RESTAURANT REVIEW: A truly delightful Mediterranean enclave hidden in the city centre

The entrance to The Cafe Bar's courtyard on Winckley Street.
The entrance to The Cafe Bar's courtyard on Winckley Street.
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A sense of escapism from our daily routines is what we all crave for on a regular basis – in fact, probably more than we’d want to admit to.

That was the plan last Saturday for my fiancée Rebecca and I. After a couple of stressful weeks, all we wanted was a night off winding down from the hustle and bustle of real life.

The table couldn't have been much fuller when our six tapas plates arrived.

The table couldn't have been much fuller when our six tapas plates arrived.

We chose what looked like a little gem of a restaurant hidden away on Winckley Street called The Cafe Bar. I spotted the restaurant a while back while on another job in the city centre and my curiosity over the place has stayed with me since.

The name – The Cafe Bar – is somewhat confusing as it neither comes across as a coffee shop nor a place for a quick pint or glass of wine. But the feel of the establishment was set in stone from the off.

To get to the restaurant you have to go through its unique courtyard, which is filled with tables and chairs that reminded me of being in Rome last year.

I imagine that on a dry, hot, and sunny day the place is a vibrant place to wind down in – but this is November in Preston so it was very much wet, cold, and dark.

Empty plates all around

Empty plates all around

The courtyard’s authentic Mediterranean vibe continued inside where we were greeted by owner Atham Tsuchnikas.

The Cafe Bar’s website states that after an absence of more than 10 years, the original owners of the restaurant – the Tsuchnikas family of Rhodes, Greece – are back in charge.

That sense of bona fide originality was visible in the decor and feel when you walk in. For some Brits, it might feel a little bit over-crowded, and the pastel green and orange walls might feel a little forced. But for those who have visited any of the coastal countries in the Mediterranean Sea will feel a sense of being transported back to your holidays of yesteryear.

Like the name, the menu feels a little confused. You can choose from pizzas, pasta dishes, house tapas, chefs tapas, Greek tapas, burgers, steak and seafood.

The Mediterranean-style passage to The Cafe Bar

The Mediterranean-style passage to The Cafe Bar

We were here for tapas though, and I’ll admit that the idea has never really appealed to me. Maybe that’s why so much choice is offered – for those who might want to play it safe with something they know.

But back to tapas. Rebecca tells me it’s an enjoyable eating experience so we ordered six dishes to share between us.

First of all, as a newbie, the vast array of dishes left me a little overwhelmed.

Luckily, the pint I ordered was brought to me literally within 30 seconds – if you want to get on my good side, beer always helps. The only problem then was that no one returned within the meal to take further beer orders.

Once we had decided, the waiter who took our drinks orders took our food in an unusual way by sitting down at our table.

But it was fun. He obviously has his routine but it is extremely well polished and not intrusive in the slightest. Yet another part of what makes the place feel a little different from a standard restaurant.

The stand-out dish for me was the Tigania (£6.95), a traditional Greek fry up with pork, onions, peppers, garlic and mushroom. The sauce had a surprising kick to it that I always appreciate.

Maybe this is why I don’t order tapas, as no sooner was it gone that I wanted some more. Luckily for fussy types like me, The Cafe Bar accommodate for that. They’ll turn any tapas dish into a main course for an extra £3.

The calamari (£6.95) left a bit to be desired. I’ve had some very good squid in my time so maybe I have become a bit of snob in this respect but it’s the honest truth.

Once we’d polished everything off the plates were taken away and we were left to chat for 15 minutes or so.

But then that 15 turned into 20 and then 25. It wasn’t until a neighbouring couple asked a waiter if there was a dessert menu that he informed us, via them, that they have a range of fresh treats in a fridge near the bar. Fair enough, I suppose, if what is offered is a rotating selection of fresh goods.

The same confusion existed when paying – you had to go to the bar but there was no hint suggesting this was the case.

It’s common practice in many parts of mainland Europe but I suppose being in England, you get used to the experience of being brought everything on a plate.

So yes, there were a few minor blips, but the night had its elements of enjoyable escapism, filled with an array of interesting food.

That second pint would have gone down really well though...