St Nicks Market on a Sunny Spring Day | © Chris Frewin/Flickr
The Exchange dates back to the mid-18th century. However, it wasn’t until 1869, after nearly 30 years of housing a bi-weekly corn market, that the structure gained its now famous glass roof. Although the roof itself was replaced shortly after the Second World War, St Nicks holds onto much of its vintage charm. It is the last 18-century exchange building of its kind in the city. Nowadays, the market atmosphere remains, yet the Glass Arcade is now home to numerous independent food purveyors, eager to serve up culinary delights with a smile and a warm welcome.
There are plenty of different stalls to sample, but rest assured that you can’t go wrong with any of them. The team of traders cater for a variety of needs, be it lunch to go or more of a sit-down affair. The stalls themselves are famous in the city, for both the variety of their produce and the sheer deliciousness of what they’ve got to offer.
The first of these, when entering the glass Arcade from Castle Park, is the market’s newest addition. Matina serves up generous flatbread wraps, packed with Middle Eastern goodness in the form of lamb kofte, chicken, grilled halloumi, or a combination of all three. The breads themselves are made to order, kneaded lovingly before being slapped in a kiln to cook. For those not wishing to tackle a wrap, there is the option of having couscous to accompany your choice of filling, yet both the wraps and salad boxes are served with plenty of sauce and garnish. There’s a reason that you’ll find the biggest queue at the market here.
Moving through the crowds, past Lucy Anna Flowers and Ahh Toots, you encounter another popular haunt. Eat a Pitta specialises in falafel, and not just any falafel – it’s some of the best in the city. Again, for those not in the mood for a bread-based lunchtime treat, salad boxes are available, too. Much like Matina, it’s best to arrive early or expect a healthy queue. The falafel itself is everything it should be, crisp on the outside with a lot more give in the middle. Filling, delicious, and healthy, it is easy to see why people flock here for their falafel fix.
Next up, opposite The Big Banana Juice Bar, you’ll find a true gem in the crown of the Arcade: the Caribbean Wrap. Here, you’ll find curry goat, jerk chicken, patties, and fish, all spiced to perfection and served in particularly healthy portions. The jerk chicken wrap is a real treat: succulent chicken partnered with a mango salsa that leaves the tastebuds tingling from its sweet and spicy mix of flavours. Dishes are available to have in as well. So, you can tuck into a plate of some of the tastiest Caribbean cuisine in Bristol, while watching the lunchtime crowds pass.
Next door is Pieminister, which has proper pies with lashings of gravy, peas, and mash. Having opened up their first shop in Stokes Croft, the Pieminister empire now stretches all over the UK, with even a shop in Amsterdam. Keep an eye out for their ‘Mothership’ deal, any pie with absolutely everything for a price that won’t hurt your pocket. Facing the pie merchants, Al Bab Mansour is guaranteed to get your mouth watering with a select menu of Moroccan cuisine served in a cosy cave of cushions. This is the place for a relaxing break, and you’ll find an authentic taste of North Africa transported to the South West.
Just next door is perhaps a more local delicacy. The Bristol Sausage shop is the place to go for no-nonsense, wholesome English fayre, served in a roll or with mash and gravy. These luxury porky delights are available with a range of fillings, all lovingly handmade from the finest local produce. There’s very little more comforting than a sausage sandwich. The experts here serve up bangers that cuddle you from the inside while satisfying your hunger.
Passion and care are evident in the food-making process among all of the stalls you’ll find in St Nicks, arguably none more so than Portuguese Taste. Whether it’s a beautiful plate of lovingly cooked peri-peri chicken that will make you never want to visit Nando’s again or one of their delicately delicious custard tarts, everything on the menu is authentic. It’s also very, very tasty indeed. On the other side of the Arcade, rubbing shoulders with The Real Olive Company famed for their vibrant salads and wraps, is an Italian kitchen. They have pasta, sandwiches and meatballs that carry with them a great deal of robust flavour and satisfaction. Facing this little taste of Italy, is Grillstock, perfect for carnivores looking for a smoky, slow-cooked bun of meaty satisfaction. Last but not least, Spice Up Your Life finishes off our tour of the Glass Arcade with their beautifully spiced selection of curries and snacks.
If you’re hungry for more, there are more places to eat on St Nicholas Street, St Stephens Street, and Baldwin Street to sample. These include Bagel Boy, Pata Negra, Bao-Wow and Proven. Bristol is fast becoming renowned for its vibrant food and drink scene and, it must be said, St Nicks forms an integral part of the city’s burgeoning dining renaissance.