REVIEW: Tinto, Theberton Street, Islington

Islington must be one of the hardest places to open a new restaurant, and keep it afloat. It’s not like opening a fine dining restaurant in Chelsea, or a street food sensation in Shoreditch – Islington really is diverse with its food offerings, and its locals. Four years ago and apart from Ottolenghi – there was really nothing to shout about in the area. Now, there is an abundance of well followed restaurants and top chefs. Tinto was previously known as Como 3 and at which point according to the Internet had a very confusing menu that hadn’t quite found its feet. They recently decided to change the name to Tinto – a much better choice that has a very memorable ring to it.I can’t remember the last time i dined in Islington, but I’m glad i ventured north this rare occasion.
Smart and shiny on the outside with parma ham hanging from the windows – it was very inviting. All rather casual, slick, smart – the sort of place you’d want to take friends to drink wine. The owner here has a real passion for exploring grape growing regions across Spain to bring affordable, quality wines which some us may never know about. The restaurant has a Spanish chef, and Japanese chef utilising both to create a fusion restaurant.

I can’t think of a better way to start a tapas meal than with wine (most important), and some padron peppers. Fried on a medium heat, doused in sea salt flakes and carry a lovely lingering pepper flavour which can occasionally show a bit of heat, and in rare cases – make you cry. In Madrid it’s something you’d do in a bar taking turns, until the unlucky person is wiping away their tears.

Popcorn shrimp with dip were the sort of things that once in front of you, can’t be left in the bowl for long. Crispy, golden breadcrumbed and very addictive. I’m not sure what kind of prawns were used but they could have perhaps of had a little more flavour – which with careful sourcing can easily be rectified without spending any more money.

Chorizo lollipop were one of my favourite dishes here at Tinto. A plate of sticks skewered with chorizo and deep fried with what tasted like a batter you’d normally find in the chip shop. It worked, but because of the juicy, soft and very well flavoured chorizo – that batter just needs a little bit longer in oil to get a real bite and crunch all the way through. The accompanying aioli on the other hand was absolutely perfect and one of the finest examples I’ve had in a while.

It was at this point in our meal that the transition from Spanish, to Japanese became apparent. Not fusion, but two very different cuisines here served separately. Pan fried sea bream in tosazu was well cooked, shiny and glistening in all the rich tosazu sauce (vinegar/soy) and garnish. It was all very pleasant but not something I’d rush back for – though I’d certainly order if i found myself here at Tinto again.

The best dish here throughout our meal, or at least the one i enjoyed the most was the confit purple carrots with miso gratin. It was the sort of thing that you’d expect to be eating as an appetiser in a Michelin star restaurant – it really was that good. Caramelised soft purple carrots with a smoky taste reminiscent of marshmallows toasted over a bonfire and a thick creamy gratin sauce, which was again toasted. It made for an dish which could easily lead to an affair. And one which i wouldn’t want to split from.

Patatas bravas were well cooked and perfectly fine, but hardly much to get me excited about. Firstly they were missing that all important aioli (of which they do so well) and the bravas dip was a little too runny – but the flavour was there. Seasoning was also an issue, as well as black spots from the potato.

Tinto’s pork secreto burgers were a rather strange concoction. And i couldn’t quite decide whether i just liked them, or loved them. The green buns were very well made, and perfectly cooked with that all important ‘bounce’ – take that how you will. The burger was tasty, well seasoned and flavorful but i think the salad and lack of much sauce inside let it down a little. Some wetness would have made the world of difference to this little sliders which have big potential. I loved the vivid green too.

Desserts at Tinto were in another level on their own. They really were very good, and some serious talent and expertise went into creating these beauties. Particularly this baked alaska. A stunning example of how such a dish should be made and cooked. Inside contained what i believe to be a passion fruit sorbet, that was then coated in a pistachio crust and the most delightful meringue. An unexpected dessert which far exceed our expectations, and certainly every diner that will eat it.

Closing in on the end of our tapas tour we finished up with a dark and milk chocolate tart which was just as expertly crafted as the baked alaska. A silky smooth milk and dark chocolate tart with a crunchy base, side of ice cream and a helping of crumble. It was all so beautifully made and could easily rival similar chocolate creations conjured up by some of London’s top chefs. Is Tinto London’s best tapas restaurant, no. But it probably is Islington’s. Tinto does tapas well, and desserts even better but I’m still not quite sold on the Japanese/Spanish mix. Especially when considering the Japanese side of it, makes a very tamed appearance on the menu. If you’re looking for great wine, fun inventive food and delicious desserts then this may just be for you. But if traditional tapas are more your thing, you may just want to look elsewhere because this is modern cooking – for the modern Londoner.


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