It may have changed its name along the way, but since 1951 there has been a restaurant on the steps between Baldwin Street and St Nicholas Market, making it the oldest in Bristol. It was originally called Marco’s – a reference to owner Marco Berni of a legendary Bristol family of restaurateurs – but the name above the door now refers to Giuseppe Calcagno, a former Marco waiter who bought the business in 1994 and changed its name 22 years ago.
With dark wood paneling and crimson furniture, Giuseppe’s On the Steps has a timeless feel not unlike the Berni Inns of the 1980s. A collection of black and white photographs on one wall pays homage to celebrities who have eaten here, often before or after performances at the Hippodrome and the Old Vic.
Of course, much of the area surrounding Giuseppe’s On the Steps has changed far more than the restaurant that fronted the old fish market for years and has now become the Revolution Bar. On a Saturday night, my window table was constantly flooded with hen and stag parties, staggering down the steep steps outside – this must be one of the most used railings in Bristol.
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The food at Giuseppe’s On the Steps is a true old-school Italian favorite. This is in line with the professional and chatty service you rarely see these days.
Giuseppe’s longtime friend, Andrea, has been working in restaurants for over half a century. Immaculately dressed and full of well-seasoned stories, he is a prime example of someone who has taken up hospitality as a career rather than just a job to pay the bills, and he belongs to a sadly dying breed.
Andrea also knows his business, both in food and drink, as he has worked in the wine trade for many years. The wine list is carefully selected, full of decent bottles that won’t break the bank, and even includes a bottle from Giuseppe’s village in Italy.
The printed menu covers all main courses from pasta, pizza, chicken and meat main courses, as well as a small board of fish dishes that is carried from table to table by staff. This time it was dishes with sardines, mussels, fresh tuna, sea bass and salmon.
I started with Gamberoni Marco (£11.95) – four large shelled king prawns pan fried in garlic oil with a dash of chili and a splash of white wine, which formed a pool of rich sauce. The prawns were perfectly cooked, firm and meaty.
Continuing the theme of seafood, it was followed by spaghetti allo scoglio (£16.95) – spaghetti in a light tomato-garlic sauce with lots of mussels, squid, prawns and king prawns. At the other end of the table, the monkfish barese special main course (£19.95) was a light summer dish of firm monkfish fillets in a buttery sauce of melting soft zucchini and cherry tomatoes.
The dessert menu, which included lemon tart, apple tart, profiteroles and strawberry cheesecake, was supposed to be the classic tiramisu (£5.95). Light, fluffy, with lots of heady rum and coffee flavors, it certainly lived up to its “lift me up” meaning.
It was great to be back at Giuseppe’s On the Steps, which I have known since childhood. Giuseppe’s own children are not currently involved in running the restaurant, so the concern is that he may not be passed on to the next generation if the owner decides to toss the linen napkin.
In the meantime, it’s time to support Bristol’s oldest restaurant. It may not be the most cutting-edge or hot new destination this month, but it has stood the test of time with good quality, affordable Italian classics served by truly caring staff, and you can’t ask for more from a local restaurant. .
Giuseppe on the steps, 59 Baldwin Street, Bristol, BS1 1QZ. Tel: 0117 9264869.