A few weeks ago I was invited along to test the menu and learn the art of sangria making at La Vina on Grey Street in Newcastle. I consider myself to be a bit of a sangria expert on account of spending several breaks in Barcelona supping two euro Sangria from the local Spa. I also ‘invented’ mulled Sangria a couple of Januarys ago after becoming really obsessed with mulled wine. In addition, I have extensive experience of eating tapas in as many places I can find it – including authentic tapas bars that are not anywhere near La Ramblas (go Gothic, there’s some beauts). You could almost term me a tapas buff.
La Vina: The review
As a recent repatriate of the Toon I was not aware of the background of La Vina on Grey Street, which was formerly La Tasca and has recently reverted back to La Vina – it’s previous identity. La Vina is of course a chain restaurant and I know plenty of people who frown upon food bloggers who step foot in chains but the truth is, though I dine at them infrequently, they do come in ruddy useful when I’m dining with picky types – which is a lot since I have a vegetarian boyfriend, a mate who won’t eat any form of mince and several friends who won’t chow down on anything slightly spicier than an ice-cool korma – (sorry, love you all really).
From a good chain I expect: affordable prices, a pleasant and clean dining room, plenty of menu choices for all, cracking service and consistently good standard of food. I might not expect to be blown away by originality or authenticity of a menu but I want to have a good meal with friends and not to worry that any of the basics will let me down and it’s this criteria that I judged La Vina against.
I was marching towards the end of my Meatfree month on the night in question and did find the menu a little carb and dairy heavy as a vegetarian wannabe, though the staff went out of their way to make me feel welcome and catered for, even bringing over some potatas bravas to munch on when the meat eaters in my group were otherwise engaged. The venue itself was a tad cold, but that’s maybe something to do with it being big and old and underground. There were plenty of diners in aside from us meed-ja types and most seemed to be happily scoffing or engaging in chat.
Also on my vegetarian menu for the evening was a Spanish cheese board or seleccion de quesos, which went down really rather well. Predictably, I was a big fan of the blue cheese and goat’s cheese, which was served with some traditional Manchego, quince paste and a sweet crunchy torta. It’s the kind of thing I’d order with friends during Friday wine time, though I can’t really judge the value as the prices aren’t on the La Vina website (I hate it when that happens, it means I can’t mentally choose my menu choices before I arrive).
One item worth a mention was the croquetas de espinacas – a crumbed croquette filled with gooey goat’s cheese, spinach and bechamel and I suspect – a good whack of garlic. These were pretty tasty but in combination with the other vegetarian choices rather heavy, though after my visit to La bodega last month I’m starting to think this carb+cheese is an inevitable menu domination if you are seeking out vegetarian tapas choices. Less tasty were the grilled aubergine rolls, stuffed with tomatoes, sweet peppers and goat’s cheese, which were a little chewy for me (as aubergine can be).
And thus we come on to my particular area of expertise – the sangria. Although an actual sangria masterclass didn’t take place, the friendly bar lady did talk us through the sangria menu and its ingredients, which I sampled EXTENSIVELY (read: I got quite squiffy). On a side note, we asked the assistant manager if there was some kind of policy of only hiring brunettes at la vina so that it looked more authentically Spanish – he confirmed that there is no such semi-racist policy in place.
I have to admit I was quite a fan of the sangria – or more accurately the sangria-based cocktails. I could have questioned the authenticity of the Kir Royale Sangria but it was really rather refreshing and far more suppable than my mulled monstrosity. Again, I’m not sure of the prices, but I can imagine this cocktail-sangria and the sangria blanco in particular going down rather nicely during some afterwork drinks and I’m going to have a bash at making my own when BBQ season finally comes round.
All in all my La Vina trip was none-too-shabby. The setting and ambience was perfect for trips with tipsy friends, though I’m not sure I’d ever take anyone on a date there and the food I sampled on the whole was of a good standard – though as you probably would have guessed it’s not anything to rival some of the fantastic tapas I’ve had in Spain. The sangria cocktails are worth a punt for a change from Friday wine time and the service was fast, warm and friendly. One thing I’m sorry to have missed testing was the paella, though I’ll be back in Barcelona in just eight weeks and hopefully chomping on some seafood and meat packed bowlfuls while I’m there.