“There is nowhere more beautiful than Bristol in the summertime” is a phrase often uttered when the sun shows itself, and they’re not wrong. Once you've experienced a few magical evenings sitting next to the water, watching the sun sparkle off the ripples made by moored boats, you'll totally understand the sentiment. And I couldn't think of a better place to really drink in the magic of the harbourside than Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant Paco Tapas in Bristol.
It had all the hallmarks of a Sanchez Brothers venue (the group behind neighbouring Italian eatery Casa): a relaxed vibe, passionate staff who weren’t interested in making you feel out of place and, of course, some of the hottest dishes this side of Spain. The bright and spacious dining area had a huge pair of doors that opened onto the veranda, filling the room with beautiful golden light that illuminated the framed artwork and tasteful upholstery.
But, as the weather was just so good, my sidekick and I chose to soak up the sunshine with an outdoor table. We set about toasting the beautiful day with some cocktails over a bowl of olives (£5.50) alongside fresh bread and oil (£7), making sure we kept some of the latter back for the inevitable mopping up at the end of our feast. As my friend was vegan, we asked a lot of questions about the menu and were guided with minimal fuss around options that she could eat.
The sugar snap peas (£9) arrived first; lightly charred on the barbeque and tossed in salt, they were incredibly fresh and sweet. Between mouthfuls, we also chomped on an IOW tomato salad (£15), which was packed with heritage Isle of White tomatoes, slicked in olive oil and only lightly seasoned, allowing their gorgeous flavours to shine through. We often settle for sad, tasteless tomatoes in this country, but the dish felt like an edible love letter to stunning summer produce.
Then came the leeks and romesco (£12), heavily scorched on their layered jackets, revealing the softly steamed hearts inside. We dunked the veggies in the flavoursome sauce, which brought an indulgent sweetness, soaking up the remains with the bread we'd craftily saved. And although we also shared patatas bravas (£8), courgette carpaccio (£8) and a side portion of padron peppers (£9), I decided to choose a few meat-led plates for myself.
Shells on, glistening with garlic butter, the gambas al ajillo (£19) were an absolute treat. Despite being offered the advice that most of the flavour was "in the heads", I'll sadly admit I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to sucking the brains out of prawns. Despite this, I have always enjoyed the process of deshelling each crustacean, earning the prize of a sweet, plump tail, which in this instance tasted like a fresh sea breeze. The chicken and morel skewers (£19) had been finished over a coal and applewood fire, adding another depth of earthiness to the already mouthwaering mushrooms. Interestingly, their meaty texture stood up to its juicy poultry counterpart, providing me with a divine umami hit. To pair with our feast, we ordered a bottle of Albarino wine, the tasting notes of which were similar to a Riesling, but not quite as punchy; it was the perfect, refreshing glass to round off an excellent meal watching the sun set on the boats.
The DesignMyNight Digest
While you're absolutely paying for the privilege of dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant, the quality of the food, service and location is worth every single penny. We sat among mixed groups, including birthday gatherings and families with young children, all enjoying a midweek meal and possibly thinking “there is nowhere more beautiful than Bristol in the summertime”.
💰 The damage: Around £150 for two plus service charge.
📍 The location: 3a Lower Guinea Street, BS1 6FU.
👌 Perfect for: Celebratory meals or romantic dinners.
⭐ Need to know: Paco Tapas Bristols' chef's menu is a great way to get to know the menu.