Tapeo

The first sight of Tapeo was not an appetising one. Taking in the plastic and highly un-enticing display of dishes around the counter, my friend and I wondered what we’d let ourselves in for. Nevertheless, we took our seats at the bar around the little open kitchen. Here, watching the chefs in action (or in this case louchily waiting around for a customer), was at least suggestive of a traditional tapas set-up. Divided into regional specialities, the menu looked promising. A little spoilt for choice, we deliberated over our order. It’s always great to have suggestions from restaurant staff, but in this particular case, I was put out by the obstructive and dismissive tone in which the chef cut us off and virtually dictated what we should eat. Our tapas selection arrived, not particularly quickly, but as soon as each dish was prepared. They were fairly disappointing. Dishes that were otherwise full of great flavours and had been well prepared were disastrously over salted. The biggest tragedy was the berenjena à la miel (aubergine tempura with honey), which were wonderfully thin and delicately crispy with a drizzle of honey, but ultimately murdered with salt. It was exactly the same story with the pulpo à la Gallega (Galician style octopus with potatoes and paprika) and toastas anchoas de Santoña (Santoña anchovies on toast with tomato confit). Despite being warned off it by the chef, the paella de arroz negro (black paella) made with squid ink and seafood was a better bet than both the tapas and the display version of the paella. The most fortuitous change in this story occurred as the chefs changed. Mr Dictatorial headed home, leaving a more personable counterpart with us. While the cuttlefish and squid were a little tough, the rice was full of flavour, an intense aroma and taste of the sea. In fact, it was on the brink of becoming too intense just as the new chef wandered up and kindly asked if we would like to try this particular paella with some aioli, as they eat it in Spain. It was the perfect foil to temper the intensity of these flavours, and with this our luck began to change. On to dessert and the real triumph of the evening. Alongside some great buñuelos de chocolate (chocolate-filled donuts), the chef suggested (note: not demanded) we try the torrija, and rightfully so because it was the best dish of the night. A delicious display of extremes from the hot and hard toffee-like exterior to the super-soft, slightly soggy, cool interior, all wrapped up with the warmth of cinnamon. Next time, I’ll know which chef to order from. The bill (for two) 1x small water Dh11 1x Spanish mocktail Dhs25 1x anchovy toast Dhs55 1x octopus Dhs55 1x meatballs Dhs45 1x aubergine Dhs35 1x paella (for two) Dhs170 1x buñuelos Dhs35 1x torrija Dhs35 Total (excluding service) Dhs466

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