On one side, it is everything a real foodie wants from an authentic Spanish restaurant. Expect recipes that feel traditional and historic made with all the ingredients you would expect to find in a tiny seaside restaurant in San Sebastian.
At the same time, Tapeo is modern, trendy and relaxed with dishes which are cutting edge and beautifully presented. I like a restaurant that can withstand its own duality, so on recommendation, I popped down a few weeks back to try the new menu.
We kicked things off with the lovely Ensalada Xato de Bacalao y Anchoas (£8) which was a fresh salad of salt cod, anchovies, tomatoes and roasted hazelnuts. It had generous blobs of romesco, a Catalonian sauce made from roasted peppers, almonds and hazelnuts, which just so happens to be a favourite acquirement of mine so Tapeo certainly gained some Brownie points there.
The dish felt very much Spanish in every sense with the salt cod, anchovies and romesco- three of the country’s most famous traditional ingredients. The salad was lovely and tart with a lot of fresh crispness and all in all, it was a fantastic start to the meal.
Sticking with the salt cod, next was Buñuelos de Bacalao (£8) which were definitely a naughtier use of the deliciously savoury Bacaloa. These were deep fried cod fritters which were salty and crispy in equal measure without being too oily which is always a plus.
On top was a crunchy, well-seasoned bit of fish skin which made the umami seafood flavour that little bit stronger with delicious results. These came served with piparra pepper and aioli which was a fantastic, fragrant accompaniment to these crispy balls of fish.
Contrasting, in true Tapas style, was the Calabaza Asada (£9). This was a bowl of roasted butternut squash sat in a chilled butternut soup or liquor finished with generous chunks of mozzarella, pumpkin seeds, crispy breadcrumbs and cress.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly liked the dish. It was light, delicate and creamy to say the very least, but I must say it didn’t feel very Spanish. I guess that is refreshing at times, but third dish in I wanted to feel like I was being hit in the face by a Matador and it didn’t quite do it for me.
However, Spanish food is notoriously difficult at being vegetarian, so it certainly ticked some boxes there without being a boring, uninspired vegetable stew or Pan Con Tomate. It was certainly one of the more attractive dishes I have seen – so I’ve got to give it that too.
Next was Pulpo con Garbanzos y Chorizo (£14). Pulpo, or octopus, to you and me, is a delicacy in many Mediterranean countries, including Spain – so you get lots of delicious recipes floating about. Be that as it may, none of them can come close to the one used to make this dish if you ask me.
Who would have thought that a rich, chorizo enriched chickpea stew would be the perfect accompaniment to the muscular tentacle of the octopus? Certainly not me. The rich, smoky notes which I expect came from liberal use of Spanish sweet paprika, was comforting while the fish itself was perfectly cooked and tender. I must say, this particular plate of food was rather difficult to share.
Parmentier de Patata con Huevo (£9.50) was next on the agenda and I have never had anything quite like it. This dish was made up rich and creamy potatoes with a runny sous-vide egg topped off with some delicious Jamon, cheese and some fried breadcrumbs for a bit of texture.
Somehow, the combination of eggs, potatoes and ham was incredibly nostalgic and relaxing for me. We were told by our waitress that that best way to eat this is to mix it all together into a big huge mess and tuck in – and she was absolutely right.
The ham was the real winner for me. The flavour was fantastic and the obvious quality of it was certainly apparent. It was even a real treat watching the master carver at work cutting the ham into stained-glass translucent sheets for us to gobble a few minutes later.
I also sampled a stunning Suckling Pig dish on the specials board. However, it is no longer there, so I didn’t want to be unfair in talking about how succulent, juicy, fatty and crispy it was when you can’t go in there and order it – I am not that cruel.
However, what I can talk about is that Tapeo & Wine has a fantastic board of specials that change monthly to keep things fresh and seasonal like traditional meat dishes, shellfish and desserts. Honestly, the changing specials will have you in there every month from now until the end of time.
On to dessert, we ordered the Textura de Chocolate Con Crema de Baileys (£6.50). If you like cream, chocolate, booze and all things good – you are going to fall head over heels for this sumptuous dessert.
It basically consists of a ball of chocolate ice cream paired with crunchy chocolate soil, shards of shaved chocolate, Bailey's cream, aerated coffee sponge, milk foam and little jewel-like bits of fresh orange.
I don’t speak Spanish (as you can probably tell), but I know enough to know that the clue is in the name with this one. This dish is all about Textura – there are crispy, creamy, smooth, cold, sweet, juicy and cold elements to this dessert which make it exciting to eat and if you’ve read any of my work before you will know I like a dish that can keep me on my toes. It was an excellent way to finish the meal.
In recent years, or at least since my last visit a year or so ago, I would definitely say Tapeo & Wine has upped its game. On first glance, it might look like your standard Spanish joint that serves Patatas Bravas and Chorizo in red wine by the bucket load. But it’s not that kind of place.
You might instead think that it was ‘rustically authentic’- which would mean that you are again wrong, or at least partly. Sure, there are certainly nods to the traditional on the menu in the form of rabbit paella, beef tripe stew but it is more than that too.
Tapeo sits in a sweet spot between the traditional and unbelievably modern and current. Conventionally Spanish ingredients like Bacalao, Parmentier Potatoes and Jamon are given fresh updates to form hybrid dishes which are representative of contemporary Spanish culinary culture rather than the appropriation of what we think it is here in the UK.
Tapeo & Wine, 209, Deansgate M3 3NW, Manchester, United Kingdom