Thursday, 18 October 2012

Tramontana, Shoreditch


Poor old Brindisa. Once upon a time they were the unchallenged masters of Spanish food in London, beloved by punters, raved about by critics, showered with awards. Then one day some upstart employee called José Pizarro gets ideas above his station and decides to open his own place, an insultingly short walk away from the Borough Market flagship bar. And as if that wasn't enough, next thing you know this José character has them queueing out of the door every night and starts collecting awards like they're going out of fashion. The cheek.


Of course, they have nothing to worry about. While faddish foodies (guilty) chase after the novelty and the new, Brindisa's mini chain of restaurants (now four in number) has been quietly and confidently getting on with producing some of the best Spanish food this side of the Pyrenees. I have never had a bad meal at any of their sites, and if last night is anything to go by, the latest addition to the fold will be nothing but another roaring success.

Tramontana have kept the basic internal layout of previous occupant Saf, but the vast open kitchen has really come alive now it's hung with legs of ham and lit by flaring pans instead of being a plating area for sad little piles of vegan food. (I'm told Saf have a stall in the food hall at Whole Foods Kensington these days, if you miss them terribly. Anyone? No, didn't think so.) It's a really lovely room, and the quiet garden out back will be fantastic, too, once summer returns - in the pissing October rain it's a slightly less attractive option.


There wasn't much to fault with any of the food. Boquerones were sharp and soft, draped over rustic house potato chips. Croquettas, while not quite as good as the supremely accomplished versions from the Other Place on Bermondsey Street, still were perfectly good, stuffed full of rich béchamel and salty nuggets of Iberico ham. And a separate plate of Iberico ham - surely a foodstuff that's as close to proof of the existence of God as you can find - was utter perfection, sliced into exact squares each containing just the right amount of fat and meat.


A daily special of mushrooms and truffle was probably only disappointing next to the quality of other dishes, but I did think it could have done with a lot more truffle and a lot more seasoning. Fortunately the same criticism couldn't be levelled at some little slices of cured tuna, which were incredibly punchy - pretty little things too, glowing in deep red.


Strangely, considering I've spent most of my holidays in Girona every year since I was 8 years old, this was the first time I've ever had fideuà. Best described as a Catalan version of a paella made with noodles instead of rice, this version contained huge, meaty prawns and cubes of squid, the noodles clumping together in satisfying chunks. Bacalao (Catalan for salt fish) was gorgeous too, moist and rich and balanced on top of a commendably light mayonnaise.


Then finally, if Tramontana hadn't already ticked enough boxes in my personal "how to do restaurants right" list, they also do a burger. The slider-size "black and white" is made from white Catalan butifarra sausage and morcilla (black pudding), and is so good it even gives the Opera Tavern's Iberico & foie gras version a run for its money. And at £4.50, it's also a bit of a bargain.

With a £30 bottle of Fino, all this came to just over £97 including service, and between three people I think that's very fair. In all honesty, I knew I was going to enjoy Tramontana - I've been a fan of Brindisa for almost as long as they've been serving food in London. But a restaurant as enjoyable and accomplished as this is never simply inevitable. It's the result of hard work, attention to the important details and, of course, being incredibly good at what you do. That their fourth restaurant still has the capacity to surprise and delight is testament to an extraordinary talent, and London is all the richer for having them.

9/10

Tramontana on Urbanspoon

11 comments:

Lizzie Mabbott said...

It does look very good indeed. I've only been to Tierra Brindisa which was okay, largely forgettable but Barrafina still takes top spot for me. At least there I don't have to deal with men lounging over the bar, sticking their backsides into the small of my back (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, PEOPLE FREQUENTING JOSE).

grazingatlarge said...

Don't know which is better, discovering that this joint is good or that Saf is gone. A bit surprised though at your ascerbic aside about Saf since you originally gave it 8/10. What changed?

Hannah BurgersAndBruce said...

£4.50 for a burger! I'll be trying that - looks delish.

Anonymous said...

I visited last night after reading your review and was really disappointed! The service was particularly bad, but that is forgivable, even if it's a reason to not return. The food was... OK. Have you been to capote y torros at Gloucester road (or the other 3 in their mini tapas empire there)? It was a slightly, but not much, more expensive meal, but vastly more exciting. Andy Hayler's review is spot on. I felt incredibly shortchanged here. The slider.. isn't really good value, 4.50? When an honest burger and chips is.. 8/9 quid? St John Bread but with no oil or butter? Goat curd and honey was unfortunately the stand out dish and hey, you can't really mess that up! Maybe we just hit it at a bad time?

Chris Pople said...

grazingatlarge: I suppose I quite enjoyed my meal at Saf for the novelty value but nobody really hankers after vegan food do they. I went back after my initial 8/10 and found it all incredibly over-salted. Not sure what had changed.

Anon: You're not the only person to say this. http://www.matchingfoodandwine.com/news/reviews/tramontana_brindisa_lite/

I was talking to Fiona last night and I was baffled how we could have had such different experiences - and it seems you have too. I just don't know! Consider me flummoxed.

GB said...

Yep, I was very surprised. A real shame. Maybe they are finding their feet with the service, and that damaged my overall perception. The Coca De Escalivada was described by our waiter as "like a ryvita". Waiting in a tapas place where an interplay between you and the waiter is quite important really doesn't lend itself to "shoreditch style" service. I thought it was a bit pretentious when a waiter at Capote chided someone for asking for croquettes ("we don't fry anything here") but maybe it's the right track.

Becs @ Lay the table said...

The croqettas and fideuà look amazing!

Hannah said...

I visited Tramontana on Friday 19 October 2012, partly on the strength of this review and partly because it's close to home. I have to agree with pretty much everything that Anonymous has said. The service was lamentable: no-one greeted us at the door so I had to accost one of the waitress to enquire about our table. The food was mediocre at best. Much of it was utterly lacking in seasoning, artlessly presented, and we had to wait ages for it (which we expected in respect of the fideua but not for the green salad or bread). We had the selection of cheeses, which were good, if slightly sweaty - but as Anonymous rightly notes, it's difficult to cock up cheese.

Kush said...

I'm not sure I could stretch to a 9/10 either. Just came back from there and it all started well enough with the ham selection of which two were some of the better ham/salami i've tasted in this country. Then on the fish selection again two of the portions were very well done, the cured tuna was particularly good. From there however it started going down hill. The hamburgers, whilst ok, were forgettable and expensive. The duck egg and potato dish, was overly salted. And the fishy dish with the short noodles was also way over salted. In all honesty how can you get fish and garlic wrong. All in all pretty mediocre. The service was good but then again that not really why you go to a restaurant is it.

Kush said...

I'm not sure I could stretch to a 9/10 either. Just came back from there and it all started well enough with the ham selection of which two were some of the better ham/salami i've tasted in this country. Then on the fish selection again two of the portions were very well done, the cured tuna was particularly good. From there however it started going down hill. The hamburgers, whilst ok, were forgettable and expensive. The duck egg and potato dish, was overly salted. And the fishy dish with the short noodles was also way over salted. In all honesty how can you get fish and garlic wrong. All in all pretty mediocre. The service was good but then again thats not really why you go to a restaurant is it.

Ant Kendall said...

sorry to be a language nerd, but bacalao is Spanish for salt cod and bacalà is Catalan for the same.