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Sunday, 26 February 2012

El Rincon de Rafa - Manchester

Manchester's dining scene is often characterised by one of three things:
1. Big and flashy
2. Chi chi, overpriced, faux vintage tea room
3. Cheap and nasty;
and there's not much room for anything else. Unless, that is, you know where to look...

There's a critic's favourite if you can find it, a moody tapas place located down a maze of backstreets off Manchester's Deansgate - at the weekend a booking is essential and you need a map or a local guide to find it. Having not been here for a very long time (and being a little worse for wear the last time), I thought it best to pay them a visit.

Located underground, El Rincon looks authentically rustic - dark woods, white walls and there's legs of ham hanging up at the long bar. Seated at our table we were overlooking an authentic old style refrigeration counter reminiscent of an 80s sandwich shop; but at least it gave us a good view of tapas being taken out and freshly cooked.

Moody and rustic - El Rincon's interior (refrigeration unit out of shot)

The menu's long, with an added list of 'specials' and then hand-written daily specials at the bottom of that. Scanning down it's obvious that El Rincon is rooted firmly in traditional style British tapas - there's the typical Serrano ham, battered prawns and tortilla with the odd unusual (for the UK) dishes thrown in. Unlike Evuna, which is only a stone's throw away up the road; there's no premium hams, no twists on traditional dishes and no regional specials.

Thinly sliced Serrano ham

Prawns with a garlicky sauce were large, soft and juicy, the batter was feather light if ever so greasy and the accompanying sauce had a good old punch of garlic. Battered hake was also exceptionally well cooked, again the batter was a little greasy and you could taste the oil this time, but there was no garlic sauce to save it - just bought in mayonnaise.

Greasy prawns and hake

Fillet steak in red wine had a tinny, livery taste and a fabada of haricots with morcilla and pancetta was thin and watery, plus it lacked the advertised porcine delights (indeed only one piece of each was evident). The patatas bravas were slightly soft and again there was that light slick of oil to them, but the sauce  was deep and screamed sun drenched plum tomatoes, plus had a good old kick to it. Pinchos stole the show - soft and sweet with a fresh, lively salsa on top that sang out from the more mediocre offerings on the table.

Patatas bravas - bringing some sunshine to Manchester

El Rincon's pared back interior and pared back cooking means you're not going to be wowed with culinary creativity or Michelin type magic, but the food's reasonably priced and you get a big portion for what you pay. The service was excellent; friendly staff were happy to get us what we wanted even if the boy was constantly ordering new dishes left, right and centre. The food arrived quickly, even though El Rincon was full to bursting, coming out in traditional 'when the dish is ready' style rather than all at once.

Pinchos with a  lovely fresh salsa on the top

I'm not sure, as a 'critic,' I'd call it a favourite or that I was that happy with the food; however for a night out with friends who don't want something extra special or usual Manchester high prices, then it's just the ticket. At least there's no pretence here and you don't get stung for the average quality food as you would in most of Manchester's other eateries.

Price for seven tapas, basket of bread, two beers and a large glass of house red - £54.60

Food - 5/10
Atmosphere - 7/10
Service - 7/10
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 26/40

Go again? Maybe with a group of friends who just wanted a lot of reasonably priced food, but I'll go elsewhere to get my culinary kicks.

El Rincon de Rafa, off St John's Street, 244 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4BQ - 0161 839 8819

El Rincon de Rafa on Urbanspoon