Boqueria Market

BOQUERIA MARKET

Boqueria Market on Queenstown Road is the second branch of Boqueria, a Spanish tapas restaurant group. I visited the original Boqueria on Acre Lane in Brixton about 18 months ago and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The food was fresh and wholesome and the service was lovely. So once again I found myself south of the river to discover what Boqueria Market had to offer.

Boqueria Market is a really smart looking restaurant. The setting is intimate and the lighting is soft. The restaurant feels relaxed, yet there is a buzzy vibe to it that makes for an engaging dining experience. The menu is similar to the Acre Lane branch and includes a selection of traditional and contemporary tapas as well as a lovely variety of Spanish wines and sherries.

We began our meal with the premium jamón ibérico puro bellota (acorn-fed pure breed Iberico ham – large plate for £18). This was delicious with an intensely sweet flavour and earthy, nutty overtones. The pieces of fat running through the jamón were delicious too, with a melting, soft quality.

London food blog Boqueria - Jamón Ibérico

Boqueria – Jamón Ibérico

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Barrafina Frith Street – Visit No. 2

BARRAFINA

Barrafina Frith Street opened to critical acclaim in 2007 following on from the success of its sister restaurant Fino, both of which are owned by the restaurateur brothers Sam and Eddie Hart. 2014 proved to be a great year for the pair, with a second branch of Barrafina opening on Adelaide Street, also to critical acclaim, and the original Barrafina on Frith Street winning a Michelin star.

As most Londoners know, Barrafina Frith Street is a tiny establishment. There are 23 stools which line the L-shaped marbled bar. There is a no-booking policy which means that at peak times diners can expect to wait for at least an hour before being seated. I first visited Barrafina in 2010 and thought it was brilliant (you can read about that visit here). The only thing that deterred me from going back was the thought of that dreaded queue. But with a Michelin Star comes the weight of added expectation. So despite the knowledge that we would have to wait, it felt like the right time for a revisit.

And wait we did, an hour and a half no less, and this was on a Tuesday evening. The saving grace was the fact that we were able to order drinks and nibbles as we stood in line. That said, the service was incredibly slow and we struggled to be noticed or served.

We started with two old favourites, the croquetas and the tortilla. Ham croquetas (2 for £4.50) contained a deliciously creamy béchamel filling and a crunchy exterior. They were a little salty, but they were very tasty. A prawn and piquillo pepper tortilla (£7) came with a runny centre that was lovely and warm. This was also tasty, but in contrast to the croquetas, was a little under seasoned.

Barrafina Frith Street - Ham croquetas

Barrafina Frith Street – Ham croquetas

Barrafina Frith Street - Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

Barrafina Frith Street – Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

Barrafina Frith Street - Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

Barrafina Frith Street – Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

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Fino

FINO

Fino Restaurant opened in 2003 and became one of the first restaurants in London to offer a contemporary brand of Spanish tapas. Others followed, but Fino has managed to carve out a niche as an oldie but a goodie on the London tapas scene. Fino comes from the hands of Sam and Eddie Hart, the well-known restaurateur brothers that also brought the critically acclaimed Barrafina to London. The original branch of Barrafina opened on Frith Street in Soho in 2007 and went on to won a Michelin star in 2014. A second branch of Barrafina also opened on Adelaide Street last year.

Fino’s Executive Head Chef is Nieves Barragán Mohacho who originates from the Basque country. Her menu changes daily, drawing on influences from not only the Basque region but from throughout Spain. The Fino menu makes for a tempting read, interspersing modern influences among much loved Spanish classics.

Fino has an address on Charlotte Street although the entrance itself is located on Rathbone Street. From here, diners are led to Fino’s restaurant and bar area in the basement. The interior is contemporary and boasts of a relaxed ambience. It is also spacious and well laid out, which unlike the tiny spaces of both the Barrafinas, would accommodate large parties well.

We tried the Cecina de León (£9.80), a smoked and dried beef which was maroon in colour. It was juicy with a strong character and a slightly fibrous consistency. Lightly salted and with small bits of fat running through it, the beef was delicious.

Fino - Cecina de León

Cecina de León

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BCN Taste & Tradition – Houston, Texas

BCN Taste & Tradition in Houston, Texas is one of the latest fine dining additions to the Houston dining scene and pays homage to the very best of Spanish cooking. The restaurant is named for the airport code of Barcelona, the birthplace of chef Luis Roger, who began cooking as a child under the guidance of his grandmother. Finding love of cooking at such a young age led him to study at the Spanish culinary school, Escola d’Hostaleria Hofmann and a 20-year career as a chef that has included stints at the esteemed El Bulli.

Today, Roger’s menu at BCN Taste & Tradition brings together all of his culinary experiences and takes the diner on an explosive journey that blends tradition with the latest culinary techniques. Many of the ingredients are imported from Spain to uphold the essence of a true Spanish experience.

Located in a 1920s house in the beautiful artsy residential area of Montrose, BCN Taste & Tradition is discretely tucked away on a street corner. The décor is elegant but understated with a softly spoken colour scheme of sand-and-white. There are original works by greats Miro and Picasso on the walls to uphold he Spanish theme.

