Uno Spanish Tapas, Sutton

There is much to admire about Uno, located bang in the town centre of Sutton, Surrey.  Tapas has long since commoditised by La Tasca at one end of the scale and expanded into gourmet territory in London, but there is scope for mid-market affordable small plate dishes in the Spanish tradition, and in this suburban location Uno is indeed first and foremost.

Situated in an old building, the walls of Uno are stripped back to attractive crumbling brick work, contrasting nicely with a slick and modern restaurant design, comfy bench seating, lightly grained wood and recessed lighting.  Perhaps it was a tad cool in temperature and ambience, though it was only in hindsight I realised I had been sitting in Uno for about an hour with goosebumps on my arms.  That will teach me to take my jacket off!

The owners have matched the premises with a well-designed brand notable for recognisable logo and colour scheme focused on grey polka dots and red.  The public face of Uno is a neat website dominated by retro black-and-white pictures (sourced, I suspect, by their web designer rather than from the family archives.)

Not only that, but they do a decent lunch set price deal: two tapas from a list, bread and a drink, £9.95 all in. A pretty good place for a friendly midday snack then, helped by the fact at that time of day the place was not packed and therefore we could hear ourselves think.  I’m reliably told, and the available photos back this up, that Uno is a favourite grazing spot for parties out on the town.

Unfortunately, I failed to take any photographs during lunch. I know – terrible, isn’t it?  (there’s a cartoon doing the rounds where a waiter is speaking to a couple: “Is everything alright with your food?  You didn’t take any pictures!”)  Well, that means you will for the most part have to depend on how I describe the food, which is probably no bad thing, though the Internet has furnished me with a number of mouth-watering visions, but we will come to those in a moment.

Granted we were virtually alone in the restaurant to begin with, but the waiter and manager proved genuinely friendly.  That I make a point of saying this tells you this is not uniformly the case, such that at some establishments you almost feel like they are doing you a favour by letting you sit at a table.  Whether they are as warm and accommodating when serving a full sitting of 40 covers we will have to test on another occasion, but all reviews included on the Uno website suggest service to be friendly and helpful, not that they would advertise snarling waiters – though it never did the Wong Kei any harm!

The lunch menu covers all the main bases, which is to say the most popular tapas plus a scattering of the more esoteric, here copied in full:

Patatas bravas / con ali-oli (V) (Fried potatoes with spicy tomato or ali-oli sauce)
Croquetas de jamón (Spanish ham croquettes)
Ensalada mixta (V) (Mixed salad)
Calamares Andaluza (Fried squid)
Gambas al ajillo (Prawns cooked in olive oil & garlic)
Berenjena ‘chips’ con miel de romero (V) (Aubergine chips with rosemary honey)
Tortilla clásica (V) (Traditional potato, egg & onion omelette)
Chorizo a la plancha / a la sidra (Grilled chorizo or cooked in cider)
Lomo con patatas (Grilled pork loin with homemade chips)
Ensalada de queso de cabra, nueces y miel (V)  (Salad with goat cheese, walnuts and a honey dressing)
Pan con tomate y jamón (Toasted bread with tomato, olive oil and serrano ham)
Albóndigas  (Meatballs)

I dare say even the most demanding of diners could find a few items to tempt their tastebuds, with vegetarians well catered-for; but possibly not vegans – since my son’s girlfriend is flirting with the idea of turning vegan, remind me not to take them to Uno for dinner!

Had I come in the evening I’d have been tempted to try the more luxurious Iberico ham, which as regular readers will know comes at a price.  Even then the full menu does not stray north of £13.50 – and that is for stuffed fillet steak.

The four examples we tried all passed the Millward test for authenticity, freshness and flavour, while not venturing far from the straight and narrow:

  • Calamares proved to be lightly battered and not remotely like daylight rubbery, though a slice of lemon might have been welcome;
  • The local version of albondigas were big and meaty, five of them sitting in a small dish of tasty gravy with submerged peas;
  • Gambas were not the biggest examples of the king prawn family you will ever come across, but they did arrive correctly sizzling in their garlic-and-chilli laced fresh olive oil – perfect for dipping your bread;
  • Best of all, light and flavoursome cheesy ham croquettes hit the spot.

In short, this was a perfectly pleasant venue for a friendly meal, with no negative impressions and no food offensively rank in any degree.  Competence assured, but the question is whether Uno can hit the heights, since to do tapas reasonably well is not rocket science; to do tapas very well indeed is deceptively demanding.  Whether Uno can compare to the best I will enjoy testing out – but that will take at least one more visit!

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