Thursday, 18 October 2012
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.