Stacey Black samples the tasting menu offered up by the legendary Bristol Pocos Tapas Bar
With a vast selection of eateries that span the globe, Stokes Croft is home to some spectacular food. There is Cuban food, Asian fusion, Italian, Sri Lankan, Caribbean, Vietnamese – whatever you fancy, you’ll be sure to find a spot in this small quarter of the city.
But sometimes the mood calls for tapas, and this is where Poco Tapas Bar really takes the crown.
Tucked into the jack-knife junction that is the meeting point of Jamaica Street and Stokes Croft sits the diminutive Poco Tapas Bar. I’ve often seen its glowing windows on the late-night walk back from an evening out and I’ve always wanted to visit. Poco is eager to promote local produce, and its seasonal approach means it makes the best of every ingredient.
We managed to get the last free table and the place was buzzing for a random Thursday night. Taking a seat in its welcoming space, my friend and I were guided through the seasonal set menu over a glass of rioja and vinho verde.
There are two menus – Nose To Tail or Root To Fruit – and each is mouth-watering. We chose the veggie option and after we demolished a bowl of rosemary-infused olives, we were presented with the first round – spring onion and fava bean hummus, onion seed, olive oil and studded with sesame. This was silky smooth and packed a big savoury punch. The chunks of chewy sourdough were perfect for scooping up the hummus and the tangy olive oil.
Next up was the charred new season fennel, served with pea puree, basil mint and shallot ash. I love fennel, and its subtle aniseedy flavour was offset nicely with the fresh pop of the peas and mint.
Following quickly were the Isle of Wight heritage tomatoes. This was such a pretty dish and almost a shame to go at it with a fork: slices of plump orange and ruby tomatoes were topped with a caraway cracker, garlic puree and a zesty gremolata. This one was my friend’s favourite plate of the evening.
My favourite, however, was the Autumn squash with mushroom, orzo pasta, runner bean and more of that gremolata. Described as ‘the main’, this one surely was a buckle-buster. A bisected squash was stuffed with the meatiest-tasting mushroom filling, and I relished cutting into the slightly blistered skin to get to it.
Alongside this came the seasonal community farm vegetables – a plate of beautifully-charred carrots, cauliflower and greens dressed in olive oil – and Poco’s utterly delicious Portuguese punched Cornish new potatoes. If you haven’t tried these, they’re well worth the trip to Stoke’s Croft. They were the crunchiest, yet fluffiest potatoes I’ve ever had, especially tasty when dunked into the harissa chipotle dip on the side. I definitely ate the lion’s share.
Astonishingly, we still said yes to dessert. We shared the vegan chocolate pot, which was a decadent and glossy ganache, topped with puffed quinoa and accompanied by passion fruit sorbet and limoncello. Apparently, this dish always beats customers and we managed to make it halfway through before we gave up. It was deeply indulgent, and a great way to end a meal if you still have the space.
Although there are some great tapas restaurants in the city, Poco Tapas Bar is pretty hard to fault. The menus are exciting, the staff are knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but, most of all, the food is impeccable. I’m so glad I finally got to visit.