It may have changed names along the way, but there has been a restaurant on the steps between Baldwin Street and St Nicholas Market since 1951, making it the oldest in Bristol. It was originally called Marco’s – a reference to owner Marco Berni of the legendary Bristol restaurant family – but the name above the door now refers to Giuseppe Calcagno, a former Marco waiter who bought the restaurant. company in 1994 and changed its name 22 years ago.
With its dark wood paneling and deep red furnishings, Giuseppe’s On the Steps has a timeless look that’s reminiscent of the Berni Inns of the 1980s. A collection of black and white photos on one wall pays homage to the big names who had used to eat here, often before or after playing at the Hippodrome and Old Vic.
Of course, much of the area surrounding Giuseppe’s On the Steps has changed far more than the restaurant, which for years looked down to the old fish market, now a Revolution bar. From my window table on Saturday evening there was a steady stream of groups of hens and boys descending the steep steps outside – this has to be one of the most used handrails in Bristol.
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Giuseppe’s On the Steps cuisine is a true old-school Italian classic. This goes hand in hand with the kind of professional, chatty service you rarely see these days.
Giuseppe’s longtime sidekick, Andrea, has worked in restaurants for more than half a century. Impeccably dressed and full of well-seasoned stories, he’s a prime example of someone who entered hospitality as a career rather than just a job to pay the bills and he’s part of a sadly dying breed.
Andrea also knows her stuff, both on food and drink, having also worked in the wine business for years. The wine list is neatly curated, full of decent bottles that won’t break the bank and even includes one from the village of Giuseppe in Italy.
The printed menu covers all the bases with pasta dishes, pizzas, chicken and meat entrees, plus a small blackboard of fish specialties, which the staff carries from table to table. On this occasion, these dishes included sardines, mussels, fresh tuna, sea bass and salmon.
I started with the Gamberoni Marco (£11.95) – four large king prawns in the shell that had been pan-fried in chilli garlic butter and a splash of white wine, which formed a pool of rich sauce. The prawns were perfectly cooked, firm and meaty.
Keeping with the seafood theme, it was followed by spaghetti allo scoglio (£16.95) – spaghetti in a light tomato and garlic sauce with a generous amount of mussels, squid, prawns and prawns. Across the table, a main dish of monkfish barese (£19.95) was a light, summery dish of firm monkfish fillets in a buttery sauce of tender courgettes and cherry tomatoes.
From a dessert menu that includes lemon tart, apple tart, profiteroles and wild strawberry cheesecake, it had to be a classic tiramisu (£5.95). Light, fluffy and with plenty of boozy rum and coffee flavor, it certainly lived up to its ‘get me’ sense.
It was great to be back at Giuseppe’s On the Steps, a restaurant I’ve known since I was a kid. Giuseppe’s own children aren’t involved in the restaurant these days, so the concern is that it won’t be passed on to the next generation if the owner decides to throw in the linen napkin.
In the meantime, now is the perfect time to support Bristol’s oldest restaurant. It may not be cutting edge or this month’s new trend, but it has stood the test of time with affordable, good quality Italian classics served by friendly staff. really cares about you and you can’t really ask for more than that from a local restaurant. .
Giuseppe’s On the Steps, 59 Baldwin Street, Bristol, BS1 1QZ. Tel: 0117 9264869.