BCN Taste & Tradition’s exploration of Spanish delights begins with appetisers including the likes of a beautifully smooth and rich home made foie gras terrine ($22) accompanied by a lightly dressed side salad. Also delightful was a poached quail egg ($16), our dish of the evening which was perfectly cooked with a runny yolk. A dream to eat, it was immersed in a wonderful smooth potato foam and a topping of seasonal truffle.

BCN Taste & Tradition- Foie gras terrine

Foie gras terrine

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Tapas Revolution

Tapas Revolution is the brainchild of Spanish Chef Omar Allibhoy who noteable includes Ferran Adria’s El Bulli on his CV. With a desire to spread the word on tapas in the UK, Tapas Revolution was borne – both a cookbook and a restaurant chain which sees two branches to its name, one in Westfield’s Shepherd’s Bush, and the other in Bluewater. You can find Tapas Revolution in the centre of the mall surrounded by shops rather than the Southern Terrace ‘restaurant strip’ at Westfield’s. And rather than being a sit-in restaurant, the outlet has been designed as an uncovered eatery where diners perch on bar stools around a rectangular bar area.

Tapas Revolution

Tapas Revolution

The highlight of our meal was the hams. Jamón ibérico de bellota Guijuelo (£8.95), an Acorn-fed Iberian ham voted the 2013 IFFA best ham in the world, was excellent. Full of flavour, it was also a generous portion for the price. Also tasty was the 18 month cured jamón serrano del consorcio (£5.25), which was again very reasonably priced for both the quality and quantity.

Jamón ibérico & toasted tomato bread

Jamón ibérico & toasted tomato bread

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Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

Note: Ametsa was awarded a Michelin Star in September 2013.

Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

As the name suggests, Ametsa by Arzak Instruction draws its culinary inspiration from the famous three-Michelin starred Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain. Arzak made its name by introducing Nouvelle Basque cooking to the world. By taking the traditions of this fine food region and overlaying it with an inspired modern touch, the imagination of Arzak caught the world’s attention. In 1989 it attained its three-Michelin star status, an accolade that it continues to hold to this day.

And so it is that the philosophy behind Ametsa is also one of ‘New Basque Cuisine’, a matching of the traditions of the Basque region with modern techniques. It opened in March 2013 at the Halkin Hotel, taking over the space that was once occupied by David Thompson’s Nahm. A quintet of chefs from Arzak consulted on Ametsa including Mikel Sorazu, Igor Zalakain and Xabier Gutierrez, and most notably the famous father and daughter pair of Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak who was recognised by the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards as the World’s Best Female Chef of 2012.

No expense was spared on the interior and it looks expensive. The most eye-catching aspect of Ametsa’s décor is the ceiling that was created from 7,000 dangling glass receptacles filled with spices. It’s impressive, but the overall feel of the restaurant is quite cold with whitewashed walls and furnishings that give it a rather stark effect. In some respects, it was difficult to warm to the atmosphere of the restaurant.

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Boqueria

There’s no shortage of tapas restaurants in London and Boqueria on Acre Lane is another. It’s a charming looking restaurant perched on the Brixton borders with a relaxed feel to it and a modern décor. Roughly L-shaped, the section towards the back has glass-paneled ceilings overhead that allow in lots of lovely natural light. The menu boasts a reasonable range of choices with both a traditional and contemporary approach.

As is standard at a tapas restaurant we tried a large variety of dishes starting with some marcona almonds (£2.30) to nibble on that were crunchy, nicely seasoned and gloriously delicious. These nuts were a delicious way to being our meal. From the specials, innovative suckling pig croquetas boasted of some lovely sweetness from the suckling pig filling (£6.30) and were really yummy.

Marcona almonds & suckling pig croquetas

Marcona almonds & suckling pig croquetas

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Donostia

There are some incredible Spanish tapas restaurants in London at the moment. The ones that immediately spring to mind are José, Pizarro and Barrafina all of which are fabulous in their own way. The latest tapas restaurant to burst onto the London scene is Donostia, named after the Basque word for the Spanish foodie mecca that we all know and love as San Sebastian. Head chef is Tomasz Baranski who use to run Barrafina and Fino, both of which are owned by the hugely successful restaurateur brothers Sam and Eddie Hart.

Situated on trendy Seymour Place, just down the road from Vinoteca, Donostia has a canteen look to it, albeit a very stylish one. Dark wood floors provide a contrast to the restaurant’s long, sleek and white interior. Donostia rings with a comfortable and contemporary casualness.

The menu is designed for sharing of course, and there is a range of pintxos (smaller plates) plus larger ones that cover a range of meat, fish and veg. First up were the tempura prawns (£4.20) with Bayonne ham and mango. The prawns were well cooked and firm, but was let down by the fact that it was very, very salty. The batter was neither flaky nor airy in the way that proper tempura batter ought to be, but was quite crispy nevertheless. The ham and the mango was a nice contrast for the prawns.

Prawn tempura

Prawn tempura

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