101 Glebe Point Rd
Glebe, NSW 2037
Today is a big day. Today is the day I finally find a good Spanish restaurant in Sydney. And that place is Despaña.
Located down the quieter, more residential end of Glebe Point Road, Despaña is definitely a local’s haunt. Instead of the boisterous atmosphere you find at the Spanish restaurants closer to the city, Despaña is quiet and cosy, giving off a vibe reminiscent of a rustic family-run European bistro, with warm and personable service to match.
The best part about Spanish restaurants is that vermouth is almost a certainty. The Vermut Blanco ($10), shipped directly from Tarragona, Spain, is my favourite sort of aperitif. Delicately spiced with just enough bitter botanicals infused into it to get your appetite going, there is no better way to start a meal.
I was feeling cheesy, and whilst they were out of manchego, they were able to offer up a perfectly adequate and very similar Mahónes ($14) in lieu. Served in a generous portion with quince paste and crackers, this mild, nutty cheese is as good of a starter as it is a dessert.
I had heard great things about the Croquettes ($5.5ea), so I actually caved and ordered one for each of us, rather than just one to share so that we would have more room to try other things. Boy am I glad I did, because these were the best croquettes I’ve had in a long while. The casing was incredibly thin and crisp, and in the middle was a silky blend of mashed potato, chorizo, and manchego. Even more impressive was how balanced the flavours were; you could taste the smoky chorizo and pungent cheese in equal parts, with neither component overwhelming the other. Rounding each bite out was a top-notch citrus aioli, its sharpness cutting through the rich, fatty flavours.
Nothing gets me quite as excited as a good pot of shellfish, and these Clams ($19.5) were about as good as they come. Plump, juicy, and absolutely huge, these clams were great on their own, but were made extra indulgent by the fatty slices of smoky jamon shaved over the top. I will say that the broth it was cooked in left a little to be desired; there was a touch too much sherry and not quite enough garlic or parsley, but the clams themselves were so sweet and fresh they were able to stand their own. All in all I was, as they say, as happy as a clam.
The real showstopper of the night however was arguably the Veal and Lamb Meatballs ($16) – though the croquettes certainly made a good case for themselves. Baked in the oven with a richly spiced tomato sofrito, these meatballs were soft, fragrant, and full of flavour. I loved how you could really taste the flavours of the meatball itself, and the sauce helped bring out the beautifully fatty flavours of the lamb, rather than hide or overwhelm it.
Crema Catalana ($12) is one of my top desserts of all time, and I will almost definitely order it whenever I see it on the menu. As it turns out, this was more of a crème caramel than the Spanish crema catalana, which is an orange-flavoured custard served with a brûléed top. Thankfully this was good enough for me not to mind. The custard was thick and seductively smooth, its creamy sweetness complemented by a dark, smoky demerara syrup. The only hiccup was a slight skin at the top, but other than that, this was top notch.
Our waitress confided in us that whilst she, too, can never go past the crema catalana, a serve of the house-made Churros ($12) would also be a great idea. After a bit of humming and hawing, I took her up on that, and it was possibly the best decision I’ve made all week. Impossibly crisp and airy without even a hint of grease, these were a marvel of deep-frying that left the middle so feathery light that it all but melted on the tongue like fairy floss. Sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served with a pot of melted dark chocolate, this is indulgence at its classiest.
Since moving to Sydney, this has been the first good Spanish meal I’ve had, and for that I am very, very happy with Despaña. Mind you, this is quite a different experience from the Spanish restaurants I’m used to in Melbourne. Whereas the tapas bars in Melbourne tend to be on the modern and occasionally experimental side, Despaña focuses on good, simple Spanish cooking. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but the chef (who I was lucky enough to meet!) clearly knows exactly what he’s doing. Combine that with the cosy ambience and wonderful service, and I think I’ve got a go-to Spanish restaurant in Sydney.
Rating: 14.5/20 – des-pana-cito
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit