It feels as though Paco Tapas has always flown slightly under the radar. Perhaps it has lounged in the shadow of nearby Casamia, but with the latter now sadly closed, Paco Tapas is in the limelight; and quite right too, because - spoiler alert - this is an absolutely cracking restaurant.
Michelin-starred though it is, Paco Tapas doesn't have an ounce of stiffness about it. Tabletops on the expansive terrace are propped up on old sherry casks, and friendly staff dodge nimbly between them with plates of honey-drizzled Manchego, gossamer-thin Bellota ham and piles of jamon croquetas. The terrace is the place to be on Bristol’s warmer days, where the view of boats in Bathurst Basin could almost be a Mediterranean postcard. There’s more seating inside too, and lots of counter stools up at the tiled bar, where you get a great view of Paco’s chefs doing their thing.
The menu keeps plates authentic, but it’s the quality and precision of the cooking that astounds. Simple nibbles - smoked almonds, olives and cold meats - are expertly sourced, and lovely with a chilly glass of manzanilla. There’s no messing with classics like tortilla Espanola, which arrives as a plump UFO of egg and potato, and oozes with custardy yolks as soon as you cut it open.
Paco Tapas demonstrates clever touches in other areas. Just when you thought a grilled prawn couldn’t get any better, Paco’s crustaceans are cooked over coals, then the shells are coated in a garlic and paprika emulsion, blasting this winning combo into the stratosphere. It takes some skill to bone out a quail, stuff it with dates and sobrasada, then barbecue it over applewood. The resulting dish has become a signature, and no wonder - sweet, salty, with background spice from the sausage, it’s a triumph.
Desserts are also faultless, and the drinks list matches stride for stride, with a hefty collection of sherries, Spanish wines and cocktails. Much has been written about the likes of Barrafina and Sabor in recent years - Paco Tapas may not have the London postcode, but it’s right in there with the best of the best.