This urban coffee lounge-café-bar-restaurant-type joint fits right in at Bristol’s creative Paintworks development, just outside Bristol city centre, reckons JESSICA CARTER
We don’t mean to make you feel old or anything, but Bristol’s Bocabar turned 10 recently. Yup, it’s been pouring pints and knocking out grub (not to mention winning awards) at the quirky Paintworks site for a whole decade now – which we thought made it more than worthy of a visit.
Housed inside an old red-brick factory, it’s a real-world Room of Requirement (non-Harry Potter fans, just disregard). It can be a café, coffee lounge, restaurant or – on Friday and Saturday – music venue, as you so please. There’s an innate industrial feel, with all the features that you so often see emulated these days (think concrete floors, bare brick and metal beams), except here it’s all for real, as opposed to fashion. What could be quite a cold, harsh environment has been softened right up with hundreds of fairy lights (coming into their own after dark), glowing lamps with old-school shades, rustic wood furnishings, vintage Chesterfield-style pieces to lounge on, and the work of local artists hanging on the walls.
In the main bar area you’ll find comfy sofas and coffee tables, as well as a restaurant-style seating. There’s also a deli counter displaying colourful fresh salads and nibbles. Chalked blackboards list lunchtime specials (which come in at around a tenner, give or take), such as Wiltshire leek risotto, Style Farm beef burgers, and Thai-style fishcakes with Lyme Bay haddock. Follow the long bar down to the back of the room and you’ll reach the dedicated restaurant area, which is where we were met by a member of the young, friendly team, and taken to our table.
The drinks list is about as long as that bar; bottles from the US, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the UK cover all beer-related bases, and are joined by British ciders, an eclectic collection of cocktails, and a decent selection of wines.
Thirsts addressed, we started to pick through the food options. The grub here isn’t fancy, and doesn’t try to be; it’s more about great flavours, satisfying appetites, and making the most of fresh, local ingredients. Evenings are all about pizza – the menu is crammed with three pages worth of the things – and they all come in one size: bloomin’ big. (Or 13”, if you want specifics.) The dough is made fresh on-site, as is the tomato sauce.
We warmed up with a sharing mezze starter (£8.95 for one person, or £15.95 for two) from that month’s selection of specials. Juicy, well-seasoned lamb made for a flavoursome kofte, which was joined on the slate by fat grains of cous cous mixed with vegetables, grilled flatbread, celeriac coleslaw and green leaves. A smoky melitzanosalata and fiery chilli and lime sauce provided top dipping game.
Did I mention that the pizzas are pretty sizeable? ‘Cause they really are; K and I could easily have just shared the one after that starter (although, let’s face it, we were never going to). Instead, we settled on splitting two: a King Bobra and a Somerset Picante (both £13.95, as most options are). The latter was topped with clumps of tender pulled Somerset pork, chorizo and red onion. Smoked applewood cheese and fiery chipotle sauce brought smoky barbecue flavours to the table, while a peppering of chilli flakes added extra heat. Definitely one for big-time carnivores who love a chilli kick. The King Bobra was our veggie choice, the thin, crisp base carrying a moreish medley of sweet and salty, the cubes of butternut squash, caramelised red onion and sun-dried tomatoes offset with crumbly, savoury goat’s cheese.
On the side was one of those salads from the deli bar, which are also available as main courses. The halloumi number (£4.95 as a side, £8.95 as a main) picked up on that harmonious marriage of sweet and salty and ran with it, combining cold shavings of salty cheese with sweet, earthy beetroot and soft chunks of hoisin-marinated aubergine in a muddle of leaves.
If you’re ever in the market for a cool, casual spot to kick back with a beer or see off some fresh, fuss-free fodder (either with chums or the family – there are dedicated options for kids at this child-friendly joint) then you could do a lot worse than Bocabar. And it’s clearly not just us who thought so; it was buzzing on the weekday evening we visited, and has proved popular enough to warrant a second site, which opened in Glastonbury back in 2013, don’t ya know?