bar Rioja is a love-letter to the Northern Spanish region of La Rioja from Camino co-founder Richard Bigg, and is the only one of its kind within the UK.

A small and charming bar nestled within the cosy retreat of the Varnishers Yard next to neighbouring Camino, secluded from the nearby foot traffic of Kings Cross, bar Rioja evokes the atmosphere of the kind of tapas and wine bars you would hope to find on the winding streets of a Spanish culture holiday.  

A carefully curated list of Riojas by Richard and his staff, embraces the rich traditions and regulations of the region, but also include a number of excellent modern wines that represent an evolution on these winemaking methods, producing spectacular results.

Crucially, bar Rioja utilises the Coravin system, which perfectly preserves wine of all ages and enables them to be enjoyed by the glass at both 75ml and 125ml servings, creating a ‘pick n mix' accessibility. Wines that may otherwise only be available by the bottle can be sampled to your heart's content. Detailed and descriptive menus allow for a self-guided Northern Spanish wine-tasting, with a regional map both printed within, and beautifully adorned upon the bars exposed-bricked interiors.  

Anyone more casually acquainted with the region's winemaking, could be forgiven for associating a glass of Rioja with its typically representative deep fruity reds, plum, cherry, dark fruit flavours and leather and tobacco notes. But Rioja expands horizons, by supplementing wines under the traditional classifications of Genérico (unoaked young wines), Crianza (1 year oaked, 1 year bottled), Reserva (3 years aged, 1 oaked with 2 years bottled), and Gran Reserva (5 years aged of which 2 are in barrel), with collections vibrantly named "Big Guns". These are fantastic wines that are loaded with character, made and aged outside of the traditional barrel ageing techniques. 

I kicked off my own tasting experience with a fresh, fruity, Finca Manzanos Blanco. A fourth-generation family made Genérico wine, golden in colour, sweeping with citrus and apricot to the nose, at an extremely welcoming £4.60. I was curious about the ‘Big Guns' from the start, and so following up with a Garnacha Blanca from renowned winemaker Abel Mendoza. Crisp and acidic and subtly woody, this fruity and slightly creamy wine innovates, without turning its back on tradition. A little viscosity compliments a fresh finish. 

Capellanía Reservas from the Alta region was my next stop. Described by the vineyard itself as a ‘White wine with a red soul", a more traditional barrel-aged white that is smoky and nutty to the nose and creamy on the palette. Pear and apricot flavours grow bolder in the mouth. A little pricier by the glass, but this is a fine and balanced wine with a perfect acidity. 

Indulging myself in Big Gun Reds, I opted for ‘La Dula', Sierra de Toloño. Made by Sandra Bravo, a winemaker known for working in some of Rioja's highest altitude vineyards. Intense, perfumed with a long palette, its aged in 300-litre clay amphorae and deeply fruity. A bargain at £7.90. 

Most surprising perhaps was the Ripa Vino Rosado, from Jose Luis Ripa. A fermented Rosé with a beautiful orangy tint that challenged my preconceptions on what Rioja can be. A surprisingly savoury finish caps off the finely spiced marmalade and citrus layers.  

Complimenting this diverse and exciting wine-list, is an equally vibrant tapas offering. Menu ‘Laurel', inspired by Calle Laurel, famous Logroño food street, awash with restaurants each specialising in one Pintxos style dish, encouraging a ‘Pintxos-crawl' of sorts. Executive Chef Nacho del Campo whose passion for food was cultivated from a young age, growing up in Basque country Capital Vitoria, channels his passion in to delicious seasonal Pintxos offerings that can be found at the bars counter display at an inviting price point of £2.75 each. 

Tapas starts with an extensive charcuterie and cheese selection with something to compliment all of the extensive wine choices the bar offers. On the night, we were guided by the comprehensive knowledge of our server, Florian. 

Satisfying staples like croquetas, Padrón Peppers and patatas bravas are all here, but there are a few notable showstoppers. Morcilla de Burgos (black pudding from Burgos) was rich, firmly textured due to its rice content, and contrasts well with the spicey local Alegria Riojana peppers. 

Pulpo a la brasa (grilled octopus) next with sweet and smokey combinations of Pimentón de la Vera and lightly fragrant saffron mash respectively. Meaty and delicately flavour balanced. 

Braised ox-cheek in sherry sauce crumbled under the touch of a fork, collapsing in to a sweet, nutty accompanying purée of Jerusalem artichoke, topped in crunchy hazelnut crumble. 

A seasonal menu served up two of my personal favourites of the night. A Galician fillet steak served with a splash of Oloroso Sherry and shallots, high quality and dry-aged for 21 days, but the dish I am most looking to return to is a seared yellowfin tuna steak. Served in an almond ajo blanco sauce with dill oil, grapes and pomegranate, the buttery texture and fresh contrasted flavours were as delicious as the artful presentation promised. Bar Rioja is fine dining in a casual setting. 

Founder Richard Bigg's career in hospitality has been deeply intertwined with the culinary culture of Northern Spain. Evidenced not only in the quality of the wine selection and small plates, but the pricing across the board which is never prohibitive, indicates a strong desire to share some of the wines and delicacies that make La Rioja so special. Bar Rioja is a passionate distillation of a celebrated culture that I would not hesitate to return to. 

For more information visit bar Rioja 3 Varnishers yard, The Regent Quarter, King's Cross, N1 9FD