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El Rincon

Jennifer Choi revisits Manchester's worst kept secret of a tapas joint and opens a can of worms

Published on April 30th 2009.


El Rincon

El Rincon, to many, needs no introduction. The upshot of that however, is that it has a lot to live up to. From skimming through the reviews, the foodies' verdict, as with any restaurant with a reputation, fell into two camps. Those who think that this cosy basement joint can do no wrong, believing that the broken English spoken by the Spanish staff and hour-long wait for a table only add to its charms. And those who come at it with less of the fierce loyalty and more of the high expectations, only to be let down by a (seemingly day-old) tortilla Espanola with a texture that rivals rubber.

That, I'm sad to report, was how our dinner began. An omlette that was as heavy as it was under-seasoned – it certainly could have done with being any temperature other than lukewarm. Arriving at our table within an eyebrow-raising three minutes, perhaps it was defeated by its own popular demand, because cooked-to-order, it wasn't.

So we turned our attention to the Iberian ribs. Whilst my dining partner got hands-on with the subtly sweet and spicy ribs, my impression was that these wouldn't have gone amiss in a La Tasca.

We did agree on the Carqueixal Albariño, a fresh white that played well with our tapas. Subsequent research boasts that, as well as being associated with gimmicky descriptions revolving around bouquets and topnotes, the wine is made for long evening conversations. And it certainly was – both bottles of it.

The good vibes carried on with a trio of seafood tapas, every bit as delicious and vibrant as they looked. First was the merlucita; bitesized parcels of hake deep-fried in a garlicky batter. Result? Morish, flaky, crunchy goodness. The gambas pil pil yielded king prawns that swam in an olive oil and garlic concoction. Lovely as it was, this tame sauce had me wishing for more heat that would stand up to and bring out the prawns' meaty flavours.

So it was that the pulpitos en salsa, all tentacles festively dressed in tomatoes, onions and a splash of wine, stole the show. The baby octopi were like a... dare I make this comparison? The baby octopi were a revelation, more refined in scale and appearance, and more balanced in their chewiness than their ubiquitous cousin, the calamari.

Fishiness complete, we sampled the finger-licking delight that was chuletitas de cordero; lamp chops with the tried-and-very-true zing of lemon, wine, garlic and parsley. The meat was lean but succulent, and it was a good job my friend wasn't that hungry; I would've gone ahead and devoured chop after chop regardless.

The vegetarians, if they are still reading after all the meat-imagery above, may be pleased to hear that El Rincon offers more than a limp omelette. We sampled espincas con garbanzos; a spinachy stew dotted with chickpeas. And alcachofas fritas; pan-fried marinated artichokes in a ratatuoille-esque medley, which had already half won over my companion for the sheer quirkiness of its foreign moniker.

These two dishes sound inconspicuous enough, and had I been in a more sceptical mood, they would have been dismissed outright. Passed over for trusty meatballs or some such. And yet, how these delicate flavours mingled. Each element of crunch, creaminess, acid and savoury present and accounted for, instilling a nostalgia that transported me to, well, a place not unlike El Rincon itself.

It's a place of hearty food with a brazen love of garlic and decidedly unmodern portions. A place where the Murcian waiter does not know how to react to an accusation of the heinous crime that is the tortilla, a place with a mahogany get-up complete with Andalucian tiles and vintage chandeliers.

Sophisticated and the-next-big-thing it may not be, but we left full, ever so pleasantly inebriated, and wait for it – not robbed – the bill came to £80 all in, with the tapas between £3.95 and £6.95 per dish. Food for thought in our times?

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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46 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

SaraApril 30th 2009.

We went for lunch yesterday and although the food was lovely - the service was shocking! Our food arrived in dribs and drabs - I would like to say that this was to allow us to savour the dishes as they came out but I don't think that this was the case! We didn't get any bread because 'it was in the oven baking!' Very odd then to see staff bringing in deliveries half an hour later and them lugging in lots of ready baked baguettes from what looked like Sainsbury's! We then sat for ages with dirty plates on the table - finally someone came over and asked if we wanted a dessert. To be honest, we couldn't be bothered. I thought that they were short staffed and lacked having someone who was in charge. When I think of how fantastic the staff are at Harpers and how attentive they are - the staff at El Rincon could do with going in there and learning something. Good food but awful service which spoilt our lunch.

EloiseApril 30th 2009.

I have had it hot and cooked to order in Spain, zumeria's do them for brekky/brunch/lunch etc. However, that is not tapas, tapas is generally wedges and cold to room temp (depends on temp of room I guess). Tapas is rarely cooked to order, kinda defeats the object. Somethings may be warmed up, but that's it really. But to be fair to the readers here, I think most people already know all this.

