Having worked part-time in Spinningfields restaurants for a few years now, I’d always seen Tapeo and Wine on Deansgate and wanted to go. As well as my curiosity of seeing it across the street, having Spanish family and growing up around lots of Spanish food gives you an investigative urge to try a restaurant’s tapas. Let’s be honest, most of the UK’s introductions to tapas are patatas bravas, frozen squid rings or chicken in paprika, which, as a somewhat Spanish person can say, is completely unrepresentative of Spanish cuisine.
But, from Tapeo’s menu, they looked surprisingly authentic and somewhat innovative for UK tapas; four different kinds of bread (obviously including pan con tomate, but also toasted bread with alioli), seven different kinds of embotidos (cured meats) and 6 different kinds of fish-based tapas, with the most exciting for me being buñuelos de bacalao (salt-cod fritters), mejilliones a la crema (mussels in a cream sauce) and calamares a la plancha con setas (fried squid with wild mushrooms). The buñuelos were delicious; think salty, crispy savoury doughnuts with crispy cod skin. Though I was disappointed that the squid came with mushrooms (I’m sorry — I just don’t like them), nothing beats freshly fried squid, which was perfectly seasoned.
The vegetable-based tapas also looked delicious, with quite a few being innovative takes on classic Spanish combinations. The berenjena asada con salsa holandesa, queso feta y piñones (roasted aubergine with hollandaise, feta and pine nuts) sounded delicious. When it arrived, it looked beautiful as well. However, I’d say with this dish, the aubergine needed to be seasoned more, as the feta, hollandaise and softness of the roasted aubergine flesh all combined to make a homogeneous creamy flavour and texture. More crunchy pine nuts were needed and perhaps something acidic like a balsamic vinegar roasted with the aubergine to give some variety from the creaminess. But, aside from this, the dish was wholly enjoyable and very different from the usual vegetable tapas provisions from stereotypical Spanish restaurants.
Now, I wouldn’t usually order paella at a Spanish restaurant just on principle because I’m a what? — FOOD SNOB and paellas are never as good as the ones my mum makes. But, on this occasion, I really wanted to give Tapeo a chance. The reason paellas are never that exciting to English people is because they’re always served wrong. Paellas are more than just yellow rice with chorizo (which rarely actually comes in authentic paellas). Paellas are a Spanish masterpiece, varying with region and influence. But, from any good, authentic paella you’re looking for a creamy, rich rice flavoured with it’s respective base, for example, meat or fish.
Admirably, Tapeo offer the option to have their Paella de marisco (seafood paella) dry or wet. And please, never ask for dry. It just won’t give you what you deserve from a paella. Unfortunately, my other diner was allergic to seafood and s,o as we were sharing this dish, asked if we could go for the Paella Valenciana (chicken and rabbit paella). For those of you squeamish about rabbit, it’s just like a gamier chicken, though is really hard to cook as it goes dry very quick. In lots of regions of Spain, rabbits are grilled up and served with heaping mounds of alioli (a garlic emulsion traditionally made with just garlic, salt and olive oil – no eggs!)
But I digress — back to the paella. For £22 (£29/£32 for the seafood paella), it’s pricey for two. But, it is the centrepiece and occasion of the meal. Now, I won’t drag out the suspense; I was disappointed. The rice was dry and lacking flavour and was very very yellow, indicating not much more had been done to it than just steeping in saffron i.e no rich chicken stock or rabbit base. The chicken and rabbit were sadly, very dry. That’s unfortunately all I can say on that matter.
Overall, Tapeo’s menu is beautifully crafted and very authentically Spanish. It’s expensive, with each tapa averaging £8. I wouldn’t necessarily say what I had was worth the price it was being sold for honestly, but I would be willing to try more dishes and see whether I just had a one-off bad experience, as so many people adore Tapeo.
But for now, not blown away. 6/10.