Firstly, full disclosure. I’m not one of life’s natural tapas fans. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t by any means dislike this famed Iberian cuisine but, on the occasions I’ve frequented a tapas bar, the experience has never really thrilled me. What then would I make of a trip to La Viña in Manchester to experience some of its new dishes? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.
Located in a prime position on Deansgate, La Viña has been a feature in the city centre for more years than I care to remember. But in the restaurant business a prime location is no guarantee of longevity and, over the years, La Viña has seen off more than its fair share of competitors.
The restaurant occupies one of Manchester’s ever stylish Edwardian constructions and, as soon as you cross through its neo-gothic archway, it does its best to relax you. The décor creates an intimate and informal atmosphere, an atmosphere maintained by calm, friendly service and one which isn’t overfaced by overly keen mood music. In combination, these are just the right ingredients for the perfect ambience for sharing food and conversation.
So, what about the food? Our starter for ten was the Tabla La Viña, a selection of charcuteria, cheese and olives cleverly juxtaposed to enhance the various flavours on offer. Here the cheese, a Spanish San Simón, was the surprise star, so much so that I suggested to my guest that we may want to tuck a slice or two behind our ears for later. Sadly, apparently this isn’t the done thing.
Next up the main dish, or to be strictly accurate the main dishes as this was a tapas bar after all. With the menu helpfully recommending that we try three or four dishes each, who were we to question such expert advice? And here was a pleasingly wide selection of dishes on offer, reasonably priced and authentically Spanish in character, none of which disappointed.
The Brocolia A La Brasa – chargrilled tenderstem broccoli with garlic and red chilli dressing – was new on the menu and proved to be a glorious surprise. With an initial delicate flavour, it delivered a bracing aftertaste which was rather like being kissed gently on the lips before having both cheeks lightly slapped. The Selección de Pescado – a Spanish fish selection of ventresca tuna, pulpo, boquerones, smoked sardine and cured anchovies – was a veritable carousel of beautifully presented sealife that delighted with every mouthful.
But the stand-out item, also new on the menu, was Tuétano Con Migas – roasted bone marrow topped with a chorizo crumb. For some, the mere mention of bone marrow will be a turn off, as might the sight of the eponymous and somewhat gelatinous marrow, no matter how tastefully camouflaged by the light, chorizo crumb. But, take my advice and try it, the combination of tastes was simply exquisite.
The pleasing balance of dishes left my guest I and agreeing that dessert was simply out of the question. So we ordered two.
Crema Catalana Helados is a Catalonian delicacy, a custard ice cream infused with vanilla, cinnamon, orange and lemon, with shards of caramelised sugar and every bit as delicious as it sounds. As it charmed my palate I was suddenly struck by just how English-sounding was the concept of custard ice cream; regardless of its Catalan antecedents this was surely a dish made for every English citizen from Churchill to Alan Bennett. This tasty realisation would have been the crowning moment of my dining experience at La Viña, but one more epiphany awaited…and its name was Churros.
Prior to this point in my life, somehow this cinnamon and sugar-dusted Spanish delicacy served with a rich warm chocolate sauce had eluded me. But my dining companion had previously had the pleasure and she wisely chose to repeat the experience. Oh my god, who knew fried-dough pastry sticks could induce such a state of unconditional bliss?
The staff at La Viña enhanced the overall experience with their knowledge of the various dishes on offer. It’s easy to see why the restaurant has thrived over the years – the relaxed, intimate atmosphere combines well with a varied and reasonably priced menu. No doubt it will continue to tempt customers through its doors and encourage them to repeat the experience, me included.