The first thing I notice about Amantia is the dining room. The bright and airy space. The clean lines. The palette of maroon, pale grey, and black. From our circular table near the window looking out on to Bennetts Hill, I can see every corner and every polished surface of this smart newcomer just off New Street. I can see all of this because at half three on a Sunday afternoon the place is empty, save for the waiting staff outnumbering us three-to-one. I hate seeing restaurants empty, it is a waste of produce and wages. I comment that everything appears in working order; they have an appealing menu of Mediterranean dishes leaning heavily on Spain, keen pricing and smartly turned out staff. There must be an underlying problem. Perhaps the PR company hasn’t worked hard enough at making them known. Perhaps they aren’t just very good.
It turns out that the food is generally of a good standard. Habas Fritas are a moreish bar snack, the broad beans finely sliced, deep fried and then salted, with the final product having an almost meaty flavour: Think pork scratching for the veggie generation. Berenjenas con Miel – deep fried aubergine chips to you and I – were the best things we tried all day, the batons deep fried to a crisp exterior and drizzled with honey to interplay the sweet and the savoury. Another dish using the same ingredient would be a let-down in comparison. A crepe savoury with aubergine, mascarpone and sun-dried tomato would have a soggy texture throughout and very little flavour. It would be the only time we reached for the salt shaker in the centre of the table.
King prawns in white wine with chilli and garlic sings of summers abroad, the dish surprisingly spicy with a cooking liqueur that demands mopping up with the complimentary sun-dried tomato bread baked in-house. More of the bread is called into action with chorizo in red wine. The quality of the sausage is not up there with others in the city, though the sauce is a majestic thing I would swear had been thickened with blood had the menu not said otherwise.
It was at this point the restaurant filled. Two large parties from Spain, who happen to take their Sunday lunch a little later than their English counterparts, sit down and order sangria by the jug load. Service went from slow to almost non-existent as we waited for the rest of our dinner to appear. Luckily the Croquettes were worth the wait with a good creamy filling of Picos de Europa and spinach. They were clean tasting with a strong flavour imparted from the blue cheese. A similar success was had with filled filo pastries. The slightly greasy outer casing containing a chorizo paste and goats cheese that was both gutsy and flavoursome; the smoky meat counteracting the soapy cheese nicely. Triangular slices of Manchego finishes the meal off. The nutty sheep’s cheese contrasting against a red pepper jam that bordered on too sweet and fried almonds.
It is always going to be hard for a sharp dining room in Birmingham’s business quarter to fully evoke the sensations of good Spanish food, though Amantia try their best, and for that we should be grateful. Service is slow and at times it takes itself too seriously, but this will, we hope, improve with time as they find their feet in a city not short of culinary options. For a family business they have aimed high and for that I wish them well. The dining room is a place that came alive as it swelled with people, only time will tell if they can maintain that level of business.