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.