Monday, 21 March 2016
Lobos, London Bridge
It was while drooling over the fantastic menu at Lobos Tapas in Borough Market I realised that, just maybe, I am a massive hypocrite. If this had been an Italian restaurant, and a menu full of Italian staples such as beef carpaccio with parmesan and rocket, burrata with basil, wild boar pappardelle, etc and so on then I would be the first to criticise their lack of imagination and the identikit Italian Restaurant Clichés and condemn the whole operation as dull and derivative.
But because this is a Spanish restaurant, and because I like things like Padron Peppers, Pan Con Tomate, Iberico ham and Patatas Bravas and would be disappointed not to see them on a Spanish restaurant menu, instead of criticising Lobos' lack of imagination I will praise their drive for authenticity, and say how happy I am to see all my favourite Spanish dishes listed so comprehensively, and priced so well. Does that make me a hypocrite? Or are Spanish restaurant clichés just a whole lot more exciting than Italian restaurant clichés? Perhaps that's an argument for another time.
All that matters here and now is that Lobos, in this charming split-level space tucked beneath a railway arch in Borough Market, have since opening just 8 months ago firmly established themselves as one of the few genuine top-flight Spanish restaurants in London. Have another look at that menu - is there a single thing on it you don't want to eat? Does the idea of ham, chorizo and smoked bacon croquetas fill you with joy? Can you barely wait to get stuck into a tray of expertly hand-carved Iberico ham? Do the words "Iberico pork selection" make your heart all a-flutter? Well then, join the club.
Pan con tomate was the first to arrive, and was about a perfect a version as you could wish for. With just the right balance of tomato, oil and salt (lots of lesser tapas joints load the bread high with chopped tomato; that is not the point of this dish) spread on soft ciabatta, it was the kind of thing that reassured you that you were in safe hands. If you can get pan con tomate this right, the rest of the meal is a sure thing.
As indeed it was. You rarely see a better example of the ham carver's art than this - a neat grid of exquisitely thin morsels, each containing a nearly exact ratio of transluscent moist flesh and white fat. I held one up to the light so you can see how gloriously well it had been carved. And the beauty wasn't skin deep either - it had the deepest, richest nutty flavour of the very best Iberico ham.
Croquettas were smaller than I was expecting, and more numerous, but were otherwise still very enjoyable - little crunchy flavour bombs. If I'm being extra brutal I probably prefer the larger versions from the José Pizarro locations, whose fillings are a little more smooth and refined and casings that bit thinner and more delicate, but we still happily ate them all. How can you not enjoy deep-fried breaded parcels of ham and cheese? You can't, unless there's something very wrong with you.
Secreto Iberico (not that secreto any more but still a relative rarity) was impossible also not to love, chunks of tender pork glistening with fat and bursting with that incredible deep flavour. Accompanying it was a pile of house potato crisps doused in a powerful bright green garlic salsa which tingled addictively in the mouth. It's hard to explain to the unitiated just how much greater Iberico pork is than most if not all other types of pork. Mangalitza and Middlewhite and Old Spot all have their place and can be lovely, but proper Iberico ham from the Dehesas of Western Spain is just on another level entirely.
The only slight disappointment as far as I'm concerned was a green salad, which had quite a bitter dressing and had packed far too many layers of uninspiring and underseasoned raw courgette and lettuce into a small serving tray. In their defence, I will say that from many years of visiting Spain on holiday green salads are most definitely not this nation's speciality, and to that extent this was probably a fairly authentic Spanish green salad. Also my friend quite liked it so maybe it just wasn't for me.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Lobos, given that it's a tiny specialist restaurant in London in 2016, is that you can reserve a table. And what lovely tables, too - cute 2-seater booths done in red leather, served by enthusiastic staff (the owners are ex-Brindisa apparently) who know everything there is to know about Spanish food. True, you may have seen menus like this before if you've visited certain spots in Bermondsey and elsewhere, but who is ever going to get bored of this stuff when it's done so well?
Certainly not me. I will be going back to Lobos as many times as I can to work my way through the rest of the menu, because food like this and menus like this are to be heralded regardless of any notions of authenticity or how many other places in town are selling croquettas or padron peppers or any of the rest of it. Good food is good food, simple as. And the food at Lobos is very good indeed.
Lobos is very likely to be in the next version of the app. Meanwhile if you're in London Bridge area and Lobos is full, use my app to see where else is good. Oh and before you say anything yes, I have a new camera. Still getting to know it but it's still a step up on the iPhone I think you'll agree.