Friday nights at The National Gallery are no usual cultural outing. From this month until the end of April, Peyton & Byrne (founded by acclaimed foodie Oliver Peyton) is shaking up the dining agenda and will play host to Friday Night Socials – one night, one menu, one guest chef.
The National Cafe, Trafalgar Sq hosts these culinary adventures and I was lucky to be invited to Spanish born chef, Omar Allibhoy’s evening last Friday. Omar is one of the most exciting up and coming characters in the celeb chef scene and is the proud owner of two branches of his authentic restaurant chain, ‘Tapas Revolution‘ (one in Westfield Shepherd’s Bush, the other in Bluewater, Kent). His passion for injecting enthusiasm for Spanish food into the hearts and minds of Brits is infectious and I was very excited about trying all ten courses he had in store for the evening.
Having first worked with Omar on a campaign to promote Olives from Spain during my time in my first foodie PR role, I was well acquainted with his background – once an understudy of the famed Ferran Adria of El Bulli and head chef of El Pirata de Tapas.
Omar is currently working on his new cookbook due to be launched on 1st August and I am very much looking forward to hearing lots more about that in due course.
I shall be totally honest here. Spanish food isn’t really my bag. I think out of all of the European styles of food, I would generally side with French or Italian dishes.. never Spanish. This was Allibhoy’s challenge, and rose to the challenge he certainly did!
Around 40 diners were grouped together on long tressel tables and what better way to be greeted than with a glass of cold Sangria. Omar’s delicious blend of poached fruits, red wine, topped up with lemonade was sublime. Sweet enough to mask the brandy but not too sugar laden to feel guilty.
Omar greeted each table and introduced himself as well as his menu, describing it a ‘Spanish tapas feast with courses that are never ending’. He wasn’t wrong! First up was the Spanish olives, marinated in rosemary and garlic cloves alongside the Manchego cheese and quince paste.
If there’s one fact you can take away from this post, then it’s this.. Spain is the world’s number one producer of the humble table olive. A fact I picked up whilst working on the Olives from Spain PR campaign. There’s a reason why they are the best, and Spanish olives, especially queen green olives, are large and juicy with a salty taste. Yum!
I love cheese, but I especially love Manchego – a traditionally Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk. It is a hard cheese with a distinctive flavour – not as strong as gruyere but has a rich kick, mainly down to the salt that is rubbed into the rind which acts as a preservative. The quince paste was cut into delicate little squares sat upon the cheese triangles and added a soft spice tang, almost like a chutney, to the cheese.
The acorn-fed ham was possibly my favourite dish, next to the chorizo in cider. The rich meaty flavours were complemented by the bottle of Rioja that we ordered. Rioja is Spain’s most famous wine region, so it seemed like a no brainer to order a bottle alongside our meat dishes. The nutty full-bodied flavour of the Rioja really brought out the sweetness in the cured acorn-fed ham – beaut!
Another dish that was utterly to die for was the Patatas Bravas – deep fried potato squares topped with soured cream and chive sauce. The potato pieces were crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy in the middle. I thought the soured cream and chive sauce casually drizzled on top made it a very decadent dish – a rich and creamy dream. In fact, I polished off the entire table’s portion.
Now, on to the best part of the evening. The Croquetas de Jamon. If only there was more than six on one plate. These Bechemal sauce and chopped ham balls smothered in breadcrumbs are Allibhoy’s greatest achievement. The cheesey flavour is rich and creamy and the Bechemal sauce oozed out of the crunchy breadcrumb coating. I will certainly visit Tapas Revolution, if only to order plates of these deep fried balls of heaven!
To finish, Allibhoy rounded off his Spanish feast with a ‘custard-like’ dessert called ‘Natillas’. I can only really describe it as a creme brulee that hadn’t set. It was a sweet vanilla cream topped with a dusting of cinnamon – this really came through in the dessert. It was certainly different!
So if you’ve got a spare evening, and a spare £35 for the set menu plus cocktail, I would most definitely recommend you pop down to Friday Night Socials and check out one of their unusual evenings. Alternatively, if I’ve whet your appetite for a Spanish fiesta, you can visit one of Omar’s Tapas Revolution restaurants, Westfield Shepherd’s Bush or Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent.
NB. Order the Croquetas de Jamon!