This is an archive review, Pintxo Playa is now closed.
There’s a lot of hot air talked about ‘real’ tapas. If there’s such a thing as authentic tapas, then presumably you’d need to go to Spain to get it.
Or maybe not. Tapas, like so many other national cuisines, has already generated its own separate identity within British cooking that isn’t necessarily a strict copy of the archetypical native style. On the Isle of Wight an example of this in practice is the menu at the Blacksheep Bar, which although not quite as extensive as it once was still includes some great tapas-English fusion dishes. But if you do want to enjoy tapas close to its Iberian roots then the Island has a remarkable treat in store: El Toro Contento tapas bar in Ventnor, a delightful experience which Matt and Cat always enjoy. This bar is great – but tiny. So, rather than expand the existing site, the same folk have opened another bar a few hundred metres away down on the seafront, the Pintxo Playa. Matt and Cat were not going to pass up on the chance to try it out, and so on one of the few sunny evenings in August, they picked up a pal and set off for a tapas-fest.
As it was still daylight, Matt and Cat pondered one of the tempting outside terrace tables, but wise Cat knew that as the evening drew in it would get cooler, so the party settled for a window seat indoors that still had good views out over picturesque Ventnor beach.
Of course, in the search for authenticity, Matt and Cat should point out that pintxos are not strictly tapas but a Basque variety of the genre. The Pintxo Playa menu describes them as ‘tiny portions of delicious food, usually balanced on a slice of bread’. Although as it happened, there were no pintxos on offer that evening, there was still plenty to choose from.
The menu proved to be a variant of the familiar El Toro Contento one, with perhaps more of an emphasis on meals rather than tapas. A huge list of dishes provided an almost bewildering range to choose from. One page heralded “Fish Fish Fish!!!”; and sure enough fish was featured in spades – with one hour’s notice Pintxo Playa will even cook fresh paella for you. Matt and Cat were not about to wait an hour to eat, so they decided to save the paella for another time. They also discovered the answer to a question they’d been wondering about – how does El Toro run two restaurants at once? In sole charge of Pintxo Playa that evening was the Spanish chef himself, Serafin, whilst his partner Lorraine presumably was handling the customers up at El Toro. This probably explains why Pintxo Playa is more of a lunchtime venue, and doesn’t always open very late – Serafin must trot up the hill to cook the dinners there too. There’s also a note on the door informing potential customers that evening opening is weather-dependent.
But for once, M & C were on time and in the right place, and so Serafin was ready to cook them up some Spanish delights. They picked a range of the smaller dishes to share: spicy Caribbean crab cakes with mango salsa, lamb cutlets, and Matt’s favourite chorizo in Spanish cider. To round it off Cat chose a blue cheese salad with yoghurt dressing.
Crab cakes x 2 £13.80
Blue cheese salad £5.80
Lamb cutlets £6.90
Cakes x 3 £2.70
Coffee x 3 £4.80
Serafin got busy in the little kitchen, which is right behind the bar for all to watch. He was also acting as front-of-house, so he did an impressive and largely successful job dashing between the guests on the terrace, the sizzling food, and his charges inside.
The sun was still shining on Ventnor beach as the food arrived; a impressive tableful of freshly-cooked delights. The dishes were accompanied by splendid little salads which were absolutely fresh, as well as slices of baguette anointed with oil. There was plenty for all, and the three friends divided it out – after all, this kind of food is just perfect for sharing.
As it turned out, Matt was left to consume the chorizo in cider largely by himself – he loves this unashamedly greasy and salty dish for its simple but potent flavours and textures. Cat, by contrast, was most taken with the blue cheese salad which was a prodigious bowlful of that same excellent fresh salad mix, copious amounts of blue cheese and a gentle, lightly tangy yoghurty dressing. The home-made crab cakes and the lamb cutlets both received praise from the diners – especially the zingy fresh mango salsa. This really was a good repast.
The pleasure wasn’t over yet as Matt, Cat and friend decided to end their dinner with a selection of cakes; respectively chocolate brownie, orange sponge and chocolate cake. Along with some good coffee this proved to be an excellent way to finish the meal.
Pintxo Playa is a charming addition to Ventnor’s seafront, and a worthy companion to the veritable El Toro Contento. It’s got a great atmosphere, an unusual and stimulating menu, and some deliciously fresh and enjoyable food. Matt and Cat recommend it.