Small Bar is buzzing by 7pm on a recent weekday evening, the crowd drawn mainly by the splendid selection of beer. But there’s more than just dangerously quaffable IPA to recommend this King Street gem these days.
Husband and wife team Ed and Laura Bevan have had a number of successful pop-ups with The Plumed Serpent Cantina but have now taken up permanent residence here with a tapas-style menu of hearty Mexican street food.
Ed brings us a steady stream of food starting with sticky, tangy chicken wings (£4.95) garnished with baby coriander shoots and salty feta cheese, and wonderfully light sweetcorn fritters (£4.95) delicately seasoned with epazote and served with a chipotle mayo dip.
Next up is tacos with deep fried cauliflower in a chipotle harissa (£6.95) , a dish that might even be the star in a stellar cast of platters: sweet and rich with pomegranate seeds adding satisfying little fruity explosions.
The small parts are all working hard too though. The refried beans (£2.95) are like a big buttery hug, neither the jostling garlic nor cumin flavours overwhelming the other.
Salty padron peppers (£4.25) can be a Russian roulette with the occasional hot one taking you by surprise. No hot ones here (wrong season apparently) but salty, bitter peppers sure go well with beer.
There’s plenty more to come and it’s a Mexican take on hearty comfort food all the way.
Thinly sliced pickled onions cut through the richness of beef cheek topped tortillas (£7.95); the pork carnitas (£6.95) are messy, indulgent pulled pork, deep in flavour and topped with the crispy chicharron; the deep fried fish tacos with chipotle slaw (£7.95) are delicious – light crispy batter over flaky hake on a soft tortilla.
Ed and Laura have a real love and understanding of Mexican food. There are some twists here for sure and nods to different culinary traditions, but it’s not flashy and it’s not desperately trying to be fusion.
The Plumed Serpent’s food here never strays too far from what makes good Mexican cuisine so damn good.
There might not be any real chili heat anywhere even in the selection of accompanying sauces, but even this stems from the thoughtfulness of the proprietors, worried as they are that an overload of heat will not go well with the sizeable range of beers. Chili and hops not the best of bed-fellows, as Ed explains.
The kitchen staff tell us that they spend all their wages on beer, and the bar staff tell us they spend all their wages on the food; food that makes you smile and warms your soul.
Plumed Serpent Cantina @ Small Bar, 31 King Street, Bristol, BS1 4DZ
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