Lucy Self finds herself not only charmed by the Spanish restaurant Bravas Tapas on St Katherines Dock, but transported.
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Is there a more marvellous thing than the British summer? Here at ETL we’re not a only basking in it – but lounging, luxuriating and any other adjective that has us, cold drink in hand, relishing every last ray of sunshine and drop of Pimms. The magic of summer makes everything better, from that last bite of piccalilli-smeared pork pie at a picnic to the cooling hit of a cold shower after a clammy night.
Our FAVOURITE thing about these balmy few months? It makes visiting restaurants all the more fun, our one chance to make like the rest of the med and SIT OUTSIDE. Sometimes even without a jacket.
Which brings us neatly to our visit to Bravas Tapas, a ‘modern Spanish tapas’ joint from restaurateur Bal Thind (original investor in Hakkasan) doing the rounds in the musings of restaurant critics for being generally very good. Before we further substantiate that with details of our evening (and to save you time should you want to leave the house this very moment and grab an outside table whilst the weather holds) it is as good as they say. Possibly even better.
Bravas Tapas sits in St Katherine Dock, a patch of on yacht-speckled waters next to Tower Bridge previously surrounded by chain restaurants or crap, tourist-conning pubs. Thank god for Bravas Tapas then, for giving us a reason to visit.
Despite it being the week when it hit 30 degrees (read: holiday hot), we had been placed inside. This might have been a criticism, had the winsome dark-eyed waiter not had us whisked outside with a glass of someone white and Spanish in hand before we could say alfresco.
From there on the evening became a blur in way at the best meals do. There was a sunset over the water; a golden hued glass of Manzilla; and a procession of plates heaped with glorious things.
First a couple of sliders. Two tiny glistening buns – filled with crumbling patties of ‘Morcilla De Burgos (a Spanish black pudding made with rice and flavoured with cumin) apple slaw and a slice of smoky Basque cheese called Idiazabal (how’s that for authentic). Next a smart take on the famous native dish, Patatas Bravas. A deep bowl of steamed then flash-fried chunks of airy potato – underneath a shallow ‘lid’ of sun sweet tomato sauce topped with a cloud like dollop of whipped aioli for dipping.
Then some of the most tender octopus we’ve ever been lucky enough to eat slicked in two oils – a rich yellow scented (we think) with saffron and another lurid green bringing the dish to earth. Tiny green pardon peppers, softly charred and doused in sea salt offered a welcome bitter note. Countered neatly with a fillet of sea bass served with a mellow Donostiarra (a sauce of tomato and plenty of garlic which originated in San Sebastian).
Typical of the cuisine, two lamb chops were served simply – barely touched by heat and with a further slick of that fierce aioli scented with rosemary. Rounded up with some fun. Three ‘lollipops’ of quail stuffed with foie gras and wrapped in jamon served on a nest, to be dipped in an eggshell filled with a sticky dark sauce made from Pedro Ximénez.
Finally, two puddings – a slice of Galician almond cake or ‘Tarta de Santiago’ and (more whimsy) an old wine bottle, cut in half and filled with gently macerated strawberries and a splash of cava – both as straightforward as can be, both brilliant.
With this level of cooking from Head Chef Victor Garvey (who trained in some of the best restaurants in the Basque country including Mugaritz and Akelarre), bright team of highly engaged staff, waterside setting and odd flings of offbeat presentation just for fun, Bravas Tapas is a restaurant to be visited no matter what the weather. (We already like the idea of going back and sitting in one of the dark booths lit by candles with a winter storm raging outside and a new set of seasonal ingredients for the Garvey to play with.) But, before we get ahead of ourselves, go now. Sit outside. Drink sherry. Order everything.
We got a couple of months more of pretending we’re on holiday and we can’t think of a better place to do it.