In an age where the UK is throwing away £13 billion of food each year, restaurants being a huge contributor, Poco in Bristol is pioneering for change.
Having started out on the festival circuit, Poco is now situated in Bristol’s trendy Stokes Croft. It is an environmentally-focused restaurant run by a team of three: Tom Hunt (Executive Chef, food waste activist and author of ‘The Natural Cook‘), Ben Pryor (Executive Bar Manager and forager) and Jen Best (Team Manager and all things business). Together the team runs a tight ship – fresh and seasonal dishes are coupled with attentive service and a visible passion for food.
Having tried and tested the Poco menu and intimate restaurant setting, Imogen Flynn caught up with Jen to find out the secrets behind their success on the food scene.
1) Why is Bristol the right place for Poco?
Our roots began in the festival circuit and so we were born out of a liberal, creative space. Bristol is a beautiful city with boundless free expression and a strong consciousness for environmental issues and social well being. This is what Poco is about, so it was a no brainer to make this city our home.
2) What do you think is different about Poco in comparison to other tapas restaurants in Bristol?
Our styles and our atmosphere. Our food is not authentic Spanish tapas, but tapas inspired by a wider Latin and Moorish cuisine – with a British twist. Our menu is made up of only the freshest seasonal produce sourced from local farms.
The atmosphere at Poco is full of warmth and carries an exciting buzz. We care about what we are trying to achieve and we’re careful to hire people with a true warmth and sincerity. We’re building a natural family unit, which, we hope, passes a whole lot of love onto our customers.
3) Would you say that Poco has a particular ethos towards food and the food industry?
Most definitely. We’re passionate about minimising our impact on the environment and supporting the local economy as much as possible. Our food and ingredients are chosen for their traceability. We buy directly from farms and producers wherever possible, because of the close relationships and trust that creates.
Because of this, our ingredients are always evolving to reflect what is at it’s best and of the moment. Our menu is very much veg-centric but the meat and fish that we do buy comes only from ethical sources. Our meat will always be free-range and the fish we choose to put on our menu is graded ‘safe to eat’ by the Marine Conservation Society.
It’s not just about the sourcing of food, but what happens to it as a waste product. We weigh every single bag of waste that leaves the restaurant so we know exactly how many kilos of food waste we produce (which we split between prep waste and plate waste) so we can understand best how to reduce it.
Our chefs use a nose-to-tail and root-to-fruit policy in the kitchen to ensure the whole animal or vegetable is used. Our front of house team also advise customers on the appropriate number of plates to order and they offer doggy bags when guests can’t finish their meal.
4) Is sustainability important to you and how would you say you incorporate this into your business?
We were awarded Sustainable Restaurant of the Year in 2016 and we are constantly striving to improve our standards. We are trying to move on from just behaving sustainably, to behaving in a way that is regenerative for both the environment and society. We’re doing this by supporting suppliers with regenerative practices and supporting the local community to create positive change. Behaving sustainably is at the core of what Poco is about.
We obviously want to provide our customers with the tastiest food and drink and give them a space to relax, but every single decision that goes into making that happen is carefully considered to ensure we are reducing our impact on the environment. We monitor our sourcing, energy consumption, staff well being, and community engagement on a regular basis to ensure we are doing our best.
5) How did you come up with the idea?
Tom had been running the festival stalls, Poco Morocco and The Shisha Lounge, for many years when Ben and I came on board to help with one year. We made a great team and decided to set up in bricks and mortar on Stokes Croft in 2011. We evolved the offering from the posh wraps at festivals to a style of tapas that was inspired by the same flavours but with strictly British ingredients.
6 ) Who is your clientele?
As we’re placed in the bohemian quarter of Stokes Croft, a lot of our customers are local artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. We have a beautifully romantic atmosphere in the evenings, so we do get a lot of people on dates. Now that we have been open nearly six years, we are now getting messages from people who had their first dates in Poco, telling us that they are getting married! Similarly, though, we have lots of big groups and a varied demographic. We try not to be exclusive with our offering or pricing, so our doors are open for absolutely everyone.
7) What is your most popular dish?
Hmmm…perhaps the pork belly with lemon and fennel, or the Portuguese punched potatoes with harissa and aioli. These two have been on our menu since the beginning in varying forms and we daren’t take them off for the wrath we might experience from our regulars!
9) What would you say is the hardest thing about running a restaurant? Any tips?
Finding the chefs! We are quite lucky because we have a team that keeps together for quite some time, but there is a nation-wide chef shortage. This makes it very difficult to find replacements.
The restaurant industry doesn’t have the best reputation in terms of employee well-being, in particular due to the hours that chefs and front of house managers are expected to work. I think this might be putting a lot of people off training to be chefs.
This is why we cap hours at 48 per week for our managers. Any more than that and productivity and staff well being begin to diminish. We try to encourage a healthy life-work balance because simply in doing so you will have a happier and healthier work force!
A recipe tip from Poco….
Moreish Portuguese Potatoes
We par-boil them and quite literally punch or squeeze them so they break.
Once fried they are then tossed with lemon zest and coriander seeds and have the most delicious texture of crispy vs fluffy.
Dipped in our signature harissa or aioli sauce… so so good.
45 Jamaica St
0117 923 2233