Sixteen years ago, Jane Dowler left a career in marketing to set up the first Evuna.
Now, with her fourth restaurant open in Altrincham, she talks steep learning curves, the unique way she sources wine – and why she thinks Evuna is so special.
ALTRINCHAM TODAY: Evuna is something of a family business – how did you get into the restaurant trade originally?
JANE DOWLER: Evuna is my first experience of the restaurant trade! Mum (Frances) invested in her then partner Manuel Evuna in 2003 to open a small vinoteca (wine merchant/tapas bar) on Deansgate. I was working for digital marketing agency Amaze and she asked me if I wanted to leave my career to assist Manuel, a wine importer, in running the first Evuna. The truth is none of us had any experience… it was a steep and rapid learning curve.
AT: You essentially followed your dream – how have you gone about becoming so knowledgeable about wine?
JD: In August 2003 I packed my suitcase and moved to a vineyard in La Mancha, in central Spain, for a month to learn how it all worked. It was harvest time when I arrived at Portillejo, the Bodega 100 miles south of Madrid. I spent days living and breathing wine, crushing the grapes, tasting the must (juice) before it was fermented and then touring other vineyards and vinotecas (wine bars) in my spare time. A month with the winemaker tasting and learning and I knew I’d found my passion. Since then I take regular trips to Spain honing my pallet with some of the most knowledgeable wine makers in the industry, masterclasses at trade exhibitions, lots of reading and of course tasting!
AT: Altrincham is your fourth restaurant – so what’s different about Evuna from other Spanish restaurants?
JD: I’ve talked a lot about wine and how we are unique in that we import direct from small family-run vineyards that hand-pick their grapes. No other Spanish restaurant does this. This means we can offer great value as we buy direct and do not use a third party.
But what I think really makes us special is that we are a family. In Spain the dining occasion is not just about the food and wine, it’s about sharing time with family and friends. The staff call us ‘The Evuna Family’ (their words, not mine) and we want to embrace this and make our customers feel like they are as comfortable as if they were dining at home. I want our staff to be friendly, welcoming and make customers feel that nothing is too much trouble. I think the combination of our food and wine offering with this philosophy makes us special.
AT: How does a wine make the cut for Evuna – what makes a wine great?
JD: All of our wines come from family-run vineyards, with generation after generation of wine-making expertise. To make good wines, it’s necessary of course to have good soil, good climate and the latest technology, but we also need the human touch, the tradition and knowledge. My producers have seen from childhood how their grandfathers, uncles and fathers have a deep relationship with the vines that belonged to the family for generations, and this shows in the quality of the wine, the elegance and the drinkability of them. This is what makes them so great.
AT: Which wineries are you particularly excited about at the moment?
JD: Difficult question! I’m of course excited about ALL of our wineries but the one I am constantly impressed with is Bodegas Santalba Rioja. I have been working with Roberto Santalba since 2003 when he first supplied us his classic Vina Hermosa Rioja range, and it’s still our house Rioja. Since then he continues to overwhelm me with his innovation in bringing out new wines to meet market demands, such as his Santalba Natural (a complete biodynamic organic wine with no Suphites) and Santalba Costas Altas (a wine you would swear was pinot noir but made completely from Tempranillo).
Roberto Santalba has seen from childhood how his grandfather, uncle, and father have a deep relationship with the vines that have belonged to his family for generations and this radiates in everything he produces. Santalaba is simply quality, elegant and very drinkable.
AT: You opened on Stamford New Road in February – how have the first few months been and what are your impressions of Altrincham?
JD: We LOVE Altrincham – customers have been very positive and we’ve had great feedback. Initially, as expected, we were extremely busy every night and trading was similar to Manchester. It’s leveled out now and is steady and we are looking forward to building long term relationships with local businesses and customers in order to grow our customer base by offering a series of wine tastings.
AT: You are of course also renowned for your tapas – can you tell us a bit more about what people can expect on the menu?
JD: Whilst we are a growing chain we are keen to remain strongly independent, encouraging creativity within each branch from our chefs. The team is lead by group executive chef Gustavo Serrano, from Malaga, who is based between Alty and Knutsford. He trained at the High Gastronomy school of Sevilla, and has achieved two bachelor degrees as a Master chef at Lebrija University and Barcelona university for Contemporary High Cuisine.
He sets the direction for our staple tapas such as Albondigas, Calamares, and of course Bravas, and the branch head chefs adopt a monthly focus of regional specials that showcase more elegant tapas using modern fusion techniques. These include dishes like :
sauté chicken and chorizo with honey glaze and migas, grilled octopus with pipirrana salad and lemon vinaigrette, traditional Spanish woodland rice with pork and mille feuille of wonton pasta, coated king prawn skewer in pepper marmalade on a bed of shredded potatoes, grilled wild mushrooms and roasted garlic aioli.
Evuna, 84-86 Stamford New Rd, Altrincham WA14 1BS. To book, call 0161 928 9898 or visit the website.