You can just imagine the meeting with the bank manager. “Its like this. We want to open a restaurant down by the docks where there are a lot of places to eat already, including one that we already own no more than a two-minute walk away. And we’re thinking of going alfresco, despite the fact that this is Britain & the weather’s completely unreliable. What sort of food? Just basic barbecued stuff, you know, with a couple of salads thrown in. Well, people can either sit on the boat on the quayside. Yeah, we know there’s a bloody great tree in the middle of the dining area but we’ll just cut the canvas to fit around the trunk & have it poking out the top. Whaddaya mean, you won’t lend us the money? You suits have got no imagination, that’s your trouble…”

Welcome to Spyglass, Bristol’s first barbecue boat. As you’ll know if you’ve been reading this mag over the last few issues, it’s the latest venture from the team who brought you the Glass Boat & Byzantium. And a little after 8pm on a Tuesday evening, it seems like a full-on Friday or Saturday night: the place is totally, utterly rammed – with office workers, what looks like a hen night, some canoodling couples, hungry families…. all human life is here. And the vibe is good, too, a genuinely buzzy atmosphere, which is simultaneously manic, yet strangely laid back. In fact, there’s only one table left, & it’s ours, oh yes, so you’ll have to queue.

The key to Spyglass’s extraordinary success has to lie in its sheer unpretentiousness combined with a commitment to quality. There are no starters, just a few side orders. All the barbecued meals are served with fries & a fresh, leafy salad. All the salads are served with French bread. There’s no dicking about with this formula: no mashed potatoes, no new potatoes, no jacket potatoes, no Dauphinoise. Having your steak plain or with a choice of three different sauces is as complicated as it gets. There is, however, a cunning culinary classlessness at work here. Kebabs & burgers nestle next to tiger prawns & black bream on a menu that embraces simplicity as its overall concept. I went for the monkfish steak (£9.50), my other half went for the sardines with lemon & sea salt (£6.50). Everything was perfectly cooked & unfussily presented, allowing the natural flavours of the fish to come through. It’s a bit like to turning up at your mate’s house for a barbecue in the back garden, except than this lot can probably cook better, there’s a choice on the menu & the view across the docks is almost certainly nicer. If you’re still peckish, try the barbecued banana with chocolate sauce & vanilla ice cream (£3.50) or raspberry pavlova (£2.95).

As for the wine list there’s a couple of whites, a red & rose by the glass or carafe – we enjoyed a perfectly palatable chardonnay. If it gets dark, there’s coloured lights. If it gets cold there’s heaters. If it rains there’s shelter. What else do you want? On tonight’s evidence, nothing. If any bank manager did refuse to loan them any money along the way, he’ll no doubt now be feeling a bit like the bloke at the record company who turned down the Beatles. *****

Marc Crewe – Venue Magazine

Moored in the floating harbour, alongside its sister restaurant, the Glass Boat, Spyglass is Bristol’s first alfresco barbecue/grill restaurant. Split between a converted 170-seater barge & the adjacent quayside, it’s the ideal location for those warm lazy summer days. The menu has a continental influence, so whether you crave lamb kebab or something more Eastern in origin, Spyglass can satisfy your appetite. It’s unconventional but that’s the appeal, a welcome & innovative change from the stereotypical high street restaurant. So, if great food in relaxed & beautiful surroundings floats your boat, then you know where to go.

Top 5 new places to eat entry – Bristol Food Guide

The food at this spring/summer barbecue dockside operation is hardly haute cuisine – we’re talking steaks & grilled sardines, essentially – but the delivery is near-faultless & the concept audacious.

Review Spyglass Barbecue & Grill Words Ali Stevens - Folio Magazine

When Spyglass opened three years ago, doubting Thomases were suspicious about the seasonal venture that aimed to bring a slice of the Med to Bristol's Harbourside, with its alfresco feel and barbecue-based menu. After two exceptionally good summers, not to mention the benefits of a prime location, it's clear that the risk has paid off. Spyglass really does seem to float people's boat - and they're not just fair-weather fans, either. With industrial-sized patio heaters, it's really rather cosy inside this panoramic plastic-sided structure, even when the sky's grey.

As we arrived, the sun was setting on a beautiful day, with the promise of a hot weekend. That Friday feeling was evident all around us - the place was pretty busy, although the queues that develop during peak season hadn't yet materialised. Even so, you're still greeted with brisk efficiency by the seaters, who are always on red alert for the situation to change in minutes, due to the non-booking policy (if there are eight or more of you, you can reserve a table).

Most of the food's cooked on massive gas-fired flame grills on the Spyglass boat. There's an interesting selection of meat, fish and veggie dishes, plucked from all corners of the world, plus steaks, chicken, ribs and burgers that are simply served with fries and dressed salad. We ordered corn fritters with a sweet chilli dip to start, and quickly devoured the light and fluffy battered balls while they were still blistering hot, adding flavour and fire with the potent sticky sauce. My main course of whole black bream with lemon, tarragon and olive oil arrived grilled to perfection, and was fresh, healthy and quite simply delicious. This sublime melt-in-your-mouth fleshy fish is fit for any occasion, but served beachfront-style, this was a real juices-dripping-down-your-chin kind of winner.

My partner's first choice of lamb burger with mint was already sold out, so he opted for the beef burger with all the trimmings (cheese, chorizo sausage and hot salsa). This is definitely a manly meal, and he departed with several more hairs on his chest after this marathon of meatiness and spice.

He had no room left for a dessert, but I still had that Friday feeling about me, and couldn't resist one of my childhood holiday favourites - peach melba. In true Spyglass fashion, this is no poncey pudding, just tinned fruit with vanilla ice-cream and strawberry sauce. But for three quid, who's complaining? In fact, the whole bill came in at under £40.

Spyglass thrives on bums-on-seats rather than spend-per-head, so a fast turn-round of tables is essential. Be prepared for quick-fire questions when you're ordering, and extremely fast food delivery. Despite this highly functional formula, though, the place still fills you with a sense of occasion - it's so basic, it's brilliant. And while the brains behind Spyglass can clearly apply their skills to dining on any level (fine dining on the neighbouring Glass Boat and destination dining at Byzantium), they've stripped themselves bare here, to create an unpretentious, enjoyable and affordable experience that really does echo good times in faraway climes. For many, Spyglass is now synonymous with summer in the city.

Best Restaurant Newcomer Award 2002
Venue Food & Drinks Awards