up residence ready for the second go. Of course, I have a big mouth so two bites and a meatball is gone – if I was daintier perhaps I could have had even more fun with them, but alas…
The side of rice and vegetables was also very good; the rice was steamed perfectly and the carrots were clearly very fresh – this was the lunch I had been expecting first time around! Real “feel good food,” as had initially been promised.
My colleagues were intrigued by the good smell and wanted to know where I had managed to get such a good lunch, because the area where I work (Baldwin Street, Bristol) is a little bit of a culinary wasteland – unless of course you go up to St Nicholas Market.
So, in conclusion, I will be visiting Friska again – the welcome was warm, the food got better and my mad preconceptions were, of course, unfounded.
Red thai vegetable curry £4.65
Lebanese lamb meatballs £4.86
Friska is at 32 Victoria Street, Bristol, BS1 6BX