Italian restaurants aren’t exactly short on the ground at Sunderland seafront.
So when established city Italian brand Amore opened its doors above the Harbour View pub it joined more than a dozen others competing for your pasta pound.
Eighteen months later, the owners decided to veer off the beaten culinary track to re-open as El Amor, Sunderland’s first dedicated Spanish and Portuguese tapas restaurant.
The space has been lightened up from the dark hues of Amore to make way for a more colourful Mediterranean palette that pops.
Small plate dining is a concept that’s worked well at the family’s Funky Indian tapas restaurant, but this version offers a slice of traditional tapas.
Tapas menus can often be a confusing quagmire to wade through, but this one’s well-designed and, although there’s plenty of options, it’s easy to navigate. The price is kept simple too. You can pay for individual dishes or choose any three for £15.95 or six for £29.95. If pick ‘n’ mix food isn’t your thing, there’s also a grill or paella section.
We chose a sharing platter to start: the Spanish version, priced £27.95.
Pretty soon a bounty of foods was winging its way to our table including Spanish bread, garlic prawns, chicken in a padron chilli and coriander paste, cured meats and terracotta dishes practically over-flowing with a satisfyingly gloopy salsa. The jamón ibérico was a particular treat. It’s a pricey piece of meat, but it shows with its intense, rich flavour.
The platter could have been a meal in itself, yet, still we persevered and put our tabletop to the test by trying to shoe-horn on a couple more from the individual tapas list. There’s some unusual options on there including paprika, lemon and garlic Galician octopus (£5.45), however, we stuck with what we know on this occasion.
Perennial tapas favourite chorizo is the priciest of the small dishes at £7.25, but it’s a veritable meat feast swimming in red onion, Rioja and paprika sauce, which is dense with smokey flavour.
It was as good a version of the dish as I’ve had in its birthplace. And we couldn’t resist the empanadas (£5.95): tightly-packed parcels of brie, mango and red chilli which burst in your mouth.
Special mention also to the punchy white wine sangria. Not a tipple I’ve supped before, but it was a perfect end to this taste of Spain.