Bristol’s latest addition to its roll call of Michelin-starred restaurants is Paco Tapas. Some might think this is getting to the point where it constitutes showing off.
In a sense, this is this blog coming full circle: parent restaurant Casamia was the first I ever wrote about. It has always held a special place in my memory, not only down to its dazzling umpteen-course tasting menu, but because we were shown extraordinary kindness by the Sanchez Iglesias brothers, ending up in their development kitchen, taking the mick out of each other for our respective football teams and comparing baby photos on our phones. The death of Jonray, at the obscenely young age of 32, stole a supreme talent from his family and from his profession.
One can imagine his pride, his infectious lopsided grin, at this latest achievement. The place is striking: low ceilings, stools, a busy open kitchen.
Chestnut mushrooms arrive heady with garlic and sherry, boozy and bubbling.
There are little torpedo-shaped heritage beetroot roasted with dill and finished with sherry vinegar to bring out an earthy sweetness.
It smells wonderful and tastes extraordinary; it’s the sort of thing which has you making a note to eat more of the stuff in future.
Their take on the classic tortilla is going to be interesting. I grew up on the things- friends would beg my mum to make it if they were coming round for dinner. It can be a sturdy thing, something to fortify you: a carbohydrate-heavy fuel for picnics and long walks.
This, though, is tortilla reimagined as a thing of quivering ooze and wanton wobble, a molten temptation which goes heavy on the golden yolks, but all contained within the most delicate surface. It’s brilliantly executed, eggs and potato conjured into silkiness.
A single croqueta at £3.50 is more than you might expect to pay at your local tapas joint. Those reservations disperse when I eat the thing. The shell is panko-crisp, so delicate it barely contains the crab-heavy filling, the elegantly piped mayo testament to some patient reduction and stocks layering flavour upon flavour over hours.
There’s a nod to the DNA of this kitchen when Duroc pork ribs have been cooked for 15 hours sous-vide and then finished over charcoal to develop a light crust. The meat shrugs away from the bone. That long slow cooking means it’s gently perfumed with rosemary and garlic star and anise.
It is, and I use the word advisedly, pretty much perfect.
More patient cooking evident in the next dish I was tipped off about by Foozie’s Natalie Brereton: their quail, confit-tender, cooked over applewood and stuffed with dates and a piquant sobrassada. The paprika heat against the sweet meat makes it a standout among standouts.
Service is excellent- Zdenko is well-informed, attentive without being intrusive. More importantly, he has an obvious pride in what he is serving.
Huevos flamenco is ham and eggs on steroids. Prized ‘5 Jotas’ ham, tomatoes and egg bubbling.
Some hefty gambas come dressed in confit garlic, a light squeeze of lemon sweet meat (suck the head dry of its juices, or you are forever dead to me). Wonderfully simple. Simply wonderful.
To finish: a beautifully bitter chocolate mousse, dressed with Arbequina olive oil, crowned with bread shaved into friable rounds as delicately transparent as my Abuela’s lace mantilla, a sprinkle of sea salt. It’s potent stuff. You feel you could stay all afternoon, claim one of the bar seats and watch the kitchen at work.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the prices here. It’s not cheap (eg their rubia gallega weighs in at £106 per kilo, and a single carabinero prawn will set you back £22, so if you get palpitations at the prices at Asador 44, you’d better pop a beta blocker before you order here).
You could well argue, with some justification, that these prices are steep. You’d be right: you could also say that, once you’ve agreed to pay these prices, you are entitled to expect impressive food. And that’s exactly what you get: polish and precision, with the techniques mastered in their nearby kitchen married to some high-grade ingredients.
This was a faultless meal, a smooth procession of technical excellence underpinning the understanding of the complex simplicity of Spanish cooking. This is a Michelin-starred Chef cooking the food of his heritage, the food his father grew up with. This is a triumph. Bristol, you beautiful thing: why did I ever leave you? And can Peter Sanchez-Iglesias do any wrong?
3A, The General,
Lower Guinea St,
Bristol BS1 6SY
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.