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A go-to for produce geeks chasing their jamón fix, Brindisa is a by-word for the finest Spanish comestibles. This South Ken branch is mercifully free from gastronomic pontificating, with
no-nonsense tapas coming thick and fast in the open-fronted dining room (tiles, whitewashed walls, crammed-in tables). Think simple when ordering: platters of acorn- fed ham and chorizo, Gordal
olives stuffed with orange, flavour-bomb boquerones or blackened Padrón peppers all shine, while albondigas con sepia (meatballs with cuttlefish) aren't far behind. More creative efforts such as
baby octopus buried in salty samphire can be variable, but traditional desserts are unmissable – try the cold rice pudding with caramelised milk ice cream. With sought-after pavement tables, ample
standing room at the bar and a newly minted ‘charcuteria' alongside, pit stops for a sherry and some meaty nibbles are a must.
The daily exodus of the over-worked masses from the heart of London to its frayed ends is a familiar transit. The most wrist-slitting journey is on the westbound district line which dodders along at an excruciating pace, such that a switchblade is often the only thing for it. On occasion, a break from this subterranean hell is in order – cue Casa Brindisa, located on the South Kensington stop of the line which shall not be named.The inability to afford both a travel card and a permanent residence in South Kensington may have you twitching again for the relief of that sharp edge, however eating here can be much more forgiving on your battered ego. Just outside the station are a multitude of affordable restaurants, the Spanish variety offered by Casa Brindisa. In warmer months the al fresco seating is often packed, whilst on this frosty evening the warmth of its capacious innards will do more to drive out the imminent frostbite.In a victory of timing, the first plates arrive along with the sensation in our toes. The charcuteria selection is an unstinting plate of chorizo, salchichón, lomo and teruel ham, with a generous side serving of spongy bread and olive oil. The cheese selection is more scant, made of timid little triangles of brittle manchego, nutty payoyo, briny blue picos de europa and ermesenda. Accompanying these are blobs of quince, grapes and tomato jam, which augment the mellow cheese with tone and inflection...
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Casa Brindisa (the name comes from the Spanish 'brindis' meaning a toast, i.e. to drink someone's health) is the middle sister in a growing family of Tapas Kitchens: first came Tapas Brindisa London Bridge (opened in 2004), then Casa Brindisa in South Kensington and twin sister Tapas Brindisa Soho (also 2008) and most recently new baby Tramontana Brindisa in Shoreditch (2012). Brindisa founder Monika Linton was established in the import and wholesale side of the business at Borough Market for many years before opening her first restaurant - with encouragement from regular customer Mark Hix.By the way, if you haven't been to the Brindisa Borough Market shop, what on earth are you waiting for? It's a glorious Spanish Aladdin's cave of gastronomic treats, from Marcona almonds to freshly-sliced ham and boquerones to Manchego. Even the tins and packages look like they belong in Nigella's walk-in larder. It's a dream destination for foodie browsing but if you can't get there - or can't carry all your swag home on the bus - you can order online. If it's not too early for Santa to be listening, I covet the beautifully packaged La Paella gift box at a jolly reasonable £30 - and if you order before 30th November they throw in a seasonings box free! http://www.brindisa.com/store/Casa Brindisa is literally just around the corner from the museums, on the new-look semi-pedestrianised Exhibition Road; I will manfully (girlfully?) resist my usual tendency to head off at tangents this time, but the design concepts behind this new open streetscape are intriguing. If you would like to take the scenic route, check out the story of the Exhibition Road transformation here: http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/exhibitionroad.aspxI had just spent a joyous couple of hours ambling around the V&A with two of my girlfriends and this was very conveniently located for a non-touristy, laid-back quality lunch.We started with a little bowl of Habas Fritas (toasted broad beans) and a plate of deliciously moreish Padrón Peppers - generously salted little green Galician peppers with just enough kick to go perfectly with our Fino sherry. There is a good selection of wines and sherries by the glass so we had decided to defy the blustery showers outside and recreate a particularly memorable summer trip to Barcelona, which consisted largely of the odd gallery, endless tapas-bar hopping, quite unreasonable amounts of icy bone-dry Fino and long semi-comatose siestas in a hammock.Next up was a wedge of the Traditional Potato and Onion Tortilla, a dish that makes me marvel at how the most basic of ingredients can be combined to make something so tasty and comforting. Served with a generous swirl of aioli, this was just right - the perfect texture. We had also ordered the Fresh Squid to come with, but it only appeared after gently reminding our waitress; this looked lovely but was perhaps just a little on the chewy side.The Charcuteria Selection was great value at £12.50 - a selection of chorizo, salchichón, lomo and Teruel ham served with bread and a gutsy green olive oil. The outstanding quality of their produce is most evident here where it stands alone; the ham just melted in the mouth and the freshness and flavours were totally authentic. More Fino was clearly required.One of my companions is unable to countenance a visit to a tapas restaurant without ordering her favourite Patatas Brava; sadly this was the only dish that really fell below expectations. The potatoes were suitably crisp but lacked the freshness of flavour that had been the hallmark of the meal so far, and although the sauce was good, there was not nearly enough of it.Fortunately my other friend is a particular fan of spinach in all its incarnations and so we had ordered the Catalan Spinach with pine nuts and raisins. This was the stand-out dish of the day; a really skilful blend of flavours and textures, unusual, perfectly balanced and delicious. My vote had been for the Croquetas de Jamón y Pollo, cured ham and chicken croquetas, which were excellent - crisp outside, with a yielding centre and good meaty flavour, again testament to the quality of their basic ingredients.As a devoted fan of sharing plates, Brindisa is a definite addition to my hit list and I will be trying the other restaurants - all of which have slightly different menus and specialities - at the next chance I get. The restaurant was full and buzzy on our Friday lunchtime visit and the service, whilst a little patchy, was warm and genuine; our waitress was particularly helpful with a food allergy issue, going off to quiz the chefs about the precise ingredients of the salad dressings. Overall a very welcome way to escape to Spain for a few hours without the torture of Ryanair.Yours, spiritually still in Barcelona,Girl About Town xx
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