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Posts Tagged ‘tapas in London’

Morito

Moro is a great restaurant, but if you want to eat just tapas, you have to sit at the bar.  Cue Morito, a small tapas-only sibling next door.  Almost half of Morito is comprised of bar seating (thumbs up for the under-counter bag hooks), and the other half is made up of table seating.  It’s casual and buzzy and often crowded.

Still, on a recent Monday evening, I was able to snag a table for three, though it was wedged awkwardly in the corner near a waiter’s station.

Morito is a lot of fun.  The tapas are small and most are priced under £4 per plate.  The service was friendly, and most dishes I tried were excellent.  The perfect place to have a drink and catch up with a friend.  (I wouldn’t go with a bigger group – you’ll never get a table).

quail's egg and jamon £4

Winners:

Pepper potato and onion tortilla:  The classic dish, and a good measure of the rest of the tapas to come, I think.  Morito’s had a good firm texture, creamy with potato, sweet from the peppers and onions, and finishing with  a little chili kick.  (£3.50)

Quail’s egg and jamon – Eggs and ham.  It’s salty; it’s creamy.  What’s not to love?  Its prettiness is icing on the cake.  (£4)

spiced labneh with aubergine £4

Spiced labneh with aubergine – tangy, rich labneh perfectly complemented the slightly-sweet-and-smoky aubergine.  (£4)

Puntillitas (aka baby squid) – the perfect bar snack.  Seasoned, breaded and fried.  (£6.50)

Good, but not great:

Red prawns and alioli – Shell-on prawns were sweet but kind of lacking in meat.  And I would love if they’d been more garlicky.  (£6.50)

Salt cod croquetas – I like more creamy bechamel in my croquetas.  Also, bacalao is not my fave.  (£4)

Crispy aubergine with miel de cana – These were way too sugary.  Miel de cana has the strong flavor of molasses.  (£3.50)

Patatas mojo (aka salt crusted potatoes with green chilli and coriander sauce) – Despite the delicious-sounding menu description, these were a bit bland.  (£3.50)

There was an impressively large number of dishes to choose from, and generally, all were pretty good.

With cheap and cheerful tumblers of wine, each of us paid £20.  And because I still had room for dessert, I treated myself to an affogato down the block at Caravan, which is great on atmosphere, coffee and desserts.  (Dinner there, however, was underwhelming, in case you were wondering).

There’s lots of other dishes I wish I’d tried at Morito, including the mussel and chorizo empanadilla, the lamb chops with cumin and paprika, and the spiced lamb with aubergine, yoghurt and pine nuts.

So I’ll be back.  But only with one friend.

Morito, 32 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL; closest tube stations:  Angel or Farringdon, but it’s a healthy 10-15 minute walk, so try to catch a bus like the 38.
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Iberica Food & Culture, 195 Great Portland Street

For my first meal back in London, I wanted something warm and lively.  Something the opposite of Boston’s cold Puritannical image.   Tapas sounded ideal, but the prospect of queuing in the cold to eat at my beloved Barrafina was highly unappealing. So Jon and I decided to try Iberica Food & Culture, which opened in October 2008 but seems to have gotten a lot of generally-positive blogger coverage over the last few months (see these posts by Londoneater, Tehbus, and Londonelicious for example).

The food fell into two buckets, really.  “Pretty Good” and “Kind of Disappointing.”  There was nothing spectacular and nothing horrible.

Here’s the “Pretty Good”:

sweet pigs trotters with Mahon cheese and Iberico ham (£7.00)

Sweet pigs trotters with a sharp Mahon cheese and Iberico ham, all served on a crisp pastry.  I enjoyed all the textures and flavors (salty, citrusy, meaty) but what held the dish back was the somewhat gluey texture of the trotter.  I’d hoped for something more melt-in-your-mouth.  But overall a tasty dish.

black rice with cuttlefish, prawns and alioli (£9.85)

Black rice with cuttlefish prawns is one of my fave dishes to order in Spanish restaurants.  First, there’s the color – squid ink makes everything seem special.  Then there’s the intense seafood flavor soaked into the risotto rice.  Iberica’s version had a texture that struck the right balance between al dente and creamy, but what would’ve made a great dish would have been more cuttlefish and fewer prawns.  An entirely arbitrary preference, I know.

Fried artichokes with pear alioli (£6.85)

Fried artichokes with pear alioli (£6.85)

Fried artichokes with pear alioli have been much written about at Iberico.  And yes, they’re good (unlike my blurry photo).  Crisp with a hint of sourness that artichoke lovers crave.  For me, the appeal was mostly in the accompanying slightly-sweet, garlicky alioli.

And rounding out the “Pretty Good” list was our trio of cheeses (Mahon, Manchego, Ibores) for £4.95.  It was a generous portion and well priced for the quality.  Maybe we could have a little more quince paste next time, though.

The “Kind of Disappointing” dishes:

Marinated tuna loin with mustard, apples and chives (£9.00)

Marinated tuna loin with mustard, apples and chives tasted mealy.  Why serve raw fish if it’s not going to be fresh and refreshing?

