Tápame, Edinburgh review – splendid Spanish tapas with a Greek twist

Tortilla with Romesco sauce.
Tasty tortilla & rocking Romesco/

Sometimes, it’s nice to be a wee bit cultured.  To be fair, living in a city that hosts the world’s biggest arts festival each year, it’s hard not to be.  Yet the partaking of great music, comedy and theatre in Edinburgh isn’t merely restricted to four weeks in August.  A case in point was the recent visit of the National Theatre‘s utterly superb production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – a play unlike any I have seen and which thoroughly deserves the multitude of awards bestowed upon it.  However, prior to feeding our minds and souls, JML and I needed to feed our stomachs!

Like many places in the UK, Edinburgh’s culinary scene is increasingly multi-cultural.  All sorts of restaurants offering various national cuisines seem to appear with increasing regularity and this is, generally, a good thing.  Yet every now and again something slightly odd rocks up. A case in point being the tapas bar Tápame located obliquely opposite my place of work.  Except that it isn’t exclusively a tapas restaurant.  For not only does it serve Spanish mini-morsels but it complements these with a selection of Greek mezze.
Buñuelos de bacalao - saltcod fritters
Sublime salt-cod fritters – Buñuelos de bacalao & alioli.

Now I understand there is a degree of commonality between food hailing from the east and west of the Mediterranean: great fresh ingredients from fragrant, sun-baked land and clear azure seas; the influence of different cultures that historically criss-crossed the region, especially those historical Arabic and Ottoman empires that made familiar formerly exotic produce and spices; and the propensity for dishing up all this really good fare on little plates and dishes.  Yet despite sharing these characteristics, the food of Spain and Greece is, nonetheless, different.  Could it really be successfully melded together?

Entering Tápame things weren’t exactly buzzing, which suggested a Spanish/Greek fusion might be a bit of a hard sell. The place was at best a third full, but to be fair this was 6pm on a Wednesday night. Despite the large glass windows to the front of the venue, further back it has the subdued lighting and ambience of a rural bodega, which is pleasantly atmospheric.  The friendly and efficient staff ensured that pints of Estrellaand a couple of menus were soon in our hands.  And what JML and I saw listed on the latter looked promising, consisting of food exhibiting a fairly even split of Hispanic and a la Greque.  Our waiter suggested we should order two to three dishes each and then see if we were still hungry.  Three each it was then – being cultural is a hungry business!
sutzukakia pilafi - Greek meatballs with rice
Sutzukakia pilafi – Greek meatballs with rice.

The first trio of plates arrived in quick time, and were very nicely presented.   A chunky slice of tortilla de papas – a take on Spanish potato omelette, new to me – was in itself well put together, but paired with the almond/hazelnut, red pepper, and roasted garlic loveliness that was the accompanying Romesco sauce made this something special.  Equally good were the Buñuelos de bacalao – salt cod fritters accompanied by alioli to you and me…

I really can’t understand why those of us in northern climes are not tripping over ourselves to use the Iberian staple that is salt cod in our cooking – a throwback to when salting (as opposed to freezing) was the primary means of preserving fish.  These deep-fried piscine nuggets were sweet and succulent, but were made all the more desirable by the offering of a smashing garlic mayo to dip them in. It was becoming obvious that the kitchen really knew what it was doing when it came to the Spanish side of its repertoire.
saganaki - toasted greek cheese.
Saganaki- possibly the best cheese toasty ever?

However, our third dish was Greek influenced, in the form sutzukakia pilafi – spiced meatballs with rice.  The spherical meaty component had a really good depth of flavour, aided by the addition of – I think – oregano and cumin, and the tomato infused mini-risotto made for a satisfying accompaniment.  So hats off to the eastern Mediterranean segment of the menu, as well.  With JML and I having niftily seen off our first three choices it was time for round two.

I really, really love cheese.  So much so that – apart from special occasions – it is banished from our fridge, for fear of my becoming twice the person I presently am.   However, when eating out all bets are off.  So I was delighted when the plate of saganaki was placed on our table.  This is a dish of Greek origin usually consisting of sheep milk-derived Graviera, floured and then shallow fried.  Tápame mixes things up a little by using Spanish Manchego.  And the result?  Imagine the best ever (inverted) cheese on toast you can: bubbly crisp, intensely savoury, meltingly appetising.  “Waiter, same again please!”
Chickpeas, spinach, pancetta.
Chickpeas, spinach, pancetta – simply divine.

Such richness – splendid though it was – needed a counterpoint.  This came in the form of spinach and chickpeas with pancetta.  I have had a tapa very similar to this in Seville, and Tápame‘s offering was spot on in terms authenticity, with the nutty-earthy simplicity of the chickpeas harmonising with the iron-tinged bitterness of the spinach, which were then accented by salty-sweet bacon accompanied by a hint of garlic.  This was a shining example of the fact that a dish doesn’t necessarily need lots of complex preparation and ingredients to be really good.

Jamon croquetas and pimenton mayo
Succulent croquetas – smoky mayo.

Our final choice was a staple of tapas bars across Spain – and the UK for that matter:  serrano ham croquetas.   Biting through the crisp breadcrumb coat of these lozenge-shaped smashers released the velvety, pork-infused béchamel within.  Dunked in the smoky/spicy, pimenton-infused mayonnaise accompaniment, they were deeply satisfying.  If only it weren’t for the immediacy of curtain up, we would have most certainly ordered more.

Actually, so pleasant was the dining experience at Tápame JML and I would more than happily return soon in order to continue to work our way through the restaurant’s menu – and almost certainly re-visit a few newly acquainted favourites.  Except just as we were bidding our farewells to dash off to the Festival Theatrethe waitress mentioned that the kitchen was considering “mixing things up a bit” by fusing elements of Spanish dishes with their Greek cousins.  Just, no!  Leave things well alone, please.  Unless the result is as delicious as Greek saganiki made with Spanish cheese, of course – the punters would be queueing out the door…
Food – 8/10
Atmosphere – 7/10
Service – 7.5/10
Value – 8/10
Ambience – expect a relaxed cafe/bar with a welcoming Mediterranean vibe.

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