It’s rare these days to walk through Bristol without hearing a Spanish voice; but it has taken an English couple to create the city’s most authentic Spanish restaurants, first with Bravas on Cotham Hill and now with Gambas in Cargo 2 at Wapping Wharf.
Kieran and Imogen Waite have gone from hosting supper clubs in their flat to running some of the best places to eat and drink in Bristol.
Like Bravas, Gambas is buzzy and fizzing with energy, and that’s before you even take a first bite of the food which has been perfected following team research trips to Spain and which here is prepared by a kitchen team headed up by Elisabeth Julienne.
It may only be a few days old, but Gambas has been years in the making with the site that is now Cargo Cantina also on the first floor of Cargo 2 originally due to be Gambas before a pivot from Kieran and Imogen transformed it into Cargo Cantina.
So when Spuntino closed after less than one year, the pair seized on the chance to open Gambas in what is without doubt the best spot in Cargo 2, with an L-shaped suntrap terrace and panoramic views of the Floating Harbour.
It’s still officially a soft opening at Gambas but it did not feel like a test-run on Thursday afternoon.
Soon after 2pm, there were a dozen people sat outside, with Season+Taste executive head chef Mark Chapman (also responsible for Bravas, Bakers & Co, Cargo Cantina and Corner 77) joining Elisabeth and the team behind the stoves.
Friends on one table in the middle of the room were chinking their glasses of cold beer, Imogen sat at one corner of the bar close to baby son Mostyn, with Kieran making drinks behind the bar.
One drink that Kieran was particularly proud of was a Fino sherry on which was balanced a thin spherical disk of almost-translucent battered shrimp, harking back to the origins of tapas which saw food placed over drinks to keep the flies out.
There are ten daily-changing specials at Gambas, which on Thursday ranged in price from £2.80 for a Porthilly oyster with lemon to £7.95 for hake with sautéed picillo pepper.
The seafood paella (£7) – first sampled in May outside Bravas during the Cotham Road street party – was the pick of the bunch, however, a marvelous mix of rice, prawns, mussels and more, all beautifully seasoned.
‘Gambas’ is the Spanish word for prawns and you will find it very difficult to come away from here without trying prawns in at least one dish.
Bread is made freshly on the premises each day and is perfect to soak up the juices of the dishes that were coming out of the kitchen thick and fast on Thursday.
A Russian salad (despite the name actually a Spanish delicacy) was fresh and vibrant, an ensalada salpicon served on a shell was sensational, and anyone who has been to Bravas will recognise the legendary fried aubergine with molasses that is also on the menu here.
Half a dozen gins can be chosen to accompany your tonic including the Bravas collaboration with Psychopomp on St Michael’s Hill, with botanicals such as angelica root, cassia bark and fresh lemon zest; and other gins including Gin Mare from Barcelona and Chase Sevilla Orange from Herefordshire.
There are also half a dozen red and white wines (all from Spain), most available by the glass and bottle, as well as a couple of unusual liquors, pacharán from the Basque Country of north-eastern Spain and Cardenal Mendoza sherry brandy matured for an average of 15 years in Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, three sherries, and five different aperitifs.
“Gracias! Hasta luego,” one customer shouts on his way out to nobody in particular after sampling several drinks from the bar during the course of the afternoon.
Several years in the making, Gambas is well worth the wait; with Kieran and Imogen Waite once again striking gold with their latest opening.
Gambas, Cargo 2, Museum Street, Wapping Wharf, Bristol, BS1 6ZA
0117 934 9256