Following its Brighton success, Pintxo People is coming to London
Pintxo People is about to lose its X-factor, or rather, its ‘tx' factor. The Brighton tapas restaurant isn't jettisoning the je ne sais quoi that has made it successful, just that its first foray outside the Sussex seaside city will be under the new, more pronounceable name, Pinchito. And not simply because people don't understand the Basque term for tapas; it turns out Pintxo People's been X-rated. "We have to be future-proof," sighs Director Jason Fendick. "Spam filters spot the ‘tx' in our address and our emails end up as junk mail."
The future matters to South African Fendick and his partners (Emily Wheldon, Tobias Blazquez-Garcia and Bruce Bartholomew). Since Pintxo People opened last March, it's been a mega-hit with critics and locals so expansion is inevitably on the cards. It's perhaps more usual to kick off with London before moving elsewhere, but Pintxo People is doing the opposite. From its Brighton HQ, the team is planning a two-pronged attack on the capital, starting next month with a tapas bar near Old Street, followed – once a suitable site materialises – by an upscale modern Spanish restaurant. Ibizaborn chef Miguel Jessen, previously of haute-Basque outfit El Amparo in Madrid, is champing at the bit for this opportunity.
"I want to show off!" he laughs. "I want to try new things and make more seasonal changes." All that's stopping him is the size of the Brighton venue. The restaurant serves 100-plus on Fridays and Saturdays, meaning dishes on an early, "quite pretentious" menu had to be pared back. He and Fendick hope to find a 35-cover venue in London and then "really go to town".
Fendick followed a similar learning curve. His background is in bar management, having worked at seminal venues like Alphabet, The Collection and Beach Blanket Babylon, before setting up bar consultancy Gorgeous Group with Robbie Bargh. "We over-delivered in the first six months," he says candidly. "That's what consultancy for seven years will do."
These are exciting times for over-delivering Hispanophiles, such as the Pintxo People team, though. The buzz around Spanish cuisine – particularly of the modern stripe – is huge.
Anyone who's been to Barcelona or Madrid in the past five years can't fail to have spotted the huge gap in the UK market for new wave Spanish tapas; it's an exciting trend that has snuck into fine dining circles, but hasn't trickled down. "It's still mainly ‘Anglo-tapas' – fast, oily and microwaved," says Fendick. "There are no Spanish chefs in the UK getting any recognition, so we want to give Miguel more exposure."
The obvious influence on Pintxo, despite that Basque ‘tx', is Barcelona. Fendick was a frequent visitor to the Catalan city in his consultancy days and cites bars Dry Martini, Speakeasy and Boadas as inspiration. Food-wise, El Bulli disciple Paco Guzman's restaurant Santa Maria has informed the informal ambience coupled with fine food approach. Touches like chopsticks (as well as cutlery) are pure Santa Maria.
That's not the full story. On the ground floor below the restaurant, there's a Spanish deli (selling rare treats like Xocoa chocolate from Barcelona) and an all-day tapas bar. Here you'll find what's made it such a hit on this uninspiring stretch of Western Road: a vast communal table, free WiFi access, weekly Spanish classes, a children's play area and an entry-level tapas menu offering namesake pintxos at £1 a pop, Manchego cheese, champiñones al ajillo and patatas bravas. It's only once you ascend the stairs past the blood-red Murano glass chandelier into the moodier restaurant proper that you see the other side to the split-personality space.
It's the casual concept that is journeying to London first; a "way of getting our foot in the door"
as Fendick puts it. But that's just a taster, before things really hot up for Spanish cuisine in the UK.
Long term, it will likely be the cutting-edge cuisine that makes its name. And the star of that show is sure to be Miguel Jessen.
A Pintxo or two
On the Menu? Limed Lamb Loin with Fried Leeks and Leek Cream; Octopus with Broken Potatoes and Chorizo; Monkfish Fillet with Red Seaweed Mayonnaise; Grilled Sardine Fillets with a Tomato Salad, Ajili Mojili Oil and Beer Foam; Scallops with Black Olive Parmentier and Grapefruit and Roe Sauce; Red Fruit Tea with Curdled Goat's Milk and Honey Ice Cream; Orange Blossom Soup with Blood Orange and Cardamom Sorbet.
Size? 65 covers.
Where? 95 Western Road, Brighton, BN1 2LB 01273 732323, pintxopeople.co.uk