Weekends spent out of London for me generally entail the following three factors as a matter of course; great restaurants, copious amounts of alcohol and exploring and shopping on a hangover of varying degrees of severity.
Spending the weekend in Bristol with my younger brother Daniel (a student) and our friend Stephanie (another student) proved to be no exception.
Fully armed with the knowledge that funds were at an all-time low for the other two, my culinary expectations for the weekend were not high.
On Friday night we enjoyed some drunken singing and dancing at Java, a Park Street nightclub and then spent Saturday afternoon in the city of Bath, taking in the Pump Rooms, some fabulous prints at The Victoria Art Gallery and of course, Bath Abbey. We then headed back to Bristol and took in a few late afternoon drinks in The White Lion Pub, overlooking the stunning views over Clifton Suspension Bridge.
On Daniel's suggestion we headed in the early evening to the Tinto Lounge - a fairly casual Spanish themed cafe bar on the busy Gloucester Road, for a hearty, yet very reasonably priced meal. The place was absolutely buzzing with atmosphere and the mixture of people included families, couples and groups of friends.
There are no menus, just two big boards on either sides of the restaurant, which offers the perfect opportunity to people watch occupiers of the other tables under the guise of perusing the menu.
A selection of three tapas dishes cost £7.50, including bread and oil, which I thought was incredibly good value as they were generous portions, enough to fill one student tummy adequately.
However we each went for a main meal, following some ciabatta bread with oils. I opted for pork chop on crushed potatoes in a chestnut mushroom sauce with seasonal green vegetables. The pork and the creamy sauce were fantastically cooked and very tasty. The potatoes were quite bland, lacking in any seasoning at all, which was a shame, but as I'd been unable to resist some potatas bravas to share, and in light of the fact the dish cost less than £10 I feel it would be in very poor taste to grumble.
Daniel and Stephanie both went for the same dish - apparently a favourite, and I soon tasted why. A chorizo, crayfish and chicken jambalaya which was simply bursting with flavour. A spicy heat enveloped the rice and fragrant flavours made the tongue tingle, whilst the chorizo element kept the Spanish theme running throughout.
There are jugs of water dotted about the intimate restaurant where you are able to fill up throughout your meal and diners are invited to order and pay for their meal at the bar prior to eating it, which although slightly alien in restaurants, means that once you have finished, there is no waiting around for the waiting staff. It is almost an upmarket fast food outlet.
Our meal for three cost under £40 including wine and we all left full and satisfied. This really is a great place to enjoy a meal with friends or family, especially if you are on a budget.
Some say you get what you pay for, but here the price was low, but the standard was higher in some respects that in much pricier restaurants. The presentation may not have been Michelin-starred, but what was lacking was more than made up for in its warm, friendly charm.
The place was running alive with people, laughter and the sound of glasses clinking, and as we vacated our table there was an eager gaggle of girls waiting to occupy it, so it is clearly a winning formula and a place I would fully recommend trying out for yourselves.
To find out more about the Tinto Lounge please call 0117 942 0526 or visit www.thelounges.co.uk