A friend once told me dismissively that hedges were for gardens, not gamblers.
He was scornful of me, a better-safe-than-sorry kind of chap who tends to hedge my bets whenever I can do so.
But this apparent lack of conviction does have a major benefit: when eating out, tapas, with its smorgasbord of options – a plate of this, a bowl of that – is almost ideal.
With a range of dishes in front of me I can pass on any duff choices I make and still have plenty of which my stomach approves.
Smugly, I hedge my bets.
But don’t mistake this for a sense of adventure bypass. My mouth was watering as soon as I studied the menu at the newly opened tapas bar and grill at The Ritz Inn in Desborough.
An old university friend – let’s call him Guy – who was visiting from London joined me on my trip to the Ritz, and our considerable combined appetite meant we were able to sample a good proportion of the extensive menu.
There are more than 25 tapas dishes on offer, divided into vegetarian (£3.95 each), meat (£4.95) and seafood (£5.95) sections.
There are also specials, plus a grill, which we chose not to trouble, but offers classics such as 8oz homemade steak burger with cheese, mushrooms, chips and onion rings for £7.80 and more elaborate dishes like chargrilled chicken breast with chorizo rioja sauce, served with red onions, tomatoes, rioja red wine and patatas bravas, at £11.40.
Declining starters or nibbles in favour of concentrating solely on the tapas, we each chose one vegetarian plate and three meats (total cost £18.80), both picking at all eight dishes fighting for space on our table.
Four helpings apiece was certainly optimistic. The average guest might be content with two, and probably no more than three.
Hindsight is glorious, of course, but were I to visit the restaurant again there are some dishes I probably would not order again. The paella with chicken, chorizo and king prawns was fine, but, for me and particularly Guy, perhaps tended slightly towards the bland. The pork spare ribs in smoked paprika BBQ sauce could have been slightly more succulent.
But maybe I’m being harsh.
The chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables were perfect, and I could certainly have had triple helpings of the bruschetta plastered with goat’s cheese, caramelised red onions and roasted cherry tomatoes.
I would have been similarly happy had my entire meal been made up of the delicious peri peri chargrilled chicken wings with chilli and lemons, the creamy chicken breast with white wine, mushrooms, saffron and garlic herb sauce, or – my favourite – the lamb meatballs in spicy tomato and coriander salsa.
The service was pleasant if not the quickest. But then I am no expert in the intricacies of Spanish cuisine, so perhaps I am being a little unfair and underestimating the time taken to prepare the dishes so they can be delivered all at once.
It was also fairly busy; the compact restaurant, pleasantly decorated – although tending towards minimalism – was almost full, with couples and families all looking pleased with their choices. One table was pretty close to the toilet, though, which it might be best for patrons to try to avoid.
As well as the friendly service there were also one or two nice touches, including a complimentary shot with your bill (I think I had rum, but my memory from then on becomes strangely hazy; Guy was driving) which are important in making your dining a pleasant experience rather than simply a place to go through the eating process.
The restaurant was only opened in the autumn, and when we visited there was still an almost palpable sense that everyone was trying very hard to impress. But the charm will surely become effortless as the tapas bar establishes itself in the heart of the town.
VALUE: Very good
DISABLED ACCESS: Good
PARKING: We parked on street
The Ritz Inn Tapas Bar and Grill, Station Road, Desborough NN14 2RL
TOTAL COST: £42.60
HUW’S STAR RATING: 8/10