The 101 of writing is that you always start with something to captivate your reader. I tell this to people I’ve taught to write in the past. As we all know, every good teacher lies and breaks their own rules. Every good teacher also however, works long hour days and becomes fatigued with time. So, I trust you are in a captivate-able mood and allow me to bewitch you with my review, as the title of this post suggests, of Boqueria Tapas on Acre Lane in Brixton.
Pan con ali-oli, as you great linguaphile Brits will know, is garlic mayonnaise. Except it wasn’t garlicly enough at Boqueria Tapas, there was very little flavour – even the olive oil flavour didn’t shine. I needed a bit more *hmm*. My compañera and I couldn’t find the right adjective, but we decided if there was an adjective that sounded like a growl, then that’s what the ali-oli needed. More growl please.
When the Calamares a la romana (deep fried squid and lemon mayonnaise) arrived, we’d almost forgotten that we’d ordered it. We were still picking at the small plates on our table anyway, so it didn’t matter too much that it had come with a substantial ‘interlude’ between the first set of tapas that had been served. Not to worry, we tucked in. The squid itself was hot and freshly cooked as it should be; tender and nothing like the Michelin-tough cephalopods I’ve had in bygone times. And by Michelin I’m referring to the rubber tyres. So far so good. There were a few little things however, the batter was a bit thin and something was lacking. When I bite into crispy fried calamari I want to jump for joy, and I just couldn’t seem to find the jump in this particular dish. I enjoyed the lemon mayonnaise dip though.
Alcachofas salteadas con ajo, perjil y guindilla was a very, very delicious dish. It probably looks the least appealing from all the pictures I have taken, but these sautéed artichokes (served warm) with garlic, parsley and chilli were really fresh and simple. I was struck actually, at how infrequently I eat non-tinned artichokes, so much so that my brain was already expecting the vinegary sour aftermath. It didn’t materialise which made me have second thoughts: “what have I just eaten”? I almost had to do the palate equivalent of a double take. They were a lovely surprise.
The next dish was tortilla española. Could we have chosen anything less adventurous? Probably not. The Welshman sneered at me when I told him that we’d ordered it. But it’s like I said in my last post when I reviewed Amirah’s Kitchen in Wandsworth, you’ve got to check that the establishment is A. capable of the basics, and B. put through their paces. I also need to stop apologising on this blog for what I order. It’s my food and I’m darn well going to eat it.
As the side of my fork pressed into the golden slice of egg, potato and onion, the tortilla crumbled into fluffy semi-aggregated chunks. It was a beautiful, delicate texture and I heaped the morsels into a stable triangle on my fork – like you do when you’re trying to savour every bit of sponge remaining on your plate, long after you’ve finished your allotted portion of cake. The onion, potato, eggs – yes – all the flavours came through and lived up to the very moment I’d pushed through the bronzed top of the tortilla. But hang on a second. What is that? Sweetness. Yes, really sweet! It was not like the sweetness of carbohydrate that finds its origins in a potato. Like caster sugar sweet. This was not good. I hardly ate any more after that, save for the time when I needed a second confirmation on the true seasoning of this dish.
What happened? Had the chef put sugar in instead of salt? It certainly tasted that way. Oh dear.
Patatas bravas were less disappointing. Lovely, perfectly-seasoned potatoes with a millimetre-thin crisp coating were served piping hot. Naturally they were topped with a piquant tomato sauce (could’ve been a dab more piquant for my taste buds, but then I have an asbestos tolerance to chilli), and ali-oli. Weirdly this ali-oli had the ‘growl’ my companion and I had lamented earlier in the evening.
Selección de quesos – it’s no surprise I almost forgot to write about the selection of cheeses. They arrived very late indeed. All our plates, cutlery and empty vessels had been cleared. It was a bit odd. Again, my companion and I had forgotten about this dish – tapas is a very distracting meal and we were getting quite full.
I asked the waiter if he could provide an description of each of the cheeses. He did. It was vague. “This is manchego. This is goat’s cheese.”
“And what is this one please?” I enquired.
“That is blue cheese.”
Revelatory. I can see that. After he had left, my companion and I looked at each other in the eye, sighed, and then laughed out of bewilderment.
Boqueria Tapas is doing some things very well. There’s freshly prepared ingredients – as we saw with the artichokes and patatas bravas – being executed with a degree of authority. Then we see a few inconsistencies or some attention to detail which is missing – such as the calamari, and the ali-oli (I really did want to jump for that calamari, but I just couldn’t).
Then of course there are the points that I don’t want to have to dwell on, nor skip on the basis of fairness. Sweet tortilla, no thanks. Blue cheese? I know that.
The venue itself was refreshing – a little cold – but so much bigger and more contemporary than I expected; there’s a huge area downstairs which caters for parties and a day cafe annexed next door. But going big is ambitious; they need to make sure they find their growl to fill it.
I was a guest at Boqueria Tapas.
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