This was a piece I originally wrote for the Brixton Blog, however it transpired I’d totally misinterpreted the brief and reviewed the wrong site – Boqueria recently opened a second branch in Battersea and it was there that I was meant to go.
However, as I’m not capable of much at the moment, I thought I’d post this here for anyone who has tapas cravings in South London.
Tapas sneaks itself onto many menus – wine bars (how terribly 80s), posh pubs, not-so-posh pubs, and many restaurants will do a version of the snack-based selection. It is often used as an excuse for chefs to try and show how ‘multi-talented’ they are which resulted in varying quality which sadly, in my experience, tends to fall on the ‘rather rubbish’ side of the scale (although I have to say the British tapas in the Beer Emporium in Bristol is AMAZING – rare roast beef with horseradish on dripping toast? I think so!).
So what do you do? Well, if you’re in Brixton you actually have a fair amount of choice from Seven at Brixton in Market Row to Boqueria on Acre Lane or some of the other more diverse and Portuguese influenced eateries up towards Stockwell.
But as Boqueria has been on my list for a while, it was up to Acre Lane we went on a quiet, chilly night .
On entering the first thing that struck me was how smart and clean the place is – sometimes in regional restaurants someone feels the need to plaster the walls with cliché in an attempt to make the diner ‘imagine’ themselves to be in the country of origin and it pretty much never works. Boqueria is minimalist, sharp, and high-end yet relaxed and inviting. The long bar stretches towards the door with stools and the odd tall table at one end and the doorway through to the dining room at the back. Immediately you realise that if you just fancied a quick drink and bite (which, after all, is what tapas is all about) you would be just as welcome as if you planned to spend an evening in the restaurant. The staff come out to greet you and very quickly it begins to feel like the beginning of a good time and that is a rare thing in a restaurant these days.
We were asked if we’d booked but as we were arriving at 6.30pm we hadn’t thought to, especially given the day of the week we visited, but this was no problem although we were warned they’d need the table by 8.30 (and looking at their booking sheet they were not lying). And anyway, if push came to shove and we were still there by that time, there would have been no issue with us heading to the bar to finish up.
After a bit of a debate with the waiter about where to sit (the original offering was in a rather, ahem, atmospherically dark corner) we had a good look at the menu and were pleased to see that there were 5-7 choices per section, suggesting a focus on flavour and quality rather than a myriad of disappointment. From the Entrantes we opted for Pan con tomate (bread with tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil) and then a selection from both the Meat and the Traditionales parts of the menu – Patates bravas (the benchmark of any tapas), chorizo in cider, suckling pig (with apple sauce and lemon sorbet), and a soft, mild cheese with quince jelly and tomato jam. That seemed enough to be starting with and we had a fruity, crisp white Legaris wine to wash everything down with.
The first to arrive was the bread and although it didn’t look like much it packed one hell of a flavour punch – mashed raw tomatoes with a hit of garlic and salt, run through with delicate olive oil and served on soft, toasted bread. Sheer delight and gone within seconds. The cheese (which came soon after) looked rather splendid – perfect triangles of pale dairy, dotted with quince cubes, raisins, and a side plate of the tomato jam – but was fridge cold which was a tad unappealing. Once it warmed up however it was a true delight – the mildness of the cheese worked wonderfully with both the quince and tomato which were sweet but not cloyingly so – and it was soon joined by the chorizo, patatas bravas, and an elegant dish of suckling pig balanced on parsnip crisps.
I have to say the patatas didn’t fill me with confidence. I was expecting a rich tomato sauce and a garlic aioli to go over the crispy potatoes but was presented with what looked a suspicious, beige burger sauce. I tried a mouthful and was immediately converted – the aioli/sauce was hot with garlic but sweet with a big whack of tomato and the potatoes themselves were perfectly cooked – lightly crisp on the outside and soft and delicious within, even the ones hiding at the bottom under a layer of sauce still retained their crunch. Fantastic.
The chorizo was deep and smoky with the paprika oils oozing into the cider they had been braised in and was addictively moreish. But the star of show has to be the suckling pig – meat so tenderly soft that it almost fell into a thousand delicate pieces as my fork touched it. Velvety smooth, deeply porky, utterly brilliant – a shining example of slow-cooked perfection. The sauce and sorbet were excellent compliments and I would quite happily have eaten another 2 or 3 portions to myself. No need to order more though – we were quite full by the time our plates were empty.
I sampled a traditional Tarta de Santiago con helado de vainilla (almond cake with vanilla ice-cream) for dessert and was soothed into a very happy place with the moist almond mixture – like a cross between the top of a Bakewell tart and the lightest sponge – but mildly frustrated that my ice-cream was a frozen ball that threatened to jump onto the floor every time I tried to eat it. Patience not being my strong point when it comes to puddings. It melted soon enough and was pretty spot on however.
We had no idea how much we’d spent – Boqueria is listed as a top ‘Cheap Eats’ place but we hadn’t really been paying that much attention (another danger with tapas is the ease with which the cost can spiral when more and more dishes are ordered). We were very pleased to find our total bill coming in at under £60 including wine and service which, for the quality of not just the food but the service and venue, was pretty amazing. And more than enough encouragement to start planning a return visit.
So if you fancy good, confident Spanish cooking in a nice, relaxed, and smart surrounding – head up to Boqueria on Acre Lane (or their second branch in Battersea) – you will not be disappointed!