Bristol’s newest addition to the tapas scene is already thriving, writes Sammy Milton
Does Bristol need any more tapas restaurants? This was the question that echoed around the streets following Bar 44’s latest opening in Clifton Village. The short answer? Yes, of course it does. Especially ones that offer top-notch, authentic dishes at very affordable prices. And roasts on a Sunday. And chorizo Yorkshire puddings with said roasts. These kinds of places are always welcome.
As mentioned, this is not Bar 44’s first venture. The small independent chain has been operating seamlessly just over the bridge in Wales for some time now, and eventually decided to move on into Clifton Village in August of last year.
We visited on a wet and wild Wednesday evening, enveloped into the restaurant by a welcoming blast of warm air. It was already pleasantly buzzy, with tables of couples and friends chatting away, surrounded by wine and plates of food. The manager, Jamie, was there to welcome us and led us to a softly lit table in the corner of the room. A glass of red and white wine was ordered by the pair of us, and we started on the ever-difficult task of choosing what to order.
As is usual of tapas restaurants, the menu was divided into different sections; bar snacks, cured meats, cheese, vegetable dishes, seafood dishes, meat dishes and a collection of larger sharing plates. We were advised to choose a few from each, and as usual, ordered far too much.
Up first came a plate of sobrasada (a kind of spreadable, spicy sausage) on soughdough with Catalan honey. Myself and my friend are both meat fiends, and I could happily eat this stuff on toast every day of the week. The sausage was pleasantly spicy, whilst the honey added a welcome sweetness that jarred beautifully.
From the cured meats section, we tried the jamon Iberico de Bollota – from the region of Cordoba, it’s cured for up to four years, and offered up a sweet and nutty taste. This really is the stuff of gods – the fat literally melts in the mouth – so it’s worth noting that you don’t want to rush a dish like this. Let it linger for as long as possible.
Cheese came in the form of a torta de barros – a Camembert-like soft cheese, cooked slowly in the oven, with bread for dipping. No complaints here, although it did lack some of the creaminess that you might expect.
From the vegetable dishes, we tried a couple. A portion of the tortilla and a plate of king oyster mushrooms à la plancha with pisto. The tortilla, although packed with flavour, slightly lacked substance. It was almost too runny in the middle, although very tasty, so we made short work of it.
The king oyster mushroom dish, however, was a triumph. Sweet and juicy, the mushrooms had almost a meaty texture that could fool even the hardiest of carnivores.
Two ginormous prawns arrived next, alongside a smoked paprika alioli salad. These were excellent, and on size alone are worth ordering. The real stars of the show, however, were the meat dishes.
We chose three – pot roast chicken croquettes, bocadillo (an overnight cooked lamb’s shoulder roll) and a plate of arroz de chistorra con chicharrones. The croquettes were hot and gooey, served alongside a bowl of mojo rojo. The bocadillo looked a little like a slider, and was something I’d happily eat again and again. The lamb was meltingly tender, topped with a sherry vinegar and a mint alioli. It was so good I considered ordering it again. Finally, the chistorra and jamon braised bomba rice topped with crispy pork belly was a triumph. Risotto-like, it carried a salty-savoury-sweetness that was hard to pin down, and was everything I wanted on the cold night. My only regret was that it was the last dish of the evening – it was very rich, but needless to say, we managed to finish it all.
We finished off with sherry and intensely dark chocolate truffles – when in Rome – and left feeling incredibly full and slightly surprised. Bristol already has an abundance of tapas restaurants, but it seems that the new kid on the block may fit right in.
And they do roasts too – speaking of which, I’m off to book mine now….
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