Tapas

Kopapa – Seven Dials

Generally, the only time I go around Covent Garden area is when I have tickets to the ballet. Otherwise, it’s too busy with tourists and full of mediocre and overpriced restaurants. Therefore, I admit I was a little dubious of Kopapa. It’s technically in Seven Dials, which is the area north of Long Acre with the cobblestone streets, cute independent stores and restaurants (home of Neal’s Yard Cheese Shop, for example), and the tiny deathtrap of a roundabout where taxis speed by without care or regard for the fleeing pedestrians.

Kopapa is situated at the apex of the SE spoke Seven Dials spokes. It has a pretty slick, but equally comfortable interior. Despite it being Tuesday, the place was hopping and we very nearly didn’t get a table. I’m so glad we did though because I truly enjoyed the experience, not least of which the service, which from start to finish was perfect.

The menu is small plates-based, but with no particular affiliation to a cuisine. In one menu you go from pork belly to bruschetta to soft shell crab tempura. It could have been a disaster, but on the whole (barring one stand-out miss) it stood up to scrutiny. A credit to executive chef Peter Gordan and his team.

The aforementioned pork belly (£8.80) was savoury and sweet, with sweet potato dumplings and chilli pickled plums, though the crackling lacked the crunchiness that would have made it perfect.

Spring rolls of slow roasted duck leg, Sichuan pepper, feta & guindilla chillies with tamarind aioli  (£8.10) were surprisingly meaty’, not just your average duck spring roll starter.

We also enjoyed the butternut squash risotto and burger, both massive portions and altogether enjoyable.

In fact the only true miss of the night was the calamari, which was unfortunately overcooked and way too salty – a real shame as the aioli it was served with was excellent.

Desserts were lovely, although there was a distinct lack of chocolate-based treats, if I’m honest. I went with the passionfruit brûlée and palm sugar tapioca substituting a mouth-watering honeycombe ice cream for the coconut sorbet it was meant to be served with (hate coconut, sorry).

I always feel weird gushing about a place, especially if I learned about it through a PR pitch (full disclosure below), but honestly Kopapa was great. With drinks and wine and a few extras, it wasn’t a super cheap meal (£120), but anyone on a budget could certainly scale it down. I’ll definitely be back.

Full disclosure: I was given a voucher in the amount of £100 to dine at Kopapa. Though I did not personally pay for the meal (apart from the £20 we went ‘over’), I was completely anonymous and the evening represented a typical ‘off the street’ experience.

Kopapa on Urbanspoon

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Sirous – West Hampstead

It was a Friday and I was working late. No fun at all. Plus, my dad was still visiting and I hadn’t found a place to eat. I suggested somewhere in West Hampstead as that’s where he was staying, and it’s not too far from my flat. Only issue was that I’m not that familiar with West Hampstead and I hadn’t made a booking anywhere. I was cranky and feeling picky. I didn’t really want a loud pub atmosphere (this is World Cup time, mind you), my dad still wasn’t used to London prices and I couldn’t pinpoint anything I was in the mood for food-wise.

We ended up at Sirous because – hey, tapas – you can get anything you want. We were seated in the middle of the restaurant next to a large party who were – honest to god – the loudest table I’ve ever heard in my life. The restaurant is confined too, so we couldn’t get away from it.

We weren’t too hungry, so opted to just share a few plates. First up, the Goat Cheese Ratatouille:

This was horrible. Honestly, a terrible dish. The tomato sauce tasted like something out of an out-of-date jar from Iceland, the vegetables were completely overcooked. The goat cheese was ok, but was completely over shadowed by everything else.  With it, my mood plunged deeper into the dumps.

Luckily, the Mushroom Tortilla began to redeem the evening:

A nice flour tortilla, stuffed with veg, chopped mushrooms and just the right amount of coriander. This could easily have been a heavy wrap, but instead it was the perfect size.

Next up, the Seafood Paella (for one):

I couldn’t believe this was supposed to be for one person! At about £12, it was an incredible deal and really really tasty. All the seafood was cooked well, not too rubbery. This dish alone completely made up for the atrocious ratatouille.

I wish the meal was more ‘even’. I hate having such conflicting feelings about a place. It usually then just has to average to ‘It was alright, I guess.’ Go for the paella if you live in the area, and it’s off-peak hours. (I forgot to mention the Spanish music that started around 9pm and made attempt at conversation even more impossible than the loud people next to us).  I’d skip it otherwise.

