Number 22: local tapas restaurant gave me a warm European welcome

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In the early 2000′s I lived in Spain for a couple of years and spent many nights enjoying the vibrant tapas bars and eateries it had to offer.  Ever since my return to London, I’ve made it a habit to keep us this tradition, so I was delighted when I heard I was going to review Number 22, a gem of a Spanish tapas bar and restaurant in Herne Hill, London.

On arrival at Number 22, an impressive bar with tall seats greeted us.  In true European style, we grabbed a seat and ordered a half pint of the ice-cold Alhambra beer.  The Alhambra brewery was founded in Granada in 1925, and very little has changed in the brewing processes since then.  The beer is made with no additives and the water used in still drawn from the Sierra Nevada Mountains!  The bar was impressive, displaying shelves of wines, spirits, and a full range of Sherries.

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Whilst enjoying our pre-meal drinks, we chatted to the French waitress Maya, who delighted in telling us about the live music events which the restaurant holds every Wednesday night. That evening, we enjoyed listening to the live performance of Nicola Barbagli who was playing a selection of European style music on his accordion.

The décor at Number 22 has a warm, cosy European feel to it. The dark furnishings and cool grey walls create a stylish, contemporary feel.  The walls are adorned with art sourced from local artists and is replaced with new work every three months.  The paintings and designs on show that evening were due to be taken down the next day and shown at a local art festival.

After enjoying the beers, we were shown to our seats.  We were led through a split-level dining space that is light and airy with an open kitchen, to a good-sized table placed next to the patio.  The outdoor area is a cosy intimate space that seats approximately 16 people.  The patio is open all summer, while an open fire sets the tone for winter months. This little haven is the perfect hideaway from the hustle and bustle of London.

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We were sat very near to the kitchen, and could and hear that it was a hive of activity.  I liked the fact that at any time I could look through the open windows to observe the chefs at work.

One seated we started to browse through the menu, which has a pleasing simplicity and a good choice of traditional and modern tapas, but before making our choices my companion ordered a glass of the house white, and I opted for the house red.

The menu itself is laid out in a simple to read format, offered as a weekly menu, offering wines and cocktails of the week, bar snacks, appetisers, tapas, small plates and additional menu options.  All the ingredients are sourced locally.  The meat from William Rose butchers in East Dulwich, the fish from Moxon’s, East Dulwich and the vegetables from The Fruit Garden, Herne Hill.

The dishes for appetisers and tapas included Spanish favourites such as croquetas, pinxtos and Spanish charcuterie.  The more lavish dishes on offer that week were the stuffed baby squid with morcilla [blood sausage], Villarejo aged rosemary crusted manchego cheese with orange jelly, and a good choice of vegetarian options including padron peppers, gazpacho, pinxtos con Manchego and quince.

Keeping within Spanish tradition, we chose tapas to share, which enabled us to try a good range of the dishes on offer.  First to the table were the croquetas with piquillo peppers and jamon serrano.  A favourite of mine, it’s an exceptional creamy treat of potato and piquillo peppers encased in a crunchy breadcrumb exterior, combined, made an amazing taste profile.  Next up were the boquerones and minted courgette pinxtos. Boquerones are vinegar-cured anchovies and are a traditional delicacy of Spain, combined with a delicate minted courgette, laid on crusty bread cut into 1/2-inch slices.  I do not normally tend to opt for dishes with anchovy, but this dish was an exception, a simple yet exceptional flavour.

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The main courses or ‘small plate’ options available were an imaginative combination of meat and vegetarian dishes, from sliced pork skewers, braised rabbit, mussels, lamb cutlets, and of course, no Spanish menu would be complete without tortilla and chorizo options.  There is also a good range of paella on offer from chicken and shellfish, chorizo, chicken and rosemary and a vegetarian option of Mediterranean vegetable.

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My companion and I opted for three small plates to share; a choice of the lamb cutlets, scallops and the aubergine fritada (v).  The lamb was cooked medium to well and fell away from the bone, whilst the scallops with rocket salsa and chorizo crumbs were a welcome accompaniment.  The aubergine fritada, melted in the mouth and had us going back for more. We were pleased with the food selection, there was enough for two and the dishes complimented each other well.  Having shared the tapas, we had a little space left for desert.

As the evening progressed the restaurant got slightly busier, and people tended to stay at their tables for a good while.  There was no rushing to seat new diners.  People were sat both inside and out on the patio, and the bar area got busier with people enjoying the live music.

The waiting staff were friendly and knowledgeable, with a real understanding of the provenance of the ingredients.  It’s always good to be served by people who understand the food and who can advise you on the best options from a seasonal menu.

Dessert offered options like Saffron panna cotta, and a selection of delicious Spanish cheeses; Garrotxa, Torta de Trujillo, Picos de Europa.  My companion and I opted to share the dark chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis and the lemon and rosemary cake with Greek yoghurt and honey which was an amazing combination of sweet and sour tastes. The rosemary in the lemon cake gave the moist sponge a slight herbaceous hint.  I’ve already written home about the dark chocolate mousse.

A number of wines were available by the glass and bottle, offering red and white Mediterranean options from Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy and France.
My companion ordered a glass of the house white, the Diez Siglos Verdejo.  A clear, crisp dry white wine, pale in colour, with a fleshy rounded palate.  Hints of honey and stone fruits, balanced by the citrus notes was a good match with the scallops and boquerones.  I had a glass of the house red, Candidate Tempranillo, with lots of black fruits with a well-balanced tannic level, a perfect match to the lamb.

Wine prices start from around £16.00 up to £39.00 and if you really want to push the boat out there are some special occasion wines from £40.00 to £70.00.  There is also an excellent selection of Spanish Sherries on offer; prices start from £4.50 a glass, to £36.00 for the bottle.

Price wise, expect to pay around £40 a head for a good selection of tapas including drinks and service.

I will be returning to Number 22, not only to enjoy the delicious modern tapas on offer, but also to experience the European vibe and the live music.  That night, we stepped out of the London rush into a relaxed, cool, intimate little restaurant with a classy demeanour.  A definite gem!

Number 22 also offers Casa Catering, a Spanish outside catering and events service, covering London, the South East and beyond.

As published on http://www.aboutmygeneration.com/?p=16291.

Number 22 – Tapas Restaurant and Bar
22 Half Moon Lane
Dulwich
London SE24 9HU
Book now on 0207 0959 922

www.number-22.com

Opening Hours
Wednesday to Sunday, 5pm – 11pm
Closed on Monday & Tuesday.

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