Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Donostia: A close rival for Jose

Ever since the BH lived in Salamanca, we have loved good tapas and, although there are a few good options in London, they are few and far between with a lot of chaff in between. I feel even with the Brindisas out there, we need London's burger-style revolution towards tapas.

Donostia has only been open since end-July and reviews are pretty scare on the ground (Clerkenwell_Boy being one of the better ones). After seeing the heights of Jose in Bermondsey, I thought we'd stumble across to Marble Arch to see what West London can offer. The cooking is focused on the basque ideals of tapas, or pincho, as they call it. The differences are fairly subtle to a non-spaniard but it can be seen in the accompaniments rather than the main ingredients.

Boquerones with sweet peppers. I love anchovies in vinegar and these were pretty high quality. Not the freshest I've ever had but enjoyable alongside sweet char grilled peppers. A good start.

The croquettas with jamon were circular rather than the traditional oblong. The outside was one of the crispiest I've had and the inside light and creamy with good chunks of jamon. Personally I preferred Jose's with their slightly larger cubes of jamon and better consistency; the BH preferred these. And always in a split decision, she wins.
Croquettas with jamon
The leek, egg and apple salad was least enjoyable. The leeks were too overpowering and the crisp apple taste was lost.
Leek, egg and apple salad.
The day was saved, of course, by more fried things. The baby fried squid were excellent. Crispy, tender and well seasoned. We also dipped them into the spicy dip that came with the patatas bravas. Cheeky, but a damn good idea. Try it.
The patatas bravas were also not in their usual presentation, The cubes had transmogrified into significantly crispier wedges with sea salt and fried rosemary. They were served with only spicy tomato based sauce which is the norm in the basque regions. I am torn between these and Jose's. Despite Jose' frankly phenomenal aoili, I'd vote Donostia as the potatoes are crispier, and the tomato sauce has a deeper flavour.
The octopus was a nervy order. The spanish have the custom to sometimes soak their celaphods for too long and they end up a little mushy. These retained their chew nicely and the tomato and paprika garnish were a nice flavour combination.
Chorizo on toast was delicious as cured meats generally are. This was top notch, similar to the brindisa chorizo sandwich in Borough market.
Chorizo with watercress.
Blistered padron peppers transported BH back to ones her grandmother used to make. High praise for a simple dish if ever I heard it. Would have preferred a little more blackening but their mild peppery heat was addictive.
Padron peppers.
The quail was a mixed bag. The meat itself was as tasty as quail always is, possibly lacking from a more searing heat during cooking. The baby courgettes looked more like aubergines but either way the marinade was a very strong vinegar that stand alone made them eye-watering. Eaten with the quail however it actually worked fairly well. Definitely the oddest dish and one that requires a little finer balancing.
Quail with courgettes.
The black figs were a good quality, simply poached with a sticky orange liquor and candied orange peel and macadamia nuts. Tasty and moreish but would have liked a slightly sour or salty element, Bubbledogs used creme fraiche to balance and it worked well.
The lemon tart was, of course, ordered by the BH. Unfortunately she wasnt a fan (I was) as she thought it retained its 'eggy' flavour too much. The pastry could have been a little crisper and was a little bland. I did enjoy the texture of the filling and flavour though.
Lemon tart.
Slosh: A friday evening demanded beers rather than grapes and we tried both the Alhambras, the premium and reserva. The reserva was a heavier fruitier number similar to Leffe blonde. The premium was a more standard lager affair and one we both ended up ordering another of.

Where: 10 Seymour Place, London, W1. Nearest tube: Marble Arch

How much: Meal for two plus drinks - £78

Food: 8/10
Service: 7/10
Slosh: 7/10
Value: 8/10

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