152 Curtain Road, EC2A 3AT Tel: 020 7749 9961
Cost for two people without wine: £70
THERE WAS a time, believe it or not, when there was not a hip new tapas bar on every street in central London. A time before the roast courgette flowers and marcona almond bowls of Salt Yard, Barraca and Barrafina.
This time, however, was less barren than it might have been, for it included Brindisa in Borough Market. In a revolutionary break from the wads of fried calamari on baguettes, low-quality snips of chorizo in vats of grease and grotty red wine that we’d come to associate with Spanish food, Brindisa sported top quality cheese and meat, displayed in all its pungent glory around the bar. It produced some lovely dishes of piquant, rich rice stews, pork loin, and so on and you couldn’t go wrong with its bruschetta. There was always a queue.
It got a bit samey after a while but if I took issue with the same old wads of bread with tomato, pieces of meat and slabs of cheese – however good – at Brindisa, I have no such beef with the new restaurant from the group, Tramontana, which has a completely different but equally delicious menu.
As the fourth restaurant from the Brindisa group, there’s no escaping that you’re at a chain. It’s a big rectangular room with perfunctory tables in the back and a long communal one in the front, where gusts of freezing air assail guests every time the door opens. The look is slightly mass-produced coolness. But the bar at the visual centre of the room is lovely – lined with lots of bottles, chefs busily preparing things.
At Tramontana, tapas are not tapas anymore. Dishes are huge, so we had the equivalent of six main courses, which left us feeling very fat and that does take away some of the fun of pretending you’re not actually stuffing yourself like a pig.
Burgers have been big in this town for some time and Tramontana’s mini hamburgers felt like the pinnacle – a silky rich sphere of herb-studded, blood sausage in a glossy brioche bun. Sautéed wild mushrooms with truffle oil lit the whole table with their scent, though were a bit too oily.
We knew we had to tick the potato box so went for the patatas Tramontana, which was actually a massive baked sweet potato stuffed with sobrasada (chorizo), cheese and topped with duck egg. I had assumed canalons casolans – pasta filled with spinach, goat curd, pinenuts and raisins – would be more like a ramekin of small tortellini. No: it was a lasagne-style tray of melty, cheesy fat, woven through with spinach and pine nuts. It was absolutely delicious but not part of “light snacks or appetizers, usually eaten with drinks”. The other massive standout was the croquetas – not too stodgy, but a magnificent balance of dense, porcine cheesiness encased in a popping crust.
We ordered the house rice with lobster too. It’s that dark, salty liquid sort of rice – a bit too salty, with cuttlefish hidden within and topped with large chunks of lobster, which we had to wrestle out of the shell. It was really quite the scene-stealer but far too much after the slew of dishes we’d mistaken to be tapas.
Save space for dessert. By which I mean the Santiago tart: a common tart, but a stupendously good one, a wedge of buttery almonds topped with cream.
This isn’t the hottest venue in town, but it’s a sturdy one with good ideas, and it knows about using high quality Spanish ingredients in mouthwatering ways.