This review compiles my notes from several visits to El Rincón; you can decide whether it’s because I’m thorough, greedy, or both.
Imagine sitting in a quiet courtyard sipping wine, eating tapas, and savouring a fragrant paella at a leisurely meal. This is what we all deserve, and luckily, it’s not just a dream; there’s a little corner of Spain in Summertown serving up this laid-back experience in the tastiest possible way.
I discovered El Rincón during lockdown and it quickly became my go-to takeaway for simple and delicious food prepared with a solid respect for authentic ingredients. As soon as dining on-site became an option I was there to sample the rest of the menu. And I’ve enjoyed absolutely everything.
Let’s start with the seafood paella…
Only available weekends, I’d happily eat El Rincon’s seafood paella (£10) every day.
Juan, the chef from Murcia in Spain, gives careful attention to every element in his paella; for example, sourcing the best Spanish bomba rice and slow-simmering his own seafood stock. You might see Juan standing over the distinctive wide pan on the front terrace – an artist at work – stirring, seasoning, and testing until it’s perfect. When the finished dish arrives at your table, you’ll get a combination of beautifully cooked al dente rice and lovely seafood; prawns, mussels, clams, and squid, all infused with flavours of saffron, paprika, garlic, roasted red peppers, stock and bay leaves. If you’re lucky, you might get some caramelised rice from the bottom of the pan, known as the socarrat. Add a little of the rich, garlicky aioli on the side, if you like, and enjoy!
If seafood isn’t for you, Juan also makes a vegan paella with the same attention to detail and taste. A variety of traditional tapas and nibbles, including plenty of pescatarian and vegetarian options, are available every day.
One starter is toast liberally loaded with top-quality bellota sobrasada (£5.50), a cured, spreadable sausage made from the meat of acorn-fed Iberico pigs and flavoured with paprika. Bellota is arguably the tastiest ham of all, and in my view, this sort of sobrasada beats the usual Nduja hands down. Better yet, in this dish, it’s topped with honey and sunflower seeds; so there’s a dance of melting pork, smokiness, sweetness and crunch as you eat every last crumb.
Or how about guindilla peppers in tempura batter, which arrive piled high on a platter? Light and delicate, once sprinkled with lemon and salt I can devour them in minutes.
As a seafood lover, I’m especially impressed by the choices in the ‘fish tapas’ section of the menu.
I recommend the gambas wrapped in aubergine with honey and harissa (£7), so good you won’t want to share it. On my last visit, we fought over one shared plate, then ordered a second, then debated a third. The texture contrast of delicate prawn and soft aubergine against a delightfully crispy exterior is just wonderful. The harissa is a complex blend of flavour rather than pure heat, meaning it doesn’t overwhelm the taste buds, and each bite is complemented by the tastes of sweet, spice and salt.
Halibut carpaccio (£6.50) is a subtler dish, where the fish gets to feature as the star player. Pan-fried capers add a delicious crunch, and the tangerine sauce brings a refreshing burst of citrus. I would like more of that tangy sauce on the plate, but otherwise, it’s dreamy. You should also try the deceptively simple Galician octopus (£7.50), dressed with olive oil and paprika and served with potatoes. According to Juan, the tender smoothness comes from first ‘scaring’ the octopus, by dipping it into boiling water three times, before giving it a long slow cook in the same pot. Scared or not, it will melt in your mouth.
I’ve had other classic dishes presented without fanfare but with full-on flavour.
Chorizo braised in red wine (£6) is robust and juicy from a slow simmer. Don’t forget to order bread, supplied by the wonderful Gatineau around the corner, to dip in the wine reduction. Mushroom croquettes (£5.50) are another happy choice. They arrive golden brown, with a smooth, creamy interior that is packed with an earthy, mushroom-y umami. And they are so light! Nothing extra is needed with these unless you want a drink to sip. There’s a nice wine list, and I thoroughly enjoyed the crisp house white Albariño that recommended on my last visit.
There are some dessert options for those with a sweet tooth – churros with a dark chocolate sauce are deeply satisfying. I’ve rarely room beyond tapas, but one day I’ll work my way through the sorbet, brownies, and ‘cake bites’. Just give me a few more meals.
As you can tell, I’ve found almost nothing to criticize about El Rincon because it’s just so good.
Overall, it’s a little gem of a restaurant with excellent food and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Outdoor dining is at a premium in Summertown, and I’m equally thrilled that they have a covered terrace in the front as well as the charming courtyard hidden in the back. Whether you pop in for a drink and a few light bites or for a leisurely meal, you’ll eat very, very well. Just remember that it’s a small venue, so you might want to make a reservation.
38 S Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JN