One of my favourite places to go to the cinema is the Ritzy Picturehouse in Brixton, but I often find myself stumped when it comes to post-movie dinner options. Brixton has a growing number of exciting restaurants, but the best of them tend not to take bookings and I’m not a fan of hanging about on a street corner in that part of town while I wait for a table. In order to avoid that predicament on our last cinema visit, my dining partner and I booked a table at Boqueria, a contemporary tapas bar situated mid-way between Brixton and Clapham which is named after Barcelona’s most famous food market and prides itself on its authenticity. When we arrived, at 8.30pm on a Saturday, the place was heaving. Fashionably dressed Clapham-ites were crowded around the long, rectangular bar, drinks in hand, and every table in the ground floor restaurant was occupied. I groaned inwardly at the thought of having to wait to be seated despite having booked, but I needn’t have worried – the maître d’ smoothly directed us to the downstairs “lounge” area where our table was waiting. It was noticeably less buzzing downstairs than in the main restaurant, some might say to the point of lacking in atmosphere, but for us the comparative quiet made for a more relaxing dining experience than we would have had in the almost painfully hip upstairs.
My dining partner and I decided to share a portion of Pan con ali-oli as an appetiser to accompany our complimentary olives while we browsed Boqueria’s almost intimidatingly broad menu of tapas dishes, each of which sounded more mouth-watering than the next. The olives were large, juicy and green with a piquant marinade, while the bread was light, with a thin and crisp crust somewhat like a ciabatta. Pleasant enough on its own, dipped in the creamy, delicately garlicky ali-oli sauce it was exceptional. After much deliberation, we made our selection and sat back to wait for our feast to begin. Dishes are brought out when they’re ready, and the first to arrive was the chorizo a la sidra – thick cut chunks of delectably meaty chorizo sausage cooked in Spanish cider which had an intense smoked paprika flavour and just a hint of sweetness from the cider. Next out of the kitchen was a platter of Queso tetilla con mermelada de membrillo – slices of a semi-soft cheese with a mild, slightly salty flavour accompanied by a wonderfully contrasting sweet quince and tomato jam and a handful of large, juicy raisins. Then came the Croquetas – breaded, crispy fried croquettes filled with either a smooth mashed potato shot through with pieces of Iberian ham, or a soft creamy melted cheese. These were swiftly followed by a salad of Tomate con ajo y perejil – enormous wedges of ripe tomatoes, smothered in a rich olive oil dressing that was really brought to live by copious quantities of finely chopped garlic and parsley. It was incredibly simple, but without doubt one of the best tomato salads I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Our penultimate dish was a prettily presented pile of Calamares a la romana – a perfectly executed example of deep fried calamari, these were giant rings of impossibly tender squid in a brilliantly light batter, served with a delicately flavoured lemon mayonnaise. The final plate to arrive was the Carrillada Ibérica, which was well worth waiting for – the slow cooked pig cheeks were melt-in-the-mouth, bathed in a sumptuous red wine sauce, and scattered with match-stick-thin crispy parsnip chips.
Although we were close to bursting from all that tapas, neither my dining partner nor I could resist Boqueria’s traditional Spanish dessert offering. My dining partner went for the Crema Catalana, which was essentially the Spanish equivalent of a crème brulée – sweet and creamy with a crisp burnt sugar topping. I chose the Pan de Calatrava – described on the menu as a traditional crème caramel style tart, this was an absolute giant of a dessert. Served cool, it had a luxuriously smooth texture which was dryer than a French crème caramel, and just a very subtle sweetness, but with a generous layer of sticky caramel on the bottom that gave it a perfect bittersweet kick.
Boqueria’s all Spanish wine list offers a large selection of whites and reds and an impressive array of Cavas and sherries, a fair number of which are available by the glass. My dining partner and I each went for a glass of Viña Eguía, Rioja, 2007 which was a rich, full-bodied tempranillo with lashings of plum and black fruits, overlaid with notes of vanilla and a hint of black pepper. While it may have been a tad overwhelming on its own, it was the perfect accompaniment to our dinner. Service throughout our meal was friendly and attentive, our waitress happy to advise us on how many dishes we should start with and keen to check that we were pleased with each one. My only quibble was that she was very keen to remove any empty dishes as quickly as possible. While I can see the logic in that it allowed more space on the table for new dishes, it did scupper any attempts to use the last of our bread to mop up the delicious sauces. In terms of value, I often find tapas difficult to evaluate – the price per individual dish can sometimes seem slightly steep, and if portions are small the bill can rack up rather quickly. In Boqueria’s case, however, our total bill came in at £29 per head including tip, which seemed eminently reasonable in view of the amount and quality of the food. Overall, I’d give Boqueria a palate-pleasing four Forks-Up.Boqueria 192 Acre Lane London SW2 5UL T: 020 7733 4408