Despite the pavements and other public works still being unfinished, the titivation and gentrification of Hull’s Fruit Market rattles relentlessly along. The urgent positioning of bars and restaurants to claim the best spots to hook the 2017 tourist dollar has increased in recent weeks and the area of the city appointed the shiny, new Humber bohemia is looking less like a building site Sorry if I sound jaded, but I am. It’s been a long, frustrating couple of years if you care about what happens in Hull. Anyway, let’s leave that rant for another day and discuss Ambiente, the excellent tapas restaurant that you may recognise from their other branches in York and Leeds.
This, the fourth of the mini-chain, is a rather marvellous affair. Situated next door to – and almost a mirror image of – Butler Whites, these pair of spanking new restaurants complement each other excellently. The difference between them, of course, is that Ambiente’s cuisine is unapologetically Spanish. They’ve got tapas dishes, lots and lots of tapas dishes. Hot tapas, cold tapas, meat tapas, fish tapas. They’ve even got para picar, which are pre-tapas tapas. My recommendation would be for you to spend a long lunch ordering a couple of dishes while you concurrently sample the excellent beer, wine and sherry menu. That’s what I did and I don’t have one ounce of regret.
Some of the dishes are very authentically Spanish and others seem to be faffed with and Anglicised. Unless you’re staunchly anti-faffing, though, and demand everything is made exactly as it was under Franco, you’ll revel in the inventive changes and tasty twists. I would wager for instance, that bistec de arracherra (featuring, as it does, dry rubbed skirt of beef with roasted onions and chimichurri) is more of a South American dish but, when it tastes as good as it does, I couldn’t care less. It was my favourite dish. Cooked in a Josper (basically a white hot charcoal oven), the beef was masculinely chewy yet yieldingly soft and if anyone ever tries to serve me onions not BBQ roasted again I’ll simply send them away.
No. Hang on. It was my second favourite dish. Favourite was datiles con queso; picos blue cheese stuffed in a date, wrapped in streaky bacon. They’re basically devils on horseback, but so good I was convinced the devil was in a particularly bad mood and actually riding a dragon. We also sampled the wheel of pixtos – a sharing platter of anchovy fillets, manchego cheese and serrano ham, all perched on bread – and albondigas, which were all so authentically Spanish they might as well have been served on castanets.
Before we continue with the feast, a break to discuss the sherry. If your relationship with sherry normally brings thoughts of your nana and Christmas, you really need to educate yourself. Rob Scott-South (who is running Hull till it finds its feet) has a great palate and the eight flights of sherry reflect this. Each flight contains three samples designed around the various styles of sherry.
Back at the food, sardines picantes was being enthusiastically devoured across the table as I tucked into pechuga de paloma, listed as bar marked pigeon breast served on a bed of creamed foraged sea beets.
It was superb, but I’m yet to be convinced that the sea beets were genuinely foraged. They tasted farmed to me. I am, of course, kidding. Only to make the point that the ‘foraged’ tag was the only pretentious note on the menu. Everything is offered without snobbery and by very down-to-earth staff. Something that will, undoubtedly, endear Ambiente to the people of Hull, who can smell snootiness even after it’s been chargrilled in a Josper.
Puds are not a Spanish specialty, but I’d point you to the sharing platter, mainly for the very un-Spanish banoffee pie, which was delicious.
If you’re worrying that all this sounds a bit wallet-bashing, it really isn’t. I reckon two of you could have a perfectly good couple of hours stuffing your face for £50-60 and come away happy.
Ambiente has landed in just the right place to reap the cultural whirlwind. I didn’t know that Hull needed another tapas restaurant until they arrived, and now I’m hoping they stay around forever.
• 5 Humber Street, Hull HU1 1TG. 01482 426126, ambiente-tapas.co.uk. Open daily: 11am-10pm.
DRINKS SELECTION 5/5