Emma Dance finds out why Bocabar has been drawing the crowds for more than 10 years
Bocabar has become something of a Bristol institution. Just outside the city centre in the Paintworks development, its blend of locally sourced food and laidback vibe, coupled with its ability to seamlessly transform from coffee lounge to restaurant, to bar and to even music venue means that it’s adored by everyone from mums and toddlers to the after work crowd, families and hip locals.
Housed inside a red-brick warehouse Bocabar embraced the industrial chic style before it even became a “thing” with concrete floors, bare bricks and metal beams contrasted by squishy Chesterfield-style sofas, rustic wooden tables, vintage lampshades, strings of fairy lights and work by local artists hanging on the walls.
The menu is predominantly pizza-based, with reams of topping combos covering meaty, fishy and veggie choices, as well as two monthly specials (one vegetarian, one not). But there’s also a regularly changing menu of non-pizza specials, usually around the £10 mark – give or take. When we visited on a weekday lunchtime the options included both beef and lamb burgers, Lyme Bay hake molee, and smoky aubergine and Parmesan croquettes. There’s also a deli counter laden with fresh salads, sandwiches and tempting looking cakes
Catching my eye on this occasion was the October pizza special, amusingly named Pumpkin Head (£14.50). Castellanos fennel seed salami, smoked Applewood cheese, red onion, black pepper and fior di latte mozzarella all sounded like delicious, if not overly adventurous, toppings, but it was the creamed squash sauce instead of the usual tomato that made it something special. The sauce was velvety smooth with the sweetness carefully offset by the slight saltiness of the salami and the hint of heat from the pepper, all presented on a perfectly light and crisp base. Personally I could have taken a slightly more pronounced contrast in flavours, perhaps with some smoky chorizo or a crumble of goat’s cheese, but that’s very much just personal taste and it didn’t stop me from devouring every last mouthful.
Seeking a slightly lighter option my companion selected the pan-fried Lyme Bay scallop salad, with Stornoway black pudding, bacon lardons, char-grilled fennel, wholegrain dressing and Percorino shavings, (£10.50) from the specials menu. There was a generous amount of scallops, expertly cooked with a hint of caramelisation on the outside, but soft and moist on the inside. She was especially delighted to discover that they still had their roes.
During its 10-year stint Bocabar has built up a loyal following that go back time and time again, and it’s easy to see why.
The food isn’t fancy, and it isn’t trying to be. It’s just about great flavours and local ingredients done well and all dished up in a cool and comfortable setting.
Bocabar, Paintworks, Bath Road, Arnos Vale, Bristol BS4 3EH
0117 972 8838