If you are looking for tasty and quick lunch or a mid-afternoon snack before going to the theatre in Bristol go no further than the wonderfully dynamic St Nicholas Market, or St Nick’s as it is known locally. Established in 1743, still with its glass arcade and ornate architecture intact, it must be the most loved eating place in the city. People of all walks of life, from the suited professionals to arty types jostle for fast, tasty and prepared before your very eyes, food from around the world.
Our first encounter was with Spice-Up-Your-Life on the corner of the South Arcade. It is a family-run business of 35 years standing. Its owner Bill Ahmed and his wife run the stall offering a good variety of Punjabi dishes. ‘No colouring, no gee (clarified butter), no flour, nothing bad for your health,’ Bill assured us. He showed us gluten free and wheat free options.
There is simple seating outside or inside. The shutters to the arcade come down at 5.30 pm, but Bill assured us that you are welcome to remain and finish your meal inside. The drinks come in genuine metal beakers, as befits the Indian traditional style. For the price of a supermarket sandwich and a bag of crisps Spice-Up-Your-Life serves up wholesome Indian home-cooking. It’s a great place to eat and at just around £5-£6 per head the ideal solution to a pre-theatre, proper meal.
Up and down both sides of the central Glass Arcade food stalls line up, the owners cooking away furiously to keep up with keen eaters. At the Moorish Menu you can take away typical Middle-Eastern/ North African dishes. At Pie Minister there are tables under cover. The Big Banana blends fruit juices to order and opposite sits the quaint and very popular Caribbean Wrap with all kinds of wholesome and exotic foods.
Next to that the Eat a Pitta is perhaps the most spectacular stall. Behind the counter half a dozen people serve falafel, humous and stuffed pitta at top speed and one of them is deep frying the most delicious, spiced couscous balls I have ever tasted. Further on the Sourdough Café caters for the foodies with filled sourdough baguettes and all manner of breads.
At the far end Matina is another Middle Eastern eating place where customers can settle in a raised alcove around a long table on low seating. It’s all very friendly and great if you want to meet people. There is Kurdish naan bread, the Bristol Sausage Shop and more undercover seating to eat indoors when it rains. Across the street we also found the Source Food Hall with its own café, fish, cheese, patisserie and more.
The advantage of eating in St Nicholas Market is that the food is of incredible variety and of excellent quality. It’s relatively cheap and to top it all you don’t have to spend hours waiting for your orders to arrive. – Astrid Burchardt July 2013
The St Nicholas Market is open Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 5pm.