Socially-distanced tapas: What we thought of La Vina in Cleadon
You may not be able to enjoy tapas in its birthplace of Spain this year, but this restaurant is giving your tastebuds the chance to travel the world – without leaving South Tyneside.
La Vina is a business in the heart of Cleadon that served the community throughout lockdown by delivering meals to the elderly and vulnerable.
Now, like all small businesses, they need the community to support them by eating out to help out.
And there’s plenty to draw you to this cafe by day and restaurant by night in Front Street. Whilst the daytime bistro menu is focused on brunches and breakfasts, the evening menu draws inspiration from both Spain and Asia, with classic bite-size dishes from both, such as Spanish holiday staple patatas bravas to the unique texture of steamed bao buns as inspired by the Far East.
We visited on a Saturday evening where you can pick up a good deal of five tapas for £30, which is available every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
This was my first proper meal in a restaurant since lockdown and, despite the social distancing in place and wondering if the experience would be different, we soon felt that comforting, relaxing atmosphere of a restaurant we’ve all missed. As well as track and trace in place, only every other table was in use, which is preferable to having people on top of each other anyway, and our server wore one of the plastic face visors, rather than a mask – it makes all the difference when you can see someone’s mouth as they’re talking.
La Vina has the bare brick, low ceiling feel of a tapas bar in the Mediterranean, as well as neon mood lighting for added atmosphere, and pretty soon it felt like just a normal Saturday night as we nattered away over our wine.
There’s plenty of choice for all palates and preferences on the menu, with meaty options such as albondigas, gambas pil pil, belly pork and fried chicken strips to veggie options such as vegetable tempura, veggie dumplings, fried halloumi and hummus.
A treat you don’t see often on menus in the area, you can also order paella, for one or for two to share.
Five of the tapas between us would have been ample but, as eating at a restaurant again was such a novelty, we put our waistbands to the test by ordering a flat bread side too. Topped with chicken and pesto, it had a perfectly bubbled crisp base and it was gone before our server could put down the tower of five tapas.
The gambas pil pil of fat prawns and a punchy garlic sauce had me reminiscing of holidays in Spain, while the fried hallmoui with zaatar-spiced salad was just the kind of sinfully good food I’ve been craving in lockdown.
We doubled up on prawns with the prawn dumplings too, which were tightly packed parcels of flavour.
In case the patatas bravas didn’t have enough calories, we ordered the Mexican-esque Patatas Rancheros version which sees the fried potatoes mixed with chorizo and topped with salsa, fried egg and melted cheese, which we couldn’t get enough of.
The lamb skewers too were a triumph: beautifully tender without being overly fatty, while the harissa rub delivered a slight kick.
If eating quality food like this is going to help the economy get back on its feet, I’m more than happy to take the calorie hit for the cause.
Like many restaurants, La Vina is taking part in the Eat Out to Help Out scheme throughout August, which means you’ll get 50% off your bill, up to a value of £10 per person when eating there on a Wednesday.
The scheme also runs at other venues on Mondays and Tuesdays as well.