Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
Bristol is often seen as more of a foodie town than Cardiff (with Jay Rayner being rather scathing as to the relative gastronomic charms of the two cities – very much in Bristol’s favour). Movement in terms of bars etc. seems to have been one way, with the likes of Kongs, Standard Society (both still going strong, I think) and Small Bar (gone back over the Bridge to be replaced by home grown Beelzebub bar) expanding out from their Bristol hubs into Cardiff.
On this basis it is nice to see a bit of movement the other way with, one of Cardiff and surrounds most beloved restaurants and bars, Bar 44 opening up in the very salubrious Bristol burb that is Clifton Village.
It is perhaps apt that Bar 44 (with its championing of that wonderously versatile wine that is sherry) should choose, with it’s first opening outside of Wales, Bristol as the next stage of its expansion
A logical step due to both Bristol’s proximity to Bar 44’s Welsh roots and, as a city, its historic links to the sherry trade (not called Harvey’s Bristol Cream for nothing), with it being the principle port (back in its trading heyday) for the importation of sherry into the UK.
Bristol has its fair share of tapas bars, including the Michelin starred Paco, and other quality places to eat and drink. It is a challenging market to break into, but if anyone can crack it it is the Bar 44 team.
Since it opened I have been keen to introduce friends in Bristol to it (sadly I couldn’t make any of the soft opening dates) and being in the City to watch Bristol Bear’s (groans as I confidently expect the “cupboard is bear at Bristol” or “in intensive care bears” jibes to come out later in the season if things go awry) first game on returning to the tip tier of English Rugby union, against the “old enemy” Bath (almost a full house for this derby game – an amazing 26, 079 crowd) gave me the opportunity to visit.
Much to my surprise (pleasant) the game resulted in an epic win for Bristol, which topped off a rather fine evening that started with five of us ambling over from my mate’s Redland base to Bar 44’s new gaff on Regents Street in Clifton Village for some pre – game “tapas y copas”.
Inside it is a lovely space.
Lots of nice decorative touches that bring a real feel of Spain (particularly Andalucía) to the place.
Some really beautiful tiling, comfy seating and a nice airiness makes for a very pleasant environment for just a drink and a quick snack or for a more substantial bash at the menu (with me as part of our party of five we were always going to do the latter).
Staff are very well training, with excellent knowledge of both the food on offer and the wines/wider booze offering. We asked a lot of questions regarding the food, as well as wine recommendations. The responses were (as you would expect from a slick operation like Bar 44) spot on and very helpful.
The menu (quite distinct from, my local, the Cardiff one – although some old favourites are on there) offers a nice mix of meat, fish and veggie friendly stuff. Very handy as one of our party had some quite restrictive dietary requirement (met admirably by Bar 44)
Whilst we perused the menu and decided on what to have (no mean feat with two teenagers and with everything sounding lovely), we ordered a few of their nibbles.
Juicy (fat boys of the olive world) gordal olives (£3.70) were shunned by the teenagers, but pounced upon by the adults (lovely with a glass of fino)
The mature and wonderfully nutty manchego (£4.50) was more to the teenager’s liking (although they turned their collective noses up at the membrillo, adults again gleefully took up the slack).
Camarones (£4 – crispy whole baby shrimp) hit the spot nicely for all of our party, being crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside (including the best bit – I managed to convert the teenagers on this – the head)
My only quibble was the shrimp were a lot bigger than the miniscule camarones that you get in Cadiz,
which tend to be served embedded in an über crispy pancake. I like both, but always associate the latter more with the term camarones.
Anyhow, I digress – so back to Bar 44 and a plate of sumptuous iberico chorizo (£4).
Delightfully meaty with a nice kick of paprika, this was a very fine example of this oh so Spanish of charcuterie.
Next up were some textbook croquetas (£5.80), with a wonderfully crisp exterior and a molten hot interior (a cold centre to a croqueta is one of those unforgivable culinary sins).
A riff on the classic jamon y queso croqueta, these came with roasted chicken whipped into the silky smooth bechemal. A nice touch was a line of smoky morcilla crumb and a sweet pea puree on the side. Lovely stuff.
Arroz de chistorra con chicharrones (£6) was a cracking mix of the North (chistorra being a cured Basque sausage), the South (chicharrones being a staple of Cadiz) and the East (with bomba rice being grown primarily in Valencia province – the home of Paella) of Spain.
Perfectly cooked grains of chubby bomba rice (still retaining just a little bit of bite), bathed in a rich meaty stock, were complimented by lovely crisp meaty chunks and strips. Very moreish.
The star dish of the day (run close by a number of other dishes) was a “magret” (can’t say have come across this cut other with duck) of Pyrenean lamb (£9).
