(Visited early March 2012)
When you enter the spacious, well appointed conservatory style room past the (luxury) tapas bar area, you may get the impression it’s going to be an expensive evening. And when you realise that they have failed to write down your booking and consequently are not ready at the agreed time, you may expect it’s not only going to be expensive, but also frustrating.
Just while he is moaning about the absence of an amuse bouche, these arrive.
Oooh, it’s chistorra, typical of Basque countries (the Chef here is Basque), a pork sausage fiercely aromatised with paprika and garlic. Well it’s not fine dining, but swithcing into trattoria mode, it’s damn good.
One piece of advice: if you want to avoid splattering your crisp clean shirt in red sauce like Man, avoid forking said sausage with too much energy.
Anyway, at least the pathetic sight of Man’s shirt after the chistorra treatment had the unbelievable effect of extracting a smile from the mask of suffering that was the waitress, as well as the kind offer of a (magically effective) cleaning serviette.
Perhaps warming to this imbecile who can’t even eat a chistorra in a civilised way, the frighteningly serious manager, maybe an out of work torero, advises very well on wine, and without a hint of upselling. So he recommends a bottle half the price of what we would have spontaneously chosen, with which we were very happy.
When he takes orders, we tell him that we are going to share everything. We always do this, but we very rarely get the kind offer that we get here, that the chef is going to plate half portions each.
So it is that our first half starters arrive the Langoustines
As you can see we had four animals each, meaning that a full starter portion of langoustines here includes eight. Eight! Now, we’ve got to say, when we think back to London, and in particular to the super-refined but miserably solitary langoustine at Alyn Williams, if we had to say where the real joy of eating seafood is, how long do you think we’d hesitate to answer? Obviously HE could not plate half a portion! Here, they were fabulously fresh, perfectly cooked and prepped, the seasoning also good but just this side of too salty, with a good variety of crispy and soft vegetables. And to finish the triumph, the olive oil is also of superior quality.
The second starter is Almejas a la sarten con gambas, gulas y refrito de ajo
The gigantic almejas, the interestingly ‘squashed’ prawns and the spaghetti of eel form a very, very fine match of once again superbly fragrant, fresh seafood. This is such a joy, and we even forgive the bit of sand in one almeja in view of the classy, light version of the fried garlic in olive oil with just a hint of chili.
We could not resist the most expensive item on the menu, the Bogavante (lobster) at 42 euro.
The taste was very fine indeed, even superior to our local Scottish variety, the claw was just divine, but a pity for the overcooking of the rest which resulted in a slight rubberiness. The sauce had a nice, complex, lively flavour, but we found it a little heavy.
This Pulpo (octopus)
was a formidabe piece of beast, again striking for its quality, the big thick plump ‘leg’ , skin on and everything, bursting with flavour, helped by an almost moving tomato sauce with onions. The accompanying red onion was also a sweet delight. This is perhaps not what Michelin wants in exchange for its stars, there isn’t enough ‘finesse’ here, notably in the cooking. This is food for real men and women, and we, Man and Woman, are enjoying it a lot: even if it is not the most meltingly tender octopus we’ve had, it’s just plain good, and luckily we still have teeth we can use.
For the desserts, we learned afterwards that there is a dedicated chef, and it shows. There was real elegance of conception in both of our choices, a Brownie de nueces (walnuts) con crema de cacao y helado de especias (spicy icecream)
and a Texturas de arroz con leche, pan de especias con bano de cafe y sorbete de mandarinas (Rice pudding textures, with spice bread soaked in bread with mandarin sorbet):
both really, really classy deconstructions of the classics, even in spite of not gaining full marks for the presentation. The highlights for us were the walnut and the cloves playing with each other in the brownie and the icecream. But how not to admire the heights of complexity and flavour balance attained by the so humble arroz con leche?
So, we entered thoroughly pissed off, and before the bill we are now thoroughly happy, mellowed down by a great seafood dinner and good wine.
Will we be happy also after the bill?
Let’s look…yes, for this enormous quantity of seafood of such monumental quality, just over 180 euros for two is an amazing price. The chef may not be the most refined in the culinary firmament, but he is certainly a great professional who loves and cares about his raw material, and by and large treats it very well and expertly. Well done to him, and we would go back any time. Now, staff, can we have a little cheerful smile?