Full disclosure: I’ve been to Tramontana before. Just the once, and that was many moons ago. So I justify this review trip with the excuse that it will almost certainly be very different now. You cannot stand in the same river twice, I tell myself firmly, while secretly hoping that’s exactly what I’ll be doing tonight. Because the last visit was splendid.
It was a bit haphazard, I grant you. We were there late on a weekend evening. It was packed, loud and dimly-lit. An enormous birthday party was sprawling over half the restaurant. Our waitress was so concerned that we’d under-ordered, and so lyrical on the virtue of the bruschetta-ish Pan de Coca y Tomate starter that we ordered that as well, but it never turned up. None of that diminished the evening, which carried on roughly in that style – a warm, slightly chaotic haze, punctuated by spectacular small plate after small plate.
As you’d expect, 7pm on a Tuesday at Tramontana has a different atmosphere to the debauched end of a Saturday night. It’s relatively empty when we arrive, giving us our choice of table (obviously one of the high bars, side by side, for the Tudor king’s banqueting-table feel of presiding over the restaurant), though by the time we leave people are being turned away for lack of a booking.
We address ourselves to the menu, via a pair of drinks in which the only mixers are spirits – a Negroni de Jerez for my date, the traditional gin replaced with Amontillado sherry, and a vodka, liqueur and vermouth Lychee Martini for me. They’re both just as forceful as they sound, but our tapas choices are no less tactical for that: the Pan de Coca, since it was the one that got away on our last visit; a few dishes chosen specifically because we didn’t have them on our last visit – and the Berenjenas Fritas, chosen specifically because we did. Even my commitment to making this evening a New Experience has its limit, and apparently that limit is chestnut honey-covered, pine nut-scattered aubergine slices.
The Pan de Coca turns out to be worth the extended wait. It’s basically a deconstructed tomato sandwich, exciting mostly for the unbelievable power of the tomatoes – that, more than any amount of legs-of-ham décor, making it feel Southern Mediterranean – and the messy, slippery ritual of assembling it. With two more starters of chorizo Riojano and padron peppers to definitively ensure that there is no inch of my hands not covered in oil, we then move on to the aubergines and a sea bream dish, served with black rice and an iberico ham dressing. This is both a perfectly-fried, falling-apart piece of fish, but also the most compelling argument I’ve seen yet for pork being a valid dressing ingredient.
We sweep onwards, through an alright, oddly-English lamb chump, served with sweet potato mash and not a million miles away from a British gastropub offering. And that brings us to the Chicken Serranito, hot, shredded chicken, ham and green peppers, a dish that fajitas dream of being when they grow up.
That brings us, as well, to the Rubicon of ‘maybe you will find that is enough dishes, unless you are very hungry’, that our waiter had diplomatically identified for us when we were ordering, and panicking a little on the quantities. And he was right, mostly. We find it in our hearts to share the Tarta de Santiago, a dense almond cake, and coffees. And I am vindicated in that, as it allows me to report that you should do the same. In fact, you should do everything the same. Including going back a second time. At the latest count.
Tramontana is one of a group of Brindisa Tapas Kitchens across London, including Shoreditch, Piccadilly, Kensington and Soho. For more information, including menus and galleries, and to book a table, visit www.brindisatapaskitchens.com.