8.30pm Tuesday night. Wanted to go to a 'sit-at-the-bar-with-a-drink-dining' type of place with a friend. Last minute obviously so booking wasn't an option (what loser books anyway, grandad?) so was wondering around Soho looking. Had tried to go to Bocca Di Lupo but was told an hour (looked nice that night, clientele - producers, producers' young trendy girlfriends & boyfriends), must go back there though. Spuntino was full too, so wandered over and up towards Barrafina. Cutting through Bateman street, we decided in the end to go to Pintxo, the little tapas place. Never been before. Exciting!
Pintxos (I'm still having to double-check how to spell it, stupid Basque words, why they don't just write Pinchos I don't know) is one of the currently en-vogue tapas places in London, a now solid part of the restaurant scene ever since UK Tapas grew up from being the kind of second-rate novelty it was 10 years ago.
I remember eating bowls of meatballs in smaller portions than I'd like in dodgy City restaurants called 'El Toro' or something, full of Essex boy traders and being charged through the nose for the pleasure. It's now a fully fledged part of the small plate phenomenon where - hold on a minute - you also eat smaller bowls of meatballs than you'd like and are charged through the nose for the pleasure. Where are all the Essex boys? That is the question.
No Essex boys in Pintxos (spellcheck again) though, a mixed bag of media workers, probably art workers and researchers rather than top creatives (they'd be in Barrafina), and couples on first dates, or possibly in illicit affairs.
Actually where tapas really works is with people 'playing away'. It's not dinner really, although it costs as much, so if you go for a drink with someone you fancy but are not really allowed to be with, say, someone else's boyfriend for example, you can sit cosily and drink, and kind of have dinner together, under the thinly-veiled ruse of a casual platonic get-together. I can just imagine the high pitches cries of 'it wasn't like that! We were just talking about the day's ideation session over some albondigas!' as you dodge flying wine glasses when you get home.
So there we were, welcomed by a rather charming guy behind the bar, who gave us menus and then preceded to explain the concept of the restaurant. It turned out the menus weren't necessary, because the way it works here is you go to the bar and help yourself to whatever you want. Like a buffet. Drinks are ordered at the bar too. How fun and easy-going.
So here's what I had:
Potted smoked Mackerel was as ok as a little pot of smoked oily fish will always be. I ended up eating it using the skewers as chopsticks.
Chilli Chicken kebab with mint and coriander shot was quite tasty, in a kind of Tiger-Tiger 1998 Friday night canapé sort of way.
Pepper Stuffed with Goats cheese and pine nuts tasted exactly like the ones you buy in tins from Eroski (which isn't a bad thing tbh).
Peas & broad beans with some sort of mint and cheese (if I remember rightly) was a bit like Spuntino but just made me wish I was in Spuntino.
Tortilla. Now, everyone knows tortilla is Spain's secret favourite food, like Yorkshire puddings are ours, and crepes are France's. The only way tortilla should surely be made is with eggs and potato, butter, maybe some onion. Served warm and steamy. This was fridge cold, damp, depressing. Wet cold egg with cold vegetable, another terrible combination. Possibly spinach or something. Nasty.
Deep fried olives - olives are just fine as they are aren't they?.
Some other stuff that I can't remember. Some kind of mashed up aubergine I think. I should really remember to take notes.
My friend had by this point looked at me and said 'picnic food'. I kind of agreed. We decided to leave, so after dutifully carried our gathering of skewers to the bar we got the bill.
Now just under £40 quid for two beers and some nibbles is enough as it is, but what really shocked me was - you've guessed it - the adding on of service.
Yes, rewind a little here. I sat down, I then got up again and went and helped myself to food from a bar. (Did I mention I did this myself?) Then I went back to the bar and ordered drinks, which I carried myself to where I was sitting. When I wanted to leave, I gathered up all my sticks and took them back to the bar, waited in line for my turn, then got our bill. At which point in this experience did I receive any service, let alone service worthy of a tip? Is smiling when you go somewhere service now? I genuinely wanted to ask whether the tips were put in a pot and shared with all the customers as they left at the end, because it is the customers doing all the service!
As I paid, the same nice charming guy behind the bar asked me - 'how was everything?'.
Do you really think I was going to start listing off a load of gripes? No, and that's because nobody ever does. Not unless you're one of those cringe-making outspoken people who relishes in causing a scene (everyone knows one of them). Call me a wimp but you don't want to spoil everyone's night. No-one likes a confrontation.
If Claude Bosi is reading this he would surely tell me to buy a pair of balls and play with them. Well Claude, after that I'm on my way to the biggest, hairiest testicle shop I can find right now! Which do you recommend?
So Pintxos (spelled it first time, yay) was a bit of a let-down for me really, doing the sort of tapas Spanish bars give you free to keep you there longer.
I probably wouldn't go back, unless of course I was having an affair, in which case it would be perfect.
Illicit leg-brushing, marriage-breaking potential: 9/10
Service 9/10 (I always award myself good marks)
(Sorry, no pictures)
Footnote: Sorry this has been my second gripey post about service in recent times, I promise I won't bore you again with this subject for a while.
EDIT: All references to Catalan have been changed to Basque, thanks for the tips!