Cambio de Tercio
163 Old Brompton Rd
London, SW5 OLJ
Tel. 020 7244 8970
Food type: Spanish
Food rating: 5/10
Nearest tube: Gloucester Road/ South Kensington
Website: Cambio de Tercio
To visit Cambio de Tercio for traditional, rustic Spanish cooking would be defeating the whole purpose. If you are looking for a tapas experience try their sister restaurant Tendido Cero down the road. Since its opening as a tapas bar back in 1995, Cambio has shifted its focus towards neuva-cocina. Although you will still find traditional dishes here, they are given a modern intepretation. Nevertheless, the British public seems to have embraced this change of direction with open arms – evident by the restaurant consistently being packed out, and numerous walk-ins having to be turned away. It has also received much praise by critics, culminating in the award of the prestigious ‘Premios alimentos de España’ in 2003 for the Best spanish restaurant outside Spain. (The award is proudly displayed in the restaurant)
We arrived for our 6.30 pm booking to an empty restaurant. The restaurant clearly does not shy away from its origins, with clear emphasis being put on the Spanish flag – evident by the colours in the restaurant. If that does not transport you to Spain, the gentle guitar music playing in the background will. Various odd paintings, available for purchase if you so wish to, by Luis Canizares are feature. Some of these paintings do embrace the natural form of a woman, so if you are bringing your children along it is worth taking note.
The menu has an odd Spanish flavour to it…
The menu is divided into your traditional full-sized main course dishes and in true Spanish fashion, smaller tapas dishes. Most of the main course dishes are available as tapas style dishes with the exception of the Sea Bass, chicken (with langoustines) and the Suckling Pig (more on that later). As such diners can devise their own tasting menu if they so wish to – order what you fancy from their list of 20 or so tapas dishes and let the chef decide the best order for your dishes. The menu also places emphasis on seasonality with items such as Grouse available. Of course, slivers of the precious Jabugo pata negra is also available. For the first time, I resisted temptation of the ham in order to sample a larger variety of dishes available.
We started off with a reinvented version of probably the most popular Spanish tapas. Patatas Bravas literally translates to ‘hot potatoes’ are basically fried spuds smothered with spicy tomato sauce. Here they are they are presented as little cylinders filled with the aforementioned spicy tomato, sour cream and a sprinkling of chives. It is one thing to present a dish beautifully, but another when a simple peasant dish can be elevated to taste just as good. The creamy, fluffy potatoes were matched superbly by the slight acidity and heat from the tomatoes, with the sour cream providing a calming influence. (7/10)
A pleasant dish of roasted grouse salad followed. The game bird was correctly cooked – nice and pink – and served with a salad of frisée lettuce, peach and Spanish almonds. The salad was gently tossed with a light dressing of aged Pedro Ximenez vinegar. The bitterness of the grouse was carefully balanced by the sweet elements on the plate (peach and PX vinegar) although the dish was perhaps lacking an element of richness. Grouse heart anyone? (4/10)
My least favourite dish of the night was the red mullet, served on a bed of Squid & Ink risotto. I am a huge fan of Squid Ink Risotto. Here the rice was cooked correctly with good texture and a little bite, paired with lovely tender squid. So why did I not enjoy the dish? The risotto was over-salted and completely overpowered the grilled mullet – which really does some taking as mullet is a strong tasting fish which is able to stand up to a lot of flavours, including curry. Also, the mullet itself was overcooked, no doubt because it was sitting on the bed of piping hot risotto. (2/10)
Another signature dish of the restaurant is their Galician Octopus – here it is served char grilled served with potato parmentier (that’s potato puree for you and me) and a paprika oil. I am honestly torned by this dish. In one corner, you have the octopus which was perfectly cooked without a slight hint of chewiness or toughness. The dish itself was very well composed, with the smokey paprika oil providing good depth of flavour and a slight sweetness. But, yet again, the chef involved preparing this dish had too heavy a hand with the salt. If only it wasn’t over-salted, this dish could (and SHOULD) have been so much more. (4/10)
Roasted Quail was nice and juicy, although unremarkable. This was paired with a vegetable risotto and slices of figs. The risotto was again cooked correctly with a mixture of mushrooms and courgettes and had good depth of flavour. (4/10)
The main reason why I came to Cambio was because I was craving for some suckling pig. Thankfully, the pig here did not disappoint. The suckling pig is sourced from Salamanca and was executed perfectly with thin, crisp crackling and good textures of the flesh which was soft, succulent, almost buttery. A thin gravy made from the pork bones was poured at table side. Some decent roasted potatoes with rosemary accompanied this dish. (6/10)
A side order of the classic combination of spinach, pine nuts and raisins was rather disappointing – the vegetables again over-salted which was a shame as it was timed correctly. (2/10)
After a short breather, we enjoyed a selection of Spanish cheese including Manchego Semi Crudo, Arzua, Torta de Barros, Picon and Cremositos del Casar. This was presented elegantly on a black slate along with some quince marmalade which had a hint of honey. The cheese were overall pleasant, although I am going to refrain from scoring as I not eaten enough Spanish cheese to pass judgement.
I finished off with an assortment of homemade ice-cream with Peach, Strawberry, Cherry and Chocolate being the flavours of the day (although the first three are more sorbets than ice-cream). This was indeed pleasant enough. (4/10)
Pastel Liquido de Chocolate Negro Y Helado de Jengibre
J’s obsession with chocolate continued with a dark chocolate cake which was timed perfectly with a runny, liquid centre. The ginger ice cream accompanying had good heat carefully balanced by the sweetness and paired well with the richness of the chocolate pudding (5/10)
Service here was pleasant and informal with food brought at a steady pace. The restaurant has a turn around policy for tables when we visited, but this was a more generous 3 hours than the usual 2 hours (or even worse 1.5 hours) that some places enforce. The food here certainly has its ups and downs. While there were some mediocre dishes, there were also some truly outstanding ones. If the restaurant can increase the level of consistency of their food and avoid the occasional over-zealous application of salt, then I am positive that the Michelin man will be calling shortly.