423 Pitt St
Haymarket, NSW 2000
It’s no secret that Spanish cuisine is one of my all-time favourites. With Melbourne’s small but high-quality selection of Spanish restaurants (my favourites are here, here, here, and here), I’ve really developed a taste for the tapas-and-vermouth life. So far from being satisfied that Sydney has blessed me with an Asian food scene that’s just as good as Melbourne’s – better, if we’re talking Thai and Korean – I’m keen to find my new favourite hidey-hole for drinks and nibbles.
Without much to go on besides online reviews, I chose Encasa as my first candidate. Wildly popular with 4 branches spread across the city, it seems as good of a place to start as any. First impressions however left me a little concerned; not only is the restaurant more of a dining hall than the cosy wine bar I had been hoping for, the menu also featured pizza and pasta. But the restaurant smelt pretty rad, and I was pretty hungry, so it seemed worth a try.
The Pulpo A La Plancha ($18) were chosen on the recommendation of our waitress, but unfortunately fell short of expectations. The octopus wasn’t awful, but certainly erred towards the side of tough and bland, and didn’t have any of the robust smokiness you’d hope from char-grilling. This needed a lot of lemon to bring the flavour out.
Another small thing that annoyed me was the fact that there’s no complimentary bread with the meal, because it would’ve gone amazingly with the Gambas Al Ajillo ($17). The prawns came out sizzling in a dish of intoxicatingly aromatic garlic oil, and were plump, bouncy, and perfectly cooked. This is what Spanish food should be about – excellent ingredients cooked simply and beautifully.
I firmly believe that 99% of people who dislike beetroot have just been scarred in their childhood by the horrible canned stuff. Case in point: the special of Ensalada de Remolacha ($15) was delicious. The swaths of thinly-sliced beetroot, draped lovingly over the plate, were tender and delicately sweet, its earthiness complemented by the crisp, clean flavours in the parsley and pistachio dressing.
Unfortunately, the specials weren’t all good news, because the Rabo De Toro Y Chorizo ($18) was awful. Not only was the oxtail not meltingly tender as it should be when cooked well, it was also overwhelmingly salty – a situation that was not helped by the strips of chorizo, which served to add nothing else to the dish. Even the chips were lacklustre; they look great but were actually soggy, and frustratingly enough, under-salted.
The meal had been a 50:50 split between good and bad by this point, so I had enough optimism left in me to order dessert. This was a mistake, as the Flan De Caramelo ($10) was an absolute abomination. Tough and bland, and complete with a dreaded layer of ‘skin’ at the bottom, this tasted like one of those healthy dessert alternatives that really is arguably no less sad than skipping dessert altogether.
Needless to say, Encasa is decidedly NOT the Spanish restaurant I had been looking for. I could go on about what’s wrong with it, but by this point it would feel a bit mean. So instead I’m just going to put the call out – if anyone knows of any Spanish restaurants that are actually good, please let me know – I’m getting desperate here!
Rating: 11.5/20 – this is not the flan you are looking for.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.