Today on the blog: TAPAS TWO TIMES.
Portugal vs Spain - Nuno vs Cristina - Spitalfields vs Battersea - Ronaldo vs Messi... no wait - that's not right. Casillas? Alonso? Nadal? Bloody talented sporting Spaniards. Well except Nadal; I hear he's pretty crap on clay these days. Anyway, focus Matt.
Saturday 9th May - I've been waiting a while now to taste Nuno Mendes' cooking. I missed him at Viajante (now Lee Westcott's highly rated Typing Room), and then there was the whole Chiltern Firehouse, shall we say, phenomenon?
Thankfully, he has just opened a relaxed Portuguese restaurant called Taberna do Mercado in Old Spitalfields Market that will hopefully remain celebrity free for the time being. Currently you can book a table for lunch from 12-2pm (email@example.com). Between 3-6pm you can walk in for drinks, cured meats, cheeses and other cold snacks, and dinner is from 6-9.30pm (also walk in only). They will soon be open in the mornings from 8am for coffee and a simple Portuguese breakfast. Check their website for up to date info - www.tabernamercado.co.uk
It's a simple, airy space with 40 or so covers and a small bar, though there is apparently also a secret Chef's Table with room for four in the back of the basement kitchen. You'll have to fight your way past Nuno and co. to have a peek though. On that note, a trip to the lone basement toilet is essential, especially if there's a queue, as you literally sit in the kitchen whilst Nuno makes you (and these are his words) "Bathroom Break Snacks".
|Tapas menus designed to hang off the edge of the table|
We settled in with refreshing glasses of Clip do Monte Da Vaia and bottles of Square Root. Cocktails are on their way soon, most probably of the aperitivo variety, and beers are limited to 20cl pours of Super Bock at present. It would be nice to see some craft Portuguese beers in London - perhaps some Sovina or Mediaevalis?
Between four we ordered eleven dishes (and all the puddings) which was just about right. We didn't delve in to the cheese or cured meat sections, but we covered pretty much everything else. First to arrive was Scallops with Brown Butter and Walnuts - a no brainer from their House Tinned Fish section, unsurprisingly presented in a tin, with plenty of bread to mop up the buttery leftovers. Then came Prawn Rissóis (fried croquettes) which are often eaten cold in Portugal. These were hot half-moon humdingers - order several.
Two vegetarian dishes came next - a colourful plate of Chicory, Massa de Pimentao with Pear & Almonds and Wild Garlic, Asparagus & Fennel Migas. In the former, the peppery sauce kept the pear mostly at bay, and almonds passed me by, but you couldn't miss the chicory. Meanwhile, migas is a traditional Portuguese (or Spanish) bread pudding, usually made with leftovers. Here it was soaked in fennel and topped with the rest - very enjoyable, though a stretch to share between four!
|Chicory, Massa de Pimentao, Pear, and Almonds|
Ask nicely and you might get some off-menu Cuttlefish Rice in a rich broth - one of the highlights of the meal. And then go and order the delicious Cuttlefish & Pigs Trotters Coentrada so that it doesn't feel left out. Both are fine examples of the cuttlefish genre. Yes, that's a genre.
|Cuttlefish & Pigs Trotters Coentrada|
Moving on, Corvina and Picadito Algarvio is a stunning plate of white fish, "similar to seabass, but much tastier" according to one of several charming waiting staff that keep us informed, fed and watered throughout. Apparently, the corvina is caught around 6am in Portugal, and it makes its way to London for 6pm, so it's pretty fresh. And he's right, it is tastier than seabass, or at least our one was.
The last of the small plates was Bisaro Pork Tartare, Cozido Broth and Cabbage, another rich and moreish dish. Google tells me that Bisaro is a Central and Northern Portuguese pig, part-boar, of Celtic origins. Supposedly they originated in Gaul. All I can tell you is that it goes well with cabbage.
|Bísaro Pork Tartare, Cozido Broth and Cabbage|
According to Nuno, you've got to finish off with a sandwich. Or two. Pork Bifana with Yeast Mayo and Fennel had great flavours but some pretty gristly meat, so Beef Prego with Prawn Paste and Wild Garlic came out on top. Both benefitted from glorious bread, divided up with fancy knives that Nuno has a stake in (sorry). They are going to start selling them soon hopefully. Nuno Knives? NuNives? I'll stop.
|Beef Prego, Prawn Paste, and Wild Garlic Sandwich|
Naturally we ordered all of the desserts. Bolacha Maria Cake with Butter Cream & Coffee was lovely but forgettable. It's a cookie based cake that caught on during the Spanish Civil War, but apparently it was created in 1874 by an English baker. Feel free to dispel that. In the absence of some classic Portuguese Nata tarts, Tigelada, Rice Milk & Orange filled the custard void in style. It was served in rectangular slabs, presumably having been cut from ceramic bowls (cooked crème brulée style).
Even better was the Abade de Priscos and Port Caramel, a Portuguese BACON PUDDING named after Abbot Joaquim Manuel Rebelo from Priscos in Braga - recipe here. It's presented as a bright orange bar floating in a boozy bath - I'd rather see both the Abade de Priscos and the Tigelada in their traditional shape and form, but I can imagine that's of less interest to those who have been eating them all their lives.
