Saturday, 20 February 2010

Tufnell Park tapas

Last night I finally made it to Cafe del Parc, after years of cycling and bussing past it regularly. It's located halfway up Junction Road, which is a rather dreary main road that links Tufnell Park and Archway, although there are a few hidden gems there, like the Hideaway and some nice antique shops. I'd always been intrigued by its stylish frontage but never stopped to take much of a closer look.

Inside it is utterly charming - the kitchen is in the middle of the restaurant and totally open, complete with luscious herb plants, bottles of olive oil and hanging chorizo. The tables are arranged around the kitchen; the menus printed on brown paper and attached to clipboards to accommodate for the seasonally evolving menu. The music was fairly loud Indian instrumental stuff, which actually worked quite well. Café del Parc is said to be inspired by old Ibiza and you can well imagine that hippy vibe there.

The menu was absolutely WOW. There were probably about 40 tapas dishes on it, all of which would have been delicious. Luckily there we were a party of four and could justify a reasonable order, even with one seafood eating vegetarian! The wine list was also incredibly well chosen and reasonably priced - we plumped for a rosé that was deep fuschia in colour and beautiful to taste.

We started with some home made bread with olive oil and some olives with garlic and preserved lemon. All of which were amazing. Our first round of tapas was potted shrimps in saffron butter - tasted of the sea, a carrot and lentil stew which was rich with cumin and served with aniseedy dill, and filo pastry stuffed with spinach, feta and pomegranates - this was one of the highlights of the evening - sweet, sour and salty all in one, we could well have ordered seconds.

Next came Moorish lamb skewers with butter bean mash. The lamb was smoky and tender and still juicy and pink inside. The butter bean mash alone would be worth ordering the dish for - rich with roast garlic and herbs, my friend has already tried to re-create it at home!

Calamari rings arrived next - and were a world away from your typical ruibbery bland calamari experience. Again, they tasted of the sea, the breadcrumbs tasted positively healthy and they came with a delicious garlic mayonnaise.

The next dish was a meaty highlight - pan-fried chicken, chorizo and Serrano ham in a creamy, paprika-y sauce. I could have eaten every last drop. We also had deep fried goats cheese balls in orange blossom honey - goats cheese is one of the few things I don't enjoy, but here it was so smooth and soft that it was actually a pleasure to eat.

Next up was razor clams and salad in a sweet wasabi dressing. There could have been a more generous serving of razor clams, but they were still sweet, meaty and delicious. The wasabi dressing gave it a nice kick too.

The last dish to come was the ol' classic, Patatas Bravas, which you just can't go wrong with really:

After such a delicious meal it was hard to resist having a dessert. We opted for the home made ice cream selection, which included a scoop of malaga raisin and cinnamon, a scoop of pomegranate and a scoop of orange ice cream. Wow. We also shared a chocolate mouse, which was rich and eggy, topped with some vanilla ice cream.

Every dish was absolutely excellent, but there were so many more we could have chosen. 12 dishes between four was just the right amount though. I will certainly be going back with anyone who is interested to make more progress on the menu. The tapas were definitely reasonably priced rather than cheap, but the ingredients were clearly of excellent quality and when the bill worked out as £23 per head including wine, it certainly felt like one of the best value meals I've had in a long time. So, whether you live in the area or not, it's definitely worth making a trip to Cafe del Parc if you are in search of quality, imaginative tapas in a lovely setting with great service!

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