Small plates, big tastes

plates of food

Pata Negra has matured into one of the finest tapas bars in the city, writes Sammy Milton

Tapas is one of our favourite ways to eat in Bristol, and what’s not to love? Sitting in candlelit spaces surrounded by people we love, sharing small plates of delicious morsels. However, this isn’t always the case. More often than not, tapas restaurants can be over-lit, over-priced and somewhat overwhelming. It seems it’s up to some of the city’s veteran places to make it up to us, and luckily, they seem more than happy to oblige.

Pata Negra has been a stalwart of the Bristol dining scene for quite some time. Located on Corn Street in the heart of the Old City, its name means ’black hoof’ – referring to the finest Jamon Iberico which is produced from free-range, acorn-fed Black Iberican pigs. You may have guessed that their main focus is on cured meats, along with other dishes that showcase the very best of Spanish cuisine.

I had visited before, many years ago, and was left a little wanting. However, Pata Negra has since undergone a serious refurb, brightening the interiors, updating the menu and welcoming a brand-new kitchen to the site. So, to say I was excited to try the offerings was an understatement.

Arriving on a cold and wet Wednesday evening, myself and my dining partner arrived starving and chilled to the bone.

We opened the doors to a rush of warmth from the open kitchen and were quickly ushered to a large table in the middle of the room. It was already filling up, and with groups of people surrounded by plates of food and looking pretty happy about it, we decided to get cracking.

There are seven sections to the menu – small snacks, cured meats, cheese, meat dishes, fish dishes, vegetable dishes and desserts – so for a well-rounded view, we chose two from each.

From the cured meats, we opted for the house favourite – Jamon Iberico de Bellota, 36-month cured ham from the famous pigs, and the Salchichon Iberico, mountain-cured garlic sausage. The former was fabulous – melt-in-the-mouth shavings that had a distinct nutty, buttery flavour. There’s a reason that this is the most popular – and most expensive – cured meat on the menu. But it’s worth every penny. The mountain-cured sausage was great for different reasons – hearty and garlicy, it’s the perfect bar snack.

From the cheese section, we chose the Picos – a semi-soft blue, pasteurised cow’s and goat’s milk cheese. Perfectly gooey and just rich enough, it paired well with the Salchichon Iberico, and was particularly nice slathered on homemade bread.

Ham croquetas and chuletas de cordero – lamb chops with mojo verde – were our choices from the meat sections, and we felt they were strong choices indeed. Croquetas bring me more joy in life than most things, and these were gorgeous – rich, creamy and generously packed with sweet and salty chunks of ham. The lamb chops were particularly special. Impossibly tender, the meat practically fell off the bone, and the sweetness mingled nicely with the tart green sauce.

Butterflied sardines atop a tangy tomato and sherry vinaigrette came next, soft and beautifully flaky. There’s a tendency in restaurants to overdo sardines so they arrive bland and dry, but these were perfectly fresh. Alongside was a portion of the grilled squid with a rosemary, chilli and garlic dressing. Again, firm and springy – the chefs here really know how to cook fish.

Rounding off our meal, we ordered a tortilla (the cornerstone of any good tapas restaurant) and a portion of the patatas bravas. The tortilla was, in my humble opinion, one of the best I’ve had in Bristol. Served room temperature with a slightly melting middle, it had a good egg to potato ratio, with just a little sweetness from the softened onions. The little potatoes were also good – blisteringly hot, topped with a thick, strong alioli. As if this wasn’t enough, the chefs insisted on sending over some extra dishes, croquetas with mushrooms, leeks, garlic and thyme, and some of the chargrilled purple-sprouting broccoli with chilli, garlic and lemon. Everything was excellent.

Never one to forgo dessert, my friend insisted on ordering a dark chocolate torte – lip-smackingly bitter and smooth, a perfect palate cleanser for the end of this big meal.

I can confirm, well and truly, that Pata Negra is better than ever, and will be giving some of the Bristol tapas giants a run for their money. Plus, you’ll be hard pushed to find a more fun, welcoming restaurant in the centre of town. Do as we did – order everything and go home happy.

Pata Negra

30 Clare Street,

Bristol

BS1 1YH

0117 927 6762

www.patanegrabristol.com

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