78 Stanley St
Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
As someone who usually identifies as a glass-half-empty sort of person, I can be remarkably optimistic when it comes to food. Despite an appalling experience at the well-rated Encasa, as well as the general consensus that Spanish food in Sydney just isn’t that great, I was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when I heard about Bar Tapa, which promises to be unapologetically Spanish.
On a Saturday night, Bar Tapa has a convivial, buzzing vibe, and if it feels a little everyman, it’s made up for by the energy of the diners. The wall-to-wall Spanish memorabilia makes for some good conversation starters, and definitely adds to the authentic feel.
Being a relatively new opening, the service is still finding its feet. I will admit however that the blank look I got in response to asking about how the chicken was seasoned didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. But aside from that, the small mishaps (such as bringing the dish to the wrong table, or forgetting to get us knives) throughout the night wasn’t too much of a bother, as the service was pleasant overall.
For the first time in my life, I knew a specific alcohol that I wanted to drink – it was the amazing Casa Mariol Vermut Blanco ($6), with its crisp fruitiness fortified by cloves and cinnamon, that I had first tried at Nomada. And although I continue to be disappointed at the lack of complimentary bread, the Bar Tapa’s adherence to the Granada tradition of serving a free tapita with each drink – in this case, a small dish of briny seafood paella – certainly won me over.
I loved how you could order tiny snacks, or banderillas, to whet the appetite. In this case, the Mahon Con Cantimpalo ($2ea) was a moreish skewer of freshly sliced, semi-cured chorizo boasting a respectable tang, interspersed with a chunk of nutty mahon cheese.
Similarly delightful was the small list of pinchos. At $4 a pop, it’s significantly more expensive than Naked For Satan’s $1 offerings, but I would argue that the Tortilla De Patatas Rellenas ($4) is also significantly tastier. Speared on top of the crusty baguette was the failsafe and indulgent combination of warm potato omelette, fresh jamon, and a thick slice of cheese. It’s rich, salty and very much carb-tastic; basically everything you want in a bar snack.
Now, this is where things started getting not so fab. The special of Montada de Pate ($5) was much too pungent for me, the pate of pork liver much gamier than the milder poultry-based versions I’m used to. Though to be fair, I only have myself to blame for ordering it.
The Bunuelos De Bacalao ($9) was a simple crowd-pleaser of cod fritters, served with garlicky aioli. They were enjoyable, but nothing to write home about.
Similarly, the Pulpo A La Gallega ($12) was good but not great. The octopus had a pleasing smokiness, but the flavour was dominated by a very heavy hand with the sweet paprika, and a tad too much salt in places.
I ordered the special of Navajas ($14) because the semi-signature dish of migas manchegas – cured meats sautéed with bread and egg – was not available. Now, MoVida had taught me that if the Spanish find good seafood, they go ahead and stick it in a can. That’s why it was doubly disappointing to find that these canned razor clams were slimy, bland, and worst of all, gritty with sand. Not even liberal dashes of the house-made sherry vinegar and paprika sauce could save them.
I became suspicious when the Paella ($25) came out within minutes, instead of the usual 40-minute wait warned by restaurants I’ve previously been to. And sure enough, this paella was pre-cooked, and reheated in a single-serve pan prior to serving – as evidenced by the soggy rice and lack of crisp bottom.
To be honest, I didn’t mind the lack of crispy crust – I tend to prefer my paella rice to be soft and full of flavour, sort of like you’d find with a risotto. Unfortunately, the dish was let down by the non-rice bits. There was very little pork and chicken, and the bits that were there weren’t of the greatest quality. And perhaps most sacrilegious of all, no lemon to squeeze over!
Crema Catalana ($7) is one of my favourite desserts ever, but this version was a downright disappointment. Despite the promising layer of toffee on top, cracking through it revealed a custard that was too thin, too gritty, and just not rich or flavoursome enough.
Thankfully, dinner finished on a high note with the Tartas De Santiago ($8), a pair of tarts flavoured with almond and hazelnut respectively. Although they were called tarts, they were more along the lines of little cakes with a moist, tender crumb, with flavours that rang very true – especially the almond which can be quite hard to get right.
Once again, I have to admit to being disappointed by Sydney’s Spanish food. The gist of Bar Tapa may be authentic, but the quality just isn’t quite there. My advice? Stick with the simpler, guilty pleasure type of dishes, and order up from the specialised collection of Spanish alcohol.
Rating: 12.5/20 – unapologetically only-sort-of spanish.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.