Eating Out: Ochos Tapas Bistro in Portrush offers mostly great small plates
Ocho Tapas Bistro,
92 Main Street,
028 7082 4110
I STRUGGLE a little with tapas, to be honest. For starters, this small plates malarkey: I don't trust small plates any more than Julius Caesar trusted thin men. Let me have about me plates that are big. And full, of course; there's no point to any plate without food on it.
The other thing I have against them is sharing: I don't want to share my food. Happy to share other people's. But not mine. Too often in the past, I've seen tables in Spanish restaurants turn into a human version of Hungry Hippos, hands flashing across the table for the last albondiga.
Of course, the simple answer to these dilemmas is to order lots of small plates – which is what the five of us did, to the extent that it soon became impossible to see the table top.
We decided to take advantage of the three plates for £11.95 'early bird' offer and then, as the proud owner of a Spanish A Level – it stayed a Grade E, even after the recount – I was volunteered to order for the table.
I did actually try to order using the Spanish words for the dishes – not pretentiously, just quoting the menu – but was brusquely cut short each time (the service, though efficient, was on the terse side, apart from one waiter who called my wife 'darling').
There's a wide and appealing range of dishes on offer here, and there were enough of us eating to give a fair few a try without doubling up. The Spanish omelette was a no-brainer and we all enjoyed the soft and sweet potato combined with the well-seasoned egg. I'm not sure the romesco sauce went particularly well with it and was glad I specified it to be served on the side.
Another must-have was the patatas bravas, but these were a little underdone, lacking colour, crunch, and softness. To me, leastways, although my daughter polished them off sharpish.
Disappointing, too, was the mixed plate of meats and cheese. No issue with the taste, but I couldn't see where the £2 supplement came from, especially as there was no sign of the promised quince jelly. And while I'm at it, the tempura batter on the mushrooms was far too heavy and soft.
Complaints out of the way – the rest of the meal was delicious: the giant meatball was juicy with a real beefy flavour. The prawns were perfectly cooked, possessing a nice bite and then a lovely salty and sweet taste, nicely lifted by the garlic juice it which they sat.
The squid was also very good indeed, encased in a crisp coating of batter. I loved the duck and morcilla dish. The egg was creamy and subtle, while the blood sausage had plenty of depth and body. And the dates in bacon were gorgeous.
There was no general sharing of the puddings, although I insisted on tasting each for purely professional purposes. While I wasn't sure about the crema catalana – the custard being too shallow to hold against the bitter, burnt topping – the Portuguese tart was beautiful: sweet, with a lovely consistency, in a soft, light pastry.
The roulade was a welcome throwback to an earlier age of sweet trolleys, while the pecan pie was perfect – a nice base and just the right balance of sweetness and nuttiness.
While I didn't like everything, I would definitely return to Ocho Tapas, the key draw for me being the buzz of the place. We were there early on a Saturday evening and the restaurant was packed, full of people having a great time in a good, characterful, atmospheric restaurant.
:: THE BILL (prices for five)
Early bird menu, three tapas for £11.95
Mixed board of meats and Manchego cheese (£2 extra)
Duck egg and blood sausage
Dates wrapped in bacon
Fried squid rings
King prawns (£2 extra)
Pecan pie £4.95
Raspberry and white chocolate roulade £4.95
Crema Catalana – burnt custard, raspberries £3.95
Portuguese custard tart £4.95
One scoop of ice cream £3.95