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14 June, 2024
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The four-year wait: Bristol pub's legendary roasts have diners waiting years for a seat

The Bank Tavern's award-winning meals garner international fame, causing frenzied demand and reservation backlog

Source: The Guardian

If anticipation heightens pleasure then diners at one Bristol pub must be ecstatic by this point. With customers waiting up to four years to sample its award-winning meals, the Bank Tavern in central Bristol looks to be one of the hottest tickets not just in town but anywhere.

So popular are Sunday roasts at this 19th-century pub that it long ago closed its reservation system to new bookings. Only the very patient, lucky few have been able to secure one of the just seven tables inside for its famed Sunday roast sittings.

Among them on Sunday were Vicki Leach and Lucy Weston, who had brought their son Milo, aged almost two. “We were asked if we had booked a high chair. And I said: ‘We didn’t have him when we booked the table,’” said Leach, a furniture restorer from nearby Brislington who had booked during the lockdown and was not even pregnant then.

As they tucked into roasts with all the trimmings and Milo took care of the roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding, they pronounced it worth the wait. “Definitely, 100%,” said Weston, a graphic designer.

According to the landlord, Sam Gregory, the pub was already one of Bristol’s best-kept secrets before going “stratospheric” in 2019. “We already had a six-month waiting list, but then everybody was booking up trying to get in. Then Covid landed. When we shut down, we made a decision that anybody that had booked with us, we would honour that booking. So to manage that backlog we closed off our booking system.”

According to a recent survey by dojo, a UK-based card payment provider, the Bank Tavern’s Sunday roast experience is now the hardest meal to get a reservation for, beating Damon Baehrel and Masalawala & Sons in New York, La Mesita de Almanza in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin-starred The Fat Duck at Bray.

Foodies have been travelling from across the UK since an Observer review praised its “crisped roast potatoes”, “puffed up Yorkshires” and meat sourced from West Country farms, including “piles of rose-hued beef, melting pork shoulder or plump chicken legs.” There is a vegetarian option.

Glyn Cartwright and Katie Luton got a reminder last week of a reservation he had made shortly after moving to Bristol in 2018 after a recommendation from his carpet fitter. “Then it got cancelled and rebooked. The wait has certainly built up the expectation,” Cartwright said. “I can see now why people are prepared to wait.”

The pub stopped taking bookings back in March 2022 after its waiting list reached four years, and it is still not possible to make a reservation, though some fortunate people taking a chance might find there is a no-show.

“The people we have got coming now, they have been waiting two or three years,” Gregory said.

James Tompkins, from Bristol who works in property, had booked a table for six back in the dark days of Covid in early 2020 while dreaming of being able to go out once again. “I got a call this week reminding me of my reservation and I had completely forgotten,” he said. “I had to hastily rustle up five friends.”

Giving his verdict as he tucked into his mains, he said: “All very good. I’ve had two starters. Making the most of it in case I have to wait four years for the next time.”

Gregory said the lockdowns had been a difficult time. “What was devastating is locally we are very well respected for our Sunday lunch so it was great to get some national recognition. Then Covid came along, We were absolutely buzzing and then next we were plunged into thinking: will we still have a job? Will there still be hospitality at the end of it?”

Now that life has resumed, when will people not on the list be able to get in? “Well, we are not taking bookings. And I’m not too sure,” Gregory said. “Filling the backlog from Covid, it’s a bit of a never-ending task. But perhaps another year or so.”

His advice: “Keep an eye on our socials.” Unless you happen to be passing and there is by happy coincidence a no-show.

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