Rambla aka the place that made me like octopus.
Not love it mind you – baby steps and all – but definitely like it more than I ever did after past tastings or recent viewings of ‘Blue Planet II’ where, let’s face it, they come across a bit mean, a bit beaky and a bit grumpy. In all fairness I’d probably spend my life looking pretty peeved if the threat of being fished, fried and served on earthenware pottery in the heart of Soho was ever present but I digress…
Catalan cuisine takes front and centre stage here at the place named after the leafy, bustling boulevard in Barcelona where chef Victor Garvey grew up. I’ve never been the world’s greatest fan of tapas – too many rubbery rings of calamari and over-cooked potatoes limply floundering in smeary tomato puddles – but Rambla offers neither of those things and has subsequently left me wondering how many years of very fine tapas I’ve missed out on and how exactly I’m going to rectify that situation now because these tapas, these tapas (cue finger jabbing at photos) I kinda have a thing for.
Eating at the bar has rapidly became my favourite way of dining; there’s something delightfully yet effortless cool about sitting across from the chefs and watching a parade of dishes strut past. Here you’ll find an abundance of doe eyed, dark haired staff all in possession of disgracefully long lashes and delightfully charming spirits, each one happy to genially chat through a menu split into land, sea and field, raw, cured and sweet. A small but decent wine list gives you the chance to try something new and fizzingly sweet or fall back on old favourites, as comforting and nostalgic as your dad’s worst jokes.Snacking whilst selecting has always made sense to me. Pan con Tomate arrives thickly spread and nicely straddling the line between squishy and chewy while Blistered Padron Peppers are softly charred & heavily crunchy with sea salt.Spinach Croquetas are a dream, bursting at the golden crumbed edge with deeply comforting potato. God I love – and let’s not gild a lily un-necessarily here – mash when it’s churned with sweet leafy greens and more garlic than would be needed to clear the set of Buffy.A Baby Raf Tomato & Fennel Salad is crisp and refreshing, perfectly paving the way for my favourite plate of the night……Butifarra Negre Sliders with green apple slaw, nevat cheese and toasted brioche buns. A traditional black Iberian sausage heavy with savoury, spicy flavours and fall apart shredded texture, if black pudding met chorizo, had a Tinder tangle with nduja on the side and nine months later found itself with child, said offspring would be this. Crunchy coated and succulent, the one-two punch of umami flavour and tender meat makes this an utter heavyweight champion on the sliders scenery of London.Giving time to breathe, the Sea Bass a la Plancha arrives, flaky and delicate under a crisp skin that would fall apart under the weight of a duffel coat wearing hard stare……while our previously mentioned tentacular friend was grilled till it arrived blushing and meaty, wonderfully tender and sitting squatly on a pool of beautifully balanced garlic and tarragon aioli that I could have eaten by the spoonful.Braised Oxtail Canelones rounded things off in the most gratifying way, all soft folds of pasta, juicy pieces of meat and lashings of melted nevat, a goats’ cheese I’m keen to build a lasting relationship with this year.There’s so much to love here in Garvey’s tribute to the food of his childhood – well thought out and obviously coming from the heart, it feels both modern and nostalgic. There are small plates & ingredient pairings here that I’ve not seen before that absolutely made me want more and in a city where you’re already planning your next meal before the current one is finished, that’s saying something rather special indeed.