Good things. Bad things. Mixed feelings. A true cornucopia of contrasting critiques of Bournemouth’s newest Mexican restaurant, situated at the edge of the town’s LGBT district The Triangle. The location is just incidental, but you have to look twice to realise that Ojo Rojo, which means “Red Eye” in Spanish, is even a restaurant. With its skull motif and contemporary design, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a surfer shop or a large tattoo parlour.
The first things I heard about this restaurant was that it left a lot to be desired regarding portions, but I do wonder if the people in question actually realised that it is first and foremost a tapas restaurant. Subsequent to this, I heard a number of good reports. So when our occasional contributor and frequent guest diner Connor Mackay told me he was co-managing Bournemouth’s 7-Bone at the moment and would have a couple of hours off, I took the opportunity to see who was right.
Being a modern tapas restaurant, the basic idea of dining at Ojo Rojo is “Sharing is Caring”. Between us, Connor and I chose four dishes, all of which were quite easy to agree on. The first to come out was the Fresh Ceviche of Sea Bass (see pictured). In just-over-four years of restaurant critique writing, I have never had a Ceviche of anything. It is raw fish cured in citrus juices, usually lemon or lime, and spiced with chillis. The citrus motif was fulfilled rather uniquely in this case by Pink Grapefruit. The sea bass, delicately seasoned with rock salt amongst the other aforementioned ingredients, was succulent, but somewhat overpowered in flavour by the sweet grapefruit. The radishes were also underwhelmingly mild – I have had instances in the past where I have choked on the peppery flavour.
Speaking of peppery flavour, while it would have been welcome with the radishes, it was a little unusual to find it as an aftertaste in a cocktail. Okay, fair enough, when you order something like a Bloody Mary then you expect a spiciness about it, but then the drink itself is savoury. My choice to wash down our tapas quartet was called The Long Goodbye (see pictured), a concoction of Ojo Rojo’s own Strawberry and Lime Cordial with Ocho Blanco Tequila and fresh Basil. A self-professed manipulation of the Gin Gimlet, it also had a hint of Tequila Sunrise about it. But with every sip one would suspect they were drinking a cold, well-peppered yet paradoxically sweet gazpachio. Suffice it to say, it was not what I was expected.
Next to arrive was one of the main course-sized portions, in the form of the restaurant’s own eponymous dishes – the Ojo Rojo (see pictured) – a very well-flavoured beef stew served with rice. In many ways, resemblant of a curry, with the tortillas provided taking the place of Naan Bread. This was definitely the best dish we had – to a point where I would recommend having it as a main course all to yourself; there’s definitely enough there. The stew itself is only moderately hot, but not to a point where the feint-stomached should be put off. I suppose it depends on your choice of rice in this instance – there are two options after all. The green rice I chose is more of a lemon flavour, which cools the dish right down; the red rice, which is flavoured more with chilli, would accentuate the heat. Either way, I would say you cannot go wrong by ordering this.
Dishes #3 and #4 were both taco trios – starting off with the Fish Baja Tacos (see pictured). Our second brush with Sea Bass on this occasion, and Connor’s second brush ever in his life. Despite hailing from Devon, he admitted to me he more-often-than-not goes for meat dishes rather than fish.
I would call this the least impressive dish of the meal, only because the fish itself was totally lacking in flavour. Goujons of Sea Bass (though under the batter, it could be any fish under there – we will have to take their word for it) totally inundated with among other things, tomatoes and red onion (a salsa fresca), spring onion, lettuce, guacamole and, most prominently, chipotle mayonnaise. This resembles Marie Rose sauce to the uneducated eye, but like its seafood cousin, it was at the forefront of the flavours. Very tasty, but it was disappointing that it dominated everything else into virtual nonexistence. However, the quirkily fashionable-looking taco trays are actually for sale for £25 apiece. I was tempted, but for the number I would end up needing, bankruptcy would be upon me.
Back with the positives, the second taco trio was the first thing Connor and I looked upon on the menu and loved the sound of immediately – the Braised Pork Belly Tacos (see pictured). Incorporating apples and pomegranate into the mixture, along with coleslaw and crackling, this made for a very tasty dish. However, one slight issue was that on the odd occasion, I felt the pork itself was lacking in succulence. Only very occasionally, mind you. Unlike the Fish Baja before it, the meat played an equal part with the other fillings in creating a gorgeous dual flavour: a well-executed balance between savoury and sweet.
And sweet is where we are going to end our article – at our waitress’ recommendation, we perused the dessert menu and Connor found the Chipotle Brownie (see pictured) – once agin exemplifying how two totally juxtaposed flavours such as chilli and chocolate somehow work. The service let itself down here a little by not bringing us any spoons with our desserts, though they did eventually remember and apologised accordingly. Fancy expecting Connor to eat his ice cream, tailed on the plate with a little stream of cocoa nibs, with a fork, indeed.
My choice of dessert did not need to wait for a spoon – a standard Cheesecake (see pictured) designed to counteract all the hot, spicy and acidic dishes that had preceded it. However, a pineapple salsa lined ever-so-slightly with confetti ribbons of chilli helped it to follow suit. The interesting thing on this dish was the garnish of a Pineapple Crisp. Connor was somewhat amused watching me try to rip my way through its chewy-toffee texture and my looks of dismissal and disdain as I gave up with it three bites in. The cheesecake itself, however, was just as one would expect it. Pleasantly sweet and perfectly creamy in consistency. What more could you ask for?
Food service was wonderfully quick to a point that it shocked both of us. No more than five minutes had passed after ordering that the Ceviche arrived. However, having come from the short-staffed 7-Bone, Connor noted that the much-quieter Ojo Rojo had a few too many staff members on. Especially as, when it came to waiting for the bill, it took them much longer to get to us, despite us being one of the only parties in there. A slight fault in an otherwise fantastic meal, which we will both be recommending in future.