IF you’re a fan of Radio 4’s Just a Minute you will know that if chairman Nicholas Parsons is a little hard on a contestant he gives them the benefit of the doubt the next time he can.
I’m a bit like that with restaurants.
Nearly four years ago I reviewed the newly-opened tapas restaurant El Toro in Broomhill and, no bull, I hated it.
Perhaps it didn’t help that I had just come back from a tapas-filled holiday in Spain or that the soggy Broomhill tortilla (although it wasn’t the only thing I didn’t like) reminded me of the one poor meal I’d had, and I couldn’t see it lasting.
What do I know? El Toro is still there so why not give it another go? I made a note to try the tortilla.
Forget soggy. Tortilla Mark II (£4) is the classic version, firm without being too solid, a pleasing combination of egg, potato and onion
“So you liked us then?” said Trevor Neville the next day. He had the night off so I’d left my card and a note. He and his brother David, who own El Toro, don’t seem to have held that review against me. They just shrugged their shoulders and moved on.
They also hired a chef, Eddie Morralles, from Colombia in South America, but who has lived in Madrid since he was five. I mentioned the tortilla. “That’s Eddie’s mum’s recipe,” said Trevor.
El Toro, on a corner, is a dinky little space with seating at tables for 16 and another eight at counters, although Trevor says they’ve had 30 in altogether.
The first thing you see is a window full of delicious looking cakes and boxes of meringues, promising instant sugar highs, so you’ve clocked what is on offer if you want a dessert. About a quarter of the restaurant is taken up by the bar where a fine Spanish ham lolls on a cradle, waiting to be carved, while another hangs temptingly from the ceiling.
The sound system is tuned into a lively radio station from Tenerife. I had a brief brush with the Spanish language a few years ago and could make out two words, Paul McCartney.
On a number of blackboards, the tapas are chalked up. There are about 20, plus platters of ham – there is Serrano and Iberico – and Manchego cheese.
I could be tempted by almost every one. They include octopus with potatoes, spinach or rabbit Catalan-style, chickpeas and bacon, chorizo and tomato, paella, guineafowl with chickpeas and bacon and scallops with asparagus.
Just like you can’t have tapas and not have tortilla in my book, so you can’t pass on the patatas bravas, fried cubed potatoes in either a spicy tomato sauce or aioli (garlic mayonnaise), also £4.
I was pleased to see the tomato sauce, which I liked, was the same recipe as on my first visit. The tomato and onion are not blitzed to a puree but left slightly chunky.
I gather Eddie goes back to Spain every so often to keep himself topped up with tapas and he came back with the rabbit (£6). It was our favourite dish of the night.
The meat is cooked so it is coming away from the bone and it swims in a sweetish sauce with sultanas and pine nuts – a reminder of Spain’s Arab past.
A dish of three scallops with a couple of grilled asparagus spears was the same price. I wondered whether the shellfish would be frozen, not fresh, at that price but they tasted sweet, still with their corals.
You get a lot of sauce with tapas, not all of it tomato, and you need bread to mop it up. They make their own bread here. If you like it, the recipe’s on the website. Ask for it plain. The pan Catalan (£3) comes grilled and topped with chopped tomato, so it’s a sort of Spanish crostini, rather than being simply rubbed with tomato, which I think is best as a sponge.
Sometimes it’s the merest touch to a dish which improves it no end. The fried aubergines (£4) are slices coated in breadcrumbs which adds crunch and keeps off grease. The ‘spicy tomato dip’ promised appeared to be no more than the contents of a tin of crushed tomatoes.
It wasn’t all good. Calves liver with a ‘salsa Colombiana,’ presumably a nod to Eddie’s home country, sounded exotic but proved to be a reminder of school dinners, hard, grey, grainy lumps in a broth the colour of my old regulation school shirts, the ones you had to pull over your head to get on.
“All I need is a pile of lumpy mashed potatoes and watery cabbage and I’m right back there,” said my wife.
It was the only failure in a slate of eight tapas including the bread.
We had to share one of those tempting cakes with our coffees but looks can deceive. Our pear and almond proved a little sturdy and the pear was hard.
That said, it was a decent evening, helped along by pretty Polish waitress Justine, which didn’t really need the benefit of the doubt.
We paid just over £40 for food. Wines – there’s a good slate of mostly Spanish to be had – and coffees brought it up to £54.40.
The Dawes Verdict
129 Newbould Lane, Broomhill, S10 2PL.
Tel: 0114 266 6956.
Open Mon-Sat 8am-10.30pm (Fri-Sat until 11.30pm). Closed Sun. Vegetarian dishes Some gluten-free but check first. No disabled toilet but disabled access. Credit cards. Street parking.