Mark Taylor, Food & Drink Critic at Bristol Live, questioned Owen Morgan of Bar 44, in anticipation of their launch in Bristol.
My siblings and I have always had the ambition to open a restaurant in Bristol. We started our business in 2002 in South Wales and are probably one of the longest running, high quality Spanish food and drink operators in the UK. Bristol has always been a second home and a city we just love. Between us we lived here for 16 years and have always felt like Bristol life and culture was a part of us.
The fact that Bristol arguably has the best food and drink scene in the UK outside London is also a huge draw for us. We definitely want to be a part of that. We have many personal and industry friends here, and feel excited and right at home opening a venue in the city.
The Spanish restaurant and tapas bar scene is strong in Bristol, we know most of the venues personally. We think we will add to the mix and compliment the current offering really well. It’s just such a positive scene in Bristol and what’s more, it’s all based on quality, with passionate people cooking from scratch with high quality produce – that’s how we have built what we have, as well as our unique drinks offering.
We have lots of Bristol based customers already that regularly visit us in Cardiff. They always say "oh we wish you’d open in Bristol". That’s encouraging and lovely, but we need to make sure we can open and really deliver in terms of amazing food, drink, service and atmosphere, every day. People want a quality meal out with friends and that’s what we strive to provide.
I think we will slot into the scene really well. Our menus and our take on Spanish cuisine and culture is different to other venues, so we think will add to the diverse food scene and be embraced by the public and also the hospitality trade in Bristol.
The beauty of Bar 44 is that we’ve always been many things to many people. So people use us for a quick get together, midweek lunch, a business lunch on the run, an intimate meal out to try exciting food and drink, a celebration evening, or a bite to eat after school with the kids, then also after work drinks and nibbles. We are also a great place for an alternative Sunday lunch. Then there’s the sherry and the unique beers, gins and cocktails.
That may sound like a lot of different types of customer, but people really do use us as a venue for many different things. The main point is that we can be part of the community and a focal point, with consistently excellent food, drink and service.
Massively so. Our children’s tapas menus have always been talked about. They are definitely a great way to get children, even the most conservative, to try three or four things at once on a plate, at under £5.
Families also love coming to us to explore whole tapas menu too, as children can try so many things that they may not have the opportunity to by having one plate of food in another restaurant. If they try something new from a tapas dish that’s great. If they don’t like it, it’s not the end of the world, there are lots more plate left on the table to eat from.
Our Spanish hot chocolates have a big following elsewhere, as do our home-made ice creams.
That after school time slot is ideal to come and enjoy a few of these things, as is our Spanish take on Sunday lunch with the family.
In 2002 we named our original bar, which is still going, as Bar 44 because that was the building number on the night street. It was an old derelict social club on the first floor, which we turned around, created a venue and learned our craft through trial and error, blood, sweat and tears.
So, the number 44 has always been part of us. By the name, many may not realise we have always been ingrained in Spanish food, drink and culture. It runs through us and we hope our knowledge and nearly 16 years of hard work and development, shows in what arrives at the table. We have always been one of the leading Spanish restaurants and bars in the country, trying to lead the way and bring a lot of new produce and drinks to customers long before they became popular with the Spanish boom in the UK.
We did this by taking traditional recipes and ingredients from all the regions in Spain we’ve travelled around. We have immersed ourselves in the culture, food and drink in Spain by spending time with great chefs and visiting every type of restaurant. We have taken that knowledge, the methods and ingredients and adapted them to produce interesting, simple but enticing combinations on the plate. We’ve become very well known for producing great classics, as well as creative modern takes on dishes using exhaustively sourced unrivalled Spanish produce in a dish with exceptional seasonal local ingredients.
As you’d expect, it’s cooking from scratch every day and from the heart. Simple attractive plates of food using incredible ingredients, cooked with care, skill and most importantly bags of flavour. We teach our teams the traditions and roots of the dishes we gain inspiration from, as well as the regions and ingredients.
The food of course is only 50% of a great experience. Our drinks sourcing and curating is obsessive. We specialise in food and drink pairing, which we think every restaurant should do naturally. Sherry plays a starring role as do sherry cocktails, Spanish craft beers, vermuts, Spanish ciders and gins. Our cava offering and wine list are ever evolving and has won the UK’s best Spanish restaurant list a few times because of its focus and quality.
With bells on.
There will always be at least 20 sherries available by the glass, as well as sherry flights and pairings with food.
We will be turning one of the flag-stoned old bank vaults downstairs into a sherry based private dining room for dinners and celebrations. Sherry literally runs through our veins, just as it used to in Bristol as a city. It’s historically indelibly linked with Jerez and the sherry towns because of its shipping past, with even a style of sherry stemming from Bristol.
There is so much to shout about in the world of sherry, being in our eyes the most underestimated wine category - you can literally find a sherry to pair with any ingredient or dish on the planet.
We will be celebrating all this within the venue, menus, touches in the decor and also the private dining rooms.
It means a lot. All three of us spent a big part of our earlier years in Bristol, it’s amazing to finally be coming back and bringing what we love and are passionate about to the city. Not many months have gone by over the years when we haven’t spent time in Bristol even when not living here, as we have only just been over the bridge. With lots of friends here and wanting to provide something different and great, we are really excited and can’t wait to get going. It’s the place and city we’ve always wanted to open in.