The torrent of tapas

June 2008

Sydney is a funny old town. When we decide to love something, it replicates faster than a mutant gene. Was there a menu in town in the 60s without a prawn cocktail, in the 70s sans quiche Lorraine, in the 80s everything swimming in coulis and the 90s everything confited? Well, now we have a rash of tapas bars. Let me make a partial list of them (partial because more will have blossomed by the time you read this): Subsolo, Firefly, Bodega, Catalonia, Alvaro’s , Kika, Encasa, Miro, Bentley not to mention Japaz (Japanese Spanish) and whoever it is down south offering Greek tapas. And I bet I missed a few. How much longer do you reckon before someone in Chinatown begins calling yum cha Chinese tapas?

One of those above, and one of my favourites, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, is offering a luncheon special of eight tapas for $50. Great deal and great tapas — it includes tuna tartare with avocado, cod and potato crostini, sliced jamón serrano — but it does underline the distance between tapas Sydney-style and tapas as experienced in Spain. Tapas time in Spain is that gap from around 7pm to around 10.30–11pm when you have dinner. To tapear as the verb has it — to tapas — means to wander from tapas bar to tapas bar with friends, talking, drinking tiny glasses of beer, wine or fino (chilled dry sherry), nibbling the night away. If you find yourself in Calle San Juan in Logroño in the Rioja region of Spain, or in the old town in San Sebastian further north, or on the street known as Puerta de la Carne in Seville, you’ll get it.

Which is not to say I don’t like what we’ve done to tapas here in Oz: a selection little plates on the table beats the bejabbers out of the inevitable entrée/main/dessert march many times. Eat as much as you want or as little as you want. And it helps to drink like a Spaniard — always with food.

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