The Bristol dockside pub serving great local beer and brilliant value doorstep sandwiches

‘With its Cornish smugglers’ pub feel, this is definitely a place to order a Navy-strength gin or rum’

In the first week of 2023, I was relieved to see a brand new Cliff Richard calendar attached to the wall behind the bar of the Nova Scotia.

For reasons I’ve never really understood, this enduring tribute to singing legend Sir Cliff has been going on at the pub for as many years as I can remember and I’ve been drinking there for a long time.

Pouring my crystal clear pint of Bristol-brewed Hop Union Brewery Hambrook Pale Ale, the young barmaid didn’t really know the backstory but admitted she quite liked the January photo of Cliff in his early 1960s pin-up heyday.

But she wasn’t so keen on the months where the huge colour pictures of the 82-year-old singer are more recent. I could see her point.

Still, even old Cliff is younger than the Grade II-listed Nova Scotia, which dates from 1811 and was originally three houses before it became a dockside coaching inn.

Located on Spike Island next to the Cumberland Basin, the Nova Scotia is a pub for all seasons and open from lunchtime every day - an increasingly rare thing for small local pubs.

A spacious bar with plenty of nooks and crannies, there’s a tiny snug accessed via a pine green door with frosted glass panels and a sign reading ‘captains cabin’.

Although no longer ‘private’ as the engraved glass panels advertise, this is where you’ll often find a huddle of regulars putting the world to rights over cloudy pints of traditional cider and Courage Best.

On the stormy weekday lunchtime I walked into the pub, it was doing a surprisingly brisk trade for the first week of ‘Dry January’, post-Christmas bills and diets. Not that I could see anybody ordering soft drinks or salads.

But then with such an array of beers, ciders and spirits, not to mention a full menu that won’t break the bank, it’s hardly surprising that people wanted to hunker down and wait for the rain to stop.

The Nova Scotia has a nautical look
The Nova Scotia has a nautical look
The Nova Scotia has a nautical look

As well as the Hambrook Pale Ale, there are three other real ales on tap - Courage Best, London Pride and Old Speckled Hen, Hambrook - and three types of Thatchers cider.

Other choices include Amstel, Foster’s, Kronenbourg 1664 and Beavertown Neck Oil Session IPA, with an extensive range of spirits. With its Cornish smugglers’ pub feel, this is definitely a place to order a Navy-strength gin or rum.

When it comes to food, the Nova Scotia has gained a strong reputation for its old-school pub classics at affordable prices.

The ‘favourites’ section of the blackboard are priced from £6.50 for the breaded whitebait with sweet chilli dip, salad and bread and butter to £11.50 for the mixed grill - a mountainous plate of food comprising a steak, gammon steak, pork loin, lamb chop, sausage, fried egg, mushrooms, tomato, onion rings and chips.

The thick doorstep sarnies at the Nova Scotia are great value at £4
The thick doorstep sarnies at the Nova Scotia are great value at £4
The thick doorstep sarnies at the Nova Scotia are great value at £4

But it’s the doorstep sarnies - all £4 (but you can add chips for £2.50 or cheesy chips for £3.50) - that many people make a detour for.

Since the rise of the panini and the ‘gourmet’ sandwich, the humble doorstep has, sadly, become something of a relic so it’s great to see the Nova Scotia proudly waving the flag for this much maligned pub classic.

Served on white or granary bread, there are ten to choose from, including bacon and egg; Cheddar and red onion, and Brie and black pepper.

I stuck to the ham and cheese version and it really was as deep as a doorstep, the thick slices of bread layered with several slices of good quality ham and Cheddar with a ruffle of salad on the side including slices of red onion.

Cut in half, it was so generous that it could have been a decent lunch for two people on a budget.

Although a cosy winter bolthole, in summer, the salmon pink-painted pub has the added bonus of a large outdoor seating area on the quayside, with extensive views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the docks.

And if live music is your thing, the folk club meets every Monday evening upstairs, with musicians and singers always welcome to join in, a tradition that goes back decades. Maybe they should invite Cliff Richard to sing for his supper one week?

Nova Scotia, 1 Nova Scotia Place, Bristol, BS1 6XJ.

The Captains Cabin snug bar at the Nova Scotia
The Captains Cabin snug bar at the Nova Scotia
The Captains Cabin snug bar at the Nova Scotia