Jazz music plays overhead as the tall, well-spoken waiter places a carafe of iced water and dish of home-roasted nuts on the table in Palomar.
Amid the stormy seas of politics and pre-Christmas planning, this newly-opened Gloucester Road restaurant is like an island of calm – one that boasts an impressive wine and cocktail list and where the catch of the day is plentiful and beautifully presented.
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Formerly home to the Urban Standard bar, the premises has retained the black and white floor and distinctive thistle motif tiles around the top of the wall. With rustic furniture, wood-panelled walls, twinkling fairy lights around the windows and candles on each tabletop, the effect is classy in a cosy, laidback way.
Palomar is headed up by the owner of the adjacent café bar Blue Lagoon, Aly Hussein, and is billed as a fine dining fish house and bar.
On a recent Wednesday evening, only a scattering of diners have braved the cold night to come out for a meal but those who have are being well rewarded, as evidenced by the mutters of appreciation.
“I would personally recommend the mussels,” says the waiter, taking the time to talk through a menu that is almost entirely fish-based, bar a couple of vegetarian options. He hands over the drinks menu, pointing out the special ‘fine wines’ list on a blackboard. There’s also an inventive-looking cocktail menu and a selection of beers, ciders and spirits.
Food options include the likes of scallop ceviche as a starter and mains of monkfish tail, slow-cooked octopus or fried tiger prawns.
Ordering a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc (£23.99) in anticipation of a seafood feast, we follow the recommendation of a mussel sharer (£7.50 for 250g) to start, followed by cod loin (£19.50) and cured mackerel (£17.50) dishes for mains.
Knowledgeable and patient, the waiter answers any questions, including what ‘triple-cooked’ chips actually means (first they are blanched in water, then fried and left to cool and finally fried at a higher temperature to get a crispy coating).
A couple come into the restaurant just to have a drink and soak up the cosy atmosphere. They are given the same impeccable service as the tables of diners.
The wine is crisp and delicious, while the bowl of mussels sets a strong start to the meal; it is served in a delicate garlic and white wine sauce with a plate of fresh sourdough and baguette slices, which are perfect for soaking up the flavours.
Each of the beautifully-presented main dishes is a testament to the chef’s creative skills.
The cod loin, served with pickled tomatoes, red cabbage espuma, fennel, roast artichoke and apple, is a refreshing and light medley of flavours. Placing it on the table, the waiter adds the tomato consommé with a flourish.
The accompanying chips (£3.80) are proof that triple-cooking is the way ahead. Glistening from the fryer, they are perfectly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside – and much needed to soak up some of the liquid on the plate.
The cured mackerel, served with cauliflower puree, butternut squash, dill-infused oil and nasturtium leaves, is packed full of zesty flavour, although the fish is slightly tough in places. A side of broccoli (£3.80), tender and soaked in butter complements the meal.
A generous portion of homemade tiramisu (£7.95) could have benefitted from a splash more brandy – at least for this diner’s tastes – but is a satisfying end to a spectacular meal.
Taking the time to talk after the meal on what is a relatively quiet evening, the waiter – who is studying for a masters in volcanology at Bristol University when he’s not at the restaurant – reveals that work is underway on a new menu for the new year.
Offering something a bit different on this section of Gloucester Road, Palomar is an ideal destination for a special occasion meal. Come for the food and impeccable service, linger for the relaxed, cosy ambience.
Palomar Fish House & Bar, 35 Gloucester Road, Bishopston,, Bristol, BS7 8AD