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Some meals leave more of an impression on you than others. I’ve dined in restaurants where I’d forgotten my meal before the bill even rocked up. Others leave behind a neutral blur, a legacy of satisfaction but little else.
Boqueria, a London tapas restaurant in Brixton with a richly merited reputation for serving good Catalan food at reasonable prices, did not suffer such a fate. Reviewing their Brixton branch was a pleasure, and so when I received an invite to their new Battersea outlet, Boqueria Market Battersea, I wasn’t going to say no.
What I like about Boqueria is that it eschews a great deal of the unnecessary ostentation that you often tolerate when dining out, replacing them with a relaxed informality which makes the experience so much smoother. It doesn’t play too much on its origins. It doesn’t overstretch itself on the menu, and neither does it cram an all-encompassing philosophy down your throat when you’re reading it. Sure, it tries hard to be modern – there are __ all over the walls – but it’s so much more forgivable in such a friendly, hospitable context.
Gazing across the expanse of the menu, I realize that many of the dishes are exactly the same as in the original Boqueria – how am I supposed to write a review of this branch, when the food is very similar? But given that I remember which dishes I selected at the original branch, back in early 2013 – a testament to its quality – I decide to pick the dishes that I didn’t choose last time. My initial concern of this being a meal composed of B-team dishes is mistaken – the dishes here are of a comparably high quality.
Although the menu is divided into a number of sections, all the dishes share the characteristic of being small sharing plates. We choose from Entrantes, Tradicionales, Salades y Verdures, Market Specials, Pinchos, Embutidos, and Quesos, and the dishes arrive in pairs a few minutes apart. The Market Specials section houses Boqueria’s notable triumphs, while the Pinchos reflect the small, homemade dishes ideal for hand-picking served in Spanish bars.
Tapas place certain demands on the diner, forcing you to take a nibble of everything without over-indulging on anything. In return, you’re rewarded by a convivial and informal atmosphere and a greater selection of the menu to graze at. No lengthy spells between rigidly-defined courses, no food envy when your partner’s dish turns out to be better than your own, and above all lots of talking about the food as it gets passed from person to person. Tapas is getting popular in Britain precisely because it makes mealtimes more social.
Carpaccio de calabcín, slices of courgette thinner than your average shopping receipt and showered with dill, parmesan and lemon juice, are excellent. Refreshing and moreish, to the point where you needn’t touch a traditional English lettuce-and-cucumber salad ever again, it provides a useful counterpoint to some of the saltier, punchier dishes sharing the table with it. Pimientos de Padrón present a pleasurable marriage of sweet and spicy. Pan con tomate should just be tomato on bread – it is tomato on bread – but here it’s transformed into something much more exciting. The crunchy batons provide a worthy stage for the mushy pile of chopped tomatoes resting above, the juice slowly seeping into the golden crumb. Doused with garlic and olive oil, it’s a medley of Mediterranean flavours – and it costs just £2.80.
There are, of course, heartier options. Albóndigas de cerdo y ternera – pork and beef meatballs in an authoritative Solfrito sauce – are beyond satisfying. The breadcrumbs used in the mixture have been soaked in milk, giving the meatballs a fine and crumbly texture. The Solfrito sauce is a worthy companion; made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, green peppers, carrots, parsley and a sprinkle of sugar, its sweetness is subtle, bringing the best out of the meat. Representing the Pinchos territory of the menu is Pincho de solomillo de ternera con foie y Pedro Ximenez, strips of rare beef tenderloin soaked in red wine and served perched on long strips of bread. Celebrating the tenderness of the beef, the pinchos rapidly disappear from sight.
From the Market Specials we choose Presa Ibérica, agreeably lean Iberian pork shoulder enlivened by truffle purée and a smearing of powerful, redolent goat’s cheese sauce. Among the rest of the tabletop’s pared-back, rustic Mediterranean dishes, this is a heavy-hitting blockbuster, an American-esque concession to the eternally satisfying combination of cheese-and-meat, functioning here like some invincible partnership of complimentary superheroes. Highly recommended.
Dessert is a pandemonium of punchy flavours, from the glistening, crunchy sweetness of mel i mato to the creamy churros. Sharing the qualities of heartiness, freshness and rejuvenation demonstrated across the main menu, the desserts offer further evidence that they’re getting things right in the kitchen. It justifies Boqueria Market’s aspiration to offer more than just tapas – Boqueria Market Battersea differs from its original template in offering a wider selection of menus to satisfy serial brunchers and those mythical morning people. In that sense it’s a different proposition to the original – and if they keep this up, Boqueria Market might even surpass its illustrious brother.
Boqueria Market Battersea (London tapas) review by Chris Zacharia