NeilApril 30th 2009.

Spanish omellette is supposed to be served at room temperature. It certainly is throughout Spain. It's only the horrid chain La Tasca that microwaves it. Yuck. And of course it's not freshly made to order, it's cooked whenever and then served by the slice. Should be well seasoned though!

Not impressedApril 30th 2009.

After hearing all the great reviews on el Rincon I took my partner for a bite to eat before the cinimas the other night. It wasn't what I expected, being in a basement & smelling like a toilet but I thought I'd reserve judgement until after tasting the food. Sadly it got worse, not better - after initially being blanked by the first two waitresses to see us we where finaly seated, served warm bottled water & given sticky & tatty menus. My Mrs made a comment about all the great "rustic" places we knew & loved so we agreed to go ahead & order dispite feeling as though we should cut our losses & go somewhere else.We ordered lots of fish sishes including tuna, scallops, & cod fish cakes. Highly disapointed is a gross understatement! the tuna was dry & over cooked, fishcakes where more like frozen dough balls & the scallops where totally overpowered by the dreadfull brandy sauce they where in! the only saving grace of the whole experience was the massive portion off mussels in a tasty cream sauce - a classic! I would recomend trying any of the other great places to eat in the Castlefield area or if its tapas you're after there are also plenty of better options.

AnonymousApril 30th 2009.

this place isn't the best, staff that can't speak English, food hit and miss, lots of flies, big delays in food. Would be nice for a drink but certainly won't be back for more food!

AnonymousApril 30th 2009.

I've always left El Rincon slightly disappointed ... therefore 16/20 is quite generous I think. The food is sometimes good (never excellent) but more often has been well ..just OK. I think the wine consumption referred to here may have lifted the tone of the article considerably!Also, I don't think the place has been painted since it opened - it still reminds me of a public toilet going down those (dirty) stairs!

robApril 30th 2009.

the didsbury la tasca always used to be far superior to the one on deansgate (which is truly dreadful).. dunno if this is still the casei've always had great meals at el rincon but have heard a few negative reports from friends so it doesn't always get the food spot on.

chanceApril 30th 2009.

Everytime I've tried to book at El Rincon, it's always been fully booked, I've heard rave reviews from friends so have been dying to go for ages, so Easter Bank holiday, we popped in for late lunch/early dinner, we had to wait for 30 minytes for a table but we were fine with that. I must say I was very very disappointed, having been to Valencia last year on holiday and had real tapas (bar snacks) I can only say El Rincon was a huge let down for me, we left most of it, the meat balls were disgusting, the worst I'd ever had.

RuthApril 30th 2009.

Tortilla sandwiches are the best! When it's fresh and hot, squash it on a piece of toast or on bread at room temperature. I always wonder at how delicious onions, potatoes and eggs can be.

el cordo inglesApril 30th 2009.

1 Does Gary Owen still feature i the Bar? One of City's best ever players a real Legend. 2 a true Manchester great place had some great atmospheric boozy nights there. I dont smoke but for atmosphere it was best going when you could smoke, better still when Barcelona are on the TV , a great meal a few pints of spanish beer and tapas. Great nights,Written in Memory of The late B K Aldred. Deceased.

cleoApril 30th 2009.

I love el rincon, it's the only place i'm willing to go to where you can't book, and the wait for a table is always on the cards...

SteveApril 30th 2009.

Having had tapas all over Spain, I can honestly say that I've never had a freshly made tortilla. It's usually made in the morning, left at room temperature and sliced when ordered.

Pedro1874April 30th 2009.

If you go to a small cafe in Spain early enough after opening in the morning, you can have the great pleasure of a fresh tortilla and it could quite possibly be still hot and moist, just cooked by a local, possibly even next door! Wonderful!

JennApril 30th 2009.

missflea, I cannot agree more with your rant. I had the worst case of being "relocated" when I took party of 15 to Chaophraya for drinks and a meal. Everything was timed to the second and despite the piles of food and alcohol we were ordering and the place being at only 3/4 capacity, they weren't bashful about instructing us to move elsewhere (on 2 occasions in 3.5 hours!!) Policies like these completely undo any goodwill generated by the food and decor..

meApril 30th 2009.

When i first arrived to Mchr 13yrs ago, El Rincón was a hidden gem. I felt it was the closest to real spanish food i could get. Lately, maybe a victim of their own success, the booking fee for a group, the pushing you out before you finish "la sobremesa" and miss hits with the food, has made it a place i hardly visit any more. Such a shame!

AnonymousApril 30th 2009.

El Rincon is much better than la tasca and shouldnt really be compared but the one place that is out of this world - is La Mancha in Rochdale - tapas lovers should give it a go - it knocks El Rincon out of the ball park!

castlefieldApril 30th 2009.

