London is an interesting city. Waves of enthusiasm seem to infect leading to trends in food and otherwise. Trends drive me crazy, food is food after all, and if it’s good it’s good. So what if I want to eat sun dried tomatoes and it’s not 1997?! I like ’em. Sometimes they bring benefits though, and I am happy to succumb. One such trend is the interest in Spanish food and drink and the corresponding surge in quality tapas restaurants in London.
Centrally this has seen the arrival of Barrica, Fino (relaunched last year) and Pinchito Tapas. Spanish style (perhaps Irish style too!),we embarked on a crawl of these three, taking advantage of the Tio Pepe Tapas Trail. Tio Pepe fino, one of my favourite summer drinks, was available free with any tapa over £4.50. What fun!
We started at Barrica. My first time there, I was taken with the warmth of the traditional room with the sunny yellow walls. Lots of wood, a big counter, some tables and high stools. We opted for bar seats and chose Tortilla; Morcilla (Spanish black pudding); Clams, White Beans & Girolles and Galician Octopus. Some of my favourite dishes and Spanish staples (the girolle dish aside), they would be a good test of the kitchen.
The tortilla was eggy and runny in the centre and rich, exactly as it should be, tick. The morcilla was very good, a lovely spicey version and finely sliced like a cured sausage, I devoured it quickly. The Galician octopus was tender and delicate. So far so good. The Clams, White Beans & Girolles felt as though it was missing something, I would imagine this is a vegetarian version of clams, white beans and chorizo. It felt like it was missing a fruitiness with the earthiness of the girolles too dominant. Prices circled a very fair £4-6. We sipped on our Tio Pepe Finos and headed on to Fino. Boom boom!
Fino, an offering from the Hart brothers, owners of Barrafina and Quo Vadis is very smart. The most expensive of the three we would visit, Fino is a basement room with low ceilings, it’s been very good on previous visits, but it had been some time so I was looking forward to checking in. We grabbed seats by the bar again – the best place to sit always, isn’t it? – and ordered another Spanish staple Pane con Tomate, a lovely fresh & fruity version, some more Morcilla (I can never resist!) – Marcilla Iberica, Fried Quails Eggs, Chorizo Chips (small chorizo sausages wrapped in wafer thin potato and fried), Braised Iberian Pig Cheeks, sensationally rich and tender, they were irresistable. Another glass of Tio Pepe Fino here, but we also indulged in an extra glass of Tio Pepe En Rama, the celebratory 175th anniversary vintage which sold out in hours, but is available at Fino (and also Pinchito) at £5.90 a glass. This was gorgeous and silky with great depth of flavour. We had to have another one when we visited Pinchito next! We are indulgent…
Before we left we watched a suckling pig (a a very tiny one – seriously not much bigger than a cat) being prepared in the kitchen. Despite concerns for the age of the tiny piglet, we watched with envy. That has got to be done soon.
Final stop was Pinchito. I have only been there for drinks before, and at that at the Shoreditch one. First impressions are of a trendy bar, which always worries me when it comes to the quality of food (am I an old crank or what?!), however, Pinchito really delivered, and I thought it was probably the closest to what you would get in Spain right now.
The staff are also immensely knowledgable, we were all very impressed with our waiter Guillaume, who was so enthusiastic and helpful and full of information. We bought him a glass of En Rama and asked him to join us, which he did, although only briefly before he diligently went back to work.
We had Pa amb tomaquet (bread and tomato) which was a terrific version of the dish. The tomato was fruity and had spice with some lovely vinegary back notes. Alioli (garlic dip with toasted bread) was simple and perfect. I was very impressed by now. We hadn’t had croquetas yet so we ordered Croquetas de cocido madrileño (mixed meat croquettes) which were rich and dense. Mixed meat is a nerve wracking description but this worked well, whatever it was.
We also had Chorizo a la sidra (chorizo with cider & apple sauce), again simple, rustic and high quality and a plate of very good manchego. More Tio Pepe fino (again free as part of the Tapas trail), an irresistible glass of En Rama and a cocktail – Sevilla Fizz made with Sherry & Cava (costing £6.50) and very, very good, as everything had been until this point.
We were ready to bounce out of there by now, and we did. It was a great evening, and a very good showcase of Spanish food in London with only one weakish dish. Barrica was relaxed and a lovely place to catch up with friends, Fino a smarter setting with more elegant food, but the standout for me was Pinchito. High quality, relaxed, friendly and innovative, that’s Spanish cuisine in a sentence for me, and we have it here now in London. I want to go back to try Albondigas (meat balls with green olive sauce) and Hanger steak with paprika alioli (and more cocktails of course). Watch this space, I will tell you all about it when I do.
The Tio Pepe Sherry trail runs from 12-18th of July. It’s brilliant fun and if possible, I’ll be indulging in another glass or two at Iberica and Moro before the week is out.