My first trip to San Juan was at around 8pm on a Saturday evening in chilly February. As we walked down Beech Road we wondered what occasion had caused the huge crowds gathering on the pavement. The answer? They were all eagerly awaiting tables at prime time for Manchester’s best Spanish restaurant. We decided to join them, pitching up on a bench outside with a jug of sangria and a dish of tasty olives to tide us by. As we contemplated the tantalising tapas menu, huddled against the freezing February chill, we decided to start sampling some of the dishes while we waited for an indoor table. We went for the delicious take on patatas bravas, along with a plate of cute mini bruschetta topped with chorizo and delicate fried quail’s egg.
It was quickly becoming clear why this tiny venue was so popular, and with no sign of those indoors wishing to leave (understandable when there’s so much to stay for!), we began to order more tapas in the cold. Fried prawns in batter with tasty mayonnaise and tortilla de patatas were among the many highlights. We’d finished our meal by the time the friendly owner, Juan, ushered us inside to the warm bustling restaurant, where we ended the night with espressos and a final tapas of moist almond sponge cake.
The second time I returned to San Juan was on a recent Saturday lunchtime; we arrived as it was opening to be sure of a table, and the rest were quickly filled within half an hour. With a small television broadcasting Spanish shows, an interesting selection of souvenirs lining the walls and authentic music in the background, the atmosphere was just as lively the second time round. I eagerly ordered some of my favourite tapas from the first visit, along with an unusual tuna and egg ‘salad’ that was more like a dip, served with crunchy little breadsticks that was completely moreish.
We continued the meal with garlic prawns, baked tomatoey aubergine and battered calamari, which all lived up to our now high expectations. In fact, I find it hard to believe anything but stunning food ever comes out of San Juan’s humble ‘kitchen’, which is actually little more than a stove, grill and worksurface tagged on to the end of the bar. This understated approach produces some of the best tapas I’ve ever eaten and all reasonably priced too (on average £4 per dish), with a bright, fun atmosphere that livens up even the most drizzly Manchester day. As you’re not able to reserve one of the few tables here, be prepared for a long wait during busier times, but remain smug in the knowledge that will be more than worth it.