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Review: Grand tradition at Rincon de Pepe

Six decades of fine Spanish food

Spanish food has a very varied history with many influences coming from the many settlers and conquerors that Spain has had from the Romans to the Moors. The conquest of the Americas soon after Spain became Spain brought in many new ingredients too, like tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, without which Spanish cuisine would be unrecognisable.

The focus on fine fresh and assorted ingredients is at the heart of Spanish cooking and if you are looking for something truly authentic, then Rincon de Pepe, a San Antonio restaurant that spans six decades of existence is the place you need to head to. The family-run restaurant has been going strong since 1962, when San An was just starting to grow in importance as a travel destination. Built in the courtyard of an old Ibicenco house, the grape vine and pomegranate tree inside acting a reminder of its humble beginnings.

Made fresh

Tapas come in full- and half-portions and are generous; there is also an a la carte menu with steaks, kebabs, fresh fish and healthy and tempting salad starters, with tuna or smoked salmon. There is also a daily changing specials board using the best of what's in season and all the products are bought in fresh each day from the market in San Antonio. The place is overseen by owner Miguel, with members of his family working in the kitchen and on the restaurant floor.

Its customers come from all walks of life and include many loyal locals, politicians, fashion designers and artists as well as the many lucky tourists who find themselves here. Rincon de Pepe is one of those places that has stayed true to its origins and has changed little since it first started and when you taste the food here, you'll see why. Very much is made of using local and seasonal produce these days, as if it were something new. This place has been happily doing this since it first started – they even grow their own olives and have them cold pressed into oil and then bottled by a local company.

Spain's culinary heritage

We went as a trio to go and see for ourselves why this restaurant has stood the test of time and why it continues to be popular with its many audiences. We went for tapas so we could sample a broad selection of dishes. Bread and that olive oil came to whet our appetites. The country style bread comes from a local baker and was a great sign of things to come – a restaurant's bread can be a make or break for many and this was definitely a make.

Miguel, the owner gave us a selection of some of the best dishes – though in his opinion (and ours from what we saw) all the plates are good. First came an escalivada, a salad of cooked red pepper and aubergine and a great expression of Spain's culinary heritage. It was delicious, with the juices of the red pepper coming through the olive oil vinaigrette and a slight touch of smokiness from the aubergine. A hearty Russian salad arrived: this is essentially a creamy potato salad flecked with pieces of tuna and vegetables stirred through with a delicious mayonnaise.

Cooked through to perfection

Then, our next two dishes came. An amazing pork and wild mushroom stuffed aubergine, which we found hard to resist. What I loved was the fact the skin shell holding the filling was properly cooked through. I've lost count of the times when I've ordered this kind of dish, only to find a hard, semi-raw base. Not here! Finally, a dish of bacalao salted cod arrived on a thick bed of soft potato, tomatoes and red and green peppers. The salt is soaked out first, so you won't get a mouthful of sodium chloride, just soft tender flakes of beautifully preserved cod melting in the mouth.

We were pretty full afterwards so decided to pass on dessert, though there are a number of fantastic local desserts to sample and if you have room, you should definitely try one. We left Rincon de Pepe and stepped out into the warm sun with big smiles on our faces and the satisfaction that only great wholesome food can give you. We'd happily recommend this place to anyone and once you go there you will too.

Quick facts

What? Rincon de Pepe

Where? Carrer de Sant Mateu, 6, San Antonio

When? From Easter to the end of October, 7 days a week. Opens on Sundays at 7pm

Why? Great tapas in fine old San Antonio institution

Average spend per head? €20 for two half-portion tapas, a dessert and a glass of wine

Veggie Options? Tapas and salad starters and on the specials

Disabled Facilities? No

Top tips? Go early or late in the season for rib sticking spicy dishes or try their meatballs

Room for Improvement? Apparently not after all this time - wouldn't want to change a thing for charm, ambience and the taste of course

WORDS: Julian Heathcote

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