This month, Bill’s has launched a new summer menu to celebrate warm weather, by both cooling you down with frozen cocktails and heating you up with spicy tacos. Bill’s recently invited us to try out the new menu, as well as the restaurant’s staples, at their Spinningfields branch. From friendly warm service to cosy quirky décor and light cocktails, Bill’s aims to please every pallet.
As we arrived, just about dodging the rain and finding the restaurant (I’d never been to the ‘bougie’ world of Spinningfields before), we were quickly seated, opting for the quieter section. The interior is a cross between Navarro Lounge, Cosy Club, and a speakeasy, with warm wood-based panelling, low lighting and adorned shelves above us. Every corner was tastefully decorated with ceramic ornaments, vintage oil paintings and hundreds of faux plants. It set the tone for the evening, especially when paired with cocktails.
First round, cocktails! With their new appropriately named Tequila Me Softly menu, there were several cocktails to choose from. The options were Picante Margarita, Pink Melonade Margarita, Mexican Lime Cooler and Pink Grapefruit & Rosemary Paloma all served with Olmeca Altos Plata. Despite my friend Hendrik and I both being in our 20s, we made the adult decision to get the slushy-style frozen cocktails: Arctic Margarita with blue curacao and a twist of orange, and Pink Melonade Margarita shaken with strawberry, watermelon, and fresh citrus.
Both cocktails were cool and refreshing, each with subtle hints of flavour. Unfortunately, the tequila was just as subtle. Later when leaving Bill’s after two cocktails each and some ‘green‘ white wine, my friend turned to me asking “Do you feel anything after those drinks?” I shook my head. The idea of the drinks was fun, but I feel like a mocktail would have been a more flavourful low-alcohol option.
For the main course, I opted to mix things up and try the Pink Grapefruit & Rosemary Paloma stirred with pink grapefruit soda, fresh lime, and rosemary. Again, the drink was refreshing and more flavoursome, suggesting that on a hot summer’s day, sticking to the usual cocktail may be your best bet.
What I did like however was how colourful each drink was. Often cocktails appear oversaturated on menus to entice you to try them, only to arrive muted and murky. Bill’s however knows how to impress visually, with every cocktail coming and out remaining vibrant until the last drop, adding to the summery experience.
If you are looking for a lighter cocktail hour from 11:30 am onwards, Bill’s happy hour is one to try. The cocktails are two for £12 (a very good price, especially compared to the quality of Fallowfield’s two for £10 cocktails). Each cocktail works well with each dish as well as the subtle tequila prevents it from overpowering the food.
Round two: starters. The starters by far were the best part of the meal, with each dish doubling as a small plate or a sharer. Still, in the fishy Mediterranean mindset post interrailing, I chose the White Crispy Calamari served with roast garlic and basil aioli (£7.50), while Hendrik got the Crispy Fried Chicken and Sesame Dumpling served with spicy chutney (£9.50). Combined, the starter worked well to share between us, with us experimenting with the sauces provided.
Both dishes were neither too light nor too heavy. I enjoyed the dumplings, and as someone who is neither a fan of chutney nor spice, I even enjoyed lathering the dumpling in the sauce. The calamari was also nice, but not £7.50 for a starter nice. Don’t get me wrong, the calamari worked well with the white subdued tartar sauce, but it felt overdone in the frier. I would’ve preferred a thinner crisp, allowing for the taste of the squid to come through more.
However, for a small sharing plate, you got plenty of calamari. I also appreciated the added greenery (cress and spring onion) and lemon, which gave the calamari and sauce a nice zest. I did make the mistake of thinking/ hoping the sliced chilli pepper was just regular pepper. Hendrik’s reaction to this heavily indicated I was wrong.
Finally, onto the mains! Here we tried both the new Taco ‘Bout It menu and the regular one. This summer, Bill’s is offering a variety of Mexican-style soft-shell tacos to match with the tequila-based cocktails. Choose from Spicy Pulled BBQ Brisket, Buttermilk Fried Chicken served, and Roast Squash & Feta (vegan option available). Every taco is loaded with avocado, spinach, coriander, and pickled red onion, paired with a tomato and lime salsa. New sides available include Chargrilled Courgettes, Bill’s House Salad, Macaroni Cheese, Sweet Potato Fries, and Roasted Flatbreads.
Following the cress-topped calamari, I went for the Squash and Feta Taco served with basil and lime mayo (£12)… and chilli flakes, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Hendrik however went for the Italian-style Beef meatballs spiced with ‘nduja sausage in tomato sauce and topped with creamy burrata cheese, alongside fried potatoes, roast garlic & basil aioli (£16.50).
For me, the three tacos were overly filling as they were loaded with brim, overflowing over the plate. Looking at the dish, it felt like the tacos on the menu didn’t differ that much, with the only alteration being the topping. I.e. you could have a heavy sprinkle of feta and squash, or meat. What I wasn’t expecting though was the chilli flakes, which I made sure to avoid when deciding.
What had drawn me to the Squash and Feta taco was the feta combined with avocado, thinking it would taste similar to a Sunday brunch. Yet, with the chillies, it was hard to get through any of it. The overloaded approach to the tacos meant not only was it a messy eating experience (completely avoid on first dates) but the squash and chilli took over from the rest of the dish.
By the end, the squash blended in with the taste of the corn taco shell, and the coriander and pickled red onion only came through occasionally. The ‘salsa’/ dish of tomatoes and lime however was really nice, if not the saving grace of the meal for me.
I gave some to Hendrik to get his thoughts (he can handle spice just fine, I’m just delicate) only to be told “It’s a little bland, I can’t taste the spice”. So, if you’re a spice lover, this isn’t for you. If you’re a spice struggler, this also isn’t for you. But, if you’re vegan – congrats, this may be for you!
Hendrik’s main however looked delicious… I think – I was mainly eyeing up the meatballs. Considering the plate was wiped clean, I think it’s fair to say my assumption was right. And, after tasting one of the meatballs (sharing is caring), I can factually confirm that it was a filling meal.
What I noticed however that the meatballs were not the centrepiece of the dish, but rather equally a side piece. They came piping hot (a little too hot to eat however) in a mini frying pan, and after tasting one, it was easy to sense that dish was a fine balance between light and filling flavours, especially with the melted cheese.
Overall, I’d say Bill’s is a bit of a hit-and-miss depending on what your expectations and preferences are. Price-wise, it’s mid-range, and not too bad considering the restaurant’s young professional location in Spinningfields. Next time, I would probably have several small plates, and explore the rest of the non-summer cocktail menu. However, for a summer menu, what’s on offer isn’t too bad. It’s fun, colourful and flavourful when it comes to the tacos. The spice however just isn’t for me.