Vinopolis, 30 John Mackintosh Square, Gibraltar (200 70201)
Starters and Tapas £2.50 – £6.95, Mains and Sharing Plates 6.95 – 18.95, Desserts £3.95 – £5.95, Wines from £13.00
When is a wine bar more than a wine bar? Answer: When it is a metropolis of fine wines, Jerez sherries, blended whiskies, French champagnes, smooth liquor and, surprisingly, great vegan food! We headed to Vinopolis for our veganuary lunch, one of Gibraltar’s most popular dining and wine quaffing gastro bars, the sister venue to its exclusive and well-stocked wine store in Casemates.
As an aside, a recent article in Forbes Magazine gave an impressive nod to the fact that the wine and whisky specialist stocked a rare Famous Grouse, 30 YO 43% ABV whiskey at its Gibraltar store. They lamented the fact that there was no delivery option (Vinopolis, you are missing a trick here surely?)
Vinopolis the restaurant has a quintessential position, set in the corner of the idyllic and historic John Macintosh Square. It boasts the character and personality you would expect from a smart city wine bar/restaurant, with its iconic retro bicycle propped up outside, welcoming diners to the ambient outdoor dining space and cosy interior with modern décor and design. During warmer months, they have live music and the trendy outdoor area illuminates with string lights giving a warm, welcoming bistro ambience, there is nowhere else quite like it in Gibraltar.
It is the perfect location to enjoy light bites or full-blown al la carte dinner with an array of wines. Vinopolis is the choice for discerning Gibraltarians, and the menu options are vast, whether you are vegan or not, with a separate set menu of vegan options. The server explained that the chef is happy to “veganize” a few of the non-vegan options on the regular menu and specials menu, including a dish of deep-fried strips of tempura-battered vegetables. The vegan list of choices is pleasing, starting from £1.60 for the pan de Pelayo (a flat brown bread from nearby Algeciras,) but bear in mind the vegan portion sizes are small, more like Spanish tapas.
The main menu displays a Mediterranean inspired tapestry, from homemade croquettes to acorn-fed Iberian ham platter, grilled octopus to battered cod and chips, with many meals offered in two portion sizes, small and large, priced accordingly.
However, it is veganuary, and the only option for me was to choose a variety of vegan items from the list and share with my dining partner. As it was a working lunch, we opted for sparkling water. Still, the restaurant does have a sommelier for the wine buffs or budding oenologists wanting to sample some of the wine passion and love that Vinopolis is famous for in Gibraltar.
When the dishes started to arrive, the first one placed on the table was the tomatoes served on the Pelayo bread. This artisan wheat bread, once a staple for Andalusian sailors, is incredible, with crunchy crusts and a soft, warm, chewy texture, it is the perfect accompaniment to the fresh, smooth olive oil enhanced tomato. The first bite explodes in the mouth with crisp, refreshing flavours and contrasting textures. The second dish was the tomato salad with garlic and oregano, again fresh cherry tomatoes, with a generous drizzle of olive oil and heaped with oregano, and for £3.00 a large satisfying plate of food!
My favourite dish arrived, vegan croquettes with the chef’s homemade aioli sauce. I did not want to share, as there are only three of these delicious, hot, crumbly croquettes. So we ordered another portion, and at £3.95 a portion we certainly were not going to break the bank. Next on the list came both the mushroom pil-pil and crispy “cheese” with sweet chilli sauce. We had a moment of disorientation when tasting the pil-pil, with instantly recognisable and traditional Andalusian flavours orchestrated into this smoky, spicy bowl of mushrooms and obligatory Spanish flatbread for dipping. This authentic pil-pil is a memory-creating dish of food right there!
Crispy on the outside, oozy cheesy on the inside, this vegan option is a firm favourite and destroys any myth that claims vegan cheeses are bland. Served up as two large squares of deep-fried “camembert style” cheese with a sweet yet spicy chilli dipping sauce on the side, this was the perfect ending to our vegan lunchtime feast.
All in this was a great lunch. Sadly, there were no options for vegan dessert, except for lemon sorbet, leaving me in the lurch slightly. They used to do beautiful vegan cupcakes but stopped altogether for some unknown reason. In addition, concerning main dishes, it would be nice to see a vegan special on the board, and I see that on their Facebook page they are capable of rolling out a good-looking smoky jackfruit burger.
Judging by the numerous reviews on Trip Advisor and Google, this restaurant hits all the rights spots for vegans and non-vegans living, working or visiting Gibraltar. A special mention has to go to the waiters who, despite a full house, made sure we had everything we needed, explained all the dishes, and regularly visited the table to ensure we were happy with the food.
When we called for the bill, it came in a small tin can with a questionnaire asking us to review the restaurant, the food and the service. Of course, we gave five stars for our excellent waiter, and four for the menu due to the limited vegan sweet options.