Sirous on Urbanspoon

Barrica – Fitzrovia

How many tapas places are there around Goodge Street now? Seven? Eight?  I lose count.  All I know is that now, I *think* I’ve been to at least half.

Located in the former space of the doomed-to-fail-risotto-bar, Oooze, Barrica is the latest (it’s been there for maybe half a year?) Spanish joint to grace the oversaturated market of small plates restruants in Fitzrovia. I went there with my Romanian friend Mihnea who had just moved to London.  We originally just wanted to go for a drink, but the tapas looked to good to pass up.  Looking only for a snack, we split three small dishes:

Salt Cod Croquets:

Braised Veal Cheeks:

Slow-roasted pork and pimentos:

All were lovely, the the veal cheeks in particular stood out. Braised in the dark sticky sweet sherry, Pedro Ximenez, the veal was incredibly tender – served with a light fluffy mash that just melted in your mouth.

The service was adequate. They weren’t too busy, and we were sat at the bar, but somehow it was still difficult to get people’s attention.  I’ve come to expect that in London nowadays though, so no big deal.

I’d put Barrica on level with the Salt Bar, but certainly not on the level of the near-by Fino or (I hear, but have yet to try), Barrafina. A decent place, that I think would do better in my eyes had it not so much competition around.

Barrica on Urbanspoon

Fino – Fitzrovia (Second visit)

Oh, Fino – how I love thee…

My first experience at Fino was a little over a year ago when I went with a friend visiting from the States. It was before this blog had a proper form (but that doesn’t mean I didn’t take a lot of pictures). We had done some mega restaurant research and knocked off Galvin at Windows (thumbs up), St John (love), Maze (really love), Sake No Hana (meh) and Hakkasan (double meh) in a week. Fino was to be the last hoorah. And what a hoorah it was. I had it built up in my mind over the next 12 months, and when I finally went back I was terrified it would no longer be what I imagined.

Thank god I was wrong. Fino is, without a doubt, my favourite tapas restaurant in London. It’s one of those rare places that every dish that comes out is equally as good as the last.

Please excuse the crap iPhone photos – they do the dishes no justice!

A lovely Crisp Pork Belly was indeed very crisp in all the right places, and absolutely bursting with savoury spices.

Fino

Brushed with a slightly sweet glaze, the Stuffed Squid was perfectly cooked – not a hint of rubbery texture.

Fino

The Chorizo Chips were delicious fried morsels of spicy cured meat.

Fino

And the Ham Croquetas were just as tasty as I remembered.  How they make a huge fried ball of cheese taste like you’re eating a cloud, I’ll never know

Fino

Dessert was their absolutely gorgeous Cinnamon Doughnuts and a sort of Chocolate Parfait thing that I can’t remember the proper name of. Both delicious, but the fried bits of dough with ice cream were my pick.

Fino

Fino

Dining with one other, four small plates and two desserts was more than enough. With wine and service, the bill came to about £68, more than worth it. But I will warn, it’s pretty easy to get carried away here, and things do add up, so watch out. Throwing another bit of chorizo on the table could bump the bill up pretty quickly.

Go here, now.

Fino on Urbanspoon

The Salt Yard – Fitzrovia

I love getting surprise visitors.  Earlier this month, I got an e-mail from an old Pacific Rim restaurant colleague who was going to be in London for a couple days chaperoning a group of students in the hospitality programme at my old University, wanting to know if I was around for a drink.  I suggested meeting the The Salt Yard for some wine and tapas.

After the initial catch-up chat, we opt for some food. We each chose two dishes. Stupidly, I forgot my camera, and had to make do with  low-light and an iPhone, hence the crap quality photos.  Apologies.

First up, the Jamon Croquetas with Manchego:

The Salt Yard

Really nice! The manchego filling was creamy, but it could have had a bit more oomph.

Chris really wanted to get the Cornish Mackerel Tartare with Apple, Celeriac and Coriander Shoots:

The Salt Yard

Here’s another offender in the ‘let’s not put cucumber on the menu description, but stick it in the dish anyway’ list.  I had one bite before the throat started to contract. I’m sure it was lovely, but it wasn’t for me. Not their fault entirely, of course – just my stupid aversion to cucumber.

