The changing face of tapas - Review of Manzanilla, Málaga

Tapas, the small samples of food that used to come free with your drink, have been elevated to a higher culinary form.
The size has also expanded from a slice of serrano ham or a few olives to something more substantial, a snack before a meal or a couple of them for a lunch-time meal.

Tapas translates literally as 'covers' and it is generally agreed that the name comes from the small plate on which the food was served being used as a cover over the glass to prevent flies from landing in your drink. The size of the tapas my friends and I were served at Manzanilla would require large, sturdy glasses for them to act as covers.

Situated in Calle Frasce, a small side street off the main Larios shopping street, Manzanilla is a modern, trendy looking establishment. With brushed steel counters and stools on which to perch either looking out at the street or keeping a close eye on the barman, it is not designed for a long comfortable stay; but it is a tapas bar, not a place to linger.

We ordered a dry white wine and were given Bonita, a wine from Málaga to taste before it was poured. It is what I would describe as a fruity wine (I am not a wine specialist, though I do drink a heck of a lot of the stuff!) and it was a good accompaniment to our food. I am now on the look-out for this wine in the Málaga stores. Whilst we waited for our dishes we were provided with fresh bread and crackers. The bread was flavoured with rosemary and very salty and it was not just me (not a lover of salt) to comment on this, but it had a lovely open crumb and if you can get over the saltiness - tasty.

The food is tapas style but the modern equivalent of the dish, more substantiual in size and with variations of traditional Spanish dishes. Our selections were : Rollitos Vietnamitas, Molletes de Antequera and Patatas Bravas.

The Vietnamese rolls were more substantial than those shown in the picture. Three large iceberg lettuce leaves were rolled around pringá and sprinkled with a pipirrana salad (tomato, pepper, cucumber and onion marinaded in sherry vinegar and a little olive oil). Pringá, which I was unfamiliar with until this dish, is a meat dish popular in the rural areas of Andalucía and consists of either roast beef or pork, cured sausages and beef or pork fat that is slowly cooked for hours until the meat falls apart. The meat was tasty but other than being wrapped in a lettuce leaf, the Vietnamese element was a little lost on me.

Antequera is known as the Heart of Andalucía, due to its central position; it is also known for its mollete. Mollete is a soft white bread which is often served toasted and drizzled with olive oil, and I am rather partial to it; hence my choice of Mollete de Antequera. The small bun was soft and just as mollete should be and filled with ground chorizo ibérico, chipotle sauce, melted cheese and caramalized onions. The chorizo and chipotle (of which there was little) make this a rich dish, so the size was perfect to avoid any feeling of over-indulgence. The caramalized onions were not as sweet as I had expected but that did not detract from the dish - all in all I found this to be a well-balanced serving.

Potatoes are my favourite food of all time, and I particularly like patatas bravas with the spicy sauce drizzled over the cubes of potato. Manzanilla have given their potatoes a twist by frying them covered in panko. (Panko is a Japanese breadcrumb which is coarse and does not absorb so much of the fat when fried, giving the foods a light covering.) This was a generous portion of potatoes with a plentiful helping of sauce; definitely worth the money. The brava sauce had heat but a subtle warmth rather than blow your head off spiciness and its creaminess and light colour would make me thing that it had been created using yoghurt. If you are a fan of potatoes this is the  dish to go for.

All in all this was a pleasant lunchtime experience. The wine was good, the food portions were generous and the staff were prompt in their service. I liked the way that traditional Spanish, particularly Andalucían, dishes had been given a modern twist, and that the wine was local. However, there was something missing and I think it is atmosphere. The bar was busy, the busiest in the street by miles, but we left with a feeling of emptiness; perhaps we missed the traditional feel of a tapas bar.

I had a look on TripAdvisor to see the rating from other visitors and it has a score just over 4 today (5/4/13). I would give it a 3. I liked it but I am not enamoured by it. If you want a twist on the traditional in a trendy setting then this is the place for you; me, I'm going to find a small dark bar filled with dialect speaking old men.

All photographs courtesy of the Manzanilla Bar Facebook page.


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