‘The music is a bit infantile, plain, spirited… there is less musical science, less of the great idea, but more colour, sunlight, flavour of olives.’
— Isaac Albéniz (1860 – 1909)
There is a sketch from the Mitchell and Webb Look where two of the ‘greatest actors of their generation’ (Alec and Michael) co-star in a Sherlock Holmes production, and a way had to be – and was – found to accommodate two massive egos both wanting to be Holmes. And the tapas sitting before me, in My Little Tapas Bar, brings that sketch to mind.
For just about everything in the pan is equal to the task of being the centre of a dish. In a pale, creamy sauce are three plump scallops, each one kept separate by a sliver of jamon, a leaf of basil on top just for the colour. It’s not a new combination by any chance, but it too accommodates everything that’s in it. Somehow everyone gets to be Holmes here.
The scallop and jamon dish is part of a festive menu by guest chef Bernat Playa Marsal from Nu restaurant in Girona, which must have taken some effort on the part of My Little Tapas Bar. But having got the expertise in, they don’t then milk it and wave it around. Instead it simply is there for you to find, a laid back attitude which I can agree with. The soundtrack, too, is great; the first time I visited, with a friend from London, they were playing Freddie Freeloader on the speakers, and that alone would have drawn me in. A place that plays Miles Davis knows the vibe they’re aiming for.
One thing they do flaunt, with good reason, is their range of deli goods – a variety of cured meats, sausages and cheeses sold by weight. The jamón is tempting, but eventually we get a helping each of chorizo and lomo, which comes with bread and olives. Are they good? Well, yes – insofar as chorizo is almost never bad, with plenty of smoky paprika for a first impression. The featherlike slices of cured tenderloin, draped on the crusty bread, have a sultry saltiness, the marbling melting and spreading through the mouth.
A tentacle of octopus reclining on a long plate shows off a range of textures, from curled, charred tip to a base that squeaks and yields up its sweetness readily, with just a little encouragement from the swathe of aioli.
Patatas bravas are as simple as tapas get – potato dice slathered with a spicy mayo. Here the pale pinkish sauce has a delayed heat, letting its egginess flaunt itself before showing up in the back of the throat. It could go on anything, really, but on potatoes with their edges and sides all teased to a golden crunch it finds a fitting base.
That scallop and jamón dish? Again with the pale sauce, except this time it is a plunge into the deep savouriness of jamón, mollified with the lactic aroma of manchego and cream. Scallops are well cooked, which is to say they’re not cooked that much, the fibres still sticking together in the centre as a juicy, squelchy whole.
After the scallop dish, the chicken skewers look a little normal, but they are a potent reminder of the Arabic influence on Spanish cuisine. The nuggets of chicken thigh retain their moisture with some help from smoky peppers, and the seasoning – paprika, cumin and caraway stand out – has suffused the meat thoroughly. A glop of mint-specked yoghurt is a stark, cooling contrast.
Club Street is quickly becoming home to a host of different food joints, but My Little Tapas Bar somehow seems like it’s been here longer than it actually has. They put a lot of effort into the way the place looks, the wood-heavy furniture and even, yellow lighting with a spacious arrangement. When they say their philosophy is ‘mi casa es su casa’ (my house is your house), it’s not really an idle boast (though a house with plenty of jamón and manchego is more my ideal house than my real one). Service, too, is eager and well honed; the servers know what the dishes taste like, so a request like something ‘a little bit spicy’ was enough for the waiter to suggest those chicken skewers. This is a place for people who know where they’re going, run by people who know what they’re doing.