The weather hasn’t been very Spanish but Mal Morris sampled their cuisine
The flag is unfurling in the breeze over the front door. A metal sculpture of Don Quixote dominates the front window.
A blaze of yellow and red table napkins hits us as we walk in and whoever is singing on the music tape is having fun with castanets.
“Oh, so it’s an Indian tonight then?” your reviewer’s assistant, in flippant mood, offers as we enter what feels like nothing short of an intimate and cosy lounge, a cultural mezze of Spain and Horwich.
We’ve pulled out all the stops to arrive early as on two previous occasions it’s been full and we’ve been forced to go in search of food elsewhere, never good for the stomach juices.
Even so, it’s beginning to fill up at 6.30pm. It’s small, for sure, but it’s popular. One of the growing number of tapas restaurants.
A friend tells me that it’s not tapas in the strict Spanish sense – I have a vision of that which involves stylishly dressed Spaniards at a marble topped bar in Barcelona delicately nibbling at exquisite little helpings while sipping Fino sherry – but a variant tailored for English tastes ... that is, bigger portions, and it’s called raciones.
I’ve yet to be convinced about the whole concept. Is it a ruse to charge more for smaller portions? I’ve placed my naturally suspicious nature entirely at the service of the paying customer/reader.
A recent lunch in a stylish Italian restaurant in Manchester served up minimalist tapas at expensive starter prices. But that was Manchester, so let’s see.
What is rapidly and cheerily served up, more or less all at once, is two slices of bread with garlic flavoured cheese and onions, an artichoke salad, potatoes sautéed in garlic and vinegar, pan fried prawns in garlic and chilli oil, chicken breasts in a paprika and chilli sauce, pan fried mixed seafood in garlic and chilli oil, and asparagus wrapped in ham.
We chose a £19 bottle of Rioja, as wine appellation controlee Horwich is not yet up to full capacity, to ease the slight tummy rumbles which kick in as this feast arrives.
This is raciones, and reasonably priced, plus, the waiter brings a lemon flavoured chicken dish which we haven’t ordered but has been allocated to our table by mistake. No charge, he says, thanks ever so much.
The first thing to say is we like garlic, which is just as well.
The bread is a real mouthful, too thick and, disappointingly, is simply bread. I know that’s how it described itself, but no hint of bruscetta or toasting or imagination.
The artichoke salad is excellent, as are the sautéed potatoes, the prawns and the asparagus.
The pan fried mixed seafood is top class, and I’d go back for that alone.
The chicken which we did order, breasts in a paprika and chilli sauce, has a dull glutinous taste to it, but the chicken which strayed onto our table is tasty and certainly re-orderable.
By now there’s a lovely warm and friendly ambiance in the place and you can see why it’s important to book ahead.
Even after this formidable piece of selfless research on behalf of customer/readers, we are heroic enough to venture onward to desserts.
The tiramisu and ice cream are light and refreshing, and the classic leche fritters of caramelised custard and oranges is an outstandingly runny and tasty vision of deliciousness even I hesitate for a moment or two ... before devouring the lot.
I have a theory, for what it’s worth, about all-at-once dining.
Like those as-much-as-you- can-eat Chinese restaurants where I’m tempted to pile the whole range of dishes onto my plate in one sitting, after a while old greedy guts’ palate begins to lose the distinction of tastes and so begins to tire of all of it. There’s a slight element of that with raciones.
The whole meal cost £66.
Name: Viva Espana
Address: 12 Winter Hey Lane, Horwich
CONTACT: 01204 438235