One of my business associates keeps using the phrase 'managing expectations'. I think that could be what has gone wrong here a bit. When people used to stumble upon it, they loved it. Now people are travelling from afar on the back of it's reputation they can be a bit disapointed. I love it, they do some lovely dish with spinach and chick peas that I like. Nothing is top notch but that's the way it is in Spain and I hate tortilla Espanola anyway. You know there's one of those Pan sandwich shops at the Camp Nou who do tortilla Espanola on a baguette! It was Good Friday and the only none meat option, I had to give in and have the ham!

SalfordSalApril 30th 2009.

I go in El Rincon regularly and love the food, atmosphere and Spanish wine. The staff are very friendly and helpful. You can't compare it to La Tasca in any way!

PTApril 30th 2009.

So the tortilla isn't great, and the meatballs are often dinged, but I'm in the camp that loves El Rincon. It does have an authentic spanish ambience, the bar staff are friendly, the waiting staff are as insouciant as any in Madrid or Barcelona, and they do have some very good dishes. Sit at the bar, order some great wine, and get yourself some pimientos, gambas con bacon, and filetitos

El PonchoApril 30th 2009.

La Vina is owned by La Tasca. Standards have definitely slipped at El Rincon, although still retains good atmosphere. 7/10 for the food, way too generous.

No 1 FanApril 30th 2009.

Please,16/20.Have you ever been to a good spanish restaurant in spain.El Rincon transports you to happier climates,atmosphere,deco, welcoming staff and owner.It's an absolute disgrace as a food expert, to in any way compare El Rincon to fast food La Tasca, there is no comparison exept in the spanish names. Go back, if you can get a table of course, and change your ratings please, before anybody who has not been look at only 16/20.before any other fools like me,read your comments.

missfleaApril 30th 2009.

Used to go to el rincon for all my celebrations until they started ejecting us from our seats after a couple of hours to reseat the table. I don't mind a restaurant advertising a seating time limit but they should tell you this when you book. And, if you're spending, why be rude? We go to Dimitris now - not the same but the food is good, cheap, and the staff are really, really friendly.

cleoApril 30th 2009.

avo you are funny!

JennApril 30th 2009.

If this simply has to be served at room temperature, I would expect the flavours to pack enough of a punch. As it was, this just was not carried through with any seasonings and got upstaged by everything else.

El PonchoApril 30th 2009.

La Vina is owned by La Tasca. Standards have definitely slipped at El Rincon, although still retains good atmosphere. 7/10 for the food, way too generous.

AvoApril 30th 2009.

The majority of the time I have been served tortilla it has been at room temperature. I much prefer this as when cold, the potatoe and the egg have a dense texture and al dente bite which doesn't come through if served hot.

AvoApril 30th 2009.

Hey there ponchy baby, I already identified La Vina as being linked with La Tasca in my earlier rant. It still knocks out decent tapas though.

JennApril 30th 2009.

Oh cleo - I don't doubt that La Tasca has left a number of us disappointed. However, I refuse to draw a line equating a few dozen franchises, all run by different individuals across the country, to bad food. It's too easy, and more importantly, it can't be right.

Trevor OmeletteApril 30th 2009.

To be fair to the writer she only compares one dish to La Tasca and that as a deliberate dig at that faux horror. The rest of the review is fair. El Rincon is good, but the food can leave something to be desired then again they have some very good dishes. 7/10 is on the nose. Perfect.

lucasApril 30th 2009.

hi I'm Spanish,have been living in Manchester for 10 years and i know the rincon for many years,I know more or less all the staff from the last 8 years.good place for a beer or 2,but the food in my opinion have been going down and down and the service if better to don't make a comment,because i know them.

CathApril 30th 2009.

My husband and I love El Rincon, it is head and shoulders above La Tasca. We have a place in Southern Spain and eat tapas regularly. Tortilla is always served at room temperature and it's texture is solid as it is made earlier in the day, it usally comes served with a garlic mayonnaise called Alioli which means that you dont want a strong taste from the Torilla.

LauraApril 30th 2009.

The octopus dish at el rincon is probably one of the most beautiful things I have ever tasted! Worth going back just for that.

HelApril 30th 2009.

I've been once, it was quite nice but I prefer Evuna

JennApril 30th 2009.

I suspect it was a combination of both in our case, Avo. Have yet to eat at La Vina, cheers for the tip - will have to book in soon. Maybe it is best to keep the bias against chains. Seems silly to work on converting those who despise them for the sake of it, only to then have to compete with them for tables at the weekend!

AnonymousApril 30th 2009.

