Deanna Thomas on how a humble Spanish dish can bring family bliss
We pulled up outside Tinto in a foul mood. Our family had spent the afternoon getting lost on the way to a thing no one wanted to go to anyway. So we were all feeling a bit testy. In we piled, with me reminding everyone, through clenched teeth, how fortunate they were that coming with me on a work thing usually involves a decent feed.
Tinto opened in August, taking over the former Chalk site on Wilmslow Road. Its owners are Natalia Esquerdo and Nacho Perez, the couple behind Tapeo and Wine on Deansgate, before they sold their shares to Juan Mata’s dad.
The interior doesn’t exactly shout Viva Espania! But that’s no issue. Greater Manchester is rich with decent Spanish-run restaurants and the Iberian props of the La Tascas of this world are unnecessary. Tinto only whispers at its nationality in touches like Andalucian esparto blinds, a Sherry crate covered bar and a huge paella pan pinned to one wall.
Tinto is an Asador - a restaurant specialising in cooking over an open coal or wood-fired oven - so blackboards offer a live report on the weights and availability of the menu, such as whole turbot (£5/100g), or the very special ten-year-old, 45-day-aged Galician blonde beef (£7.50/100g). The only weight of Galician left during our visit was 780g for £58.50. Once we worked out how many different tapa that equated to it was unfortunately a no-go, plus the steak, turbot and Menorcan milk fed lamb all come with a 40 minute warning – as do paellas (which are made from scratch) - so a few tapa were happily unavoidable.
Have you ever tried ordering tapas to satisfy a bickering family? The Middle East peace talks must be a doddle in comparison. A £4 glass of Cava took the edge off it, chased swiftly by a glass of Academia de Los Nocturnos (£4.50); an easy drinking red wine so rich, smooth and good in value, it shall now be the house wine I compare all others against.
A plate of smoky pimentos de padron drizzled with good XVOO and salt (£3.75) hinted at the magic a wood-fired oven imparts to food. After this, we went mainly in the direction of fish, except for a dish of top quality chorizo picante (£4.50), because my lad seems to need chorizo like other people need sunshine.
I was hoping to freak the kids out with a full octopus tentacle, but Tinto’s smoky paprika-dusted pulpo a la brasa (£9.60, pictured top) was served chopped into more palatable bits. It slipped down as easily as a sailor down a sea monster’s gullet. Four gambas al ajillo (£9.50, pictured top) meant a whole plump, nutty prawn each to savour. Make sure to order some pan de pueblo (£2.50) - dry European bread, designed solely for wiping the juices off plates.
Arroz Negro del Senyoret (£5.50), black squid ink rice with Spanish wild garlic, will make you look like you’ve been at the Pontefract cakes, but has real depth and that good, characteristic chew. Tabla del Mar (£10) a fish platter of marinated mussels in the shell, pickled octopus, anchovies and air dried tuna fish would make a decent, protein packed lunch if you’re local.
But it wasn’t until the Paella Valenciana (£12 per person, minimum of two people) arrived that we felt an almost magical lift of mood. The Spanish Euro-pop playing through the speakers ceased to irritate and we started laughing together like we were auditioning for a cheesy car commercial. Juicy pieces of rabbit and chicken on the bone, poked up invitingly like canapés on a tray. The rice had absorbed umami level eleven, with a perfect tell-tale soccarat underneath (the crunchy chewy crust that clings to the bottom of good paella). To enhance the texture, they’d incorporated strips of slightly crunchy green pepper and the odd velvety butter bean.
There was something traditional and beautiful about this paella, as though eating it tapped directly into the vein of a very special food culture. A thing Uncle Ben couldn’t even dream of touching with a ten foot barge pole.
Our devotion was sealed with a creamy bowl of Arroz con Leche (£3.75) and still hot from the fryer churros con chocolate (£4.50) – which had to be almost surgically removed from my children’s sticky-licky fingers.
We left Tinto giddy and gabbling. I might even have hugged a startled Natalia on the way out. Such is the transformative power of a bloody good paella.
Tinto, 784-788 Wilmslow Rd, Manchester M20 2DR. Tel: 0161 445 1042
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Tabla del Mar 7, Pimientos de Padron 8, Pulpo a la Brasa 7, Gambas al Ajillo 8, Arroz Negro 7, Chorizo 7, Paella Valenciana 10, Arroz con Leche 7, Churroz 8
Refreshingly light on the Spanish props
I might have hugged Natalia