19 July 2013

Poco and pork

Poco Bristol beetroot hummus and sourdough
I think I used to be a bit snobby about small plates. I’m not sure why, perhaps I’d eaten too many plates of rubbish tapas (hello La Tasca). However, they definitely are big news these days. Certainly I couldn’t get away from them in Vancouver, although I used to think that might just be because everyone’s really skinny there.

There have been a couple of small plate restaurants on my list for a while since moving to Bristol, but Poco certainly was at the forefront. I’ve heard nothing but excellent reviews, not just about the food, but the ethos behind Tom Hunt the founder of Poco. That ethos is local, seasonal and ethical. So the big 3 really. Indeed, the first statement on the website is that “90% of our ingredients are sourced from suppliers within 20 miles of Bristol” which is no mean feat.  

No wonder they’re batting for Best Ethical Restaurant in this year’s Observer Food awards. Excited by all these reviews and research, I rambled down after a few beers in Canteen to whet the appetite, to finally find out what all the fuss was about.
The first thing to note about Poco is that it’s small, but perfectly formed. Mismatched furniture and artwork adorn the cosy wooden restaurant, with the open kitchen forming the hub in the middle. The whole back wall of the restaurant is a chalkboard menu of the dishes available that day, many forming part of the ‘seasonal’ dishes which change depending on what ingredients are available. I like that. I like that for lots of reasons. Mainly because it forces me to try things I might not go for, as I know they’ll be at their best. But also because I like eating things that I know might only be on for one or two nights – or until they run out. It makes me feel a bit special.

On the night I visited, it was rammed. Living pretty close to Poco I have to note that it always seems rammed, which is the universal sign for "I really need to get in there". It had a real buzz about it - which is an extremely predictable phrase that I don’t really like using. But Poco really is just buzzing. There’s no other way to describe it that conjures up the feeling of this restaurant. It’s exciting. 

Beef and radish tapasThankfully, I didn’t visit with any vegetarians so I could go to town on the pork belly dish – we shamefully ended up ordering it again half way through the meal. The chorizo and merguez sausages also were excellent but that’s never a surprise with me. I’d eat anything if it had chorizo in it. The veggie dishes, however also held their own on our table already groaning with pork. Summer salads with ewes curd, beetroot hummus, excellent chips with spiky aioli. All wicked, and all gone really quickly. The rare roast beef with radish however was the dish of the night for me. The peppery radish complimenting the beef in a way which made me really cross that I hadn’t thought about it before. And cooked radishes? Who knew? What an underrated vegetable.

All in all it was good, really good. Selfishly I would have liked to visit with a bigger group of diners, so I had an excuse to try even more of the dishes. Maybe like, 10? Perhaps I should start an online poll? However, we did have room for dessert, all of which were simple but finished off the meal nicely, and there was much love around the table for the affogato. Man, who invented that? It is such a sweet pud. 

My only real niggle would be to have more choice on the beer front, being the big, beery blogger that I am.  However, the main thing I came away with was the burning desire to go back to Poco - which is about as good a compliment as I can give. I liked the style, fitting in very well with that Stokes Croft-y vibe. I liked the ethics behind it and above all I really loved the food.  I know that when I return, there’ll be a whole host of different dishes to get tucked into. Although I can’t help the feeling that the belly pork may have to make another appearance. I’m sure I can practically smell it every time I walk past. 

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