Sant-Yago, a play on Santiago, or St James, opened its tapas and cocktail bar doors a year ago in what was Southsea’s Oddballs.
Apart from the name change and a few dire paintings on its copious walls, you wouldn’t know that a new broom had swept in.
The same mis-matched chairs and tables on bare floorboards remain, as does the back brick wall with steps leading to a further smaller space. Two red sofas dominate the otherwise non-descript colour scheme and light pop music plays, the waiter word-perfect on songs getting an airing. A solo guitar sits languidly on the back of one of the sofas, giving an air of oh, so hot Spain.
The menu, described as ‘a new and exciting dining experience’, specialises in Spanish cuisine ‘but looking to push the boundaries of our culinary achievements through contemporary and fusion tapas.’
Well, the specials board merely did what most restaurants do: exhort you to book up for Christmas in September, a practice which sets my teeth on edge. Enough of the hard sell.
Mordiscos, or side orders, include pan Catalan, or tomato bread with a slice of Serrano ham; pan de ajo y queso (garlic bread with cheese); and salmorejo (tomato soup). Pinchos (aka Pinxos the Basque tapas) go down the meat skewer route with chicken, sirloin steak and pork or vegetables; Fritos or Deep Fried comes up with gambas San Miguel (king prawns with a beer batter, the only sign of a possible fusion merger), mushroom croquettes and patatas bravas.
Classic tapas lists tortillas; boquerones (anchovies) and queso manchego (marinated cheese). Meat dishes include potaje & aluz (the word does not exist in any language) and the moreish albondigas, Spanish meatballs in a tomato sauce.
Paella for two features, as do Paella Days (Sunday to Tuesday at £5 per person), Tapas Deals and set menus by arrangement. Prices range from £2.45 upwards, averaging £5.
First up: Pan Catalan. Rule number one with this tomato bread dish is to chargrill or grill quality bread on both sides and use excellent, well-sourced tomatoes. Neither of these were achieved, soggy bread with tasteless tomatoes the result. And where was the advertised Serrano ham? Nowhere to be seen.
Pinchito Morruno (guys, it’s Moruno: get the spelling right throughout the menu), pork marinated in spices, was very tasty but there were more peppers than meat. Patatas Bravas, that must-have tapas, was spoilt by the tomato sauce. Both potato and sauce were good but when combined, the crispy potatoes became soggy, like the bread. All dishes are served in traditional terracotta-coloured bowls.
The chef is the owner, not the advertised one on the back of the menu. He took over the kitchen six months ago and, despite a lot of enthusiasm, the proof is on the plate.
Tapas are simple, delicious small bites which demand high quality ingredients for the food to shine. But I would say the ones served here are better than a certain tapas chain in Gunwharf Quays.
The Sant-Yago chef could do himself a favour by visiting El Castizo in Chichester. Now, there’s a real tapas bar.
A house glass of red was as dire as the paintings, but the service by the very friendly Maltese waiter was charming. My bill came to £13.15, not including a tip.
Sant-Yago, 12 Clarendon Road, Southsea PO5 2EE
(023) 9217 9636
Disabled access: Lots of space for wheelchairs but steps up to toilets.
How to get there: Clarendon Road is a continuation of Osborne Road off Clarence Parade. On-street parking.