Owen Morgan and his siblings Tom and Natalie have been in the restaurant business since 2002 when they first opened Bar 44 in Cowbridge, Wales. Fast forward 16 years and four more successful Spanish-style venues in Wales – three Bar 44s and upmarket restaurant Asador 44 – and the family is taking its first decisive steps out of Wales.
Bar 44 Bristol will open in early July, flying the flag for a better understanding of Jerez’s dry sherries and the country’s more interesting wines.
Owen, who has been preaching the case for sherry since that first venue 16 years ago, says the new venue is another chance to get the UK enjoying the unique wine unadorned and matched with food.
‘Bristol has a great historic link with sherry as a port where a lot of Jerez’s wine would have come through, hence brands like Harvey’s Bristol Cream, so we need to get Bristol up and singing and dancing about sherry,’ he said.
Having searched Bristol for over a year, looking for the perfect location, the company struck gold with a vacant restaurant on Regent Street in Clifton Village. All three Morgan siblings have spent time in the city and think of the opening as a homecoming of sorts.
‘It’s a big passion project of ours, so we feel at home here with lots of contacts in the trade and good friends around. I suppose it’s an acid test of sorts outside of Wales,’ Owen told Imbibe. ‘The competition in Bristol is huge in terms of quality, but we want to embrace that and be part of that scene. It’s easier to stand out in Cardiff and there’s been a few Bristol companies coming over the bridge to Wales, but not the other way, so it’s an important opening.’
Launching with another Bar 44, as opposed to Asador 44’s more formal style that shies away from quick Tapas bites, was a deliberate decision made by Owen, Tom and Natalie to ensure local customers could pop-in, spend £10 and see what the concept was all about.
Despite Bristol’s famed cocktail scene, the battle for sherry to be understood is far from over, according to Owen.
‘You’d be amazed outside of the trade and a small, niche, keen crowd that most of the general public wouldn’t know a manzanilla or fino if it hit them in the face,’ he said.
‘We have a £7 flight we’ve been offering in our bars for the past six or seven years, paired with little snacks, to try and give people a cheap and fun way to have a go at sherry.’
That battle will be over for Owen when the Brits can swap a their jug of Pimms for a half bottle of manzanilla, or opt for a bottle of fino in the fridge for that Friday night tipple rather than white wine.
‘In our bars and restaurants every day we are starting to have more people coming in and saying right what’s it all about then? It is getting more open minded and I do think it’s changing,’ he said.