Sunday, April 22, 2012

Manna and Bravas

Manna & Bravas may sound a bit like an upmarket deli (or a '70s pop duo) but these are in fact the names of two separate wine bars that have opened in Bristol in the last two weeks. And what a great addition they are to the Bristol restaurant scene.

Bravas is the welcome consequence of the Bravas supperclub, which I never managed to get to, and is basically a tapas bar - a pretty authentic one at that. There are small circular tables at the front you have to perch at on stools, a glass-covered counter and some tightly packed tables at the back with - I vaguely remember - some fairy lights festooned around the place. I came straight there after a heavy couple of days in London so my recollection is a bit hazy.

There are typically tapas-y things to eat like lustrous fat green olives, a slightly over-gooey tortilla, chorizo in cider and excellent patatas bravas served, imaginatively, as deep-fried potato slices to be dunked in an accompanying punchy bravas sauce. One to try at home, definitely.

Other good dishes were some impeccably fresh, simply fried hake, a perfectly cooked lamb chop and some very tasty Iberico pork. But it’s the wine as much as anything I’d go back for - a brilliant short list of artisanal Spanish wines and, of course, sherries. I was off-duty with friends so didn’t take notes - or photographs - the light was too murky.

I was going to go back before writing about it but last night happened to be the opening night of Manna, a similar set-up in the Westbury Park neighbourhood so it makes sense to group them together. It’s run by the team who operate the immensely successful Prego opposite but is in fact more like a restaurant with small plates - similar to Flinty Red, if you’re a Bristolian and familiar with that.

This kitchen obviously likes meat too. There was a first class slab of brawn, nicely seasoned with tarragon, a lovely sticky pice of veal cheek with what tasted like home-made morcilla (certainly I’ve never tasted morcilla with as much cumin in it) and some outrageously rare onglet lavishly scattered with grated horseradish - but served without chips to which I think they’ll have to succumb in the long run.

Other dishes sent out (unbidden, but thanks) included some beautifully tender chargrilled squid with a punchy salsa, ‘butifarra’ (Spanish-style meatballs) with beans and aioli and fresh peas in their pods with mature parmesan (pecorino would have been better, I think). Oh, and we also ordered a pissaladière which was correctly oniony rather than tomatoey. The winelist is pretty short but decent and there’s a good selection of beers including two from one of my favourite West Country brewers, Moor’s of Pitney in Somerset.

The interesting thing about the tapas/small plates format is that it’s not cheap, or not cheap if you’re as greedy as we are. At Manna we spent about £30 a head (excluding the complimentary dishes), at Bravas about £38, the same as a conventional meal. But you don’t have to spend that much - you could drop in for a glass and a couple of dishes. And this style of eating means a faster throughput than a conventional restaurant, hence more profit for the restaurant and a greater likelihood these places will be around for some time. All good news.

Which should you go to? It depends what part of Bristol you live in or whether you're just visiting. Bravas is more central with more of an urban vibe. Manna, on the basis of last night’s experience, attracts the sort of crowd you might find in a local village pub and is more of a neighbourhood joint. But I suspect it will pull in people from wider afield as the word gets out.

We’ll certainly be back to both.

Bravas is at 5 Cotham Hill. Open Tuesday-Saturday 5-11pm Manna is at 28 North View, Westbury Park, BS6 7QB Check the opening hours 0117 970 6276

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