Monday, 15 May 2017

Tapas Room, Broadway Market Tooting

I've never been short of reasons to visit Tooting; it is, after all, home of my beloved Apollo Banana Leaf, one of London's best (and best value) Sri Lankan restaurants; to Spice Village, the Tayyabs of the South, serving a fantastic menu of authentic Punjabi dishes; and a whole host of other interesting South Indian and Sri Lankan joints all up and down Tooting Road. It's a genuine food destination, and the fact it's only 20 minutes on the 219 bus from my house is, for someone otherwise stuck with the less-than-inspiring selection of restaurants on Lavender Hill (Mien Tay excepted), a real godsend.

But now, Tooting has "gone all Brixton" and the indoor Broadway Market (not to be confused with its namesake in Hackney, or indeed Tooting Market which is also something different) these days plays host to the kind of eclectic group of music stores, bottle shops and counter restaurants that will be very familiar to anyone who's ever wandered through Market Row SW9.

One of the newest arrivals in Broadway is the Tapas Room, a little side project from the Donostia Social Club gang and so already bearing quite a good pedigree. The menu is short - only 3 hot dishes, the rest of it mainly cheese and charcuterie - and simple; there's no leg of jamón ibérico de bellota being carved, for example (there's no room, for a start), and no fancy cuts of presa or secreta seared in a charcoal-fired Josper grill. It's closer, in fact, to the kind of stripped-back tapas bar you might find on the streets of Spain than the big-name flagship London-Spanish restaurants such as José or Barrafina.

And yet, in simplicity there is often great beauty. Pan con tomate is basically the Tapas Room in a single dish - bright and cheery, straightforwardly enjoyable but also clearly with a good knowledge of Spanish food having gone into it, it was the best I've tried since Barrafina, and as anyone who's ever tried that will tell you, that's a hell of a compliment. Everything was right about this - excellent quality tomatoes seasoned with big crystals of sea salt, a faint burn of garlic and - most importantly - lightly toasted ciabatta that's not too chewy. A pan con tomate masterclass.

Chicken liver parfait was also a fine example, with a good smooth, light texture and good rich flavour. It came with a pickled fig - presumably pickled in-house though don't quote me on that - which played the part of the chutney which would usually arrive with a chicken liver parfait.

If I was to criticise any aspect of this combined cheese and charcuterie platter - and I will, because that's why you're here - it would be to say that I do not like to see the cheeses touching each other on a board. Cheese is not like ice cream; you shouldn't be eating any more than one kind in one mouthful, and cross-contamination (especially with stronger cheeses) sullies the experience. That said, they were all good cheeses (Picos blue, a washed-rind manchego and a really lovely soft goats whose name I really should have made a note of), served at the correct temperature and so they just about got away with being stacked up like Jenga blocks. And the sausages were all great - a Catalonian fuet, an Iberico salsichon and Basque chorizo which all packed a huge flavour.

At the risk of repeating myself, both hot dishes were also, well, great. First white asparagus, gently charred on the grill and dressed in a romesco/pesto-style combo with a few toasted almonds on top, it was a perfect showcase for this seasonal delicacy.

And then, best-till-last, a giant slab of soft morcilla, toasted to crunchy on the edges but soft and fluffy inside, with a couple of fried quail's eggs on top like big cartoon eyes. Like everything that had come before, it was expertly constructed and confidently presented, unfussy but eminently enjoyable.

With so many fantastic Spanish restaurants in London at the moment, it's very easy, despite our best intentions, to get a bit blasé when yet another lovely little spot appears serving cheese and charcuterie and fried morcilla with quail's eggs. So it's important to never make the mistake of thinking running a place like this is easy - we just happen to have a huge number of very talented people here at the moment, who are serving some of the best Spanish food outside of Spain (and, let's face it, inside of Spain as well) for a price (under £20 a head for the food above) that only the most miserly would grumble at. Yes, there are fancier, more expensive and more elaborate places to eat Spanish food, but this is a cuisine defined by its sheer variety. Surely there's Tapas Room for everyone?


We were invited to Tapas Room and didn't pay.


Anonymous said...

Your comment that London restaurants are "serving some of the best Spanish food outside of Spain (and, let's face it, inside of Spain as well)" is ill informed and chauvenistic in the extreme. Spain probably has the best mid-range restaurants in Europe, vegetables, fish, sea food, game and meat far superior to anything regularly seen in this country and it has a genuine regional food culture. Plus the normal mark-up on wine is about 50 percent, compared to 400 percent in London. And the comment above comes from a man who has just given 8/10 to some very ordinary tapas, 4 of which were smothered in "Spanish" pesto and several of which would probably be free in Madrid with a drink.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Was the green pesto/oil dribble the same on all the dishes, or were the flavours different?

Chris Pople said...

