Sunday, 28 February 2016

Restaurant Review - Pablo's Bistro, Bradford on Avon

By: Mr Robot

Pablo's Bistro, Bradford on Avon

Nestling in a valley a few miles southeast of Bath, Bradford on Avon is one of those picture-postcard chocolate-box cutesy places it's hard not to hate. The kind of place that, when presented with a valley, simply can't help but nestle in it; populated by the sort of people who read an article called "Why we should all move to Bradford on Avon" and act upon it.

However that does make it the kind of place that grows a decent food scene, of which Pablo's Bistro is a little Spanish highlight. BoA is also on one of the main train lines which is an excellent feature for the only driver in the house, who vigorously enjoys his wine.

We'd booked up for Mrs Robot's birthday and I'm pleased to report not a whiff of staff singing or surprise things with candles in - this is a grown-up place that treats its customers with respect.

It's also very very tiny. If it were one of the many boutique clothes shops displaying six frocks and a handbag you'd think, "gosh this is a bit cramped". As a restaurant seating around 25 it's, well, pretty cosy.

That said, if your idea of making friends is to gently brush someone's hair with your bottom as you head to the loo, this is definitely the place for you. The welcoming staff negotiate the space with the grace of ballerinas; we of a more heffalumpy nature must simply suck in the belly and smile apologetically.

Once we squeezed into our window seat, though, we were presented with menus as comprehensive as the place is small.

Salted Almonds, the perfect bar snack
This is proper tapas, done properly (ok, it's not free with booze, but you know what I mean) and in my pre-visit browsing I'd identified something like 17 dishes we'd desperately want to try. As it turned out we only managed 11 but by gumbo they were good.

The only disappointment came early on. We kicked off with some olives, a dish of salted almonds (an absolutely brilliant snack - I've no idea why it's not more common), Rebujitos and what they called Carne Espanol but the rest of us know as a Tabla Variada - a board of bread, meats and cheese, that's pretty much the compulsory start of a good evening.

The highlight of this should have been the Jamon, but I'm afraid that was a letdown. Soft, pale and bland, it had all the hallmarks of machine cut, plastic wrapped, supermarket stuff. This was a worry.

Excellent chorizo, membrillo with the cheese is a nice touch. Shame about the ham
Normally the Jamon is the pride of the establishment and the single biggest indicator of quality. Maybe they'd had a problem with the supplier, maybe they couldn't get the good stuff at a viable price. Whatever it was, this didn't bode well.

Chicharrones & Croquetas - both to die for
Exchanging worried glances, we returned to the menu. I went for Chicharrones, Mrs R for Croquetas de Jamon - not without trepidation since it relies on the ham and is her favourite thing in the world.

Well our fears were unfounded. and everything that followed was a delight.

The chicharrones were outstanding: succulent, crunchy and salty as could be, with the all-important squeeze of lemon. And the croquettes were perfect with tiny chunks of proper Jamon this time - golden, crisp and gooey. Just as they should be.

Mightily relieved, we went on to Tortilla (pretty much the closest we got to vegetables all evening), Pollo al Ajillo for madame and Gambas - prawns with jamon & chorizo - for me.

My prawns saw a return of the plastic ham but this time fried crisp, and it was fine alongside the chorizo, peppers and onion.

Mrs R's chicken in garlic was much more creamy that we've ever had in Spain but tasted wonderful - a luxurious pimping of the bar staple.

Left to right: Gambas, Pollo al Ajillo, Tortilla

We were starting to creak a bit by now but I had an agenda and would damn well see it through. I've lost count of the number of times recently I've opted against squid and regretted it, so I was determined to have the calamares. And it was a wise choice.

Hunny bunny
Then there was the rabbit in honey.

I've never seen this in Spain but it called to me immediately so there's no way I was leaving without it.

It was great - the flesh was perfectly tender with a sticky honey glaze, and a top layer of saltiness that rescued it from over-sweetness and made the whole thing profoundly satisfying.

Mrs R was under some duress by now, but I persuaded her to go for one more dish and she opted for Albondigas.

Meatballs (for it is they) was one of the first tapas we'd ever had and remains a favourite despite some variable experiences.

These looked homemade in the classic style, though made distinctive with big punches of garlic and smoked paprika. They were also pretty substantial (as they should be) and I won't pretend to be sorry she could only manage half of it.

I sincerely wish we'd had capacity for pudding - they have a "tapas selection of desserts" that looked particularly tempting - but by then could only have ended badly. A fine coffee and home was the sensible option.

It's a tremendous little place, Pablos, bringing authentic, classic dishes with a couple of twists of personality.

The price is pretty reasonable too - vegetable dishes around £3.50, and fish and meat coming in around £5-£6 per plate.

Our total cost was around £50 per head, including cocktails, a good bottle of red, and a last-minute bottle of Boqueron beer (excitingly, made with seawater!). Given the quantity, quality and variety of what we had, I consider that pretty good value.

Being slightly less extravagant, you could fill a very happy couple of hours for less than a night in the pub.

I can see this becoming a firm favourite - and once summer kicks in it'll be perfect for lazy afternoons of wine and eats and more wine and more eats, just as tapas should be.

All images (C) PP Gettins


  1. Thanks Mr robot for your great review I have only just noticed it and wanted to say thank name is Paul and I am the head chef at pablos as a restaurant we try to provide authentic spanish tapas with a few twists. So glad you enjoyed it
    Our jamon serrano is 14 month gran reserva from galicia,I wish I had the capacity and storage for a whole jamon on the bone but I don't. We now have jamon iberico de bellita on the menu now too. If your ever in again come and say hello.
    Paul harris

    1. Hi Paul, sorry to be so late replying - notifications still aren't working. Thank you for the comment, and glad you like the write up? We'll definitely be in again soon - and clear you out of jamon! All the best, Pete