My second choice was the Saffron Arancini with Mussels, Crab, Squid and a Chilli Aioli:

The Salt Yard

These were amazing!  Delicious saffron risotto balls with seafood.  It was like having fried paella morsels.  I could have had 3 more orders.

Chris chose what was listed on the menu as: Patatas Fritas with Romesco and Aioli. Really, we should have known that meant ‘chips’. I’m a bit ashamed that I didn’t.

The Salt Yard

These were just alright.  The romesco sauce was nice (and the reason Chris wanted to go with this dish), especially when mixed with the aioli, but still – they were just chips. I’m such an idiot – can’t believe we were swayed by menu descriptions in another language. Sheesh.

A couple wins, a couple losses.  There’s a lot on the menu I didn’t try that looked good, so I’ll definitely go back.  Thus, the beauty of tapas.

But please – Restaurants of London – I beg you: When you put cucumber in your dishes, please list it on the menu!

Salt Yard on Urbanspoon

Ole – Putney

I’ve been making more of an effort to get outside of Zone 1 to eat. So far, it’s been great. Tagine was obviously a great success, I’m supposed to go back to The Exhibit in Balham this Friday and a couple weeks ago, I made it out to Putney to have dinner with my friend Gary Andrews at his favourite tapas place, Ole.

Putney is really inconvenient to get to, I should mention. From work on Tottenham Court Road, it took me a little over an hour. I was starved and late, and feeling generally awful, so when walking into Ole, and pretty much finding it empty – I was ecstatic. Food would be delivered quickly! And my god, was it. Probably less than 10 minutes after we ordered and less than 5 minutes from the point our wine arrived. I was almost suspicious.

Being tapas, we decided to just split everything. I chose two dishes, and Gary chose three.

My two were the gruyere with quince jelly and the croquetas:

ole putney

ole putney

I know it’s a bit boring to do so, but I honestly can’t go to a tapas place without ordering them. I find that it’s quite easy to judge a place based on their staples. Both were adequate, but nothing special (which sums up the restaurant, sure enough). Gruyere and quince jelly is pretty hard to mess up to be honest. I really should stop getting it in restaurants though. I could get it at Whole Foods with a better quality cheese for less money per portion.

The croquetas had different fillings, but I couldn’t for the life of me distinguish which ones were which. Nice breading and just out of the fryer though.

Gary chose the prawns and garlic, the calves liver and chorizo.

ole putney

ole putney

ole putney

Prawns were delicious, but maybe a bit too heavy on the garlic.

The calves liver was the hit of the night. Just a really robust dish served with potatoes and onions. At £6.95, it was by far the largest dish and a total steal.

The chorizo was ok, but I really wish it had come with something. It was a nice portion, but I really could have used some sort of accompaniment. We had bread from the beginning of the meal, which I used to make little chorizo sandwiches out of, but it wasn’t enough.

I’m really glad we went for five dishes. My eyes tend to be bigger than my stomach at places like this, but by the end of the night, I was perfectly satiated.

Ole was good, but I’m not sure I would travel to Putney to go again. Fino, although far far far more expensive, is around the corner from work, and ridiculously amazing.

Ole Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Vinoteca – Clerkenwell

I had been wanting to go to Vinoteca for AGES, and for some reason, it just never worked out. The first time it was a bank holiday, the second time they were just randomly closed and the third time, they were too busy. The fourth time I finally got in – after a 2 hour wait (which was spent at a pub down the street).

If you haven’t gathered, Vinoteca is busy. Always busy. And loud. Too loud. However, I’m willing to ignore these things because A) they have excellent food and B) They have excellent wine.

My friend Dom and I split just a couple small plates.

The cheese plate:

Vintoteca

Brilliant soft, hard and pungent cheese served with a pear chutney, sweet crackers and fresh bread. Yum!

Duck parfait, cornichons and toast:

Vinoteca

Probably a mistake on my part since I hate anything in the cucumber family… the duck was good though and the toast, fresh.

Clams and mussels in a white win and butter sauce:

Vinoteca

Absolutely delicious. Dom and I scarfed these down in minutes, I think. Gold star.

It was actually a while ago that we went here, and silly me didn’t write down what we were drinking, but the wine selection is great. It’s very nice to see different pours on a list that aren’t just Merlot, Cabernet, blah blah blah.

I can’t wait to go back and have a proper meal here.

Vinoteca on Urbanspoon