Phoebe Seymour finds the ideal antidote for monster Mondays
My friend Shauna and I have had so many stressful Mondays, that when we have a particularly bad one, we call it a monster Monday. Our visit to wine and tapas bar Rioja could therefore not have come at a better time.
As I gazed in wonder at the wide selection of wines – and the rare and exotic bottles of rum – I realised this venue would provide the perfect pick-me-up.
Impressively hand-built by owner Lee Needham, along with his father and the chef, the interior in Rioja is both stylish and relaxing. Huge, low-hanging, industrial lightbulbs and a corrugated iron ceiling give the venue an edgy, on-trend look, while brown leather-padded stools and weathered wooden tables provide comfort and a laid-back atmosphere.
A mini-bottle of prosecco corte alta (20cl, £5.95) was enough to take the edge off, while Shauna indulged in a nostalgic Zymurgorium sweet violet gin liquer and Fever-Tree slimline tonic (50ml, £8.55) – reminiscent of sweet shop classic Palma Violet.
And as though this had sent her on a trip down memory lane, she confided that she’d never been keen on the idea of tapas before, because it involves sharing – a concept that didn’t go down well in the every-man-for-himself household she grew up in.
However, with The Rioja Tapas Special (£27.95), there was no shortage of delicious food. Recommended for two, this comprised of mixed breads, butters and oils, patatas bravas and four dishes from the tapas menu.
Warm and toasted sourdough and seeded loaves were accompanied by a sweet red wine and rapeseed oil, as well as a plain and smoky paprika flavoured butter. These were small touches which created a big impression. Made fresh in the kitchen, the infused oils and butters change regularly, so there’s always something new to try.
The chef had also put his simple, yet effective touch on the Spanish staple, the patatas bravas. Golden brown and satisfyingly crisp, these tomato and garlic sauce-covered potatoes are roasted rather than fried, creating a dish so moreish, we were glad the portion was more than enough for two.
Halloumi fries (£5.45) aren’t exactly traditional tapas, but have fast become a modern classic. These ones were evenly deep-fried, yet still had a satisfying soft and squeaky centre, and were served with a tangy chipotle sauce. I was in awe of how fresh both the salmon and sesame seed skewers (£6.75), and the garlic-infused king prawns (£6.75) tasted, while Shauna was busy singing the praises of the rich and red-onion roasted beef and blue cheese meatballs (£5.95).
Suitably stuffed and with plenty of leftovers to feed a third person, Shauna and I shared a huge slab of caramel cake and vanilla ice cream (£3.65), along with an espresso (£2.40) for her and a latte (£2.40) for me – both from rich Arabica coffee beans, hand-crafted and roasted by the Sheffield-based Forge Coffee Company.
Though weekends are when this wine bar really shines, it left us thinking who needs Fridays when you’ve got Mondays at Rioja to brighten up your week?
Rioja, 2 Plantation Road, Doncaster, DN4 8RT
Tel: 01302 285993