Iberica's Version: Broken egg with Iberico ham and fried potatoes (£7.50)

And “broken egg with Iberico ham and fried potatoes” sounded so promising!  Breakfast at dinner.  Who doesn’t love that?  Admittedly, part of our high expectations stemmed from our memory of the wondrous “carpaccio huevos fritos” that we’d had at Barcelona’s Bar Mut last May. Setting aside the camera/lighting issues I had at Iberica, just compare the above photograph of Iberica’s dish with the photo of Bar Mut’s version below. Iberica offered us limp fries with a smattering of yolk. Bar Mut, in contrast, gave us crispy shoestring potatoes in an ocean of egg yolk. You understand my disappointment in Iberica’s version, then.

Bar Mut's version: carpaccio huevos fritos

Iberica’s list of Spanish wines was long, but I was again a little disappointed that there were only two choices from the Ribera del Duero.  Too much Rioja on the list.

The service was efficient, but not especially friendly or helpful (e.g., we had to guess what cheeses we were eating and it was difficult flagging down a server for sherry to go with our cheese).

Without hesitation, though, I’d recommend Iberica for the atmosphere, which was warm and lively.   It was exactly what I was looking for on a Saturday night.  I had a lot of fun, and the food was good enough.  The kitchen’s no threat to Barrafina’s, but then again, it’s nice to be able to make a reservation in advance and sit at a table.

Dinner for two with wine and sherry came to £115.
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arroz negro at Fino

arroz negro with grilled baby octopus at Fino

A couple of weeks ago, while waiting on the hour-and-a-half-long queue at Barrafina, I thought about how lovely it’d be to eat Barrafina’s food without having to wait ages. (It says volumes, by the way, that I still thought the food at Barrafina was worth the wait).

A few days after my re-visit to Barrafina, I saw Tamarind and Thyme’s post on her delicious meal at Fino, the older sibling of Barrafina, where you can eat your tapas *and* make a reservation for a proper table. Sounded perfect. So I called Fino to book dinner on a Friday night with two friends visiting from New York.

Without totally veering off into a full rant, when I called the restaurant, Fino’s receptionist promptly informed me that they’d need the table back in two hours. Now, it’s not that I often sit at a table for more than two hours, but I like knowing that if I wanted to order a few more drinks or linger over dessert, I could do it hassle-free. Isn’t that part of the premium you’re paying for food at a pricey restaurant? It seems many London restaurants think imposing a time limit on your dinner counts as acceptable customer service. I’m not down with that. (Yauatcha is the worst of the bunch – I think they’re down to a sprint-like 90 minutes these days).

Anyway, we showed up on time despite going first to 33 Charlotte Street and finding it’s a Zizzi (Fino’s entrance is actually around the corner on Rathbone Street, not on Charlotte Street, where one would think 33 Charlotte Street would be found).

Our server highly recommended (i.e., pushed) the special of the day, a braised leg of lamb, and made a point of checking with the kitchen to confirm it was still available before letting us order it. Ten minutes after we’d placed our order, someone else came to tell us the kitchen had run out of the braised leg of lamb. At this point, it was around 8:15 pm, so it seemed odd that the specials would be gone already. Not a huge deal, but between the reminder that I had to give back my table at a certain time and the minor hassle of having to order more food after I thought I’d gotten ordering out of the way, I wasn’t enjoying myself.

clams with ham at Fino

clams, sherry and ham at Fino

And the food wasn’t nearly as across-the-board good as it is at Barrafina. Maybe it would’ve been different if we’d called ahead and ordered cochinillo like Tamarind and Thyme did. Maybe then we wouldn’t have ordered so much tapas and found that while half the dishes were pretty good, the other half were pretty awful.

For example, being one of the legions who love Barrafina’s razor clams, I was sorry to see no razor clams on the menu at Fino. But we settled for the “clams, sherry and ham,” which clams turned out to be chewy and flavorless. Our table picked at the ham bits, which were as good as boiled bits of ham can be, but at £8.70, this dish left me feeling robbed.

lamb cutlets

lamb cutlets

Several orders of lamb cutlets and an order of rump lamb were tender and juicy. Very good, though the sauce accompanying the cutlets didn’t add much (other than a few gazillion calories).

Other winners of the evening were the the arroz negro with grilled octopus (creamy and soft baby octopus melting into the rich earthiness of black beans), crab croquetas, classic tortilla and pan con tomate (the last three almost identical to the excellent versions at Barrafina, with the crab being a higher-end version than the ham one at Barrafina).

Severe disappointments (aka insults to how hard I work for the money I spent at Fino) included the asparagus (four grilled-to-mushiness spears for £7.50), the arrocina beans (described as being cooked with morcilla, but really, I didn’t see any sausage in there, which made the dish just a soupy mess of beans for £7.80).

