On a recent visit to Manchester, not knowing the city at all, I cast my net of contacts looking for suggestions. A friend of a friend highly recommended a tapas bar in the centre of the city called El Rincon de Rafa. As always, local knowledge proved to be invaluable and my companion and I had an absolutely wonderful dining experience.
I have to admit to having had some reservations about eating in a tapas establishment. I had eaten wonderfully in such places in Spain but I also had memories of a time in the UK when every third restaurant seemed to be a tapas bar and the majority of them were, frankly, pretty dire. Tapas in the 80's and 90's in the UK generally seemed to be an excuse for restaurateurs to serve up tiny overpriced portions of pretty average food, many of which would have had only the vaguest connection with Spain. How different El Ricon de Rafa is.
Let me digress briefly, as I tend to do. I only very recently found out from a Spanish friend what tapas actually means and where the concept comes from. Apparently in the dim and distant past, in days before air-con and so on, flies were a big problem in bars. The answer was to put a slice of cheese or sometimes bread over the glass to keep the flies off, the word tapas translating as lid as in a pot lid. The concept then metamorphosed into small dishes of snacks to be taken with alcohol until we arrive at our present situation. Just thought you might like to know,
Anyway, back to the review, which will be rendered completely irrelevant without this first part. El Rincon de Rafa is hard to find, and I mean really hard. It is genuinely a "backstreet" place. The address is 244 Deansgate which is easy to find and I have included a picture to help you. As you can see, no sign of a restaurant. What you need to do is walk to the left (as you look at the building) then turn right and right again into a small backstreet called Longworth Street which is a fairly nondescript cul de sac. The restaurant is downstairs to the right.
Having hopefully navigated your way here, you will be greeted by one of the friendly staff, all of whom appear to be genuine Spanish speakers if not actually Spanish. We visited on a midweek night in an unseasonably cold December and were lucky enough to secure a table for two fairly quickly. The place was absolutely packed, always a good sign. I am told that booking at the weekend is essential.
To the menu which is extensive to say the least. Difficult choices all round so I let my companion, who has unerring taste in these matters, order for me. In the end, half a dozen dishes between two and served with the excellent bread (which you may have to ask for) was just about right. Every dish was excellent and obviously only the highest quality ingredients are used.
During the short wait for the food, we had a chance to examine the restaurant and our fellow diners over a glass of San Miguel beer for my friend and a genuine Spanish cider for me. The room is just as I remember proper Spanish bars to be, quite dark, a lot of wood and various knick knacks on the walls. The clientele appeared to be a fairly eclectic mix with perhaps a slight leaning towards young professionals. Dress appeared to be smart casual and the place was quite lively and noisy. I suspect there were a few office Christmas parties taking place, and with the very nature of tapas eating, it would be an excellent choice for such a function.
Despite staying reasonably late, we were not rushed out and were by no means the last to leave.
I do not very often give the top rating on a VT tip for a restaurant as I reserve them for special places but El Rincon is certainly getting one and I thoroughly recommend it.
Favorite Dish: The manchega cheese was superb but I think the nod has to go to the Patatas Mojo, at least I think that is the Spanish for it. As pictured, you can see it is fried potatoes with a wonderful sauce, apparently a traditional dish of the Canary Islands.
Savour the true taste of Spain. you can order two or three tapas each, maybe with olives, crusty bread or the Spanish favourite, pan con tomato, bread dipped in olive oil garlic and tomatoes. Arguably the best tapas bar in Manchester is El Rincon de Rafa, hidden away behind Deansgate on Longworth Street. Tiled, immaculately clean, and with football photos everywhere, it’s as authentic as you can get without actually stepping on a plane. The very long list of tapas offers everything from albondigas (meatballs) to chicken stewed in sherry, deep-fried squid, and the famous patatas bravas, a signature dish. In the wrong hands, these can be pretty bland. But here the spuds are nicely firm and correctly spiked with tomatoes, garlic and chilli. El Rincon also offers some more esoteric choices, including tripe, an acquired taste. There are main courses too, including very decent paella, meats and fish dishes. But its reputation firmly rests on the tapas menu. Great Rioja, draught Spanish lager, and a good range of sherries all add to the charm of this eaterie. It’s been going ten years and is as popular as ever.
Favorite Dish: All of them.
Make sure you book in advance.
You may even be sat with celebrities, as they are always dropping in, the last person I saw was Justin Timberlake.
El Rincon de Rafa is by far my favourite restaurant in Manchester. It is an authentic Spanish restaurant with the best Spanish atmosphere you can find within city centre. There are bull fighting posters, football posters, maps of Spain and Spanish pop music playing- almost like being back in Spain.
Furthermore the food is pretty good! :-) There is a quite a vast menu, including paella (but for a minimum of two people) which I do recommend. The sangria is also really good but only served by the jug (in true Spanish style!) and there is Cruzcambo beer and Rioja wine (etc).
The waiters are mainly from Spain or Latin America so if you want to practice your Spanish they are a good bunch to practice with, but don't worry if you don't know more than "hola" because obviously ordering in English is equally welcome!
The restaurant is tucked away so if you don't know what you are looking for, it is not the kind of place you are going to tumble across. Despite this, it is always busy. There is a click of regular clientel and most people come back more than once.
If you miss Spain and just want to have a piece of here in Manchester, El Rincon is the place to go. If you want real Spanish food (cooked by Spaniards and all!) and some gorgeous Spanish beer and wine, then El Rincon is also your best bet! The prices are furhtermore very reasonable and there are both meat and vegetarian dishes so there should be no problems finding something for everyone. Unless you order the paella, you are best off ordering 2-4 tapas each (depending how hungry you are!) and all sharing, so that everyone gets to try a bit of everything :)
Also if you come a Friday or Saturday especially, do book a table, "to avoid disapointment" but otherwise just standing by the bar with a glass of wine and ordering just the one tapas and listening to the buzz of the surrondings is an equally good alternative to sitting down by a table!
Favorite Dish: The paella is lovely and comes in a pretty large dish for just two people, defently no need to order further tapas. I am a big fan of albondigas (large meatballs) and these are pretty good too :)
The Sangria is gorgeous but Cruzcampo beer is among the best beers ever, so if you are beer lover.....
A former professional Spanish football player now runs Manchester's finest tapas place.
In the basement down a quiet side street, Rafas is one of those back alley discoveries we all dream of discovering. You'll get a warm welcome, cold Spanish lager and a hearty helping of tapas from the large menu.
During the afternoon it's full of light and families, come night there is often live music and a party atmosphere as the Spanish expats arrive.
Favorite Dish: Try to have a nibble of everything...some sweet peppers, a handful of plump olives, a slurp of soup, a pile of ham, some bread dipped in oil....mmmmm....
manchester has many great eating establishments, including the famous Chinatown with over 30 oriental resataurants or full the real BALTI lovers there is the famous Rusholme 'curry mile'
However, my favourite is a tapas bar called EL RINCON DE RAFAS.
a real ambiance of spain good food, beer and ambiance, the most authentic tapas bar in the city.
Favorite Dish: Varios tapas eg Albondigas, Paella, potatas bravas etc