When a new restaurant opens without any fanfare, it’s difficult to know what to think. Is it because they’re not confident enough to have the masses descending on them immediately, or because they believe that word of mouth will draw people in?
Either way, it was possibly a little unfair of us to visit new tapas bar and lounge La Tomatina just four days after their first day of trading. It was clear that the staff were still bedding in (a few misplaced orders being brought to our table and the occasional crash of dropped cutlery highlighting this point), and many of the meat tapas were unavailable when we visited. As I say, though, we put this down to first week niggles, and are definitely planning on heading back as a result of our initial visit.
Situated on the corner of Park Street and Unity Street, the premises are completely unrecognisable from their previous incarnation as the office of recruitment agency Sue Sheppard. Red themes sit alongside smart wooden tables and flooring, Spanish posters and a huge Spanish flag adorn the walls, blackboards advertise specials and live entertainment, as well as telling the story of the famous festival after which the place is named. Floor to ceiling windows – open when we arrived – Spanish music and outdoor seating add, weather-dependent, to the relaxed, Spanish feel that the place is trying to achieve.
After being seated at a table in the back room, we took the opportunity to browse and order from the drinks menu: a range of wines (not just Spanish) starting at £3.25 per glass, beers (including San Miguel, Estrella Damm and Cruzcampo), and even a Spanish cider in the form of El Gaitero. Sangria can be bought by the pitcher, and a short cocktail list is also available.
The food menu itself is fairly extensive. Open from 7.30am, La Tomatina serves hot English breakfasts, as well as a Spanish option with chorizo, crisp Serrano ham and morcilla. The breakfast menu also features a range of cakes and pastries to go with your choice of hot drink or freshly squeezed orange juice, including magdalenas (Spanish cupcakes) and churros – wonderful Spanish doughnuts served with either honey or chocolate. It’s a real shame that these aren’t also available later in the day!
La Tomatina also offers a range of sandwiches, salads, burgers and steaks, with a takeaway option also available for many dishes. Head chef Ash Haskins has said that customers will be able to place their takeaway order by phone to save waiting – everything is made freshly to order.
We’re very keen to head back and try their Valencian paella. Priced at £9.95 for meat or £10.95 for seafood, the paella is available for a minimum of two people – with a warning that the dish may take up to 30 minutes to arrive.
The reason for our visit, however, was to try the restaurant’s tapas menu. With a range of 25 tapas available, priced between £3 and £10.95 (the latter for the Iberico charcuterie selection), the menu ranges from the standard (marinated olives, Spanish meatballs, whitebait) to the less common. We were keen to try the chicken and blue cheese croquettes (£3.50) but these sadly weren’t available…next time!
We ordered the recommended number of five dishes for two people, with the first dishes out of the kitchen being the Iberico chorizo with red wine, garlic and herbs (£4.25) and the deep fried whitebait with allioli (£3.50).
Rich, fatty and with a hint of sweetness, the sausages were well cooked, and the oily red wine and herb sauce made us wish we’d ordered some bread to mop up the remainder. A little light on the garlic, perhaps, but that’s all down to personal taste.
The whitebait were mine and mine alone (the joys of dining with a friend who doesn’t like things with eyes and tails…!) A very reasonable portion for £3.50, crisp and with a pungent allioli that more than made up for the lack of garlic with the chorizo…
The next dish to emerge was one we’d chosen out of pure curiosity – the tortilla de camarones (£3.50).Described on the menu as “a delicious fritter containing brown shrimps”, this was essentially a shrimp omelette. It wasn’t the most obvious pairing, we thought, but it was one that worked.
Patatas bravas (£3.00) are always something that we’ll order when we go out for tapas – there’s something comforting about the simplicity of a bowl of fried potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce. No complaints here from me: the potatoes themselves were lovely and crisp, the sauce thick enough not to make the potatoes soggy, a decent amount of spice. The errant peppers (not stated on the menu) were a bit of a shock to my pepper-detesting friend, though…
Finally, the gaspacho soup (£3.50) that she’d ordered – surprising that the cold dish was the last to arrive…? It was worth the wait, though - the perfect consistency, with the individual flavours of tomato, cucumber and peppers all coming through strongly. Fresh basil and basil oil added a lovely summery touch.
Despite being fairly quiet by the time we’d finished our meal, we were left waiting with empty plates on the table for quite a while – in the end, we headed over to the bar to pay our bill. We *did* visit in the first week, though, so we weren’t expecting service levels to be at 100% just yet!
Five tapas, two glasses of wine and a soft drink worked out at just over £26 – a bargain! We’re definitely planning on heading back – both for paella, and to try some of the tapas dishes that weren’t available when we visited. La Tomatina is also in a very convenient location for me for work lunch breaks, so I’m sure I’ll be heading over there for that very purpose soon. A great option to suit all budgets, and a promising start for the new venue. Recommended.