Food: 8 Drinks: 7 Atmosphere: 8 Overall: 8.5
A patch in the quilt of the vibrant eating out network that is Jamaica Street in Stokes croft, Poco Tapas is a restaurant I’ve noticed many times. However, this time I ditched passing it en route to The Love Inn and decided to have a stab at Poco’s so-called ‘ethical tapas’.
Tapas-style eating isn’t a new notion in Bristol, and with rivals such as Bravas, Chandos Social and Rosa leading the way, you’ve got to do something great to stand out from the crowd. Poco tapas has certainly come a long way. Devoting its cuisine to sustainability, locality and seasonality, owners Jen Best, Tom Hunt & Ben Pryor have their work cut out for them. Established in 2004, it took eight years for the once-festival-food-truck to get settled into Jamaica Street. Overflowing with chatting diners, the restaurant is relaxed and cool, with an open kitchen that invites you to watch the assemblage of the exquisitely prepared little dishes by the chefs.
The menu provides variety but isn’t intimidatingly complex or long, which I’ve sometimes found to be the case in restaurants of the same tapas style. Veg-centric dishes are key to Poco’s menu, adhering to their promise of sustainability. All of the dishes showcase local, seasonal produce, the list of suppliers is artily written onto a chalk board for the daily menu, giving the restaurant a bespoke and personal feel. Their ethical ethos stretches to the bar, where they promise only to serve organic, natural and small-production wines and collaborate with local Bristol brewers to provide local homemade spirits.
The portions are a bit on the small side, even for tapas, but all of the dishes we ordered were exquisitely presented, with carefully thought-through flavour combinations. Whetting our appetite, we kicked off the banquet with a bowl of their Kalamata olives accompanied by slices of steaming warm sour dough - which is incidentally the perfect dunking partner to their fava bean hummus (£4.20), labneh and za’atar (£4.20). The dips are so moreish and packed with flavour, that we decided to indulge in a few more… with another round of bread… try the smoked beetroot borani (£4.20) or my personal favourite, the bean hummus. Another highlight has to be the broad bean falafel, served with more lashings of fresh and hearty fava bean hummus, warming harissa and zingy pickles (£5). A crisped, golden seedy coating makes them perfectly crunchy on the outside, with soft, warm, fluffy insides - these guys leave Eat A Pitta’s pride and joy for dead. Having gobbled down the last of our falafel, we moved onto melt-in-the-mouth butternut squash, smokily roasted and topped with toasted nuts. These were closely followed by super spicy sweetcorn fritters, dunked in garlic aioli, sprinkled with jalapeños, and an interesting sprinkle of chocolate (£6). These were tasty, fresh and a highlight of the meal, albeit slightly steeply priced for 3 reasonably small fritters.
If you’re looking for something more meaty look no further than the juicy pork belly (£7.50), lambs kidney (£8.50) and ox cheek (£9). The former was completely delicious, sourced from The Pipers Farm and presented with sauerkraut, celeriac, pear and cider. This dish was really well balanced, yo-yoing between salty meaty flavours and crisp, sharp sauerkraut. The variety doesn’t stop there, and if fish takes your fancy, the crab bisque with mussels, fennel and chilli (£8) is jam-packed with aromatic flavours and was a welcome contrast to other mezze-style plates. Sadly, I had to deny myself a sweet fix in favour of my student finances, but while the selection of puds on offer is simple, it ticks a lot of boxes. Desserts range from £2.50 scoops of organic dairy ice-cream, to slightly higher end £6 Virunga chocolate pods and a selection of cheeses. There’s even one for the vegans (wahey!), in the form of a sticky ‘cheese’cake - this would have been my pick.
To wash down our grub, Poco also offers a broad and unique choice of drinks. Their cocktail menu is particularly exciting, though on the slightly pricier side of about £7 a pop - so maybe a weekend treat... Refreshingly, they stray away from the clichéd Cosmos and Sex on the Beaches that you find flanking Park Street and the City Centre. I’d highly recommend their rosehip cup or the surprisingly refreshing negroni manzanilla, but if you’re looking for something on the sweeter side their espresso martini is a classic done well.
Poco brings a slice of the exciting culinary local produce and thoughtful cooking that Bristol has to offer, alongside some pretty tasty cocktails in a laid-back atmosphere. The prices here aren’t small considering the portion sizes, but you won’t leave Poco feeling ripped off. Justifying its price tags by its by its ethical and sustainably-sourced produce, it makes sense to pay a little extra for something which stands for an important cause in the highly consumerist and often ‘conveyor belt’-like world of eating out.