Saturday, 3 March 2018

Paco, Bristol, Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant review

We all know someone who’s talented at everything they turn their hand to.

Like my buddy Pete, who’s an award-winning animator, accomplished sportsman and skilled handyman.

Or Hugh Jackman, the ultimate triple threat. I mean that guy can really sing, dance and act.

The same can be said for Peter Sanchez-Iglesias. I don’t know how good he is at belting out a show tune but he’s Britain’s culinary equivalent of a triple threat. 

As well as heading up Casamia, a Michelin-starred restaurant known for its cutting edge seasonal cooking, Sanchez-Iglesias also has Pi Shop, an acclaimed wood-fired pizza joint and Paco Tapas, a Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant.

Pretty frigging impressive. 

All three restaurants are located on the waterside of Bristol’s Bathurst Basin in the rejuvenated General Hospital.

We visited Paco on a bracing yet sunny Saturday lunch and ordered the chef’s menu, a whistle stop tour of the restaurant’s best dishes and a canny option for a group of 4 who couldn’t be faffed with divvying up a sardine. At £50 a head, it’s about as cheap as it gets in the UK for a Michelin-starred tasting menu. We were also able to substitute a few dishes so we could try even more of the menu. 

A great value sherry flight (£25) provided a spectrum of Tio Pepe sherries matched with each course including a bone dry fino, nutty oloroso and a sweet and seriously neckable solera cream sherry. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about shez then this is a great introduction. 

Top drawer marinated olives were lovely paired with the fino. 

Smoked paprika twanged chorizo iberico de bellota was mouth-meltingly good. 

Galician beef cecina was one of the finest pieces of charcuterie I’ve ever eaten. Made with prized rubia gallega beef, it had the deep beefiness and buttery fattiness of a stonking steak. 

Boquerones, aka marinated anchovies, were plump and briny of flesh and drizzled with killer grassy olive oil. 

Toasted sourdough with a good lick of smoke and a light chewy crumb was drizzled in more of that olive oil. If you’d have just given me a bowl of this bread I’d have been a happy man. 

My standout dish of the meal was a masterclass in how the simplest ingredients can be elevated to the highest level. A tortilla made with tender confit potatoes and onions and twice as many egg yolks to egg whites was as comfortingly rich as it gets. 

Cooked to order, the tortilla’s interior was a golden goo that implored the plate to be wiped clean. I no longer feel so bad about missing out on Bar Nestor’s legendary version

Crab and jamón croquetas were both exemplary (there’s a theme here). The crisp-crumbed crab variety contained béchamel flecked with sweet white crab meat and were joined by a crab mayo whose shellfish intensity had been achieved by steeping roasted shells in the oil that had been used to make it. 

A tomato salad was a prime example of first rate ingredient sourcing - juicy black ibérico and raft tomatoes were topped with a flavour-enhancing combination of aged sherry vinegar, grated tomato and olive oil. 

Beasts from the deep followed in the form of gambas al ajillo. The mahoosive prawns were sweet of flesh with a smokiness of charcoal and hum of garlic. The intense head juices were the perfect natural dip for the crustacean. 

A gloriously flaky fillet of hake was cooked in manteca, cured iberico pork fat fragranced with rosemary, to give the dish a rich meatiness. A squeeze of charred lemon balanced the plate perfectly. 

The Spanish know how to cook an egg and Paco’s huevos a la Flamenca is no exception. A red hot pot of thick smokey, spicy sweet tomato sauce was topped with a golden baked egg and crisp bits of salty jamon. Jumbled up together it was the kind of dish that most hungover Sunday mornings cry out for. 

All Paco’s grilled meats share a compelling lick of smoke from the charcoal and applewood grill.

Duroc pork ribs were my favourite, the supremely tender flesh of the first rate pig was achieved by 16 hours of slow-cooking before finishing on the grill. 

Confit quail was a close second - the juicy game bird was stuffed with a sweet and smokey combination of medjool dates and sobrasada. 

Rump of lamb cooked directly on the coals was my least favourite dish of the day; it was still really delicious. The crisp-fatted flavoursome flesh was joined by a vivid yoghurt dipped twanged with the warmth of cumin, paprika and piquillo pepper. Crunch arrived in the form of pine nuts. 

Desserts kept up the ridiculously high standard.

A rich and gooey chocolate mousse was made all the more interesting and indulgent by a scattering of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil. It was adorned by a crown of wafer thin toast. 

It was shown up by the crema catalana which was the b(rul)ee’s knee’s. The rich and glossy egg custard was topped with a layer of super thin and crisp sugar and a scattering of fragrant fennel pollen. 

Lunch at Paco was utterly class. From the flawless food, to the knowledgeable and friendly staff and the epic booze (we ordered too many artisan G&T’s, a large bottle of Left Handed Giant spelt saison and a few glasses of albarino), it’s very hard not to fall in love with the place.

The Details:

Address - Paco Tapas, 3a The General, Lower Guinea Street, Bristol BS16SY
Telephone - 0117 925 7021

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