Blog by: Ema Borges and Paola Bassanese
Photograpy by: Paola Bassanese
It’s May 2013 in London. It’s cold. Duvet is still on, flip-flops are gathering dust.
Ema says: To say that I have a ‘thing’ for tapas is quite an understatement. I’m not sure whether it’s the Iberian blood that runs through my veins, whether I just have a fast ‘picky-food’ metabolism, or whether in some past life I was a Spanish conquistador, I’d like to think a combination of all of the above!
Renaissance fantasies aside, when Paola mentioned a tapas evening I couldn’t resist, and when it turned out we had a similar vision of bar crawling and reviewing, before Paola could say ‘tapastastic’ our tapas bar crawl evening was born!
First stop: Aqua Nueva in Argyll Street
Paola says: we had a selection of two tapas from a set menu which included a glass of cava. I don’t know what they put in those bubbles but there was an extra helping of flirting. We like.
The morcilla was the Spanish equivalent of black pudding but very delicate and with a lovely soft texture from the addition of rice. The cod croquetas were delicious, small, crispy and delicate. They were like the savoury version of Italian frittelle (or, as we called them in Trieste, fritole).
The cava should have its own blog (wait, it will have): wine expert Maurizio explained how their sommellier chooses wines with a distinctive character which you wouldn’t normally find elsewhere. The cavas are aged 15-18 months instead of the usual 6 months of the cavas from the high street.
Ema says: Upon entering Aqua Nueva I knew I was in for a glam experience. Not just from the initial spacious, tiled floor entrance, but then with the lift ride up to the 5th floor, the escorted walk past the Aqua bar and sushi restaurant, and the darkly lit, sumptuous corridor with a fantastically imposing and detailed sculpture of a bull, practically about to charge at you from the end of the corridor! This set me in a Goddess/Matador mood for an experience not to be forgotten.
We sat at the bar stools overlooking chef Alberto at work, and were served a delicious glass of cava. The staff helping us that evening, Paolo and Maurizio, were friendly, personable and talkative, just the right amount of chat without being over-bearing.
The cod croquetas were little crisp bite sizes that you could pop into your mouth in one go; well I certainly could have, but do not fear, I restrained myself and daintily cut through the crisp outer shell to expose the textured and tasty centre. Just as they reminded Paola of the fritoles, I also had a flashback to my mothers homemade Portuguese cod fishcakes.
The morcilla was unlike any I have tasted before, presented elegantly and bound together by the rice that was mixed in. I have been used to full-bodied, rich morcilla, with a love it or hate it distinctive flavour, this however, was subtle and still flavoursome enough to give a first time morcilla eater a very pleasant introduction to it.
Second stop: Copita on D’arblay Street
Ema says: I felt like I was back in the cobbled streets of Madrid here. Although this bar is a lot tidier and quieter than its authentic Spanish counterparts, (bearing in mind it was also a Monday night) suffice to say it still came across as fairly authentic with a warm, rustic kitchen feel.
I was quite impressed with the pulled kid with chermula salsa. The shredded, tender and tasty meat was piled atop a tostada bed, and was very moorish and homely.
Now on ordering the recommended duck egg yolk dish I confess I did mentally brace myself, having quite a passionate aversion to runny, undercooked egg, and as someone who always requests any form of eggs well cooked; I must say I was quite proud of my ‘try anything once’ attitude!
Despite balking at the sight of a completely raw egg yolk resting precariously over the sautéed courgettes and cod, I was pleasantly surprised to find that once you mixed the egg yolk into the rest of the dish, the distinctive combination of flavours worked very well together.
This was all washed down with a glass of tempranillo which ensured we set off to our next venue with a rosy-cheeked enthusiasm!
Paola says: A short walk from Oxford Circus and from a side street appears Copita. Both the outside and the inside of the venue makes you think you are in Spain. Copita has a friendly atmosphere, with long tables designed for animated conversations in large groups. The decor is bright and airy, homely and spacious as the tables are narrow.
We asked for the recommended signature dishes and we shared two tapas: the pulled kid with chermula salsa and the duck egg yolk on sautéed courgettes and cod. The first dish was delicate and strong at the same time as the meat was tender and the sauce was refreshingly spicy. The duck egg has a strong taste and so has the cod: an interesting combination. I think this recipe would be good for those on a high protein or paleo diet.
We were also recommended the prawns with peas and wild garlic… We might try it next time. I thought the cured sardines, shallots and pork crackling combo featured on the menu was pretty extravagant. Again, maybe next time. I would say Copita has an innovative and modern take on Spanish food.
My Tempranillo was aromatic and robust.
Third stop: Pix Pintxos on Bateman Street
Paola says: In the heart of Soho, Pintxos has dark and mysterious decor and the tapas are beautifully presented. We arrived quite late and we were warned that only the dishes on display were available, which was fine. When I asked for their signature dishes I was told their top picks were bruschetta with crushed broad beans, chorizo with manchego and deep-fried olives stuffed with ricotta. As I don’t like cheese I opted for the chickpea and cashew fritter and the potted sautéed aubergines. These were tasty vegetarian options that I would recommend if you don’t eat meat.
I ordered a Rosado wine which was a good accompaniment to the delicate flavours.
Ema says: Also known as Pix bar, this had an interesting ambience. Darkly lit with a combination of a quirky bar/pub/buffet feel to it.
The food was plated buffet style upon entering, served in very small bites held together with toothpicks or served in ramekins with bread on the side. As their website describes, pintxos means ‘spike’ and is known in basque country as a small bar snack.
I chose a skewer of chorizo with manchego cheese which was a satisfying snack, and the potted mackerel with 2 small tostada pieces on the side, which worked well as I could scoop up the mackerel that was more like a chunky pate and quite tangy. I had these tapas with a heavier tempranillo as a perfect accompaniment.
Fourth stop: La Bodega Negra on Moor Street
Ema says: Our last but certainly not least stop took us to this vibrant cafe where dessert was calling after all the savoury dishes!
The ambience here was pretty buzzy for a Monday night, the music was a mesh of funky and eclectic sounds that made me want to get up and dance, and the staff hip and energetic.
The apple tart with cinnamon ice-cream was tantalising, with a delicious blend of spicy warmth and fruity sweetness, both hot and cold to engage the taste buds and to round off our tapastastic night.
We topped off the evening with a tequila shot that left us, shall we politely say, rather jolly!
Paola says: Technically Bodega is a Mexican cafe. Bite me. Our tapastastic evening was coming to a close and it was time for tequila, tortillas and tarts. Apple tarts. With ice cream. And cinnamon.
I had some corn tortillas with guacamole, the tortillas are home-made and very crunchy and the guacamole was refreshing.
I had a bit of apple tart which had a nice combination of acidity from the apples, the aroma from the cinnamon and the velvety smoothness of the ice cream.
The tequila cleansed the palate and it brought the evening to a glorious and giggling end.
Follow Ema on twitter: @dyn4miccalm
Follow Paola on twitter: @paolaenergya
Picture credits: Paola Bassanese