La Regata, Southampton

By the waterside of Southampton’s Old Town, there sits a little restaurant. A portal to the Mediterranean…

A couple of years ago nearly, I had the good fortune to dine at Ennio’s, which sits but a short walk from The Grand Harbour Hotel, a regular haunt of ours. This little boutique hotel is directly attached to another restaurant, one which until now we have never found an occasion to try out. With regular guest diner Dan Gibson, plus Emily Taylor, last seen reviewing the now-closed Fantinis with us, we took that opportunity.

The restaurant in question is named La Regata. If you look at their menu online, you will agree it speaks for itself in terms of how extreme they are on the fine dining spectrum. Amid an eclectic Tapas menu, plus numerous choices for fish and meat, a section dedicated to paella (including one whose rice is cooked in squid ink, no less), their signature dish sticks out a mile – a Whole Suckling PigIt costs £180, requires a three-day advance booking and a £5-per-person deposit. Worth it? A few of my friends and I spent a fair bit of time the previous evening debating how many people it would take to enjoy that dish and a decent quality of value. A question to be answered in a future issue, no doubt.

Tapas were on our minds this lunchtime. I mentioned already that there is a wide and varied selection to choose from. Vegetarian, meat and fish options are all available. So, in the interests of a good review, I thought ordering one of each would be best. Dan followed suit; Emily contented herself with just two dishes.

Options from the vegetarian section contain quite run-of-the-mill Spanish dishes like the Spanish Omelette (containing spinach) and Patatas Bravas. I personally prefer a cheese-based dish as part of my Tapas, so my choice was Queso de Cabra – Goat’s Cheese with caramelised onion. Like so many things in the culinary world, a crispy outside and a fluffy inside is the way to go with Goat’s Cheese. It almost felt like I was eating a pair of puff pastry tart cases with a rich, creamy savoury filling, complemented all the better by the sweetness from the onions. For a tapas dish, I expected only one piece of cheese, though. This restaurant may be posh, but they do not stint on portions: tapas or otherwise!

Pulpo a la Gallega – octopus served over a massive pile of potatoes – is one for the hangover. Emily and I both chose this for our fish option. The octopus pieces have a light, fishy saltiness that becomes stronger against the potatoes. If you’re on a carb-free diet, though, this is one to avoid. It will have you in a food coma before you can even consider moving on to your next dish. For those of smaller appetite, the Salt Cod Goujons, also known as Bacalao Frito are a better fit, coming with a simple lemon wedge and sweet chilli dip. No airs and graces at all.

For me, the most confusing of my dishes was the meat option, and the only one I regret ordering. It was called Fabada Asturiana, which is actually a bowl of Fabada Beans (Spanish broad beans, basically), sizzling in a sauce of garlic and paprika, mixed in with chorizo, ham and black pudding. The real McCoy, by the way. Authentic black pudding sausage. Unfortunately, in this case at least, the sauce in which this all sat became a bit redundant and flavourless – those are three very fatty meats in there, and unfortunately it became on this occasion a bit of an emulsion of oils and fat. As a result, the beans had to serve as a side dish.

My mind had been swayed from a dish similar to that which Dan chose – Cerdo Relleno – that’s pork loin with cheese and chorizo, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Again, instant hangover cure in tapas form.

What would be my advice to a potential diner at this restaurant? Give one of the paellas a try if you’re really in the mood for one; only go for the tapas if you have a lot of friends to share between. These are big portions, and really, three to a person is too much.