The taverna upstairs is chic with booths surrounded by cage-like installations lit by clusters of mason jar lamps, exposed ceilings adorned with some wiring that looks artsy on its own. Here, the vibe is rather casual. You get to grab however many pintxos you like, with servers behind the bar to ask for questions.
The ladies room has its own pampering area supplied with blowdriers, hair straighteners, vanity mirrors and that “make-me-look-pretty” lighting. Award.
Pimientos de padron. Sautéed, mild green peppers sprinkled with Maldon salt. They were juicy and moreish. Better after we sprinkled a bit more salt.
Patatas bravas. These (supposedly) triple-cooked potatoes were a bit inconsistent with the crispy coating and fluffy interior factor. The paprika sauce was mild and didn’t do much for me but that garlic sauce was a champ and (almost) saved this tapas bar staple.
The set menu was served family-style and also included a Spanish cheese platter, bread, calamari and chicken in adobo spices. Price is £32 per person.
Boquerones (GF) This humble starter of anchovies marinated in pickled garlic sauce deserves some bragging rights for its bang on the money flavour.
I love octopus so I ordered the pulpo. An honest man would say this is not a sharing plate of tapas but perhaps a starter for one. The octopus was cooked well, but the dusting of paprika left me missing out on flavour. The mash was extremely creamy, but was quite underwhelming too.
The carrilleras de buey (GF) was interesting. The beef cheeks braised in Pedro Ximenez were out-of-this-world tender and the parsnip mash was creamy like home. There was meant to be some Iberico pancetta but I couldn’t find a single piece. It needed a bit of seasoning, too.
Service was confused:
- Nobody knew who the interior designer was, not even front of house.
- Servers didn’t know which dishes are gluten-free despite the manager saying one of them is on a GF-diet. This was supposedly the lady who told us the pulpo wasn’t GF after my coeliac buddy had a mouthful.
- Wine was poured but one or two people on our side of the table would always end up not having any – a server actually said “The glass isn’t empty!” Oh, but it only had droplets.
- There was a mishap regarding our bill – we were accused of underpaying but it turned out the server forgot to print his copy.
Overall, despite being wowed by the sophisticated sassy surroundings I was quite underwhelmed with the service and food downstairs. The tapas are incomparable to the standards of Salt Yard and Barrafina. I am, however, curious about the pintxos bar (it is after all what put them on the culinary map) so I wouldn’t mind giving it a go at some point.
Oh, and if you find out who did the interiors, drop me a note. I’m really curious.
Bilbao Berria London
2 Regent Street, London SW1Y | +44 (0)20 7930 8408
Ave spend pp: £45 a la carte with wine. Set menus start from £32 (which the set menu people enjoyed). Pintxos at £1.85 each