There seems to be a real buzz about Chapel Street at the moment with an array of independent businesses making a beeline for the area.
The latest are brothers Ben and Joe Wright, who are bringing a little Spanish influence to the area with the opening of their tapas bar Porta next week.
It’s the third site for the duo who opened the original Porta in Chester in 2012, next to their bistro Joseph Benjamin, followed by a second in Altrincham two years ago.
“Obviously we’re a small company, it’s just me and my brother and we don’t have deep pockets like the big guys,” says Ben, who looks after front of house, business operations and the drinks menu while chef Joe takes care of the food.
“We spend our time looking for good value sites that are on the up rather than going for premium city centre. It’s just never going to be our thing and our level of risk.”
The new restaurant is located in the former Midland Bank, which is owned by Salford City Council.
“There’s a lot of residential popping up all around and they were keen to make sure there were independent businesses to add something for the residents,” says Ben. “That community feel is what we’re looking for and matches the way we work in Altrincham and Chester.”
Although they’ve obviously had to comply with building regulations, the brothers have been given a “fairly free reign” in the renovation of the site but have retained many original features, including the parquet floor.
“Part of what we look for is a building with character because it’s so hard to bring character to a building if it doesn’t have it when you move in. And with this, it’s working with the beauty of the building that’s inherent to it,” says Ben.
“The number one objective is you want it to look like it’s been there for a few years, so everything, to an extent, is reclaimed locally or reused from on site. And there’s a cosy feel, with plenty of timber and dark paint.”
The emphasis is very much on relaxing, chatting, and informality – somewhere you can pop in for a drink, nibble or dinner without the need to make a reservation.
“We really want people to have a drink or a bite to eat and not feel like they have to dress up or make a booking. For me, it’s what makes it authentic and reflects what you’d expect to find in a good tapas bar in Barcelona or Madrid.”
The menu includes plenty of classics, such as jamon, croquetas and patatas bravas, olives, tomato bread and Spanish tortilla.
“We’re respectful of tradition and would rather do a good version of a basic thing than try and reinvent something,” says Ben.
“Everything’s homemade in-house from scratch. We have core menus for the restaurants and then each location will have two or three specials that change daily and driven by what’s available at the market that morning. Freshness and quality of produce is the backbone of tapas so it’s about relying on the produce rather than fancy concoctions and presentations.”
The drinks menu is curated by Ben and is set to include a “nice, short menu of about eight Spanish wines that will change every few months”.
“It’s about really enjoyable, drinkable wines and then maybe some less well-known drink varieties such as an albarino or grenache. By limiting the options, we can introduce these to people and hopefully it creates a bit of dialogue and interest.”
The brothers’ love for Spain springs from travelling around the country since they were children.
“One of the fascinations of Spain is the diverse array of cuisine around the country. They really hang onto the regional variants. It’s one of the things we find so interesting,” says Ben. “We take bits of everywhere and bring it to a damp corner of Salford.”
Although it’s 12 years since they opened their first restaurant, they never rest on their laurels.
“One of the things I lie awake worrying about is that Manchester’s food and drink scene is very hard to be seen on,” admits Ben.
“It’s quite difficult to wave the flag because there’s so much going on, which is different to our experience with Chester and Altrincham. But what we’re focused on is value for money and quality. You hope that’s what people look for and hopefully will like it and be back.”
While the idea of working alongside a sibling is enough to make some people shudder, Ben believes the shared history makes for a useful shorthand.
“You’re never falling out for the first time, so you can have a cross word in the heat of the moment on a Saturday night during dinner service and then it’s forgotten half an hour later and you can move on,” he says.
Looking ahead, they’re keen to concentrate on the venues they have rather than setting their sights on the next location.
“Any growth has to be very organic. There’s no one else financially involved, no shareholders, it’s just me and my brother and we’ve expanded slowly as we can and that will definitely continue to be the case,” says Ben.
“We’ve got our hands very much full at the moment and really just looking forward to getting on with Salford and really embracing it.”
Porta opens on Chapel Street, on the corner of Bexley Square, on Wednesday, December 5th.