Having eaten at El Rincon numerous times over the last year, I absolutely love it- I've never had a bad dish there and having lived in several cities in Spain, I think the food is equal to anything I have ever eaten over there. I've never eaten the tortilla there as I see it as more of a lunch dish than a dinner meal but having seen people have it, id say it looks a lot nicer than the vile mess served at other deansgate places (la tasca, la vina and ElVuna(worst tapapsi have ever had the mosfirtune of eating here!)). I have always found the staff very friendly and the place very authentic (I love the fact that they have TVE1 on in the corner)- Much better than any chain restaurant!

Clive of ChorleyApril 30th 2009.

Having lived for 18 months in Madrid then tortilla may well have been cooked earlier in the day but it should never be the lumpen, turgid, heavy, lifeless thing it seems here. Good tortilla is light, moist, beautiful. I make it perfectly I must say. Why don't you all come round and I'll make a big one.

JennApril 30th 2009.

Clive of Chorley, I would love to be enlightened. Just say the time and place...

cleoApril 30th 2009.

come on jenn, they can't even get the food hot at la tasca, let alone make it tasty...

JennApril 30th 2009.

La Tasca is easy to slag off, if for no other reason than that it is a chain. But I've had some excellent tapas from their Didsbury franchise and I suspect a blind taste test between the two would yield surprising results.Avo - I am happy to accept it room temperature, and the tortille in question was dense and al dente alright, but it still needs to taste good!

AnonymousMay 9th 2010.

I have worked at el Rincon for one year, in my opinion the food is realy bad, that is not Spanish food at all.
The staff is not very good because all of them are students without any kind of experience in restaurants a shit wage.
The owner is a disaster and everything in the restaurant are old and dirty, not vintage as someone said before, in Spain the restaurants are very cleaned and people work in a safety way not like in El Rincón.
The food is not fresh and the tapas always are warned up.
I am sorry but if you want real Sapanish food yoy have to go to Spain.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 13th 2011.

i hope u really been working there, cos u talk rubbish, wot do u mean when u say all the tapas are heated up tell me one so i can let u know. and wots wrong with the staff does students dont do a gd job?
have a grip and tell me wot is disasterus about the own.
so take pride of something. if u been working there for one yr.
staff suppose to be ur friends dont they. u see wot sort of person ur wen u talk like this for u make and ur employ

Michael WayneJuly 1st 2010.

I live in Spain for 6 months of the year with family and cousins in Madrid and Girona, and know what a good tapas bar and a good eatery is. I have been to this place on 2 occasions. First time was when I moved to Manchester in 2007 and it was dreadful. Went 2 months ago and it was just the same. The problem lies with the fact that many customers do not know what real tapas are. So the owners of such establishments know they do not have to provide authentic produce. What I do see from these reports is that there are so many who truly do know what they wish to expect but don't get it served up. And what about 'anonymous' who worked there. What a sad indictment of a business owner. Problem with so many restaurants, is that the paying public will not pay higher prices so that good staff can be taken on and paid more to give them a sense of pride and well being. I will not be going there ever again. Its about as much Spanish as Roy Chubbs Brown heading up the catholic church in Rome.

MIFFED AT EL RINCONApril 17th 2011.

I was expecting authentic Spanish cuisine, what I got was truly flabbergasting. Frozen surimi crab claw that had been PRE-BOUGHT, ready made and frozen (Do a google search on frozen surimi and look at images) which was tasteless and pure white imitation crab meat (no fresh crab to or fresh anything to be found at El Rincon except the side salad of half a tomato and 2 slices of cucumber on one of the plates!). Everything was covered with tinned tomatoes on every dish, and all dishes tasted the same except for the frozen meatballs, the meat was tasteless but I got a hit of chilli with the tinned tomatoes this time. The same with the squid it was chewy and clearly pre-frozen. Very disappointingly (because this place could be so good, and has gone very downhill) the management have obviously decided to cut corners in an effort to turn over tables. Service wise everything came within 5 minutes of ordering and as we had barely taken the last contents of a dish the plates were whisked away from us within a split of a second. The wait staff were constantly hovering making it a stressful evening (we were in and out within 40 minutes!)

Sef ChambersSeptember 21st 2011.

I went to this restaurant last weekend - we waited an hour for a table whilst people who had not booked got in before us. And the way we were spoken to and treated was absolutely disgraceful. Their arrogance is repulsive they feel they can treat customers how they want because the food is ok. Not impressed -3/10.

Horrible place

IzzySeptember 21st 2011.

Living on its laurels I'm afraid. Very poor on last visit :(

Mark SpeddingNovember 2nd 2012.

Not been to El Rincon for a few years now, but it was the best Spanish place in the north back then, as for La Tasca, it's terrible and that's being kind to the place.

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