Picaro | Tapas with a side of sunshine on Chandos Road
08 Jun 2022
Rosa Smith discovers that the British weather is no match for the warmth and charm of Picaro, Bristol’s latest family-run tapas bar
Having returned from a week of warmth and delicious food in Spain less than 72 hours before visiting Picaro, you could say I was looking forward to a much-needed taste of the Med to soothe my holiday blues, and Chandos Road’s newest addition certainly did not disappoint.
It was the kind of evening where you attempt to put the umbrella up inside the car before you get out, and after battling the biblical rain we received a warm welcome inside this cheerful and chirpy little tapas bar. The interior is playful: think quirky art, exposed lightbulbs and trailing plants. Fully booked on a Wednesday evening (apparently they have been full every night since opening), we took a seat at our table, which was one of the two bar-style seats overlooking the watery scenes of Chandos Road, while the rest of the bar is made up of low seats and tables.
Run by friends Maria and Monica, Picaro is a family business which promises on their website to transport patrons to a “little corner of Spain”. As well as a genuine interest in the delicious dishes inspired by their homeland, Barcelonian Monica has also been running neighbouring cooking school, Cook It!, for the past five years – the passion for and understanding of good food is real.
We were mainly attended throughout the night by Monica, who waltzed around the room in a flurry of Spanish chatter and laughter, perching on vacant seats at tables, conversing with guests, and enthusiastically offering us tips and advice on all the dishes on their comprehensive menu – which, at the time we visited – featured 19 tapas dishes and a further five specials.
We got to work on some deliciously juicy olives over a glass of Monica’s recommended vino blanco from Catalonia and a pint of draught Victoria Malaga from Damm brewery while perusing the menu. After much deliberation we placed our order with Monica, who patiently explained that their portions really are designed to be shared and perhaps we should order a few to start and then see how we felt. Streamlining our order felt like a difficult task with so many delicious items and recommendations, but we eventually settled on a selection, and in no time at all we were presented with our first few bites.
The chorizo and chistorra sausages in cider are a strong contender for my favourite dish. Sweet, aromatic and tender, the accompanying slices of baguette were much appreciated in order to not let any of the delicious cider sauce go to waste! Monica’s tomato and tuna salad made the perfect refreshing accompaniment to the rich chorizo, drenched in a flavoursome dressing (the coveted recipe she told us in no uncertain terms would be taken to the grave with her) with notes of mint and pesto.
Next up were two generous Iberian ham croquetas – creamy and full of flavour, shamefully they were better than any we’d just had in Spain. To complete our first roster (yes there was only two of us, and yes, we were trying to be conservative) we had the classic patatas bravas with a generous dollop of smoky paprika sauce (can’t go wrong) and the apparently very popular fried aubergines with molasses. I was slightly sceptical about the aubergine, an unreliable vegetable at the best of times, but I was pleasantly surprised. With its lightly battered texture and drizzling of sweet molasses sauce, it could almost pass for a pudding.
We’d had our eyes on the seafood basket under the specials but admitting partial defeat at this point we decided to skip to the cheese course and squeeze in a few churros to finish off. The three Spanish cheese tray was generous and came complete with mini bread sticks, a few handfuls of walnuts and a sweet chutney of sorts, while the churros were served up as a helping of six with a pot of smooth chocolate sauce – the perfect sweet note to finish on.
Throughout the course of our evening, Picaro remained bustling and full, with an impressive number of staff covering such a small venue. Not long after we sat down, one customer fainted at her chair, and the whole bar sprang into action. Fortunately, there actually was a doctor in the proverbial house (“that’s what you get when you dine out in Redland” my partner shrewdly observed), and the drama quickly subsided, with the smooth arrival of an ambulance, while Monica and the team handled the incident and busy bar with aplomb.
Picaro may have only been open just over a month, but the whole atmosphere is one of casual familiarity, warmth, and friendliness. The ethos is perhaps best summarised by Monica herself, who with a convivial air of ‘mi casa es su casa’ told me, “We just want people to feel part of our family”. They are certainly succeeding, come rain or shine.