The wine guy: Spain reaction

by Andy Clarke

05 October 2018

Heard about Pata Negra’s new open kitchen and jazzed up menu? Andy Clarke sure has; he wasted no time in swinging by for a nosey (yes, and a feed)

When I moved to London more than 20 years ago, my ambition to eat and drink my way through the city saw me come across some great Spanish tapas for the first time. Since then, small plates served with good wine has become one of my favourite kinds of meals when I’m eating out. 

When I relocated back to Bristol, I happened to meet the team behind local Spanish joint Pata Negra at the launch party of their new Ox restaurant on Whiteladies Road. Nathan, Jay and Kevin are true foodie entrepreneurs who are also responsible for Bambalan and those two well-known prohibition bars, Hyde and Co and Milk Thistle. Becoming a fan of their work, I made my way around their venues – which led me to come across Pata Negra, where I found a warm atmosphere, great food and top wines. So, when I heard that the team had just installed a new open kitchen, it was the perfect excuse to go back. The kitchen is now the first thing you see as you enter and, fronted with a stool-lined bar for diners, integrates the cooking into the dining experience wonderfully. 

Executive chef Todd Francis is a talented man; not only is he in charge of the gastronomic exploits of the entire group’s collection of restaurants, but he also put up with Crumbs’ own Jessica Carter and I creating havoc in the kitchen at the Too Many Critics event at Bambalan recently. [No mean feat –ed]. Under his watchful eye at Pata Negra is head chef Danny Clarke (previously sous chef at The Ox on Corn Street), who is really getting to flex his culinary muscles with the new set-up. 

The food coming out of Danny’s new kitchen is excellent. It’s uncomplicated – which you’d expect at a tapas restaurant – but shows well thought through combinations of flavour and texture. Given the fuss-free approach, it might sound easy to pull off this style of simple cookery – but don’t be fooled. 

The crispy pork belly with romesco sauce is divine, and as for those oozy croquetas, well, they’re arguably the best in Bristol.  However, it was the delicacy of the butterflied sardines on pan Catalan and the chargrilled chilli and rosemary squid that really captured my attention. Luckily, those recipes are doable at home, and if you’re inclined to give them a go – guess what? – I’ve got some great sips to try with them.

I adore sherry with tapas, and think you can’t go wrong with the velvety, saline and nutty Colosia Fino from Puerto di Santa Maria. It’s a fantastic sherry from a family-run producer, and is great with all kinds of savoury seafood tapas. If you want to try something a little different with these dishes, though, I have a couple of beauties from Ben and the team at Novel Wines too, the Bath-based online wine company which focuses on truly unique wines from family-owned vineyards and community cooperatives.

Whenever seafood is on a plate with tomato, I automatically think rosé (no, rosé is not just for summer!). Chateau Ksara Sunset rosé 2016 is a medium-bodied Cabernet Franc and Syrah blend from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. It has a surprising petrol nose and is not at all like the delicately perfumed Provençal pinks we’re all used to. You can tell from the aroma that it’s going to work well with the sardine recipe: it has more than enough body to stand up to the oily fish; there are lively redcurrants when you taste it that go fabulously with the tomatoes; and there’s a dash of spice and a long finish which will stand up to that crunchy sourdough.

But if white wine with squid is your thing, try the Sabar Keknyelu 2016 from Lake Balaton in Hungary. Keknyelu is a rare single-sex grape variety (it’s female!) and is planted next to a male grape variety. (Now that’s a fact your dinner party guests won’t believe.) The grapes are hand-harvested from the vineyard on the southern slopes of the beautiful Csobanc Mountain, and the resulting wine’s vivid, mineral nose with a slight hint of dry aniseed is really alluring, making it brilliant with the chilli and rosemary dressing. The lean and crisp flavour is almost savoury and not fruit driven, which means it’s the perfect partner to the delicate squid itself. 

Yes, we usually drink Spanish wine with tapas, but if you plonk  one of these numbers from Lebanon or Hungary on your table at dinner, they’ll not only match brilliantly, but will make a great  talking point; the ice will be broken before you’ve butterflied your first sardine.   

Get the recipes here: 
Chargrilled chilli and rosemary squid   
Sardines on pan Catalan   

Photo by Kirstie Young