Several years ago we used to venture over t’hill to Uppermill and Saddleworth quite a lot.

After all, it’s a short and really rather pleasant car trip up on to the Marsden moors, through the Standedge cutting and then the far-reaching view across to Great Manchester.

But we didn’t know what to expect at night, foolishly anticipating most of it to be in darkness with perhaps a couple of restaurants – including the Spanish tapas Rioja which we’d booked – and a few pubs with only the hardy souls propping up the bar.

Uppermill? It seems to be uppermost in a lot of people’s minds for a night out.

Take a video tour by clicking on the video player above.

There was a real buzz about the place. But what’s this? People dining outside – or perhaps we’d better say al fresco – in restaurants quaintly lit with twinkling white lights beneath canopies and patio heaters.

Mind you, perhaps there was a pointer in the fact that the restaurant was almost fully booked and they’d managed to squeeze us in at 8.30pm on a Friday. It’s right on the main street – High Street – and on first appearance seems like converted cottages.

Restaurant review: Rioja Tapas, High Street, Upper Mill.

Once inside things get even quirkier, for it still remains cottages. All the rooms are there – a small one for the bar area, a dining-room which remains, you’ll not be that shocked to hear, a dining-room. But venture upstairs and what were bedrooms in the past are two more dining rooms.

We were upstairs and the room was big enough for our four – wife Ruth and friends Dave and Jane – along with another couple on a separate table along with a party of eight.

Compact? Yes. A squeeze? No. There was enough room and other people’s conversations didn’t intrude.

The menu is extensive with well over 100 dishes to choose from. And this is where they get really canny – the waitress gave us a tick sheet so you just tick what you want. Sorted.

The seafood paella (£15.25) was an absolute must – but get that order in first as it takes 30 minutes to prepare and cook.

In the meantime we went for two dishes each and they came as they were made – and that’s the joy of tapas. The dishes are small, you’re not overfaced and you just keep on eating without much idea how much you’ve had. In short, the diet’s out of the window.

Prawns in garlic at Rioja restaurant in Uppermill

The dishes were tiger prawns peeled and cooked in a garlic, chilli and white wine sauce (£6.75); patatas bravas – seasoned potatoes roasted in olive oil, served in the classic bravas spicy tomato sauce (£3.95); tortilla patatas – the classic Spanish omelette, free range eggs cooked with sliced potatoes and white onions (£4.95); pollo de pisto – pieces of succulent chicken marinated in smoked paprika cooked in a Spanish ratatouille of diced peppers and Spanish onions (£5.45); chorizo al vino tinto – sliced chorizo cooked in Rioja Faustina (£5.75). We also had a bowl of bread (£2) but with many of the dishes being somewhat saucy fellows quickly realised we needed to make sure every dish was fully mopped up. It wouldn’t seem right nor proper not to clear each dish.

See more of the restaurant and the dishes in the pictures below.

The prawns were certainly large to the verge of obesity and the sauce was delightfully piquant – the bread was quickly in action. If you’re into seafood this one’s an absolute must.

The patatas bravas – small chunks of roasted potatoes were lifted into the extraordinary by the tomato sauce which lived up to its spicy tag while the chorizo in red wine was an earthy, robust example of the classic Spanish meat and there was a lot of it. More bread was needed to do justice to the red wine sauce. The chicken was certainly tender and it was quite a feat to fit that and the Spanish ratatouille into such a small dish. A case of a quart into a pint pot.

And then the piece de resistence – the seafood paella starring fresh salmon, cod, squid and tiger prawns along with saffron infused rice (£15.25).

Seafood paella at Rioja restaurant in Uppermill

The photo tells the story – brilliantly presented and more than lived up to the image ranging from the fish that did melt in the mouth leaving you thinking ‘where did it go?’ to the odd natural texture of squid that you either love or loathe and the rice was just so moist.

Everyone was full – but not quite full to busting as two managed puddings. These were orange and lemon sorbet with a powerful zing to give the overworked tastebuds a final wake-up call and creme catalan, the Spanish version of the French classic and it seemed even thicker, smoother and creamier than its Gallic cousin.

So a great meal … but a final eye-opener before we left. We’d thought the restaurant was quaintly small – but it turns out we’d only seen part of it.

Looking out the back window we found the rest – an oasis of an outside eating area complete with lights and a couple of heated pods so you can eat in while out if you see what I mean.

Outside dining area lit up at night at Rioja restaurant in Uppermill

Think of them as Cinderella’s carriages abandoned as the clock struck midnight.

So if you fancy expanding your culinary horizons then venture over t’hill.

Rioja Tapas

58 High Street, Uppermill, Oldham OL3 6HA

Tel: 01457 876191


Opening hours: Closed Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday 5pm-11pm; Friday and Saturday 12pm-11.30pm, Sunday 12pm-11pm.

Children: Yes.

Disabled access: Yes, but the toilets are upstairs.

The bill: £94.70 for four – but the food came to just under £60.

Would you go back? We’d be fools not to.