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Dinner at: Los Reyes, Hitchin

PUBLISHED: 10:08 12 June 2018 | UPDATED: 10:08 12 June 2018

Los Reyes (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Los Reyes (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Brian Arnopp Images

Serving up authentic tastes of Spain in the ancient surroundings of a former coaching inn probably shouldn’t work - except, in Hitchin, it does

Of all the enterprises that have combined to put the hit into Hitchin, one of the most interesting is a restaurant. Los Reyes has struck a chord by exploring the fashion for something different on the food scene, in this case Spanish tapas. It is no longer alone, but in 2015, when it opened, it was novel and word of mouth has done the rest.

The website is not only informative but up to date, unlike some which should know better, especially in a competitive business like running a restaurant. The headline is that this is the home not just of tapas but ‘creative tapas, craft beers and fine wines’, moving the message immediately upmarket.

Los Reyes occupies a building that dates from the 15th century and was the former home of the popular King’s Arms pub. A busy bar area on the right as you enter reflects the heritage and the open-plan seating areas beyond, on the evening I was there, were occupied partly by customers there for drinks rather than food, keeping the pub theme alive.

Nalgas de cordero: lamb rump, pan seared and roasted, with rosemary and anchovy dressing (photo: Brian Arnopp)Nalgas de cordero: lamb rump, pan seared and roasted, with rosemary and anchovy dressing (photo: Brian Arnopp)

There is a lot of bare brick uncovered during the refurbishment, some original panelling and traces of Art Deco wallpaper, all contributing to an eclectic atmosphere which the large crowd – and this on a Tuesday – were obviously enjoying. There are also two beamed private dining rooms and a secluded courtyard that we are told led formerly to a blacksmith’s barn.

One of the partners behind Los Reyes, Damian Caldwell, used to run another Hitchin fixture, Halsey’s Deli, and knows a thing or two about the food business, including the importance of good service. My other half and I were well treated on our visit but even before that our online booking was acknowledged swiftly, we had a follow-up reminder email the day before the event and another afterwards seeking our verdict.

The tapas menu is divided into fish, meat and vegetable sections, plus a large and exclusively Spanish wine list designed to complement the food. Bookings are recommended, which sounds like a bit of PR except as already noted the place was buzzing even midweek. As for the food itself, the website lines up the tastebuds by focusing on sample dishes such as tiger prawn and chorizo skewers with cherry tomato; pork and beef meatballs with a Spanish three-cheese fondue; or garlic wild mushrooms with quail’s egg, crostini and truffle oil.

Tarta de queso - cheesecake with almonds (photo: Brian Arnopp)Tarta de queso - cheesecake with almonds (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Thus prepared, we arrive to be briefed expertly by our server, who suggests three or four tapas each is a typical meal, lists the specials and helps us through some of the difficult words, although the menu is in English as well as Spanish. The dishes arrive at table in order of cooking and range from around £6 to £9.50; we plunge in with revuelto de montaya y mar (£7.50), a mix of duck egg, spiced chorizo, king prawn, cherry tomato, piquillo pepper and herbs on crostini. It’s a substantial start and true to its promise of authenticity.

Nalgas de cordero, sometimes called chulatas de cordero (£9) is lamb rump, pan seared and roasted with rosemary and anchovy dressing, while one of the day’s specials is cochinillo (£9.50), or pulled pork, a derivation of cochinillo asado – roast suckling pig – one of the most typical dishes in the cuisine of Castille. Next comes patatas bravas (£5), in this version arriving as triple-cooked potatoes with smoked pepper, chilli and tomato sauce plus lemon and garlic aioli in a three-cheese fondue. Piquillos rellenas con lentejas (£6.50) are peppers with lentils and cheese, while the croquettas del dia on the day we were there at £6.50 for three or £8.50 for five were another cheese dish.

As the descriptions suggest, Los Reyes’ tapas are substantial and our shared selection was more than enough to send us on our way feeling well fed and satisfied. The only disappointment was the absence on the dessert menu of crema Catalana, a personal favourite, but we compromised with a shared tarta de queso (£5.50), or Dulce de Leche cheesecake with almonds, which fitted the bill.

Los Reyes is also open for lunch Tuesday-Saturday and for ‘Sunday Feasting’, described as a family Sunday lunch with a Spanish twist.

The cost of this dinner for two was £69.85 including tip (10 per cent) added automatically, a pint of Estrella on draught and one glass of Cava rosé.

This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.

Book a table

Los Reyes

16 Bucklersbury, Hitchin SG5 1BB

3 of a kind

Richard picks three more Med delights in Herts

Oxscale

1 Church Street, Wheathampstead AL4 8AP

Large and ever-changing tapas menu featuring own-brand dry-aged beef, fresh fish and speciality gins.

Casa Lua

64 High Street, Ware SG12 9DA

Rustic restaurant serving tapas and Iberian dishes run by husband and wife team and featuring bare bricks, beams and a garden terrace.

Bar Azita Harpenden

1A Station Road, Harpenden AL5 4SW

Modern dining room for tapas as well as charcoal-grilled Mediterranean dishes, small plates and sharing platters. Also in Hitchin.

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