I’ll be telling you all about Omar Allibhoy – the wonderfully talented chef behind Tapas Revolution – in an upcoming post (and reviewing his recently launched cookery book too). But in the meantime, let me urge you to visit one of his two restaurants; you won’t regret it! There you can fill up on dish after dish of Spanish treats, washed down with a glass or two of something wonderful. The original branch is located in Westfield shopping centre (near Shepherd’s Bush, London) and the second branch is in Bluewater shopping centre (in Greenhithe, Kent).
Pete and I visited the Westfield site to interview Omar (about how he came to cooking, about the restaurant, about his motorbike tour of Britain and the cookbook); during our chat the three of us ate our way through a wide swathe of the menu.
The restaurant is bright, light and open to the public, with a small and tidy open kitchen at its heart. Customers perch on stools around the surrounding counter, though there are some nearby tables and chairs available if you prefer. The menu is a delight; a tight list of dishes that appeal to a wide audience but also give a true picture of Spanish tapas. We watched people stop by for a quick coffee, do fork battle over a plate of octopus, greedily grab fatty slices of cured pork with their fingers and order hot, fresh churros to takeaway.
Customers can also buy a selection of specialist ingredients, should they be inspired to have a go themselves; certainly, Omar’s book makes tapas very achievable for home cooks.
Omar is certainly planning to expand the fledgling chain further afield, so non-Londoners, keep your fingers crossed for a branch to open near you.
I love good food and was very excited to try so many of the listed dishes. And yet, one of the most exciting aspects of the menu for me was the excellent list of soft drinks. It’s hard not to feel a little deflated when restaurants put such great effort into their wine lists (and, lately, their beer lists too) but let themselves down by sticking to long life fruit juice and fizzy drinks for their non-alcoholic offering. That is not the case at Tapas Revolution!
Limonada casera (£2.25), described as homemade lemonade with a touch of saffron, is a full on explosion of flavour; it’s simultaneously sweet, very sharp and intensely citrus and takes on just a hint of earthiness (as well as vibrant colour) from the saffron. This one will definitely wake you up, if eating too much tapas is making you sleepy.
Horchata (£2) is a classic Spanish drink made from tigernuts, the tuber of a plant in the sedge family, distantly related to water chestnuts. The nuts are ground with sugar and water to make a milk-like liquid which is served ice cold as a summer thirst-quencher. Elsewhere in Europe, similar drinks are made from barley, almonds and even sesame seeds but the Spanish preference for tigernuts was introduced by the Moorish presence in Valencia many centuries ago. It’s a distinct flavour and not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it very much.
Mosto (£2) is a sweet red grape juice that is not for the light-hearted. It’s almost syrupy in it’s sweetness, and is best enjoyed chilled. With my sweet tooth, I adore this.
A board of Jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed Iberian ham) de Guijuelo (£8.95) is the perfect balance of sweet, salty, fatty meat and, for the price, the serving is generous.
Pan con tomate (£2.95) is a classic, and something Omar tells us he enjoys for breakfast several times a week, advising us to rub garlic underneath and tomato on top of the bread. Somehow this dish of bread, garlic, tomato and oliveoil is so much more than the sum of its parts and we cannot resist a second order…
An order of Pulpo a la Gallega (£6.25) brings us a dish of tender steamed octopus with potatoes and pimentón paprika. Juicy pieces of seafood have a strong enough flavour to stand up to the paprika. Great balance.
The menu warns that the fried Pimientos de Padrón (£4.95) are sweet but that some can be quite spicy too! I love the charred flavour against the sweet pepper flesh.
Calamares fritos (£4.75), when done well, are a thing of beauty but are so disappointing when they’re not. But these deep-fried baby squid are just perfect, served piping hot straight out of the fryer, the batter is crunchy and the squid inside soft and tasty. Spot on.
The crisp-crumbed exterior of these Croquetas de jamón (£4.50) give way to hot, gooey bechamel studded with porky goodness. Perfect examples of Spanish ham croquettes. Give them a few moments to cool from the fryer, if you want to avoid the monkey-like, burnt-mouth noises my impatience had me squealing!
Pinchos morunos con mojo picón (£6.50) is beyond my elementary Spanish skills; luckily the menu explains that this dish consists of marinated beef skewers with a spicy dipping sauce. Whilst the beef is cooked properly, the spices in the marinade taste raw and harsh to me, and it’s the only dish of the day that isn’t a runaway success. The spicy dipping sauce, though, is fabulous.
I seldom bother to order Tortilla de patatas (£3.95) because I’m seduced by other more exciting options and an omelette made with potato and onion doesn’t leap off the page. But one mouthful of Omar’s tortilla and I am converted – there’s a depth of flavour from the sweet onions that I hadn’t expected, which is perfect with the very thin slices of soft potato and egg binding. It’s actually amazing!
If you’re looking for comfort food, look no further than Fabada Asturiana, a white bean stew with pork and chorizo that is the very definition of “hearty”.
This innocuous looking dish is Quesada con Frutos Rojos (£3.50), a fresh cheese cake with red fruit, baked (much like a New York cheesecake but without a base, the juices of the fruits leak into the cheesecake as it cooks). Delicious but very filling, if you’ve already eaten as much as we have!
I don’t know why Churros con chocolate (£3.50 to eat in, £2.95 to takeaway) fill me with such childish glee? Perhaps it’s the wonderfully winding shapes that remind of me of the black snake fireworks I loved when I was little. Or maybe it’s just the hot fried doughnut dough, with ridges that are perfect for cinnamon sugar to adhere to and the glass of tasty hot dipping chocolate they are served with.
We ordered twelve dishes between the three of us, and I was so full I could hardly make my way back to the car. Two dishes per person is plenty for a light lunch, three per person if you’re feeling hungrier.
Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Tapas Revolution.