Review: Bar 44
by Jess Carter
23 November 2018
Fancy spending some quality time with a decent bottle of sherry? Do it here, over a spread of modern tapas, says Jessica Carter
A Welsh bar-restaurant serving Spanish food and drink in Bristol? Yep, that’s Bar 44 in a (mildly confusing) nutshell. While brevity is often appreciated with the ever-quickening pace we live at, not to mention the demand for speedily digestible content, it’s not quite going to do the job here.
Not only does that brief description simplify what this place is about, but it would also leave a lot of blank space on this here page. So, I’ll crack on with all the necessary details, and try to be just the right kind of economical with words.
The Bar 44 restaurant group was established in 2002 and is run by siblings Tom Morgan, Owen Morgan, and Natalie Isaac. The last 16 years have seen the trio add four more restaurants to their portfolio – a number that’s (perhaps wisely) modest in comparison to what some other restaurant groups have racked up in the same stretch of time – the most recent of which is this site in Clifton.
Owen has also become a big figure in the sherry world, being one of only a few certified sherry educators globally, and was voted Imbibe’s Restaurant Personality of the year for 2018. So, fellow sherry lovers, you can expect the fortified drinks game to be on point here.
The food, as with the drinks list, is firmly rooted in traditional Spanish tapas, but the chefs aren’t afraid to tinker with classic dishes and season them with a bit of the 21st century. Their confidence comes not only from experience (head chef Tom Maynard came from the Cardiff site) but also the notable quality of the ingredients they’re working with. For instance, the traditional snack of boquerones (£6) involved Barbate sardines as opposed to anchovies, the sharp vinegar marinade cutting through the melting texture of the fish, which come served doused in good olive oil with a peppering of fresh herbs and chopped olives. Smoky sobrasada (£3.20) was slathered on toast, its gentle heat accented by a drizzle of sweet honey (go on, try it washed down with a glass of the amber coloured Alfonso Oloroso), and the well-seasoned tortilla (£6.20) with piquillo pepper and caramelised onion had a sunny yellow, gooey centre.
Citrus-cured sea bream (£7) was chopped into cubes and muddled with cucumber and avo, the dish backing up its pretty looks with a fresh, juicy mix of textures and flavours, and the bomba rice (£6), braised with chistorra (cured sausage) and jamón was a rich, hearty bowl, topped with shards of pork belly so crisp that they flirted with the boundaries of over-done.
Although it housed another restaurant before this one moved in, the Georgian building we spent our evening in was actually a bank back in the day (snooping downstairs I saw the huge vault door to prove it, too). Although covering some considerable square metreage, the main bar and restaurant area manages to still feel quite intimate, carefully separated into smaller spaces and booths, so – even though we were eating on an early Thursday evening with just a handful of other tables in – it didn’t feel empty or cavernous. A room off to the left displays specially commissioned art as well as jamón hanging against a backdrop of vintage-look brick tiles.
Banquette seating, parquet flooring, wood panelling and touches of marble and distressed brass all whisper of old-school class. As fancy as it looks, relaxed vibes prevail. Both times I’ve been here I’ve been served by assistant manager Millie (as had my dinner date, L, on her previous visit), who plays a massive part in making this restaurant experience sing. Forthcoming with informed recommendations for both food and sherry, should you ask for any, she knows this offering inside out.
A crema Catalana tart (£6) saw the silky set custard encased in a delicate thin pastry crust alongside a scoop of tangy orange curd sorbet, while the velvety homemade ice creams (£2.50 a scoop) are an ideal way to end a meal here, in my eyes. Small but precise, they hit the spot nicely– the PX Espresso Martini number is my number one, if you’re interested.
Sure, you might have caught a glimmer of dubiety if you’d taken the time to study my face when I first eyeballed Bristol’s Welsh tapas bar. But you didn’t, so that allows me to claim I knew all along that this place was going to be just as good as it is.
Bar 44, 18-20 Regent Street, Bristol BS8 4HG;