Food: 8 Drink: 7 Atmosphere: 8.5 Overall: 8
Doing justice to Spanish tapas is no mean feat, and as I’ve come to the end of a year abroad in Barcelona (sigh), I’ve been scouring Bristol for restaurants that even attempt to achieve the same sun-soaking joy you get from sitting in a plaza with a plate of patatas bravas. And yet – down in the centre of Bristol of all places, Pata Negra has come pretty darn close.
As winter is approaching, us Brits tend to accept that the only eating out we’ll be doing is hunkering down in a cosy pub that smells like beer and stale peanuts, and chowing down a gravy-soaked Sunday roast. Don’t get me wrong, those pubs definitely have their place, and it’s a well-owned piece of the market here in Bristol, but why not turn back the clock with some sangria and let yourself re-live your Spanish summer holiday? Pata Negra has really found its niche: a tapas bar serving up all the classics and more, in a cosy setting that gives you all the autumnal comfort you get from an English open fire. With dark wooden panelling and rich turquoise walls, this is a really versatile restaurant and whether you’re after a quick drink before going out, or there to settle in for some supper, I’m confident that you’ll be back to Pata Negra for more.
On entering the restaurant, you’re immediately welcomed with the steam, sounds and smells from their new open kitchen, which adds an inclusive vibrancy to the experience - take a seat at one of their oak barrel tables for a prime spot watching the chef frying and flipping ingredients onto your plate. Like any good tapas joint, stools along the bar provide the ideal seat to nibble on olives and sip on a chilled glass of Vermouth, and even practice your Spanish with the waiters…? Towards the other end of the restaurant, richly-coloured red booths flanked with vintage mirrors and mismatched frames make the ideal nooks for a dinner with friends or family.
The only problem I found when faced with Pata Negra’s menu was that what I really wanted to do was just order the entire menu and challenge myself to finish it. Sadly I don’t think this would have ended well so as tapas norms demand, we had to decide together what we were going to share. Starting with a glass of smooth, creamy bubbly (it was a random Wednesday lunch time, after all...) we picked on pan catalan – smokily charred ciabatta with tomato smash and garlic – and fat, juicy olives. The rest of the menu is helpfully divided into cheeses, meats, fish and veg dishes, with esteemed Spanish favourites like manchego and membrillo (quince paste) for £4.50, Andalucian chorizo for £6.50 and sizzlingly hot lemon-spiked King prawns (£7). While I understand that authentic meats and cheeses always come in pricier, as a student I think the best value options were definitely the cooked dishes on the menu. A few of those shared with mates and washed down with a couple of beers and you'd be well on your way. The real winners who I’d be back for in a heartbeat were the calabaza con sobrasada (£5) and the fresh heritage tomates en vinagre (£5). The former was made up of two slabs of roasted squash sitting under a heap of crumbled, spicy sausage, topped with crushed almonds and a drizzle of honey... For me this was great because I’d never tried anything like it in Spain (did I mention I’ve done a year abroad?). Slices of mismatched tomatoes doused in aromatic olive oil and smoked salt made up the tomato salad, which was equally surprising and added a well-needed dose of freshness to a meat and cheese-heavy meal - not mentioning that it was even better coupled with a slice of chorizo… We both agreed that this was one of the best dishes on the menu – meat or otherwise. If you’re leaning on the veggie side, opt for the garlicky mushroom croquetas (£4.50) and spicy broccoli a la plancha (£5.50) with chilli and lemon.
Pata Negra’s drinks menu is impressively extensive, with an array of cocktails, sherries, vermouths, wines and beers that again, might leave you a bit dumbfounded. Having spent too many evenings glugging €3-a-bottle Don Simon sangria in Spain, I’m just about ready to re-visit it, and with a Sparkling variety that included passionfruit syrup, rhubarb bitters and soda, I was definitely surprised by a classier alternative – though at £7.50 it really had to be worth it. I felt that their more classic red version lacked a bit of oomph, but given the earlier Don Simon reference, maybe I’m not the best judge of sangria... If cocktails are your thing, our lovely Spanish waiter informed us that Pata Negra open an upstairs bar every Friday and Saturday nights for an after-hours fiesta; you can rent the space for events of up to 300 people, and it seems a really different, original place to host a night (move over, La Rocca).
Having devoured a pretty impressive spread of tapas and a good few drinks, we were left no choice but to say “yes” to seeing the pudding menu, order a couple of sherries (again, Wednesdays!) before staggering heading back up the hill. Despite being intrigued by Spanish-style rice pudding and poached plums, that really would have gilded too many lilies, so we modestly shared a Tarta de Santiago (£6). Almonds, blueberries and crème fraiche are a pretty fool-proof combination, but never underestimate a well-executed tart. Coupled with their Amontadillo sherry (£4) this was the cherry on top of a pretty good lunch break.