Jam-packed with flavour, nicely pink and melt in the mouth tender, this was a stunning bit of meat. A liberal scattering of sea salt amplified the flavours and a sharp and tangy mint and spinach salsa verde acting as a nice counterpoint to the richness of the meat.
We then moved on to the fish, with some bang on bits of red mullet (£7). Dusted with seasoned flour these had crisped up nicely.
Lovely flake to the fish, which sat on a nice piso (sort of Spanish ratatoille). All beautifully seasoned.
Next up was a fillet of mackerel (£6.50). The oily, rich, fish (mackerel is such an underrated fish -beautiful both in form and flavour) had a perfectly crisped up skin
and sat on a refreshing salad of grape and, anis heavy, fennel. A smoked almond and courgette (the latter a somewhat unusual addition) ajoblanco added nicely to the mix.
A final fish dish vied with the lamb for the dish of the night. The citrus marinade applied to cubed dorado (sea bream) gave it that just cooked “cerviche” texture and zinginess (£7 – pricey perhaps at first blush for the portion size, but worth it for the flavours).
Avocado and cucumber provided a lovely freshness to this already zippy dish.
Patatas bravas (£4) have always been a forte at Bar 44 and the Bristol outfit is no different with their fab triple cooked numbers.
Crispy cubes of loveliness.
For the veggies, there is plenty on the menu past the patatas and we choose a rather fine heritage carrot number (£6.20).
Nicely cook sweet carrots, that retain a pleasing al dente texture, were complimented by a smokey aubergine puree and a sherry syrup. A fine picada (a Catalan pesto) with hazelnuts added a nice touch of freshness, bringing the dish together as a whole. Who knew the humble carrot could be so elevated.
A final dish was a light and airy whipped cabrales cheese mousse (£5.50)
Despite its lightness it packed a real cabrales (that most pungent of Spanish cheeses) punch. Crisp apples batons and walnuts (sherry soaked I think) topped it off nicely and acted to take the edge of the über tanginess of the cabrales. My only quibble, with this dish, was the chicory leaves were just a tad on the limp side.
Bar 44 have brought their strong sherry game to Bristol, with a nice selection from across the sherry board
I started off with a lovely glass of fino (£5.25 for a 100ml glass) from El Puerto de Santa Maria (one of the 3 towns in the Sherry Triangle).
Lovely maritime aromas on the nose (the Bodega making it – Colosia – couldn’t be closer to the water), with salted almonds and fresh apples on the palate. Lovely with the seafood elements of the meal (as well as as an appertif).
For the meatier elements, I moved on to a Leanor Palo Cortado (£5.90 – from the Gonzalez Byass stable).
Vanilla and rich caramel notes on the nose (suggested sweetness). On the palate it was nuts, spice and a touch of citrus (all dry, belying the nose). It worked very well with the meat and cheese elements of what we ordered (with enough oomph to cope with the cabrales).
Nice to see their sherry flight offering has made it across the bridge
Excellent way to introduce people to the delights of sherry.
On the wider wine front there is a nice selection by the glass
The white recommended by our server (a Rueda from Finca Contancia – £4.80 for a 125 ml glass – the wine not the server 😁) went down very well with my friend and fitted the bill nicely in terms of what she likes.
On the wider (by the bottle) wine front, there is a nice selection of wines from all over Spain. Nice to see (as with the other Bar 44 restaurants) they have the confidence to bring Spanish wines well beyond just Rioja and Albarino to the list. Nothing wrong I would add with either, but Spain has so much more to offer wine wise.
On to the beer and cider, they have a nice selection.
This includes a rather fine Asturian cidra (£4.60) on draft (Asturians are cider mad), which was delightfully refreshing.
There is also a very good selection of G&Ts (very popular on the night of my visit)
and, the very on trend, vermut
All in all Bar 44 have bought a very strong booze game to Bristol.
As we in Wales have come to expect from the Bar 44 stable, both the food and booze offering is excellent in this new addition to the Bristol scene.
Bristol is replete with quality restaurants and bars and if only a few of these are as good as this new Bar 44 then Bristolians are a very lucky lot.
Tough market to succeed in, but I have high hopes that Bar 44 will flourish. On the food, booze and hospitality front I think they have nailed it. Great overall package and, whilst it is not cheap, I think it offers solid value.
With booze and a lot of dishes, the bill for 5 of us (including service – automatically added, which I don’t like, but at least it all goes to the staff and the service was faultless) came in at just under the £150 mark.
If you go to this place I am pretty confident you will leave with a “cat who has got the cream” (sherry, of course – they do two very nice cream sherries with the Gonzalez Byass Matusalem on the list, in particular, stunning stuff) look on your face.
Would I go back? Absolutely.
Address: Regents House, Regents St , Clifton Village, Bristol, BS8 4HG.
Tel: 0333 344 4049
Website: Click here
Opening hours: Tues- Sun 11.30 – 23.00; Mon: closed