The Bianchis Group seems to be on a mission to take over St Stephen’s Street now. The family’s new opening, Cotto, is only separated from their stuffed pasta restaurant Ripiena by an opticians – they probably aren’t joking when they say they have an eye on that site too.

Cotto describes itself as a ‘wine bar and kitchen’ and it replaces Bar Ripiena (and Sorella before that). They’ve knocked through into next door and the two rooms occupy what Bristol night owls of a certain vintage will fondly remember as the original Mr Wolf’s site.

The place was rammed early on the first Saturday evening and diners for the next sitting were pouring through the door when we left at 7pm. After the success of their other restaurants Pasta Loco and Bianchis, they have built a formidable local following.

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On the evening I ate at Cotto with two hungry teenagers, co-owner Ben Harvey was in the open kitchen with chef Konrad Jaworski. They were quick to point out that they cure and smoke their own charcuterie, bake their own sourdough bread and make the sausages – they even plan to make their own mozzarella next.



The homemade pistachio salsiccia sausages with mustard figs and marjoram

It was Polish chef Jaworski’s homemade pistachio salsiccia sausages (£ 7.50) that set such a high benchmark for the rest of the meal. The warm, thick slices of pistachio-studded sausages were served with sweet and spicy mustard figs and sprigs of intensely flavored marjoram – it was simply the best plate of food I’ve eaten this year.

Also homemade was the lightly smoked coppa (£ 7) – thin slices of prosciutto-like cured pork with ribbons of the sweetest fat – and a stand-out dish of fermented courgette drizzled with Calabrian ‘hot’ honey and salty shavings of Pecorino (£ 6). It was followed by spears of grilled Wye Valley asparagus topped with crumbly, smoky ricotta (£ 7.50) and a twist on the old-school Italian classic vitello tonnato (£ 9) – the slices of rare roast veal smothered with a creamy anchovy sauce.

The swift speed of service meant that it was barely 6pm but the room was already packed and buzzing. Back-to-back retro disco classics pumped out in the background – perhaps in honor of the former Mr Wolf’s that once occupied the room, a few diners were singing along to Lionel Richie’s All Night Long and The Bee Gees’ More Than a Woman.

The dishes kept on coming and continued to impress. A delightfully seasonal dish of gnocchi with wild rabbit ragu (£ 16.50) was perfectly poised – the shredded bunny meat and caramelised pillows of gnocchi brought together by a light broth with herbs and broad beans.

A tangle of fat, worm-like ‘pici’ pasta was mixed with super-fresh Cornish crab and full flavored Datterini tomatoes (£ 16.50). It was probably as good a seafood pasta dish you’ll find without a sea view.



Pici pasta with Cornish crab and Datterini tomatoes at Cotto

Dessert was of an equally high standard. A delicately flavored bay leaf pannacotta (£ 6) was faultless, the wobbly set cream puck flanked by slices of pink forced rhubarb with as much tartness as sweetness.

And the impressive, Italian-heavy wine list deserves a hat tip, too. With plenty by the glass and lots of decent bottles under £ 30 – not often the case in many high-end restaurants these days – there’s something for all budgets.



Bay leaf pannacotta with rhubarb is one of the desserts at Cotto

After 90 minutes, they needed our table back but it didn’t matter – we already plan to return to eat our way through the rest of the menu. And it can’t come soon enough because Cotto is the hottest new Bristol restaurant opening so far this year.

Cotto, 31 St Stephen’s Street, Bristol, BS1 1JX. cottowinebarandkitchen.co.uk

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