Spanish food is my El Dorado: a mythical, far-off city that promises endless riches but always remains just beyond the horizon. The few pieces of tasty information that I can gather – chorizo, paella, churros – are agonising approximations, yet I can’t quite seem to get there. What is the heart of Spanish cuisine, and where can I find it?
The Fat of the Land is here – well, it’s in Marylebone – to show me the way. A lively gastropub which draws its inspiration from the food of Catalonia, I arrived one cold evening expecting the city of gold itself. And, largely, the promise was fulfilled – this gastropub benefits from a playful menu that is at once both classically high-brow and reassuringly hearty. Moreover, the atmosphere is pitch-perfect – there’s a raucous, democratic din which, combined with the bench seating, feels earthy and comforting.
Of the starters, the toast with chilli and garlic sauce left us a welcome, lingering tang – for once, the dip avoided the fate of being overpowering, the garlic behaving itself. Less impressive was the coca flatbread with chorizo, which tasted not unlike a mid-range Tesco’s pizza, fresh from the fridge. The base was stiff rather than crunchy, the tomato sauce was flat and the chorizo slices were singed and gritty. El Dorado was receding, fast.
The phalanx of tapas that arrived soon after came to the rescue. The slow-cooked pork pancetta, arriving in three chunky cubes, impressed us with its texture: crisp and savoury outside, subtle and tender within. This is exactly how pork should taste – there is none of that hoggy whiff which often sullies the meat. The braised rabbit was another treat, arriving in a garlic and white wine sauce garnished with red peppers. Stripping the meat off the bone, lashing it with the delicate sauce and crowning it with the roasted pepper made for a fantastic combination.
To compliment the meat, the patatas bravas were at hand. As always, these things stand or fall depending on the quality of the tomato sauce, and the reassuringly thick paste provided a good kick to the potato chunks, which when left naked were actually rather unpalatable. The salt cod fritters, on the other hand, were a joy – each was a soft pulp of savoury cod caked in a light and crispy batter, served with onions and parsley. The texture was so different to how I’ve come to expect cod, and was all the better for it – the mushiness, contrasted with the sharp crunch of the batter, was perfect.
For dessert, there was mel i mato – whipped, creamy ricotta cheese sprinkled with almonds and finished with a generous drizzle of honey. The grainy ricotta was balanced by the refreshingly pure aftertaste of honey – a very homely way to finish a meal, avoiding the unnecessary extravagance of a voluptuous chocolate sundae. There was also the crema catalona – the wild and dangerous cousin of the crème brulee. While the gluey base was familiar, the copper-coloured honeycomb diamonds on the surface were not. They gave the dessert a fantastic crunch, although the shards were so sticky and hard to the tooth as to make a mockery of modern dentistry. Each tiny golden rock was worth it – finally, I had found El Dorado. A place not to be missed.
The Fat of the Land
35 New Cavendish Street
Tel: 0207 487 3030