18-20 Southwark St
Tel. 0207 357 8880
Food type: Spanish (Tapas)
Food rating: 4/10
Nearest tube: London Bridge
Website: Tapas Brindisa
It is 20 years since Brindisa began importing Spanish produce into the UK. Back then, not much was known about Spanish food. Back then Spanish cuisine was often associated with peasant food containing excessive amounts of garlic and olive oil. Brindisa, the wholesaler, opened way back in January of 1988 with the aim of supplying expatriates here with high quality Spanish produce. Many years have passed since, and today, with the British public more knowledgable with Spanish cuisine, Brindisa stocks up a mighty array of cheese, top quality charcuterie, olive oil and other produce.
My first introduction to Brindisa was on my first visit to Borough Market. Their retail outlet there also has a small stall which sells the most gorgeous Chorizo, Piquillo Pepper and Rocket Bap. Queues for these baps can stretch around the corner on Fridays and Saturdays. They also stock the most best ham money can buy – the hand-carved Joselito Gran Reserva Ibérico ham yours to have for a mere £20 per 100g. Their jamon remains one of life’s greatest pleasures. Sorry parma ham, you have always been second best.
Tapas Brindisa is located at the edge of Borough Market and has access to all the freshest produce the market has to offer. Housed in an old potato warehouse, chef José Pizarro dishes out traditional Spanish tapas with modern influences alongside the aforementioned cold cuts and cheeses. Tapas Brindisa is fiercely popular, even during these times of the credit crunch. The restaurant is packed by 6pm for dinner. Unfortunately this is compounded by the no-booking policy so you really do have to come early if you want a table. Thankfully, even with their popularity, they do not (yet) have the much maligned 2-hour seating policy. (They have two other tapas outlets – Casa Brindisa in South Kensington and the newly opened Tierra Brindisa in Oxford Circus)
The restaurant is divided into the bar area with high tables and chairs, and the conventional dining area. Wooden tables and chairs are closely spaced. The decor here is sensibly kept to a bare minimum.
The menu is printed out on a piece of paper and serves as your table mat. Handy when you need quick reference to what you are eating. This is divided into cold and hot tapas. Items are individually priced between £3 – £20, with most items priced at £6. Puddings cost between £2.95 – £5.25. In addition, the restaurant also serves breakfast between 9am to 11am on Fridays and Saturdays. The wine list is made up of a small selection of sensibly priced Spanish bottles, with many available by glass. Markups are surprisingly modest by London standards.
We began with cold tapas consisting of a mixture of cured fish. This was served with toasted bread topped off with a pleasant mint, onion and flat-leaf parsley salad. I hold my hand up that this is my first time eating the air-cured tuna loin (mojama). The cured tuna was nicely cured, without being too salty. Served with slices of pear and a good drizzle of fruity olive oil, the wafer-thin tuna packed full of flavour. Mackerel was delicious, with a gentle hint of smokiness while maintaining good texture. Anchovies were again well cured, again without being over salted like some of the anchovies that you buy in the supermarkets (eep). Sardines were a tad disappointing, the fish not as flavoursome as some of the best sardines I have tasted. (5/10)
Another plate of cold starters – this time a huge non-halal selection of different cuts of pork was served with generous slices of bread and good quality olive oil. This included two cuts of Gran Reserva Joselito – loin and the melt in your shoulder. (Of course this does not in anyway come close to their ham but that is really besides the point) (8/10)
For warm tapas, we opted for the staple Gambas (prawns). Large tiger prawns were gently cooked with good amount of chilli and garlic, creating a lovely prawn-infused oil which we mopped up with our bread. The prawns themselves were fresh, but a fraction overcooked. (3/10)
Croquettes were filled with smooth and slightly cheese mash, interspersed with bits of salty ham. The croquettes were well cooked with good crisp exterior hiding the piping hot potato. Most importantly, they avoided the common pitfall of croquettes in that they were grease-free. (4/10)
Sea Bream was pan fried, with a good crisp skin, served on top of a pleasant bed of fennel, olives and capers. The fish was cooked a fraction too long and hence was touch dry. (2/10)
Last but not least, grilled lamb cutlets was served with allioli (thats catalan for Aioli) – a garlic mayonnaise. Again, the lamb was a fraction overcooked from the ideal pink finish I desired. The aioli was well made, having good garlicky punch to scare away a thousand vampires. (2/10)
We finished with a couple of desserts. My poached pears in red wine was pleasant – the poaching liqueur gently spiced with star anise infusing the pears themselves which were soft but retained some bite. I was pretty excited to try the saffron ice cream but this was a bit of a let down for me as I could not detect the smallest hint of saffron. (Perhaps this had to do with the Pedro Ximenez I was drinking at the time) This was rather unfortunate, as the ice cream itself was clearly well made, using good quality dairy and served at the correct temperature (soft serve). (2/10)
Much better was J’s Turrón mousse. Turrón is a Spanish nougat confection made with honey, sugar, egg white and nuts (most commonly almond). As a student, I’ve had my fair share of this snack as my former housemate would bring me back a huge supply of them when he went home to Gilbraltar. Here it is ingeniously made into a mousse and served with sherry plumped up raisins. Comfort food at its best. (4/10)
My dining experience at Tapas Brindisa was definitely a positive one. Staff were friendly and cheerful with efficient service throughout. Food was brought to us at a steady, yet sensible stream. We were never rushed at any point despite the restaurant being packed and a huge queue building up, a lesson which should be learnt by a few other restaurants. To say that this restaurant will not win a Michelin star is besides the point. The food here is what it claims to be – honest, rustic Spanish cooking. While there is the occasional issue with timing, the food itself delivers bang-on in terms of flavour. Don’t be put off by the scores – this place is definitely worth a visit and highly recommended if only for their charcuterie selection, but also because food here is delicious without burning a huge hole in your pocket.