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Monday, 23 April 2012

Lunch at Toro Pan Asian

Rich gives the low down on our visit to Toro Pan Asian...

Toro Pan Asian is the latest offering to occupy the space that Beijing Bistro previously sat in, toward the top of Park Street. Although the bistro offered good food at a good price, after almost a decade of service it suddenly closed down. Then, after a long period of being vacant, it was converted into Riva Italian, which promptly lasted all of what felt like a month before also going under. Perhaps opening another Italian on a road where Jamie's Italian, Mamma Mia and about three others are all less than five minutes walking distance was not as sound a business decision as they thought. Regardless, within about five minutes of closing down, someone decided that what Bristol needed more than anything else was another Pan Asian restaurant, and Toro appeared almost immediately too hastily appease our insatiable demands.

Saturday was deemed the day to go and try the establishment out, and the first thing we noticed was that although clean, spacious and bright, the restaurant appeared to look exactly the same as Beijing Bistro and even use the same furniture. A cheap renovation then, and in a way happily familiar, but we were quickly reassured of the venue with the extremely friendly and helpful staff.

The menus offer all the usual choices of food and drinks that you would expect, so the four of us went for beers and soft drinks, four different mains, one starter of BBQ ribs, and three starters of spring rolls. Now, I don’t really want to kick a place in the teeth so close to its opening, and I’m not prone to exaggeration, but believe me when I say that without a doubt the starters were the very worst I have ever seen or tasted. Anywhere.

Toro Pan Asian Spring Roll
Spring Roll "Presentation"
Hong Kong Bistro Spring Roll
In contrast, Spring Rolls from Hong Kong Bistro in Bath
Toro Pan Asian Spare Ribs
BBQ Ribs

When you order spring rolls, or even when you get them served at a friends house, you generally expect a dip or sauce of some kind to accompany them, usually a sweet chilli, soy sauce, or perhaps a thick hoisin. Instead we received a handful on each plate dry, with nothing else, and worse than that, they looked and tasted pretty much like the pre-cooked re-heatable ones you’d find in an Iceland party pack (seriously, force yourself to watch the next Iceand advert on TV, they are exactly like that). The BBQ ribs too were appalling. When I say BBQ ribs you instantly imagine and expect four/five hot ribs coverd in a sticky and tasty BBQ sauce, these however were dry and warm, and with a slightly rubbery consistency. I’m not going to say that they had been re-heated in a microwave before being served to us, but if you've ever warmed up meat in a microwave before, and even if you haven't, this felt and tasted just like that.

Toro Pan Asian Food
Crispy Shredded Beef
So with a resounding failure of a first course my optimism levels for the main were decidedly low. We were however pleasantly surprised by the comparative quality of the mains. While by no means great, or even close, some of the mains were quite tasty and possibly even freshly cooked. Sadly my classic favourite, the crispy shredded chilli beef, was not one of them. For a start there was no chilli or even a hint of spice, the sauce was thin and horribly oily, and even the beef itself was fairly grim. The batter for the beef was hard and crunchy, containing very little meat, with some pieces consisting entirely of batter and nothing else. The vegetables tasted okay, and whilst it may be damning with faint praise, but the rice was cooked properly at least.

Abby plumped for the Singapore noodles and described them as being mostly alright, if a little dry, but at least fairly generous with the meat and vegetables. The shrimp though was decidely small, rubbery, completely flavourless and worryingly reconstituted. If the ribs and springs rolls had raised the idea of these being obviously re-heated packets foods, then the shrimp near as completely confirmed it. Our other dining companions fared better with this visit, choosing the trusty classics of sweet and sour chicken and kung po chicken. And their dishes at least looked quite nice, and were eaten with a small amount of enthusiasm, even if the description used for them was a simple yet lukewarm “fine”.
Toro Pan Asian Bristol
Singapore Noodles
Toro Pan Asian Food
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Toro Pan Asian Kung Po Chicken
Kung Po Chicken
Most of us chose to skip dessert. However one lemon sorbet was ordered, which amazingly was actually very good. Crisp, zesty and refreshing, I should really have ordered one for myself to help clean my mouth of the unpleasantly oily feeling I was left with courtesy of my ‘beef’ dish, instead I relied on multiple cold beers.

Price wise it’s a fairly competitive establishment with the standard prices you’d expect, £3-5 for a starter, around £6-10 for a main, and drinks slightly more expensive than most pubs or bars. And the service is really very good, with attention and charm winning you over as soon as you walk in through the door, and crucially for me the lack of loud Nickelback and Westlife playing while we ate was a definite plus. The crucially important part of the restaurant though, the food, was frankly dire. Feeling cheaply sourced, prepared, cooked, and presented, it really didn't give the impression of somewhere where you can say they just had a bad day, as food wise it was it just got it all so wrong, but I would be interested to hear if anyone else has a different, and better, experience.

Personally for me, it left a nasty taste in my mouth, both figuratively and literally, left me feeling ripped off, and made me regret not having gone anywhere else. There is a huge bounty of good and great Chinese food in Bristol already, so why someone has thought they could contribute with such an obviously poor and cheap offering is if anything utterly baffling. If you're ever near Toro and fancy a Chinese meal, do yourself a favour and instead just keep walking and go to Wongs, Mayflower, Dynasty, Shanghai Nights or maybe even the new-look Cosmo when it opens later this month. Toro however, for me and without any doubt, is the absolute worst meal and dining experience I've had this year, and in a long time.


