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Sunday Special.

NAME: Ikon Cafe.

ADDRESS: 1 Oozell Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham. Tel: 0121 248 3224. Open Tuesday 10:30am-7pm; Wednesday-Saturday 10:30am-11pm and Sunday 11am-5pm. Closed Monday.

MENU RANGE: Tapas dishes (pounds 1-pounds 2.45), raciones (starter-sized first plates pounds 2.95-6.25), bocadillos (toasted sandwiches available from 11-5) including Spanish omelette with salsa de tomate (pounds 3.75); paella (pounds 9-pounds 14 per person), five puddings including Drunken Cake (pounds 3.25) and a selection of coffees.

CHILDREN'S PORTIONS: Nothing specific for children but the tapas or raciones are ideal portions for youngsters.

VEGETARIAN OPTIONS: Lots, including a tempting A La Catalana paella with raisins, pine nuts, spinach, beans, chillis, paprika, green beans, courgettes and artichoke hearts (pounds 9 per person).

THE Ikon Gallery may have an odd taste in exhibitions but it has created a masterpiece in its recently-opened cafe bar.

Tucked neatly into the corner of the Gallery's gorgeous Oozell Square building in the centre of Birmingham (between The Brass House and the Ministry of Sound Bar on Broad Street), first impressions are of an indoor version of an outdoor Spanish bar, crossed with a delicatessen.

Trendy metal chairs and spartan tables are flanked by salamis hanging on hooks and fridges filled with fresh produce. The atmosphere is definitely party not posh.

Choose from a huge range of tapas (small dishes), paella or toasted sandwiches (bocadillos) and wash it down with a bottle of wine (I recommend the house red at pounds 9).

So what should you sample from the 14 tapas dishes, 22 raciones (starter-sized portions) or five paellas?

The answer is a bit of everything.

We began with fresh bread, a selection of oils (garlic and lemon are excellent but give the chilli a miss if you are expecting something with a bit of bite) at pounds 1.35 and bowls of black olives in paprika and onion (pounds 1) and green olives in garlic and lemon (pounds 1).

For starters we agreed on artichoke hearts sauteed with garlic, butter and serrano ham (pounds 3. 65 and scrumptious), fresh prawns with chilli, garlic and parsley (pounds 4.95) and Spanish sausage flamed in fino, iced Spanish sherry (pounds 3.75).

For most people this would have been ample - but not for us and we chose paella mixta (pounds 12.50 per person) stuffed full of chorizo, chicken, squid, prawns, mussels, scallops and morcilla set in melt-in-the-mouth saffron rice. The only disappointment was that we couldn't take away a doggy bag. "The manager won't allow it" said the waitress.

Considering we'd demolished half the menu, I thought this was the least they could do. So in a mini protest I boycotted my creme brulee ice cream (pounds 3.75) and settled for a chunk of Dairy Milk from the fridge when I got home.

The bill came to just over pounds 50 - most twosomes could have dined out for pounds 30 with wine - and, in my view, it was great value.

Fiona Alexander
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 27, 1999
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