It’s dark and the wettest of rain is pouring down like stair rods as we make the taxi to door dash into Preston’s Fino Tapas restaurant on a truly miserable Saturday night.
Fortunately Fino Tapas stood out like a welcoming ray of sunshine to the soggy and the hungry, a welcome addition (it opened in 2018) to an unprepossessing Preston side street lying off the main artery of Fishergate.
Fino Tapas is just one restaurant in the rapidly expanding Preston empire of Mark O’Rourke, a man credited with upping the restaurant stakes in the city after initially impressing with an upscale burger joint with a memorable name -Don’t Give A Fork - and pre ‘night on the town’ pie and beer emporium Otter’s Pocket .
In the past few weeks he has gone higher end still with 263 in the Winckley Square Hotel - which I have yet to visit.
But it was Tapas I fancied and it was Fino we rushed into, steaming slightly and looking round optimistically.
The welcome was immediate.
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We were ushered in by friendly staff, past the bar to our table in the tiny but bustling restaurant.
The emphasis here is casual, friendly, dining with tables pushed fairly close together, encouraging interaction - making for interesting ear-wigging on the two parties to our right on this occasion.
But we were more interested in the wine and we soon had a friendly waitress bringing over a bottle to help us with the decision-making process.
The Tapas menu is full, varied and extremely well priced - replicating the pricing system in other restaurants i.e. £6.66, £8.88, £4.44 - you get the picture.
You can choose from ‘Para picar’ (literal meaning ‘to chop’), Tortilla options, Croquettes, Paella, vegetarian tapas, meat, fish and sides.
The cheapest dish on the tapas menu is a bowl of marinated olives at £1.55 and the most expensive is Filete de ternera - wood fire roasted fillet steak with sherry fried onions at a still-modest £9.99.
Clearly a feast was on the cards.
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We ordered generously - why not - to complement our bottle of red, we plumped for a Marques Rioja (£23.23) which slid down very nicely.
With the wine came a complimentary bowl of olives to get our taste buds started. Then gradually, our dishes started to arrive.
As is almost always the case in modern restaurants, there was barely enough room on the table for our dishes, though it makes for a more intimate eating affair and suits the sociable Tapas environment.
Sharing is the name of the game which was a good job as our table was groaning.
We opted for the Pollo con ajo (chicken in garlic sauce, the fillet steak (of course), the Chorizo al vino tinto (chorizo in red wine sauce), the Vientre De Cerdo (Pork belly served with caramelised red onion, apple & fennel puree) and the Robalo (Wood fire roasted whole seabass)
On the side we chose Patatas bravas (potatoes in spicy tomato sauce with alioli) and Calabacín Frito (crispy courgettes fries)
This Tapas has a lovely authentic feel to it.
None of the dishes were over-fussy (my pet hate) and served when ready rather than all a big batch.
Everything was tasty but there were certainly winners on the table.
Near the top of my list was the chorizo which added a proper zing to the meal but undoubtedly the victory dish on this occasion was the roasted whole seabass.
Not only remarkable value at just £8.88 but cooked perfectly, with a crispy skin, tender and meaty and it more than adequately fed the two of us.
The fillet steak was equally good value, if beaten to the post by the fish, and well flavoured.
My partner was slightly underwhelmed by the pork belly, which veered toward the over-done, but the garlic chicken dish boasted tender chicken breast suitable for the fussiest of meat-eaters (i.e. me).
The patatas bravas and courgette fries were both delicious.
The Fino Tapas is a lovely little venue, buzzing on a weekend evening, and perfect for a fun night out and a sociable lunch or evening with friends.
It’s just what Preston needed - accessible and affordable yet a destination in its own right.
I imagine it will be full to bursting in Christmas party season.
What it also represents is a bit of non-chain creativity in a city where innovation is still much needed on the food-front.
All of our reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for in full.
INFO: Fino Tapas