He may not have brought the Mediterranean sun with him, but everything else about Omar Allibhoy’s first North East restaurant is Spain on a plate.
Take the Moorish tiles, imported from the mother country, or the legs of Iberico ham that have been aged for three years before being strung up on the walls, to the Spanish craft beers - there’s even an Estrella mural - and, of course, the tapas.
Madrid-born celebrity chef Omar opened his string of tapas bars in a bid to bring a real flavour of Spain to the UK. Judging by this, his sixth and largest venture, in the sparkling new Grey’s Quarter food village in Intu Eldon Square, he’s succeeded.
Despite being in a shopping centre, where restaurants can seem a little clinical at best, this one still has plenty of charisma about it - helped, in part, by the fact it also has a street entrance.
What also sets it apart from other chains is that Omar knows his grub. Like, really knows it. Dubbed the ‘Antonio Banderas of cooking’ by Gordon Ramsay, he’s worked at Ramsay’s Maze restaurant and at the famed El Bulli which, in its time, was regarded as the best restaurant in the world.
We got to meet the man himself ahead of Tapas Revolution’s opening in Newcastle on Monday as he oversaw the training and launch of the latest addition to his stable. It wasn’t him turning up the heat at the stove this time though - it was us.
We took part in a masterclass to get a real feel for the menu. He went easy on us and gave us some classics to dish up: chorizo which we doused in Spanish cider; cuttlefish with garlic and parsley; tiger prawns with garlic and chilli oil, which we prepared in a traditional terracotta dish, and the classic pan con tomate - toasted bread with garlic, tomato and olive oil.
It’s a bit difficult to objectively review your own handiwork. The chorizo, in particular, was a triumph, plump with paprika and a punch of booze. Though I suspect this may be down to the quality of ingredients and Omar’s expert guidance, rather than my own skills in the kitchen.
You won’t have to sing for your supper on your visit. Dishes will be made for you by staff trained to Omar’s exacting standards. Prices are fair at £2-£7 per dish and, like the traditional tapas bars of Spain, food is served from breakfast until late.
If the sun’s past the yardarm, make sure to try one of the Spanish gins served in a traditional Basque Copa de Balon glass. Tuck yourself into a corner of the bar, and you could almost imagine you’re in Spain. Almost.