Anon: For about 20 years until 3-4 years ago I visited Spain about 3 or 4 times a year. The last 5 or 6 of those years I had the food blog and was determinedly seeking out good places to eat - checking reviews, guides, travelling quite big distances in search of good restaurants. Outside of Can Roca and El Bulli (and even El Bulli wasn't perfect) my experience was of sad wilted salads, stale bread and always terribly poor service. Maybe I was incredibly unlucky, but the Spanish food I've had in London is of a huge magnitude better than 99% of anything I had in Spain. I can only report on my own experiences, but there they are. As to this specific review, the food at Tapas Room stands very well up to anywhere else in London.

Alicia: I think they were the same but I could be wrong. It's funny at the time I didn't notice how everything had that oil on!

Anonymous said...

Different Anon here but Chris, I'm sorry your holidays to Spain do not make you an authority on Spanish food. I appreciate your blog is your opinion but when you say:

'checking reviews, guides, travelling quite big distances in search of good restaurants. Outside of Can Roca and El Bulli (and even El Bulli wasn't perfect) my experience was of sad wilted salads, stale bread and always terribly poor service.'

You show your lack of knowledge. Those restaurants are not Spanish food, they are Haute Cuisine of the Spanish restaurant industry. Places visited by people not looking for Spanish food but rather food by Spanish Chefs.

Drive into any town in Spain, find an Asador and you will get a well seasoned piece of lamb, roasted in it's own juices cooked in a wooden fire - not because it is a food trend currently but because the place was built with the oven a hundred years' ago.

When you go on holiday to Benidorm, go to Alicante which has a lovely old town, is a real city, lived in by Spaniards. The food market there is an actual food market, not a spruced up tourist destination. Upstairs you can get genuine tapas - not bruschetta dressed up as pan con tomate. The same goes for Malaga, for Sevilla and Huelva. Going to San Sebastian does not make you a tapas (sorry 'pixto') expert, it means you ate somewhere rather popular without the knowledge or context of what else is out there. Take a weekend in Burgos, stick your head in a bar and see what montados you are given for your €1.50 caña.

I grew up in Spain, and am living here again now, from 2002-2016 I was in London and the absolute only half decent place in London was Jose until he opened too many places and lost the decent FOH team there. Everything else, Barrafina etc, were designed for the London market and hence are adored by individuals such as yourself.

The above is not meant to be rude, and I know as a blogger you need to write content but your comment about Spanish food is so off the mark I felt I had to write something.

Chris Pople said...

Anon 2: As it happens, I am due to go to San Sebastian later this year and I am really looking forward to it. I don't claim to be an authority on Spanish food (obviously, as I don't claim to be an authority on ANY food. On anyTHING for that matter) I was just making a slightly clumsy point about having found much better food in London than anything in Spain. As you say that's probably just to do with not going to the right places, but I really was trying - not just the Michelin starred places but the local favourites etc. Didn't mean to sound dismissive of course, blame the jovial style of the blog...

But yes, point taken. The food you describe does sound wonderful, I just bloody wish I'd found some of it when I was there!

Anonymous said...

Could y'all stick some more green oil on ma food?

Thats right It's me again. said...

Not one Spanish Tapas bar or restaurant named? out of the many available. We had some nice take away in Andalucía. North Spain also. Mostly from Deli's. Some of the small markets (Roses and more)served us some amazing things. Ramblas was too big, tourists are easy prey. I saw the El Buli film, came to the conclusion Gordon Ramsay is better. London is the coolest, it has some charlatans among it though, which C&B is highlighting, so we don't fall prey to them. I love the look of this place :)Great review.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading Anonymous May 15th comment on the "ill informed" and "chauvinistic" quote from the article, and then go on to say "vegetables, fish, sea food, game and meat far superior to anything regularly seen in this country". Absolute tosh. Spain does have some fantastic produce, but SO DOES THE UK! If you look, you'll see incredible quality of vegetables, fish, sea food, game and meat, absolutely rivalling the quality of any other European country. No one country has "the best produce", but plenty of great quality. That aside, a lot of the food at The Tapas Room comes directly from Spain.

Anonymous said...

Could not agree more. Food bloggers is London serve their purpose, but they really are nouveaux riches and the ridiculous is never far. The fact that decent food started to appear a few years sort of give them the impression they live in the "culinary capital of the world" (I actually read that some where). Any small Spanish town has way more better places to eat than London, for a tenth of the price.

Aaron (@1dish4theroad) said...

Thanks for the review, Chris. And this Comment thread has proved quite lively as well! As someone also just a bus ride away from Tooting - and also a big fan of Apollo Banana Leaf (inc devilled mutton fry + mutton roll!), looking forward to trying this tapas place out..

meshack said...

Spanish restaurants in London are the best, thanks for your incredible post and pictures