Forsters Bistro & Deli has ambition, in fact, says Amanda Wragg, it has everything including a garden shed.
There’s been a lot of hoo-hah about “new Bradford” what with a king’s ransom being spent on regeneration, much of which has been lavished on City Park in front of the gloriously gothic Grade I listed City Hall. It’s a six acre site with more than a hundred fountains, including the tallest in any city (100ft). In 2012 it was awarded “Best Place” by the magnificent sounding Academy of Urbanism. If you wanted to be dismissive you might say it’s a shallow pond with fancy lights and a Wetherspoons with sunbrellas for sitting out on the occasional good day.
But if you went on a still summer evening like we did, you’d see an interesting mix of folk of all ages having a good time in a generous space; kids splashing around in the water, mums and dads watching indulgently, young Asian lads noodling around on bikes, lovers canoodling on the grass and greedy types like us making our way to the impressive edifice that is Forster’s Bistro & Deli, under Impressions Photography Gallery, right there by the pond.
The view from the restaurant is amazing; the fountain-facing wall is floor to ceiling glass which exploits the view – almost a panorama. On such a night when the sky is soft and pink it all feels a bit Mediterranean. No, really. As night descends the fountains change colour, exploding like Roman candles. The kids reluctantly drift away, shoes and socks in their hands, and Bradford’s grown-ups come out to play.
Inside it’s not so much a bistro, more a football pitch – it’s vast. Someone’s had a field day (sorry) with design, filling it with funky furniture, a garden shed and an Astroturf lawn near our table. I’ve no idea either but it makes us smile.
It’s an interesting menu, just six starters and mains under the Our Finest list (no specials) listing starters that includes scallops, apple, vanilla, lavender; smoked duck breast, foie gras, cherry, gingerbread might be worth a try, but oh dear, there’s “textures” of Yorkshire asparagus. I’ve a bit of a low threshold for dishes described as having “textures” – it smacks of fuss, but I’ve got to admit there’s no small amount of ambition on show.
My cynicism evaporates when a starter called “textures of Heritage tomatoes, basil” arrives and is actually a deep dish with a perfect gazpacho in the bottom and a cute row of sweetly ripe variegated tomatoes on the rim, each topped with a tiny basil leaf. Woah! I wasn’t expecting that. In the end I guess it doesn’t matter what something’s called as long as it’s good.
Mains including Happy Trotter’s pork fillet, smoked apple, peas and pancetta, scratching, cider sauce and a dish I’m very drawn to – lobster, sea herbs and vegetables, bisque but I’m in a cod frame of mind. It’s an accurately cooked fat piece of fish, sitting on “summer vegetables” which include – hurrah – samphire, but the standout flavour of the evening is the chicken and tarragon sauce. Fish! And chicken broth! Who knew? A spoon to slurp up the broth is brought. This is assured cooking from someone who knows the rules and is prepared to break them.
Herb gnocchi, beetroot, parmesan pesto is a riot on a plate. Bursting with flavour, the beetroot manifests as dark purple distilled blobs and parmesan as crisp shards which look like slivers of cinder toffee and taste like heaven.
So who is in the kitchen? Well the place is owned by Forster Community College in Foster Square and the restaurant is staffed by industry professionals working alongside trainees, some of whom have challenging backgrounds and are pressed into learning kitchen skills. Head Chef is one Dan Ward whose impressive back-story involves time spent at the Yorke Arms in Ramsgill. Ah. It all starts to stack up.
General manager Marc Philpott is ex-Harvey Nichols and took a substantial salary cut to swap cities and drive the business; he’s a man with plans, including integrating horticultural students from the college to come into Forster’s and implement the “field to plate” idea.
“We’ve got a small garden at the back of the college plus three other city sites, and we’re developing the deli to include home grown food. And the (moveable) garden shed in the restaurant and Astroturf area extends that idea of outside in.” Ah, the penny’s dropped...
Marc’s also requisitioned his old colleague, the maestro Richard Walton Allen to put some hours in behind the stove – boy are these youngsters learning at the feet of culinary giants.
Elsewhere on the menu, “Yorkshire Street Food” includes burgers, fish and chips and nachos and fajitas, all between £8 and £10, and watching one or two come out of the kitchen I can tell you they’re pretty substantial – great value for money. Service is sweet; friendly and attentive without being intrusive.
They open at 10am; drop by for breakfast, coffee and cake – sit around long enough and it’s lunchtime (I am SO going back for a sandwich of roast vegetables, pumpkin pesto, soft brie). C’mon guys, support these people! We’re in the teeth of a triple-dip recession, they’re doing good work under difficult circumstances. Plus if want you’ve got a nailed-on excuse to wander outside into the pond, roll up your kecks and have a paddle, you’ve got one.
Forster’s Bistro and Deli, 9 Aldermanbury Centenary Square, Bradford, BD1 1SD. 01274 308707, www.forster.ac.uk. Open Monday, 10am-6pm; Tuesday & Wednesday, 10am-7pm; Thursday-Saturday, 10am-11pm; closed Sunday.