Overall, dining at Fino was a mixed bag. Our meal might have ended on a high note with two orders of the freshly-fried, light-as-air donuts (they’re excellent and I can’t deny that Tamarind and Thyme’s photo of her Fino donuts heavily motivated me to make a booking). But instead it ended on a sour note when we were rushed away from our table upon the arrival of the two-hour-deadline.

freshly-fried donuts at Fino

freshly-fried donuts at Fino

At £160 for four with wine, our meal cost (on a per person basis) about what we usually spend at Barrafina. That said, I’ll take the queue and barstool seating at Barrafina any day over a pre-booked, sit-down meal at Fino. You could undoubtedly have a great meal at Fino if you ordered very carefully (or were v. lucky – in which case, I’m taking you to Vegas), but I’m just too lazy to bother.

Fino, 33 Charlotte Street, W1T 1RR (entrance on Rathbone Street), 0207 813 8010; closest tube station: Goodge Street
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Barrafina restaurant interior

Barcelona was one of the first European cities Jon and I visited after we moved to London, and right now, as the temperature hovers at 40F, I can think of nothing better than the Mediterranean life of Barcelona. Second best option: a stop in Soho at Barrafina restaurant, which is modeled on the lively and delicious Cal Pep in Barcelona.

Ham croquettes, Barrafina restaurant, Soho, London

Even on a Monday night, Barrafina was packed. No reservations, so you show up and wait your turn for a coveted bar stool. Luckily, you can order off a limited menu while waiting, so Jon and I flagged down one of the surprisingly friendly waiters (surprising because they look so harried) and got ourselves set up with manzanilla, ham croquettes (£4), and jamon de jabugo (£12.50). Time flies when you munch on crispy fried croquettes and fatty, melt-in-your-mouth iberico ham. (more…)

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Moro Restaurant exterior, London

Every time I travel to Spain, I get psyched for tapas. But then I inevitably overdo it and learn the meaning of having too much of a good thing. I usually return to London totally uninterested in having tapas ever again.

Luckily, there are long enough gaps between trips to Spain which must be filled with a tapas run or two in London. And my favorite places to get tapas in London, Tapas Brindisa and Moro, are closely related to Brindisa deli, a well-stocked Spanish gourmet shop with locations in Borough Market and Exmouth Market. (Moro gets some of its most delish inventory (i.e., jamon iberico and chorizo) from Brindisa, which just happens to have a location next door to Moro).

Brindisa Shop, Exmouth Market, London

So, the trick with Moro is that it’s packed every night of the week, which means that because Jon and I never plan ahead enough to make a reservation, we end up calling the resto at the last minute and getting a really early (7 pm) or really late (10 pm) table. And even at those early or late hours, the tables are full.

Why so popular?

(more…)

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Tortilla espanola at El Faro, Canary Wharf

The lunch options aren’t awful near my office, but they are severely limited. The Jubilee Place Mall complex at Canary Wharf is just chain after chain after chain. Pret can spice up my life only so much with the “sandwich of the week,” and even if I could stomach the “Super Salmon 3 Ways” sushi box at Itsu five days a week, my wallet would cry for mercy at spending £50 a week on ho-hum lunches.

What this means is that after almost two years of eating at the same big-chain places, I now try to bring my lunch to work. And when I do eat out, I try to make it a proper sit-down meal at a (non-chain) restaurant.

Exhibit A: Today, my friend Srishti and I had lunch at El Faro, a Spanish restaurant far (i.e., a 15-minute walk) from the homogenized world of Canary Wharf.  The restaurant is perched on one of the many waterways that snake through the Docklands, tucked away in the Harbour Exchange office complex. There are outdoor seats right next to the water, and the two-story interior is airy and large.

The service was attentive (key when you want to get in and out during a lunch break), and the tapas was, overall, very good.  The patatas bravas at El Faro are perfection itself. I hate to keep raving about the humble potato, but I can’t help being a sucker for crispy-on-the-outside, soft-and-sweet-on-the-inside potato dishes. The patatas bravas here are served with a creamy and strong garlic aoli, and the serving size is big enough to share four ways.

Pimientos del Padron, El Faro restaurant, Canary Wharf

Tortilla espanol (photo at top of post), pimientos del padron (photo above), and fried calamari rounded out my favorite tapas for being good examples of simply-prepared food made with quality ingredients.

Gambas al ajillo (shrimp in butter and garlic) were overcooked, which is a super disappointing waste of good, sweet shrimp. The coca con anchoas (anchovies and grilled vegetables on flatbread) was highly recommended by our server, but for £7.50 it was a total waste. The saltiness of the anchovies overwhelmed the grilled vegetables, and the flat bread was a thin cracker that turned soggy because everything was swimming in olive oil.

The bottom line is that El Faro is a nice place to sit on the rare sunny day, and if you stick with simple dishes, you should be all set on the food front. If you’re only two people, I’d order four tapas plates, at most. Srishti and I were dumb to order seven, which meant our tab unnecessarily hit £45. Most of the tapas dishes cost between £4 and £7.

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