I was feeling like having some tapas. Nowadays I've been trying to balance my eating out with less and less dinners and having juice days once a week. All just to keep my weight in check, at a level that is attractive for me every time I look in the mirror. To continue this trend I thought the perfect dinner on a weekend would be to skip all the fatty meats, pasta dishes, huge Hungarian meals and go for a nice, easy tapas dinner and a great bottle of wine.

The tapas scene in the city ain't what I would call "thriving", Pata Negra being the one and only true follower of Spanish small plates. Sometime I get a sudden urge to experience what it feels like being back "in my second home" in Marbella and downing large plates of chipirones, boquerones, patatas bravas, chorizo and red wine. I can only experience the real stuff every summer down in Spain so in the meantime Pata Negra remains my only medicine for those Tapa-aches in my belly.

Design: a very nice, homely feel with Moorish tiles on the wall, exposed brick walls, a great bar counter where you can always find some guys having a couple of pints (a sign of hospitality), loads of pictures depicting traditional Spanish bullfights, exposed ventillation shafts adding a modern touch and unfancy tables. Good atmosphere, good taste.

OK. Now the number one thing I do when I sit down in Pata Negra is order a bottle of this stuff. It's called the Baron de Ley and it is one of the finest Rioja wines around. The previous vintage was cheaper and better on my earlier visits but this one didn't disappoint either. At 6500 Fts a pop it seems like quite a bargain compared to how much some of the truly mediocre Hungarian wines are selling for in gastro circles.

Too bad the waiter brought out the bottle uncorked and started pouring it out into two glasses even without a taste or sniff of the thing. But you get used to these things quickly in Southern Spain (even though this place is just trying to emulate what that's like). Don't let these things worry you, otherwise you'll get a heart attack very soon. Take it easy, chill out, be patient.

The Baron went down smooth. Compared to a wine that's aged for almost 8 years it seemed a virgin in fact. This is the most expensive wine on the wine card by the way and maybe we would have been better off for some lesser known Ribera del Dueros for 3-4000 Fts. Next time. Sorry, before the Baron was tested, I couldn't resist asking for an aperitif: a nice Sherry or Fino as the locals call it - that's another thing I learnt in Spain.

Slowly our friends arrived and we ordered the first raft of dishes: Jamon Serrano (cheapest variety out of the three offered - not aged for 12 or 24 months, still very good indeed), a great little baby squid a la plancha (on the grill), a nice plate of aged manchego cheese, some prawns al ajillo (with extreme amounts of garlic) , some olives and a plate of patatas bravas (roast potatoes with a spicy red sauce). All of the dishes seemed better than before, mosre consistent, more grown up, like the chef had an infusion of self confidence suddenly. The bread was a bit lame, but you kind of expect that in the city offering some of the worst bread rolls on the planet. We finished up the dishes in no time, a bite was all we got out of each plate since we were four. I had the olives all to myself and devoured them while greasy little fingers deliberately kept the prawns far away from me.

So we went for the next round: another larger plate of ham, another plate of prawns, a large salad, a chipirones fritas with some alioli sauce and the unforgettable chorizo cooked in red wine. The chorizo is fantastic bite sized pieces of Spanish kolbász sausage cooked in red wine which gives it a tangy taste. The only forgettable thing was the alioli sauce which had way too much oil in it and therefore looked like a gelatinous glob of snot or drool or someting really disgusting and not the airy, garlicky thing it should have been. Not too many complaints on the taste front otherwise. We actually felt quite full by the end and although everyone started off by saying they weren't going to have anything (ok, mabe just a bite) we managed to wipe clean all the plates and even dip clean the red wine sauce under the chorizo.

Saw some signs of parillada meats on the new menu like pre-ordered shoulder of lamb. I'm pre-ordering it already for our next "light" meal.

Overall: 6,5 out of 10.

Pata Negra spanyol tapas bar