The terrace at Paco Tapas must be one of Bristols best spots on a hot summers day. We are sat in the corner, drinking txakoli and overlooking the quiet bit of Wapping Wharf. Others are in on the act; the usual suspects of elderly folk wealthy and with enough time to pop out for a starred lunch, couples celebrating, and business lunches. This might be a tapas bar but it’s very much a starred restaurant at heart. One with the snuggly service and bulging price point.

The food is Spanish, as the word tapas should signal but sadly hardly ever does anymore, and we order as told by getting nine plates between the two of us. Blistered padrons licked with high quality oil, a plate of immaculately sourced lomo, hake cooked with total control, and croquettes of the highest order; not the piggiest, but made with the silkiest of béchamel. We get the hockey puck that is the tortilla espanola, all runny yolk, potato and onion. It’s not quite Nestor levels of perfection, but it’s almost as good. And almost is good enough on these shores. Patatas bravos is a faithful clump of starch and carbohydrates that speaks of garlic and chilli, albeit in hushed tones.

The final three dishes aren’t at the same level. Short rib of beef, all two square inches of it, is lovely unctuous fatty work but comes with a crispy puffed-up tendon that is some parts inedible and all parts chewy. We’re told that there are three types of tomato in the salad though frankly it could be any under the layer of tomato pulp it wades in, and then there is the chorizo, made in-house to a very high standard, which is promised in cider but really just looks like something the Greyjoy’s received in the post from Ramsay Bolton.

It is impossible to reach this point and not discuss value. The shortest rib is £20, the chorizo £15, and my local dealer offers better value by the gram than the hake at £16.50. I’d pay £4.50 each for the croquettes again, though I’d squirm at the fifteen quid for the tomato salad, and the jury is still out on the tortilla which is ten times the price of the one I eat every day whilst in San Sebastián. I know we’re not in Spain, I get it, I really do understand just how shit the economics in this sector are right now, and I’m sure people will argue that this is how much food should cost, but I also believe that there is such a thing as perceived value. I know this much; I ordered the food, drank a bottle of good wine and left a couple of hundred worse off than when we started. We exited, walking towards Wapping Wharf deciding where to eat to fill us up.


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