I have never had tapas in a restaurant before, so it was with some excitement and trepidation that my husband and I and four of our friends ventured out to Forn one Friday night. Two of our friends are Bolivian, tapas experts I reckoned, so I was hoping they’d be able to tell me if the experience ahead was the real deal or some eager amateur.

I don’t think any of us were prepared for the atmosphere that hit us as we walked through the door; it was honestly like we’d walked through the wardrobe into a bar in downtown Madrid with a live Spanish guitarist playing up tempo salsa tunes alongside a simple but classy bar where you were served by Spanish staff, giving the whole experience an air of authenticity. We settled at the bar for a welcome drink and soaked up the cool environment, impressed with our surroundings and excited for what lay ahead.

Our host, Gemma, the restaurant owner, manager and very busy mum of two, had prepared a selection of tapas dishes for us, and while we were waiting for these to arrive, we were treated to an appetiser of tomato bruschetta on crisp bread which was tasty and fresh, and whet the appetite for what was to come. And oh boy, I wasn’t prepared for what came next; exquisitely presented slate platters of beautiful food, that almost looked too good to eat. We tucked into Patatas Bravas (£6) individual potato towers topped with a spicy sauce that tasted as good as they looked, Baked Chorizos with roasted peppers (£6) that were bursting with authenticity and flavour; Croquetas (£6) Potato croquettes with Roquefort and pine nuts that I could honestly eat on their own as a meal; they were described on the menu as ‘morsels of deliciousness’ – I think that’s an understatement!

Gemma had asked me how I was with raw fish – in truth, I’ve only just come around to sushi, but for the purposes of food reviewing, I was ready to give it a go. We were served with Ceviche de Langostinos (£9) Lime cured crevette tartare and Takati de Atub con PX (£10) Seared Tuna with avocado – both were absolute winners and our stand out dishes of the night. Our Latin American friends assured me that not everyone can make Ceviche well but that this was spot on, and the tuna made me realise Ive been cooking it the wrong way for years, it’s so much better blue.

My area of expertise were the Calamari Frito (£7) and the Gambas al Ajillo (£9) Prawns in a garlicky sauce – being a Greek Cypriot, I only tend to eat calamari as part of a fish meze by the beach in Cyprus for fear of being disappointed here; but I wasn’t, I really wasn’t. We also enjoyed the Pancetta con Purée de Judias (£8) Slow cooked pork belly which was melt in the mouth good. Three of our number shared a bottle of velvety red recommended by Gemma and to finish our superb meal, we were treated to almond tart with orange sauce which had the mark of hot summers and citrus groves about it, and chocolate fondant served with ice cream and fresh fruit, it’s dark tartness perfectly off setting the richness of the preceding meal.

I think I’m a total convert to tapas, we all had a thoroughly fantastic evening in an exciting atmosphere, eating the best food I’ve had in a restaurant in a long time and spent a good half an hour discussing when we could all come back again. Forn is the newest jewel in Exeter’s foodie crown if you ask me.

By Mary Bennellick

Visit the website: www.fornexeter.co.uk

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