When the waiting staff drag a nearby table over to join it to yours, you know you’re in for a feast. Such was the situation we found ourselves in on our visit to Amantia in Birmingham.
I’ve been wanting to try Amantia for a while. On Bennett’s Hill, it’s found itself a location that’s not only slap-bang in the centre of town, but in a place that’s well known for good foodie haunts, a few doors up from Bodega and its sister restaurant Buffalo & Rye, and only round the corner from the likes of Nosh & Quaff and Purecraft Bar & Kitchen and the new home of Adam’s.
Run by husband and wife team Marta and Andrea, Amantia promises “the true taste of Spain”. Big words! From the appearance alone, you definitely don’t feel like you’re in a tapas bar on the Costa del Somewhere. The glass frontage and modern, trendy interior gives away its city centre location, as does the clean, minimalist decor. But it’s the food and drink that whisks you to sunny climes, filled with the tastes of lazy tapas-fuelled holiday days.
I started with one of Amantia’s trademark gin and tonics, an apple and cinnamon Rives House G&T, while Mr M had a nice glass of red. The menu is packed with a range of tapas and paella and we just couldn’t decide between the two, so in true Manning style went for both.
Three tapas would be enough, we were told, if we were going to fill our faces with paella as well. So with a bit of advice we picked a trio of plates that mixed some of our firm favourite go-to ingredients when it comes to food like this, as well as flavours and dishes we haven’t seen before.
First up, Pulpo a la Gallega – or Galician style Octopus served on a bed of potatoes dressed with olive oil and paprika. Mr M is a massive fan of octopus but when he orders it abroad it’s usually in the form of an octopus salad. For me, this was much nicer than a plate of cold sucker-covered tentacles. Instead the octopus was served warm and chopped into manageable chunks, drenched in olive oil to remind me of far-flung holiday hotspots, with a nice bit of heat from the paprika.
The Datiles con bacon came highly recommended and are apparently one of the most popular tapas dishes on the menu. I can see why. Individual dates filled with a fried almond and wrapped in pancetta. They may look like mini sausages on sticks but they’re far better than that – sweet moist fruit, wrapped in salty crispy pancetta, not forgetting the crunch of the almond buried inside.
We agreed that, left to our own devices, we’d probably have ignored the dates on the menu and missed out on such a lovely little treat. Just goes to show there’s never any harm in asking for a bit of advice.
Third choice, and one that got us both a bit excited – Hojaldres de Morcilla. To us English folk, puff pastry parcels filled with Spanish black pudding, soft goat’s cheese, caramelised onions and homemade apple sauce.
They just looked like little sausage rolls I guess, but inside something far more naughty. Rich crumbly black pudding mixed with oozing, creamy goats cheese and the sweet stickiness of caramelised onions.
If I’m honest (which I always am) I don’t think they needed the apple sauce. Well, we certainly didn’t need it. The parcels themselves didn’t really last long enough to be dipped in anything, let alone apple sauce. The first mouthful was so delicious that the rest went straight down the hatch.
Feeling rather pleased with ourselves, we eagerly awaited the paella. Good job we had the extra table. We needed it for the piping hot traditional cast iron pan, filled with fragrant rice, veg and tonnes of seafood. Look!
Now, I’m no paella expert. I like it, I’ve eaten it quite a lot both in the UK and abroad, and while I have a fair idea of what makes a paella done good and what makes one done bad, I am definitely not an expert.
With that in mind, I’m pretty sure this one was on the good side of the fence. The rice was soft but still had a bit of bite, no sludgy mush here. It was packed with flavour, and tasted like it really had been cooked with the seafood that lay on top.
As for the aforementioned seafood – first off, there was loads, which is always a plus point. I hate it when you order seafood paella and get three prawns and a mussel. And while this one didn’t have some of the huge langoustines I’ve had on paella in the past, it had plenty of prawns, chunks of meaty white fish, cooked so they flaked apart, and some big old juicy mussels.
As to this some extra bits of crunch and colour from sugar snap peas and red peppers, and it made for a thoroughly enjoyable dish that we seemed to polish off in not many minutes at all.
When we told my mum about this meal, her reaction when I told her that despite being full to burst, we ordered dessert, was to declare: “You and Jamie never do anything by halves do you. You always have to go for it.”
Well, she’s right. We definitely didn’t need dessert. In fact, I still feel a bit full thinking about it now. But needless to say, once we made the mistake of “having a quick look” at the menu, we just both found the names of desserts falling out of our mouths and, lo and behold, we’d ordered almost involuntarily.
I went for Crema Catalana. Amantia’s is kind of like a creme brulee – baked custard with a crunchy caramel top. Jamie chose a creamy chocolatey pot of sweetness whose name I forgot to note down.
I’ve got to say, the dessert wasn’t great for me. Maybe I was too full, maybe I picked wrong, but it just didn’t give me the same smug satisfaction that I’d ordered right as my tapas and paella had. I can’t even really describe it – the caramel crunch was perfect, but the custard just didn’t seem quite right, not the smooth creaminess I was expecting.
Who knows, maybe it was an off day, or maybe (and possibly more likely) I was already stuffed and looking for a way out of finishing. Either way, it’s not something I’d ever hold against Amantia, given the enjoying we got out of absolutely everything else we tried there.
I tried Jamie’s dessert (natch) and enjoyed it far more than my own. It was a beautifully indulgent mix of creamy nonsense, chocolate sauce, and fruit. Any more than a spoonful and I think I would have been sick, but Mr M valiantly finished it and was left rather satisfied, though also feeling wonderfully sick.
We really did overdo it at Amantia. I think we just got carried away with the reminder of sunshine and long lazy tapas sessions, made even easier by the menu and execution of our dishes, which didn’t feel like a desperate attempt to recreate holiday classics, but rather an authentic offering of the cuisine that is clearly close to the heart of those running the restaurant.
It was nice to see ingredients and flavours that aren’t on your average tapas chain restaurant, as well as the classics that make you lick your lips and start trying to calculate how many tapas it’s acceptable to order without seeming greedy.
I’d definitely recommend giving Amantia a try. Maybe not if you want a sangria-filled party night, but more if you’re after a well-balanced mixture of city centre dining and that culinary reminder of your travels to sunnier climes.
Just make sure you’re hungry if you plan on being as greedy as we were…
We were invited to dine at Amantia with the purposes of reviewing it and didn’t pay for our meal. I wasn’t asked to write positively, and as usual, I’ve told you truthfully what my experience was.
If you’ve got a Gastro Card, Amantia is one of the restaurants on their list and you can get 10% of your total food bill from Sunday to Thursday on the a la carte menu. If you haven’t got a card yet, don’t forget you can get £5 off if you use the code EatWithEllen at the checkout here.