That brings me to the showstopper, the Olive Oil Pao de Ló - a gooey, eggy, oily sponge cake, undercooked to perfection and comically plonked on the table in a paper bag. Grab your spoons and dive in - there's plenty to go around.
|Olive Oil Pao de Ló|
|Gooey Olive Oil Pao de Ló|
|Eggy, Gooey Olive Oil Pao de Ló|
What a damn fine lunch.
I make that about 15-0 to Portugal sem vinho. What have you got Spain? Over to flatmate Ali...
Tuesday 5th May - The evening started with a tequila tasting session in Clerkenwell which we sadly had to leave before getting to the really good stuff (añejo), but dinner and drinks at Rosita & The Sherry Bar on Northcote Road in Battersea more than made up for it.
Cristina who, with her husband, runs both Rosita and Lola Rojo (a few doors down) welcomed us and explained the concept behind Rosita: introducing patrons to sherry by pairing their impressive range with the finest tapas. There aren’t many places offering us Londoners sherry (see also Drakes Tabanco), and when Cristina presented us with a booklet showing us the varieties, my ignorance was confirmed. Who knew there were so many types?
They range from the almost savoury Fino, which is the colour of white wine – this was the only one I’d had before – right the way through to the very dark and sweet Pedro Ximénez, which reminded me of malt loaf (in a good way).
Sherry bluffing time. Fino & Manzanilla are aged under a thin film of natural yeast called flor that prevents oxidisation, leading to the tangy, rancio, quality. Manzanilla is the saltier as it is cellared near to the sea. An aged Fino eventually becomes an Amontillado once the flor dies and the sherry begins to oxidise.
|Amontillado La Cigarrera|
Oloroso meanwhile is matured sin flor so it has contact with the air throughout the maturation process leading to fuller-bodied but still dry sherry. They are often sweetened to become Oloroso Dulce or Creams. The Pedro Ximénez & Moscatel sherries are made from the sun-dried grapes of the same name and, as such, are pretty indulgent. But that's enough technical stuff - we can discuss the Solera system another time (N.B. not to be confused with the Sun & planets and stuff).
|All the oxidised sherry - Oloroso, Oloroso Dulce, Cream and PX x2|
In true tapas style, we settled ourselves at the bar, and Cristina and her staff brought us glass after different glass of sherry, each paired with a couple of outstanding tapas plates. By the end of the evening, we’d tasted eight: a Fino, a Manzanilla, an Amontillado (La Cigarrera), an Oloroso (Maestro Sierra), an Oloroso Dulce (Cristina), a Cream (Solera 1847) and two types of Pedro Ximénez (Emilio Hidalgo and Maestro Sierra). We'll be back for the Mozcatel and Palo Cortado to complete the set.
We were narrowly divided on favourites. I enjoyed the salty Manzanilla (a bottle called I THINK, “En Rama”, La Guita), and Matt settled on the Fino (Maestro Sierra). Although, stiff competition from maltloafy PX at the other end of the spectrum.
|Manzanilla I THINK "La Rama", La Guita|
So far, I’ve focused on sherry at the expense of the superb food, which is equally deserving of attention, especially as we ate eleven plates of the stuff. Don’t leave without trying the Leche Frita (literally fried milk, but here an awesome custard and cinnamon flavoured dessert from the Basque region of Spain). Or the Iberian Chorizo. Or the Crispy Aubergine. Or the Josper grilled Octopus. Or the White Anchovies, the Chicken Croquetas and the Sherry & Oxtail Empanadillas. Oh, you get the picture. In fact, look at the pictures...they’re below. And then pay Cristina and Rosita a visit to see, and taste, for yourself.
|Crispy Aubergine, Sweet Tomato and Balsamic|
|Roast Chicken Croquetas with Vegetables and Tomato Sauce|
|Octopus with Potatoes and Mojo Canario|
|Roast Pumpkin, Beetroot, Carrot and Blue Cheese "Cabrales"|
|Oloroso Sherry & Oxtail Empanadillas|
|FRIED CUSTARD! Leche Frita, Vanilla Ice Cream and White Chocolate Sauce|
Go for one of their very affordable set menus and chuck in a sherry flight or two. And if you are feeling brave, head down on a Sunday night for Flamenco with your tapas.
If we're counting booze, I make that Spain 19-18 Portugal. Back to you Matt.
Thanks Ali - Only one winner here: London.
P.S. If you are a Battersea local like myself, you might want to check out St.John's Hill Fabulous Feast - a week-long celebration of food and drink from 18th – 24th May. Special £15 menus will be served at participating venues on the Hill including Powder Keg Diplomacy, Ben's Canteen and Fish Club.
The Fabulous Feast ends with a massive street party and food festival on Saturday 23rd May from 11am – 5pm with local traders of the Hill running food & drink activities such as cooking lessons, tastings and demonstrations. The Great Battersea Bake Off will once again return after the success of last year's event. Get involved!