If you keep walking up past Sela and North Bar, past the Grand Theatre and across the road with Mojo’s on it, the one where the Chinese supermarket used to be back in the day, you get to a fairly intimidating slip road, a lot of hurtling traffic and a fair amount of climate-changing fug.
If you make it across the road alive, you’ll end up on North Street, or ‘the’ North Street as some wag of a vandal has renamed it, and eventually, you’ll get to The Reliance.
The Reliance is one of those shabby, slightly tatty but effortlessly cool places where the mildly shambolic appearance translates into soul and depth. Nothing matches, but everything looks good together.
There’s a relaxed feel about the place that’s helped along by some friendly staff and a menu packed full of fantastic dishes, including the odd retro classic that everybody secretly likes.
Yes, I had the chicken Kiev.
I’ve always been a sucker for this particular creation. The chef who chanced on the idea of stuffing a chicken breast with garlic butter, rolling it in breadcrumbs and then deep-frying it had his finger firmly on the pulse of what people really like. The Reliance’s version was magnificent, and delivered that all-important slick of melted garlic butter on first contact with a knife. The waiter confessed later that it was meant as not quite a joke, but something that was initially intended as a bit of an ironically knowing retro throwback, and that they’d been surprised at how much people like it.
The Reliance’s chicken Kiev might stick around a while longer.
The rest of the menu is cooked just as well. Our charcuterie starter needed nothing more than some careful arranging, but it looked good and the hams and sausages were excellent quality, served with plenty of decent bread. Other starters include a dish of home-cured chorizo with broad beans on sourdough bread, mackerel gravadlax and a plate of really simple grilled sardines with capers, chilli and lemon. All big, punchy flavours with a nice emphasis on simple, classic combinations that really work.
Mains carry on in the same vein, with that chicken Kiev accompanied by a nice, elegant dish of home-salted cod with a bouillabaisse sauce and saffron-infused new potatoes. There’s a proper pork chop, from a Gloucester Old Spot, as well as a very tempting plate of fish and chips – big, chunky chips and a batter made with Erdinger, no less.
There’s nothing that’s too surprising here. These are the sort of dishes that you’d expect to eat in any decent pub, but if you look a bit closer, read the menu properly, you start to notice that a lot of care has gone into the food. That salt-cod…made from scratch. The chorizo? Home-cured. All the meat comes from Yorkshire. They’ve taken the time to source Gloucester Old Spot.
This all makes a difference, it all adds up.
The thing about The Reliance is that its managed to successfully balance a fantastic, laid-back, relaxed atmosphere with some great cooking.
The cooking is far from laid-back…it’s sharp as a razor, and that’s a big part of what makes the place so successful. There’s an air of understated confidence that pubs and restaurants only get when they know they’ve got a kitchen that can really deliver and that takes the time to get things right.
A good number of decent beers on the bar doesn’t hurt, either.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, anybody?
One more thing. I know I’ve railed against the imported concept of ‘brunch’ before, but could I just point out that, as well as the to-be-expected fry-up, The Reliance offers eggs Benedict, Florentine or Royale (that’s poached eggs on a muffin with hollandaise sauce and roast ham, spinach or smoked salmon respectively)?
There’s also a black pudding dish. Might be worth bending my principles for.
Home-made, of course.
76-78 North Street,