Matt and Cat welcome all suggestions for new venues so keep ’em coming! On this site’s well-populated ‘suggest a venue‘ page have been two requests for M and C to review El Toro Contento Tapas Bar, Ventnor. So, on a beautiful sunny Easter Sunday, they paid a visit.
Having built up an appetite photographing the famous Ventnor wall lizards and with their breakfast of Easter eggs wearing off, Matt and Cat squeezed into the small but welcoming tapas bar. The atmosphere seemed genuinely Spanish, as was the chef who briefly greeted Matt and Cat before retreating into the kitchen. The very friendly lady behind the bar explained how tapas works, and made some suggestions.
Tapas is a bit of an unexplored food genre for your reviewers – apart from a brief and frankly underwhelming ‘meal’ of three miserable anchovies and a plate of half a dozen olives in a trendy tapas bar on the mainland some years ago. Despite this off-putting experience, Matt was keen to give tapas another go, and Cat was very hungry.
With tapas, patrons order several small dishes and combine them for a full meal. El Toro Contento offered a good selection on both the set menu and the diverse specials board, from which could be chosen dishes containing black pasta, squid, wild potatoes and prawns – surely something for everyone? The main menu was in Spanish with helpful translations enabling the linguistically-challenged Matt and Cat to make an informed choice of:
- garbanzos con espinacas (chickpeas with spinach)
- tortilla de patatas (Spanish potato omelette)
- patatas bravas (wild potatoes)
- linguini (black pasta) with mushroom and cheese sauce
- stuffed squid in tomato sauce with langoustine
Deciding to immerse themselves in the tapas bar experience, they also chose the house speciality, an unnamed West African drink made with fresh ginger, lemon juice and muscovado sugar. Matt thought this zesty brew was deliciously refreshing, but alas Cat pulled her special face when tasting the very gingery concoction – contortions usually reserved for sipping beer or licking raw lemons. The lady behind the bar very kindly swapped the ginger drink for a more palatable Coke, at no extra charge – luckily for Cat the wind didn’t change during the substitution!
Whilst waiting for the little dishes of food, Matt and Cat were presented with a basket of pana con tomate – bread with tomato sauce. Tapping their toes to the north African music, they looked around the venue with its interesting map of Spain, bullfighting posters and gigantic ham, complete with trotter!
Before long, their freshly-cooked dishes arrived, served on one big compartmentalised platter, apart from the linguini, which had a plate of its own. Certainly a vast improvement on Matt and Cat’s previous meagre tapas experience!
The eclectic array of dishes were all delicious in their own way. The potatoes were lovely and spicy, the linguini’s sauce had the perfect balance of cheese and mushrooms, and the squid was textured and fishy without being rubbery and unpleasant. The fresh little salad contained lettuce, olives, radish and tomatoes and the omelette boasted local eggs. The tapas was surprisingly filling for a food concept that was originally given for free to accompany a drink before lunch or dinner in Spain.
Having enjoyed their meal, Matt and Cat decided to stay for dessert and coffee; Matt opted for idiazábal con membrillo (Basque cheese with quince jelly), and Cat played it safe with a panellet – a small Catalan almond and pine nut cake. Matt, a cheese aficionado, favoured the slightly nutty cheese, describing it as a cross between Leerdammer and Parmesan.
Having spent a relaxing hour or so in the bar, Matt and Cat settled up. Tapas isn’t particularly cheap; the cost of the small dishes soon adds up and there isn’t really enough in a single dish to satiate one’s appetite. But it’s worth it: the quality and taste of the food was very good. El Toro Contento Tapas Bar has a great atmosphere and, with its concept of dish-sharing, is ideal for a real social occasion. It is highly recommended.
El Toro Contento Tapas Bar, Ventnor