EATING tapas has its plus and negative points. On the positive side, it is a chance to try a lot of different dishes because the idea is to order three plates per person and all tuck in.

The downside of that – in my experience – is that some dishes are invariably better than others and you end up with just a spoonful of the one you really, really like.

It also helps to have a relaxed, laissez-faire attitude. Dishes arrive on an ad-hoc basis, and you are expected to just go with the flow – while enjoying a glass of something chilled.

Ambiente is well established in York (having originated in Malton), with a restaurant in Goodramgate as well as Fossgate. I have been to both and prefer the Fossgate one on account that it is nearer my home (!) and I like its modern, spacious interior.

They are both popular and booking is recommended, particularly at the weekend.

Our table for three was for 6.30pm on a Saturday evening, and we were told they’d need it back by 8.30pm. No problem – we just had to get through ten or so dishes in the meantime.

The menu is extensive, but split into easy-to-navigate sections, including pintxos (small pieces of toasted bread laden with the likes of ham, cheese and tapenade); tasting boards (meat, veggie or cheese) and small dishes such as manchego cheese with quince jelly, olives, salted almonds and dates stuffed with cheese and wrapped in ham. The main tapas selection is divided into meat, fish and vegetarian sections.

To begin, we ordered a Vegetarian Tasting Board (£10.95) and really enjoyed the mix of flavours and textures it provided. We initially honed in on the empanadas, small pastries bursting with tasty root vegetables. These were served warm and were quite delicious. Charred artichoke hearts, seared piquillo peppers and palm hearts marinated in mint and chilli also got the taste buds fired up – and I loved how they were covered in a scattering of crunchy nuts. A pot of thick and salty black olive tapenade came with wedges of homemade bread. A surprising extra were the balls of mild goat’s cheese that had been lightly battered and drizzled in a lemony-honey – quite sublime and the star of the platter.

Dishes arrived in quick succession thereafter, often in a trio, beginning with Croquetas de Queso & Jamon (cheese and ham croquettes £4.25); Patatas Bravas (cubes of spicy roasted potatoes in a tomato and aioli sauce, £4.25) and Pan (focaccia with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, £2.95). All were classical Spanish tapas dishes, (except for the Italian bread, of course), and were decent without being outstanding. Our fish choice came next: Mejillones a la Marinera (mussels in white wine and garlic cream, £4.95); Merluza Rebozada (lightly spiced battered hake with tomato chutney and pea puree, £5.95) and Gambas al Tempura (tiger prawns deep fried in lightly spiced tempura batter with aioli, £6.95). The mussels came in a thick and tangy cream sauce, just inviting you to dive in with some bread. If there was one complaint it was the size of the mussels, which were the smallest I had ever come across. The prawns were very good, large and juicy, their flavour unaffected by the deep frying.

The hake was a winner also – and tastier than it looked: it was a dark orange colour (imagine overcooked fish fingers) and the dull red and green sauces on the side looked rather unappealing. However, the meaty fish was perfectly cooked and the ugly sauces were quite moreish, especially the sweet tomato chutney.

But the prize for the dish you had to close your eyes to eat went to Tiras de Carne (seared rump steak with roast shallot puree and sauteed lettuce £6.25).

Cooked pink, the blood from the beef ran into the wilted, charred greens of the lettuce and made the beige goo of the puree a bit of a turn-off. But the whole thing tasted just lovely: the beef, tender and flavoursome, seasoned with chilli, garlic and rosemary, and the lettuce and shallots adding a pleasing sweet note.

The Albondigas (beef meatballs in a chilli and lemongrass sauce, £4.95) were less of a success. This was an unappealing plate too far: the meatballs light brown in colour and floating in a watery, cream broth. Normally I love Spanish meatballs for their hearty, robust flavours, but this Asian-inspired version was a poor replacement. We said as much to our waitress, who had been efficient and knowledgeable throughout, and she said she would take them off the bill.

We were all full by now, but decided to share one dessert (for reviewing purposes, you understand!). The puddings did not seem very Spanish (sticky toffee pudding, cheesecake and creme brulee being among the options). We chose the rather grand sounding Textures of Chocolate and Almond (£5.95), which came on a long platter with three pieces each of almond chocolate cake, almond biscuit and chocolate mousse. The mousse was the best of the trio, thick and dense and darkly chocolaty; the cake was dry and unmemorable, the biscuit was better, moist with base notes of lemon. We were ready to leave by 8pm, having enjoyed a banquet of food, which was good in the main, with some outstanding highlights.


Ambiente Tapas, Fossgate, York

T: 01904 638252


Ratings (out of ten): Food 7, Ambience 8, Service 8, Value 8