Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Tapas at Meson Los Barilles

Ah, tapas. I have found people get very excited about the notion of 'tapas' (or perhaps it's just the word) - they enthuse about finding tapas restaurants, and the idea of tapas can now be extended into other cuisines than just Spanish (Japanese tapas, Indian tapas, and Mexican tapas are all themes I've seen about lately). Yet I often find tapas is just an excuse to serve small portions at relatively high prices for food that is just average. Occasionally, a place like Tapas Brindisia will come along and you'll understand what all the fuss is about, but I find there are more disappointingly average tapas places around London than there are excellent ones, and I always approach with caution.

And so to Meson Los Barilles around Liverpool Street. It's very exposed-brick-and-Spanishy (wine barrels abound in the bar area, on top of which you and your drink can perch if you're feel a shade continental). A basket of bread and some olive oil are quickly brought to your table; the bread and oil won't change your world, nor will the bulk of the menu with its well-rehearsed listing - spicy prawns pil pil, patatas bravas, albondigas. We ordered a mix of the predictable (albondigas) and less so (white wine, bean, and chorizo stew). The prawns pil pil were down right tiny and oily, which was the most disappointing item. The stew was good - decent chorizo but I couldn't taste the white wine - and the octopus with smokey paprika and sea salt was very good but would have been better if the paprika had been blanketing some bits octopus and not others. The bacalao, for me, was the stand out: the batter was light and crispy, and the fish was moist and meaty.

For wine and beers and enough bread and tapas to fill you up, it cost around £20 a head. Meson Los Barilles doesn't compare in quality to Tapas Brindisia, but you're also likely to spend twise as much at Brindisia. Meson Los Barilles has helped rescue the notion that tapas can be both cheap and flavorful, though I still think those places are a bit of a rarity and that Meson has pulled off the feat where many others fail.

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