Friday, 16 November 2018

Brindisa, Battersea

Ever since my first taste of their Iberico croquettas back in two thousand and *mumble mumble*, I've always had a soft spot for Brindisa. In fact, originally (before José Pizarro's restaurnats stole their crown), it was more than a soft spot - I was completely in love with the Borough Market location, as indeed was most of London; on market days a table there was like gold dust. With a winning combination of friendly service, robustly flavoured (and authentic) Spanish food and that all-important buzzy atmosphere of a restaurant in demand, it was impossible not to enjoy your time here, whether it was 15 minutes for a sherry and plate of hand-carved ham, or a long, boozy trawl through the tapas menu stretching way into the afternoon.

Since then, Brindisas have spread out across London like Spanish flu. Interestingly, some of the sites flirted briefly with regional specialisation such as Shoreditch's Tramontana (Catalan, serving fideuà and calçots) and I believe another was more Basque focussed though don't ask me which one; but these days they're all just Brindisa, serving an interesting and fiercely authentic menu of classic tapas. The latest branch is in Battersea, in the Power Station development and right next to the also-well-worth-a-visit Wright Bros seafood bar. Until the Northern Line extension is finished in God knows when, it's a bit of a bugger to get to, being 15 minutes walk from the nearest station (Battersea Park) and 25 minutes walk to the nearest Tube (Vauxhall), so I can very much recommend taking the Thames Clipper which from Embankment costs £5.50 and affords some fantastic photo opportunities.

Eating with a pescatarian friend is an interesting experience in a Spanish restaurant. Mostly it's fine - with all the ways you can eat cheese, anchovies, prawns and tuna, not to mention whole roast fish and seafood paella, there's more than enough choice if red meat isn't your thing. This bar snack of anchovy 'toast' with black olive tapenade is a perfect example of the Spanish way with seafood - salty and powerfully seafoody, with some great texture contrasts, it's something you'd happily order even if you were a committed carnivore.

Dried tuna is the closest thing to pescatarian ham, and Brindisa do a fantastic version of it under a frisée lettuce, orange and pomegranete salad. Colourful and perfectly seasoned, it's another thing that's dashed to the top end of my favourite Brindisa dishes.

Another one of my favourite things to eat in a tapas bar isn't just pescatarian, or even vegetarian. Ciabatta rubbed with good Spanish tomatoes, garlic and olive oil is one of a tiny number of completely vegan dishes that doesn't miss a dairy element at all, and is usually - as it was here - the highlight of a tapas spread.

I liked the idea of serving half a Torta de Cañarejal cheese, upended and warmed through like a mini fondue bucket, with breadsticks to dip. Unfortunately getting any greasy cheese to stick to the smooth breadsticks proved impossible, so we resorted to scooping out lumps of torta with a spoon and then sticking a mini breadstick in them, a tribute to Alan Partridge's savoury 99. Still, this worked well, and it was an excellent cheese. A sheep's milk, incidentally, from Castilla y León.

Although I was quite happy to lean towards the fish and seafood options, there are a couple of things on any tapas menu that, if available, I am literally incapable of leaving without ordering. One, of course, is a plate of Iberico Bellota ham, surely if not one of the world's finest foodstuffs of any kind then the world's actual finest foodstuff of any kind. Carved into neat squares, each containing just the right amount of fat-flesh ratio, this was some good ham work, although I'm guessing due to this odd location being largely deserted during daylight hours, the first few slivers were slightly - only slightly - on the dry side.

The second is a dish made famous by José, Secreto Iberico, a steak from those same acorn-fed pigs, seared rare and here served with a romseco sauce. Though the flavour was wonderful, as it always is, this arrived rather cold and could have done with a far more aggressive char to give it a bit of colour and texture. I'm not sure if Brindisa Battersea have access to a charcoal pit - I'm guessing they don't - and while this doesn't really affect the serving cheese and ham, for the roast meats you really miss it. The version at José in Bermondsey remains the ultimate.

Next, a lesson in Spanish restaurant authenticity. On the menu, this soup was described as "Sopa de Ajo al Punto Picante" and while some more knowledgable diners may know what usually constitutes a bowl of "Sopa de Ajo al Punto Picante" in mainland Europe, I don't think it was unreasonable of my pescatarian friend to rely on the description underneath, "Traditional spicy garlic soup & egg", and assume she could eat it. It arrived, she tasted it, and called over the waitress.

"Excuse me, does this soup have meat in it?"

"Oh, just a tiny bit of ham."

...which is all very charming and Spanish, but faintly irresponsible for a modern restaurant in London. Anyway, I ended up finishing it off alongside my own ham and Secreto, and though it was admittedly lovely - deep and complex with a gently poached egg swirling about in it for extra richness - it was a dish too far for comfort.

To fill the gap left by the soup, my friend ordered a couple of scoops of ice cream for dessert, which were decent if a little miniscule. But no real harm done, I suppose.

Despite the odd slip-up, though, Brindisa, even after all these years and with the choice of Spanish restaurants in London that much more wide-ranging than when they first started doing their thing, is still a reliably excellent place to eat. With a bone dry manzanilla and a glass of rioja, and cossetted by superb service, the evening was just as enjoyable in its own way as when I made the trip also by Clipper to Wright Bros a few months earlier. Clearly, the brains behind the Battersea Power Station complex know a good restaurant when they see one, and this latest incarnation deserves to to just as well as all the rest. I'll almost certainly be back myself.


I was invited to Brindisa and didn't see a bill. I'm guessing the damage would have been about £50/head.

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