Reviewed: Tapas Brindisa, London [Bankside Book]

From the book “Bankside”

Tapas Brindisa
18-20 Southwark Street
Borough Market
London SE1 1TJ
Tel: 020 7357 8880
Monday to Saturday, 11am-11pm Friday and Saturday, Spanish breakfast 9am-11am
No bookings

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For anyone with more than a passing interest in good food, there can be few more pleasurable experiences than taking breakfast at Tapas Brindisa in the heart of London‘s foodie destination of choice: Borough Market.

Friday or Saturday mornings is the time to catch this relatively new, but already immensely popular, Spanish eaterie at its quietest. Order a dish of grilled Leon chorizo, eggs and potatoes to have with your coffee, or nibble on a slice of Catalan Llesca (country toast) with lavender honey. The mood is mellow as the market slowly begins to hum into life around you.

Brindisa and Borough go together like a plate of their Villarejo Manchego cheese and its accompanying quince paste. The Brindisa market stall has been at Borough for more than seven years, selling everything from Spanish smoked paprika to giant paella pans. On Saturdays there is always a long, snaking queue for its fresh chorizo, rocket and optional piquillo pepper rolls, the spicy sausages cooked on a huge open grill.

Tapas Brindisa chef José Manuel Pizarro, formerly at Gaudi and The Eyre Brothers, says he appreciates having suppliers a stone’s throw from his kitchen. “I can select ingredients personally and see what is good on the day,” he says.

The restaurant is on a corner site and what it lacks in space is made up for in its warm, inviting décor. Borough-based architects Greig and Stephenson, who planned the recent, dramatic refurbishment of the entire covered market, designed the restaurant with its iroko and black walnut wood banquettes and striking combination of tomato red and creamy beige walls. The traditional ham box is integral to the design. Succulent sides of ham are visible through its plate glass window and entice customers in from Southwark Street.

Pizarro hails from Cáceres in south-west Spain, but prepares dishes from across the country using a variety of regional products. The seasonal menu is divided into cold and hot tapas. Charcuterie, cured fish and speciality cheeses dominate the former and are available throughout the day. A selection of acorn-fed Ibérico cured meats washed down with a glass of La Gitana, a dry, straw-coloured sherry from San Lucar de Barreneda, makes a perfect marriage.

Other choices include La Peral blue cheese with prunes or some cured Cantabrian anchovies from Ortiz. Alternatively, you could perch on a stool at one of the tall tables and have a glass of Rioja with a snack of salted Marcona almonds or hot pickled chillies.

Tapas Brindisa’s commitment to the quality of its cured meats is such that it employs a ‘cortador’, or professional ham carver. In Spain master carvers are integral to the Spanish way of life. Now, in a snug restaurant under south London’s railway lines, the impressive figure of José Daniel “Chuse” from Aragón demonstrates to Brindisa staff, as well as curious customers, this traditional skill, honed over the centuries.

Those who drop by for lunch or in the evenings can choose from a selection of hot tapas that includes deep-fried Monte Enebro cheese with orange blossom honey, Pardina lentil and Alejandro chorizo stew and Catalan spinach with pinenuts and raisins. Or they may opt for a simple fillet steak or potato omelet.

The wine list is small but perfectly formed. One of the restaurant’s favorite suppliers is Telmo Rodriguez, a dynamic young Basque winemaker whose family has had an estate in Rioja for years. Rodriguez has made a name for himself revitalizing ailing vineyards across Spain. His Basa 2004, Verdejo Rueda, a fresh, grassy white, is a favorite among regulars.

The restaurant’s clientèle reflects its neighborhood, being a mix of ‘suits’ holding impromptu meetings over tapas, locals and market-goers, including at the weekends visitors from abroad and families.

What sets Brindisa apart from the capital’s other tapas bars is its emphasis on provenance. Owner Monika Linton began her business importing Spanish cheeses in 1988 and has forged strong relationships with Spanish suppliers ever since. She travels the country sourcing only what she deems to be the best of the best.
This is reflected in the restaurant’s menu where suppliers’ names are always cited: from the Joselito cured meats to Ramon Peña’s Galician squid.

Thus, the beautifully packaged 70% solid chocolate made by renowned Barcelona chocolatier Enric Rovira may seem a little pricey – and it is arguably a tad too sophisticated for the children – but it makes a fine cup of dark hot chocolate to sip on a chilly morning before launching oneself into London’s foodie heaven.

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