  1. Vanessa Hodge1 May 2012 at 18:18

    wow. i don't know if this was genuine or you'e just a truly negative person. Me and my flatmate recently visited Toro Pan Asian Cuisine. We opted for the lunch deal at 5.95, i think it was a excellent bargain for a starter and a main course! Our starters (spring rolls & chicken and sweetcorn soup) were fast and was also quite delicious! The waitress gave me a small pot of sweet chilli dip too... for our mains we had the sweet and sour chicken and singapore vermicelli. The chicken was crispy- just the way i like it and the singapore noodles was perfect. It was generous amounts for a lunch deal and i agree with you about the service. very charming and attentive, ive never actually received such great service from someone working in a chinese restaurant.
    i always say, if you have a bad experience once, go again before you make up your mind.

    1. Hi Vanessa. First of all, there is no need to be nasty. It is a real review, and if you look at all the pieces here, me and Abby post mostly positive reviews. We love eating out, it’s fun, we always pick places we think are going to be good, we never pick anywhere just to write a bad piece, and we have had very few genuinely bad meals and eating experiences. So to call me ‘a truly negative person’ takes things a bit too far. It also shows that you probably haven’t read many other things here.

      Although your comment reads like an advert from someone who is involved with the restaurant, thank you very much for your feedback, as it is interesting to have different takes on the same venue. I’m glad you found the spring rolls delicious, as I don’t wish bad food on anyone. But it doesn’t change the fact that when we ordered them, they came on a bare plate, with no presentation or dip, and they just looked and tasted like the cheap packet ones you’d expect from a supermarket party pack.

      I agree that the portion sizes were good, and of course the service was great, but ultimately we all go to a restaurant for the food, and that was truly awful. Maybe the chef was having a bad day on our visit, maybe we went too early and they’ve now refined things and cleaned up their act, but we won’t be going back. Rarely has a meal made me feel quite so unwell as the chilli beef did here, which is a real shame as it is one of my favourite dishes of all time, and I’ve never had one as bad as this one tasted.

      Returning after having had a bad experience is a noble idea, and an admirable one, but I’m not made of money. If you give me a bad meal, and one which features what feels like dry and re-heated meat fresh from the microwave, I’m certainly not going to return again so that I can foolishly spend my cash on another bad meal. And I can’t reall see many other people doing that.

      Again, thanks for your feedback, hopefully you’ll post again on some of our other posts, and realise that you made a wrong snap judgement on me. A ‘truly negative person’ would have found nothing to recommend Toro, whereas I quite happily said that the service was brilliant – because it really was. But it’s not enough to gloss over the lack of quality in the food. If anyone else has any other comments on Toro, positive or negative, then please let us know.

  2. Vanessa,

    I'm sure you'll appreciate that meals out are very subjective, and depend not only on the tastes of the people who are dining, but on what is happening that particular evening behind the scenes at the venue.

    All that Abby and Rich have done is to report their experience on the night they visited. I don't see why there should be a need to visit for a second meal before writing a review...if you, as a non-blogger, went for a bad meal, I don't think you'd be keen to go back for a repeat experience, blogger or not.

    The great thing about blogging is that it gives people a chance to comment and share their opinions with the blog poster, which I'm sure Abby and Rich welcome. Everyone is entitled to their opinion - I just don't think there's any need to be rude about it.


  3. Patty Longthorpe2 May 2012 at 17:17

    I don't think he was rude. I think that considering he wasn't that impressed with the meal he was very polite about it!

    1. Thanks Patty, that's nice to hear. I was trying to be as nice about it as possible, and like I said, I really didn't want to knock them too heavily so close to opening, but the food I had was just terrible. We try to be nice in these reviews, and most of the experience was pretty good, but the food really was the worst I've had in a long time.

  4. I have been there too and its shoddy at best - friendly but I would never recommend it for the food. Its essentially a really bad take away place, but you eat in? Doesn't work

    1. Cheers Tom. And I'm glad to find someone that agrees with us. I said in the review all the food felt poorly sourced, prepared, cooked and presented, and that's why I genuinely think it wasn't just a bad day. And now someone else thinks the same, it kind of backs it up. Shoddy is a good description. I wish I'd used it!

      Bad take-away sums it up, but the thing is I've never had any Chinese take-away that bad. Thanks for the comments mate, please drop by again.

  5. Vanessa Hodge2 May 2012 at 21:21

    Im not involved with the restaurant at all, only been there once and will be visiting again this weekend, maybe il try the crispy beef. Apologies I called you negative, maybe because my experience was quite alright! Agree- everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I'll take some time to read your other reviews because I love reading blogs! Look forward to your newer dining adventures. I will stay posted. Vanessa

  6. judging by your photos. toro has improved a mega lot since your visit. they have revamped their menus, presentation, introduced a new variety of special desserts and drinks. quite impressive after just a few months of opening.

    FYI. its a pain to post as your verification codes are almost impossible to read!!

  7. I have heard that it has improved food wise I am willing to give it another shot at some point because I've heard some people say it is good. Plus Chinese food is one of my favourites! Sorry about the verification codes they are up to not me unfortunately.