You wait years for a decent Tapas restaurant and then several come along at once…
Birmingham diners in search of some Hispanic cuisine in the city centre used to be pretty much limited to ‘La Tasca’, but I’m happy to report that those days are well and truly over now, as one might expect from the city now considered to be a true ‘foodie destination’.
With La Tasca’s relocation to new premises in the recently revamped Barclaycard Arena and several high quality Tapas restaurants opening over the past couple of years, including independents Rico Libre and Amantia, and of course the latest in the small Tapas Revolution chain, this style of eating seems destined to become a popular choice with hungry Brummies.
Perhaps the most passionate independent restaurateur to select Birmingham as the prime location for her ‘Gastranomia Espanola’ is Emma, bringing her encyclopedic knowledge, passion for top quality food and quest for authenticity with a unique twist to the city with El Borracho De Oro.
Having cut her teeth opening Tapas restaurants in Shropshire and the West Midlands over the past 10 years, Emma finally realised her ambition to open in leafy Edgbaston, close to Five Ways at the start of summer last year.
My dining companion and I had been meaning to give Emma’s new venture a try since it opened based on excellent reports we’d read, and finally the opportunity presented itself on a cold and rainy Tuesday night in early February.
Manzanilla Olives & Estrella Galicia
As soon as we walked in the dark, miserable night outside became a distant memory with the bright, tasteful interior affording a warm and friendly Spanish vibe. Emma welcomed us personally at the bar and immediately we were given detailed options as to the impressive array of authentic and carefully sourced drinks on offer. We elected to start with a pint of ice cold Estrella Galicia each, served precisely as it should be, with the foamy head being leveled with a knife by the efficient and friendly Spanish Bar Manager.
We were offered a small bowl of Green Manzanilla Olives whilst we enjoyed our aperitif at the bar, and this simple Mediterranean snack gave an indication of what was to come. I tend to have a love/hate relationship with olives due to years of being served them with a briny, overly salty and overpowering tang, but these were superb. Olives which actually taste like Olives, complementing an excellent pint of beer with the head remaining to the bottom of the glass.
After an unhurried drink perusing a comprehensive but not overwhelming menu and being given the benefit of Emma’s extensive knowledge on everything from the merits of different grapes in various wines based on where they are grown, to the provenance of the fish and meat used in the mouthwatering sounding dishes (which change regularly dependent on seasonal availability), we were given a choice of where to eat in the restaurant and shown to our chosen table.
Catalan head chef, Ignacio
We settled in at one of the large oak tables close to the bar area, and, based on Emma’s advice selected a veritable feast of Tapas cooked to order by the team led by Catalan head chef, Ignacio, to be washed down with an excellent bottle of Protos (Verdejo) which Emma recommended based on our choice of food. At £34 this is one of the more expensive wines on the extensive wine list (ranging from £17 to £66 with most around the £20 – £30 mark), but worth every penny.
Now, being a Pescatarian, I am known for having a penchant for the Pesce rather than the vegetable side of this diet and one of the aspects which attracted me to this particular restaurant is the extensive selection of seafood dishes on offer, made with fish delivered fresh to the restaurant each day.
As should always be the case with authentic Tapas, the food was served hot and fresh direct from the busy kitchen as and when it was ready, so in no time at all our feast commenced. I’m not going to even try to describe every dish we had, but will instead mention the particular highlights.
Monkfish tails & Mussels in Fisherman’s sauce
Lubina Adobada frita y Lactonesa de Pera Asada (Deep Fried Marinated Seabass with roasted Pear Emulsion) was superb. Lightly fried in chickpea flour the delicate flavour of the seabass was allowed to flourish, and the pear emulsion added another dimension entirely to the dish. A generous portion at £6.50 and some of the best Seabass I have tasted.
Sticking with the seafood, next up was Pescado del día – Freshly caught, delivered and cooked fish dish of the day and today some of the tenderest Monkfish tails I have ever had the pleasure of tasting ‘a la Bizkaina’ (cooked in tomato, onion and pepper sauce – a dish from the Basque region). At £8.00 the quality of the fish, the way it was cooked and the flavours the sauce imparted made it a steal!
At £8.50, I was hesitant to order Mejillón a la Marinera, Avellanas y Azafrán (Mussels in a Traditional Fisherman’s sauce with Hazelnut and Saffron), purely based on my doubts as to how the hazelnuts would work with this dish. I needn’t have worried. The dish was a revelation, and hats off to Emma and the team for daring to put this together. Mussels in my opinion can be hit and miss but these were incredibly fresh and tender, cooked just how they should be and the sauce really did give the dish a completely different (and welcome) twist compared to the usual tomato or white wine based sauces one finds in most restaurants.
Having thoroughly indulged myself I really should mention the meat dishes enjoyed by my companion. Morcilla, Manzana Asada y Huevo de Codorniz Spanish Black Pudding with Roasted Green Apple and Quail Egg) looked delicious even to me! Beautifully presented and appropriately raved about by the carnivore. At £4.00 it looked excellent value to me.
The highlight apparently though was Cordero Lechal Asado, Patatas Panaderas, Migas (Roasted Suckling Lamb, Crunchy Breadcrumbs, Pistachio). Plenty of it at £12.00 and I am informed it was rich and delicious with strong flavours, cooked to perfection.
Mushroom Cannelloni & Roasted Asparagus
Onto the vegetable dishes, and unsurprisingly, these did not disappoint. Despite targeting the seafood first the vegetables were sufficiently good to leave this reviewer practically waddling out of the restaurant at the end of the meal. Particularly good was Canelón de Setas, Espinaca, Chalotas Y Salsa de Ceps (Mushroom Cannelloni, Spinach, shallots and Mushroom Cep Sauce) – again plenty of it for £7.00 and the Cannelloni was melt in the mouth tender, with the perfect combination of the right textures and flavours for the filling.
Escalivada de Verduras, Espárragos y Romesco (Roasted Vegetables, Asparagus and Romescu sauce) at £7.50 was another excellent choice. Again a great combination of fresh and tasty ingredients. Tapas as it’s meant to be. Finally, I can’t finish without mentioning the obligatory Auténticas Patatas Bravas con Salsa Casera (Authentic Bravas Potatoes with Spicy Tomato sauce and Alioli (both Homemade) at £4.00. Simply the best I’ve tasted anywhere (including Spain). Tomato, garlic and that spicy kick all in just the right amounts. Delicious.
Unfortunately, by this time it was nearly 11pm on a school night and my chariot awaited, so I alighted without being able to try any of the delicious sounding cheeses, all properly sourced to complete the full Hispanic experience of course.
A Return Visit Soon!
So – will I be back? You bet! My wife is desperate to try it too, which gives me the perfect excuse to return as soon as possible. Next time though I’ll make sure we get to try the cheese! As the menu is regularly changing I am looking forward to sampling yet more superb seafood dishes, and my wife, being a vegetarian has been salivating at the vegetable based dishes on offer, both from my verbal report and from the menus on the restaurant’s website.
Top marks Emma and the team at El Borracho De Oro. The perfect mix of ambience, authenticity with a dash of innovation, passion for detail and sublime food and drink. The best Tapas restaurant in Brum? For my money, without doubt.
Review of El Borracho De Oro by Ken Byng for Grapevine Birmingham
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